3 tips on changing people’s behaviour

Insights from our workshop with Jeff Jordan

Last Friday Curative was treated to some all-day inspiration from renowned social marketer Jeff Jordan. Jeff is the President and Executive Creative Director at San Diego based agency, Rescue Social Change Group (RescueSCG).

Basically, like us, Jeff is interested in changing people’s behaviour to reduce the harms caused to themselves or to society.

 Around 60 people participated in the Auckland workshop, with another 40 at a similar event in Wellington the previous day. Bringing Jeff over was the result of collaboration between long-time business pals, Curative, innovate change, and the NZ Drug Foundation. We’d been watching Jeff’s work for a long time, and having heard that he was going to be in Sydney, we couldn’t resist convincing him to come just a little bit further.

 Obviously reducing a whole day of learning down into a short blog post is never going to do it justice, but there were three key things that he talked about which stood out to me as pretty great starting points when pulling together a social change campaign.


First: The best people to speak to are the ones least likely to engage.
Jeff expressed the above so plainly – if you’re trying to get people to change their behaviour you should expect resistance; it’s really easy to speak to audiences who love the message and are fully supportive and on-board.

But… they’re probably not the ones who really need to hear it. Only when you’re getting resistance, have you likely found the right people.


Next: If you don’t pick a group, you end up in the middle.
If there is one thing that Jeff does super well, it’s segmenting an audience. RescueSCG has developed a fantastic framework for segmenting young audiences. Often segmentation is done by only the most obvious demographics – age/gender/location – but Jeff was strong on the point that good segmentation should be based on the reasons that people behave the way they do.

He gave the example of young people in his hometown of San Diego; there, Rescue splits the youth population under the ‘Peer Crowd’ headings of:

  • Mainstream
  • Preppy
  • Alternative
  • Country / Rural
  • Hip-Hop Culture
  • LGBT

These peer crowds tend to have similar values as well as similar behaviour profiles. For example, the ‘Alternative ‘ group place high importance on bucking trends and expressing themselves as different from the mainstream – and, most importantly to their latest work, they are much more likely to be smokers than people in the ‘mainstream’ segment.

Good segmentation means we can speak to one sector of the population, and be sure that we’re emphasising the things that are most motivating to them, by leveraging their values.

 What works for one group won’t work for all of them.


Finally: Show them how it’s done.
If RescueSCG is good at one thing, it’s making sure that the audiences they speak to are provided with really great examples of how to do the desired behaviour. For example, one of their big problems that Rescue is charged with addressing is youth smoking.

Rescue’s research showed that one of the highest impact groups to engage was the ‘Alternative’ crowd, and it showed that a critical time for this group was smoking at bars and music gigs. By creating smoke-free events (branded “The Commune”), and engaging high profile local musicians to support the movement, Rescue was able to prove to the target audience that being smoke-free was not only possible, but also cool.

I think Jeff summed up this point, and in fact the whole day, most simply when he said that creating change means “there’s got to be a better option; not just ‘oh, I guess I could do that one too’”.

Overall, I think we all took some really great lessons and reminders from Jeff’s workshop, and if the buzz afterwards was anything to go by, our 60 guests will all be taking some great lessons back to their organisations too.


For me, Jeff’s talk was a great reminder to ensure that:

  • We know who it’s most important to engage in behaviour change
  • We know exactly what makes this group tick – what motivates them, what do they aspire to, what are their values, and what do they think is cool
  • We take all of that information, and provide an alternative behaviour that’s not only achievable, but desirable.

I’m sure we’ll reflect on some of the lessons Jeff brought over through our upcoming campaigns, and hopefully they’ll provide some insight for you too.

Eddy Dever

Edward Dever