A search for Behaviour Change Model returns 7,930,000 results on Google. Models such as Prochaska, MINDSPACE and COM-B provide a wealth of theory of behavioural economics. It feels like we should have cracked the challenge of how we encourage people to make healthier decisions – and act upon them.

But we still have no magic formula that guarantees change. There is a temptation to see technology as the solution to many of the challenges marketers face, including how to change behaviour.

Technology enables an impressive number of health improvements, from smart pills containing sensors which transmit data to in-home diagnostic devices. But when we think about how we design programmes that will change behaviour, we need to remember that our end-user is human, and an emotional connection is essential, even if part of the intervention is tech-based.

We have an impressive knowledge of technology, behavioural science and experience of creating programmes for change across the Unlimited Group. To make sense of the wealth of thinking in this space for our clients, we decided to collaborate with a number of people across the Group to create an evidence-based approach that taps into tech trends – but has basic human needs at its heart.

One of our key insights was the importance of Future Self. To change behaviour, an individual needs to be able to recognise themselves in the future. To suggest to someone with COPD they will be able to do a 10k run is meaningless (for most people). To help them see themselves going for a 30 minute walk every other day may seem more realistic. By helping people with COPD imagine realistic changes, we can support them from being house-bound and isolated to realising a Future Self who has made life-style changes and is actively involved in the management of their condition.

The theory of Future Self, alongside academic models and our own experience, led to a framework that we work, alongside clients, to complete – Better Future Self. It helps us identify how an audience views themselves today, what a recognisable Future Self would be and what motivation they need to get there. We then identify opportunities for interaction to fulfil these needs. Defining an individual’s needs and motivations are as complex as humans are diverse. Insights gathering happens up-front as the programme is designed, but continues throughout as real time diagnostics tell us what is resonating – and what isn’t.

Our approach is robust, but it has a simple philosophy at its heart. In order to inspire a behaviour change, brands and organisations need to develop a meaningful relationship with audiences to support them on a journey to their Future Self. We need to create emotionally loyal consumers. As brands, we do this by being consistently useful and interesting in a way that meets their needs.

The body of academic work in the area of behavioural science, combined with technical innovation can be very powerful, as long as we don’t forget there is a human at the heart of it all.