Shifting your consumer behaviour

February 21, 2019

Kate White will deliver the DAN Management Distinguished Lecture in Consumer Behaviour
Story by Rob Rombouts

How do you encourage people to take on some personal pain for the betterment of society?

Katherine White, Professor in the Sauder School of Business at UBC has developed a framework of five factors for changing consumer behaviour. On March 8th, White will be delivering a lecture entitled “SHIFT: A Framework for Changing Sustainable Consumer Behaviours for Good” as part of the DAN Management Distinguished Lecture series.

White, working with a colleague and a graduate student, reviewed and considered behavioural science literature to consider how to make consumer behaviour more sustainable. In the lecture, White will outline each of the factors and focus on how organizations can encourage changes within consumers.

The team highlighted five factors for changing behaviour: Social, Habits, Individual Self, Feeling and Cognition, and Tangibility.

“The factors we highlighted are subtle,” said White, “I focused on the idea of nudging people as opposed to heavy handed tactics.”

Social is focused on the notion that people are influenced by the behaviours of others.

“The biggest predictor as to whether people will install solar panels are whether their neighbours do,” said White. “There are lots of examples where social influence can be powerful in changing behaviour and norms.”

Habits is focused on the challenges in encouraging people to change their existing habits.

“Lots of our existing habits are not sustainable,” said White. “It we want to encourage people to be more sustainable, it usually means overcoming an old habit.”

For appeals to be successful, they have to resonate with a consumers’ sense of Individual self. “Some people do value sustainability, but others may care about other factors, such as health and safety,” said White. “Organizations can promote their sustainability efforts and appeal to consumer self-values at the same time. Nike has sustainable products, but markets them on the basis of innovation.”

Feeling and cognition focuses on guilt appeals. Research suggested that guilt can sometimes work, but only in moderation.

“Greenpeace uses guilt, but if it is too extreme, audiences will shut down,” said White. “The appeals work better if you can provide people with concrete steps as to what they can do.”

Tangibility focuses on the need for immediate appeals.

“When you ask people to think about sustainability, the notion of sustainability can be very abstract,” said White. “It may be vague and too far in the future, and their actions may not have visible pay-offs.”
White encourages organizations to think about ways that sustainable actions or behaviour are more tangible, providing people with specific actions they can take.

Overall, for appeals to work, it is a matter of analysing the context and behaviour of an individual to consider what kinds of things will resonate with that person.

The DAN Management Distinguished Lecture in Consumer Behaviour will be on Friday, March 8, 2019, 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm, in the McKellar Theatre, UCC.

The DAN Management Distinguished Lecture in Consumer Behaviour is made possible through the ongoing support of Aubrey Dan.