If John Kerry's camp could have changed the behavior of a few million people last month, his world and possibly ours, would be a different place today. Changing behavior, our own and that of others, is perhaps one of life's greatest challenges. Yet by choosing to live and work in the field of advertising, we attempt it every day. Whether we are simply trying to persuade fellow Americans to change their behavior at the voting booth in regard to who will run our country; or trying to change consumer behavior around those truly life-altering decisions such as whether or not to purchase the latest, greatest, most-fortified, least carb-loaded cereal, the task could be looked upon as ominous.
Changing behavior—so how do we go about it? There has been a lot of rhetoric of late about agencies needing to change by "reinventing themselves" in order to keep up in a world filled with interactive media, Tivo and "out-of-the-box" marketing tactics, in general. Any agency can rearrange its work groups, "break down the barriers between account services and creative," purchase the fastest, newest equipment and overlay process after process to improve success. In my own shop, we have renamed the new business pitch process, reorganized the strategic planning process and rearranged the furniture many times over the past fifteen years. This sometimes actually works for a while but most the time, it doesn't work at all.
Before we try to change behavior, we need to drill down to the fundamental reasons folks 'behave' a certain way. "Behavior is based on an individual's habits, attitudes, beliefs and expectations," according to Lou Tice, chairman of the Pacific Institute, an organization that helps companies heighten organizational success. Furthermore, he adds, "All meaningful and lasting change must begin inside us before it can manifest itself outwardly."
So basically, all we have to do as advertisers is to understand the habits, attitudes, beliefs and expectations of those we are attempting to influence, then change them! Somehow the word 'ominous' springs back to mind.
But maybe, just maybe, we're not that far away. I contend that Lou Tice is on to something. Perhaps we step back and consider that it doesn't start or stop with the business systems or details of an organizational chart. It's simply this; It's all about understanding our people.
The behavioral change we are constantly trying to make in our consumers must begin from within. At the helm of an agency that is striving to adapt to the changing world every day, I find the concept humbling and invigorating. Understanding the habits, attitudes, beliefs and expectations of the people we work with is where it all starts. This means the CEO to the receptionist and everyone else in between. Yes, even the client! Knowing that every role is of equal importance and behavior can be changed begins from within. The first step for me as a leader was to understand my own behavior and beliefs and how they were impacting and limiting the people around me. When I realized I needed to make some fundamental changes, it really took off. Once I began modeling understanding and trust, a renewed culture of respect and synergy was created that could never have been achieved through process alone. With increased confidence to perform beyond capacity, the team's success is self-evident. Old clients have returned, new clients have come on board and perhaps best of all, we've attracted some of the best talent in the region.
Maybe Ghandi said it best, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Now if we could just convince him to purchase and dare I say endorse, our latest, greatest, most-fortified, least carb-loaded cereal.