Few questions give healthcare marketers more heart palpitations than this one: “How do you know it will work?”

I remember a niche oncology product a few years ago that was struggling to move the needle. The brand director had a bevy of tactics at his disposal, but wasn’t seeing a difference in new prescriptions. What he didn’t have was an understanding of why patients weren’t electing to use the product.

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Healthcare marketers too often have to say, “This tactic worked in that category, so hopefully it will work in mine.”

However, there is another way. Humans behave according to sets of rules and respond according to inherent biases. Behavioral strategists have tools to understand these rules and biases, creating an advantage when we put this knowledge to work for a brand’s benefit.

So what’s in this toolbox?

Behavioral models: They describe why behaviors occur and why people behave the way they do.

Behavioral economics: An approach to strategy that explains why customers make choices and how we might go about influencing them.

Journey mapping: This focuses on connecting behavioral insights, change barriers, and motivators to specific points along the customer experience.

Using these, we can build a predictive picture of why, when, and how healthcare customers will do what they do. We can then prioritize interventions and messages against leverageable moments that change the course of our customers’ behavior.

Back to the case of the niche oncology product: My team focused on uncovering key insights along the patient journey, rooted in emotions. We discovered patients weren’t against trying the product, but they saw it as “the last option.” They were afraid taking it would signal the end of their cancer fight.

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By organizing these insights through the lens of the “stages of change” behavior model, we found critical points where attitudes and behaviors could be challenged and product benefits reframed.

One immediate benefit was financial savings. The brand also saw greater patient interaction long-term because tactics were aligned with behavioral needs.

If you understand behavioral strategy, you’ll have the answer to the original question: “I know it will work because I know how our customers are going to behave.”

Liz Carden is VP of behavioral strategy at New Solutions Factory.