We know what to do, why aren’t we doing it?

Yesterday, plenty of news time and attention was given to Active Health Kids Canada’s Report Card – where kids (and by extension, their parents) received poor-to-failing grades on activity, nutrition, and lifestyle factors. Ironically, we spent at least an hour in front of the computer and/or the television hearing about the findings of the report, and associated commentary from various experts. The most disturbing thing about this is that when we talk to colleagues and friends about the report, they say they know what to do. They believe they understand nutrition. The concept isn’t lost on them that they should be exercising, eating right, and taking their kids outside to play instead of sitting in front of the tube. So when we know what to do, why don’t they do it?

This highlights a problem we often see with research designed to listen to customers. If we simply ask them if they understand what a product is supposed to do, or why it’s good for them, or how to use it, they say, “of course!” If we ask whether they intend to use it, they say, “absolutely!” But it takes more than conceptually understanding the need for a product, service, or activity for an individual to buy it, use it, or take it on board. Here are some key reasons simply knowing what to do (or buy, or use) isn’t enough:

  1. Customers don’t like being told what to do. The need to have an opinion on nearly everything means that people are inundated with advice. Consumers are feeling like they aren’t allowed to think for themselves.
  2. Giving stuff up is difficult. More often than not, the advice that is being dispensed is being framed as what must be given up, instead of focusing on what will be gained.
  3. There’s a rule for everything – and every rule seems to contradict every other rule. Just this morning, on our walk, we saw a public school yard that had a sign saying kids were allowed to play there, but adults weren’t, at least not without a permit. Yet no one lets their kid go out to play alone anymore – so how is that going to work?
  4. Change always costs something. Usually we’ve justified our choices not only to ourselves, but to others. So when we do something different, we have to invest time, energy, and effort in explaining why. The risk that someone will disagree is high. So it’s important to make sure it’s clear why the new choice isn’t just great, but why it’s better.
  5.  Experience trumps ideas. When it comes to achieving change, ideas (good ones, like “I should try this”, or bad ones, like “what if it tastes funny?”) are strong. But perceptions can usually be overcome by experience. The old Alka-Seltzer slogan, “Try it, you’ll like it”, couldn’t have said it better. Making it easy to try can help.

So now that you know some of the reasons why your customer is demonstrating a gap between intention and action, we’ll leave it up to you to decide what to do about it (because we don’t want to tell you what to do).

Trying it (and liking it),

Megann and Steve


Make better decisions, get better results, grow your business. We use a deep toolkit of specialized techniques help clarify your objectives, identify decisions that must be made, and eliminate knowledge gaps, resulting in strategy with a firmer foundation and better results.

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