Changing consumer behaviour – one step at a time

I have to admit it. I have become a Fitbit bore. Since last Boxing Day I have become addicted to my new Christmas present – the little watch that I wear 24/7 while it monitors my every move. I am now swimming in data about my everyday activity: how much I sleep, how many steps I’ve taken, my heart rate, calories consumed, water drunk. Fitbit knows everything.

It’s not very often that a brand manages to change behaviour so effectively. For the first few days, I wondered if it might be a bit like joining the gym in January – starting with good intentions but something I would get tired of after a while. Now I’m into February, I think this is something that is going to last.

Six weeks in, I am really struck by the extent to which this little device has changed the way I live my life. Despite being pretty healthy and active beforehand, I’ve noticed how much I embrace things that in the past would have been frustrations or annoyances. Busy supermarket car parks are now good news, as parking further away from the entrance means more steps. Popping to the chemist or bank still are chores, but at least I get the benefit from clocking up a few more metres. I think I may have always paced the room whilst on conference calls but I do so now with vigour!

As with most things that are measured, Fitbit is great at directing you to certain types of behaviour. I’m cutting out some of my high intensity running and replacing it with gentler walking to ensure my body still gets exercise but also some recovery. I’m reducing snacking in the evening to keep me on track for my calorie target. Of course, I also exhibit that classic and rather embarrassing Fitbit behaviour: climbing the extra set of stairs before bed in order to get that all-important green dashboard.

The real takeout for me hasn’t just been about my health but what we can learn from Fitbit about how to change consumer behaviour. I think there are some lessons for brands that want to change consumer behaviour:

• Make it fun. Fitbit has done some smart things to encourage behaviour change by carrots not sticks. For example, there are virtual badges to be won and challenges to take on, either with friends or the wider Fitbit community. Healthy competition can be a great motivator – what if rather than being discouraged from eating takeaways we are challenged to create quick meals from what’s in our fridges?

• Make it about us. As you might expect, the Fitbit online community is active and engaged. Helping and supporting others is motivating and helps embed one’s own behaviour change. Goals can be easier to achieve when others help you; think for example of the motivation people get from raising funds for charity.

• Listen to your loyal customers. Fitbit users are vocal about raising questions or problems and the brand doesn’t shy away from taking the criticism when it comes. Indeed, it has features like request boards where users can vote for which issues get priority in development. Many brands could benefit from asking consumers for feedback and listening better to the responses; the end result is an improved product or service and the loyal consumer feels valued.

• Make it measurable. Fitbit is all about data. Other brands could make it easier for us to see how we act and the benefits from a changed behaviour. What if rather than pressure to reduce alcohol unit consumption, we just got people to measure how much they drank. For many, the facts would be motivation enough to reduce consumption. After all, think how much effort people make to get the extra tier points they need to keep their Airline loyalty card?

• Make it realistic. Fitbit allows users to set their own goals, so one can challenge oneself and then stretch the target further when it becomes too easy. But it’s up to the user to define what success looks like. There’s no point setting artificial goals and ending up despondent, or we fall into the January gym membership category again.

Encouraging consumer behaviour change isn’t easy. But when it’s done effectively, it could have a long-term impact on a consumer’s life. Fitbit has helped on my holiday choices too. No Scottish Munro’s or hilly Rome for me. I’m going for something relaxing. I’m going to need it after all these steps.