Writing copy to promote behavioral change

How small changes in communication have a great impact on behavior

Oh, the Holy Grail for every communication specialist: “How can we influence people with our communication”?

In the research project MUV citizens need to install the MUV app on their phone, create an account and use the app. This is the behavior we need so we can, through the app, change their mobility habits. The app is introduced in 6 different countries with different target groups. The communication on the local level needs to be context specific.That’s why we chose to use the communication design methodology on the local level.

The research project MUV is well suited for this communication approach because:

  • Co-creation is an important building block in MUV
  • We want to implement new behavior
  • We have a strong brand that already translates the ‘Why’
  • We work in different neighborhoods with their own challenges
  • We have 3 iteration phases during the project


Communication & the three elements of behavior


To incite citizens to the desired behavior we need to take into account 3 elements: Motivation, Ability and a Prompt.(see The BJ Fogg Behavior Model) . For example: if you want to book a holiday online. A prompt can be ‘5 people are currently looking at this holiday home’, a good working & informative website (ability) will make that your motivation is average, f.e. I can cancel anytime. If the website is very slow and not working well (low ability) you need to be highly motivated to stay on the website and book online.


The BJ Fogg Behavior Model

Motivation, Ability, and a Prompt need to converge at the same time for a behavior to occur. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing.

Communication has an impact on all three elements of behavior.

To strengthen each element you need to:

  • Use the right words (Motivation)
  • Create the best information flow (Ability)
  • Install the right trigger (a Prompt)


Communication design on the local level


People don’t want to waste time trying to understand you. Create shortcuts in your communication. If people don’t understand certain words in your flyer, if they get lost in your copy and need to read it again, if they don’t know what to do next when visiting your website, if they are not on Instagram but you are… you lose them. Yes, you do.

Co-creation and co-design workshops generate immediate input from the target groups. This is very rich material for copywriting & the communication strategy on the local level.

From co-creation workshops you get insight in :

  • What words to use
  • What are the most important communication channels
  • How to augment the ability to act
  • What triggers to install an app
  • What motivates them

So, if you want to write copy the promotes behavioral change: (co-)design it! Listen to your target group, ask them questions and test your communication on them. Get feedback and make it better. It all starts with a genuine interest in the target group. So next time you write copy for your target group, test it first. Ask them what they think, listen to what they say and rewrite it! Promise yourself to use their words, not yours.

Karen Soens is the communication manager at MUV2020. She is a part-time researcher at LUCA, School of Arts. With her communication agency she helps organizations to reach their target group with communication design. Karen gets up early for a cup of tasty coffee and a visit to the flea market.

Must reads from Karen:

’Nudge – improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness’ by Thaler & Sunstein.

‘Thinking, fast and slow’ by Daniel Kahneman.

Find inspiration in  the Communication Plan of MUV (D9.1) & learn more about the communication approach of MUV.