Decisions, Decisions



The art of attending SXSW is to steer off the beaten track, away from subjects you already know about, to find some of the smartest people around showing you ways to approach subjects from a very different angle.


Thus it was that I found myself spending most of the morning gaining new insights into the health market from two very different but equally brilliant speakers.


First was Aimee Roundtree, Associate Professor ofCommunications at University of Houston Downtown. Her specialism is health comms, and through much detailed research she has put together an array of insights into a framework she calls “5 Ways Health Decisions Don’t Make Sense”


The aim of understanding these decisions better is so that information and tools can be made more intuitive and relevant to the context and process we actually undertake when making them. Her central thesis is that clinical providers’ assumption is that we all want to be as close as possible to ‘expert’ when we decide on our treatment plan, and that our approach is and should be entirely evidence-based.


Among her key findings were these:

  • People need less information, not more. The more choices people are offered, the more their expectations are let down as they go through the process of absorbing it. Too much processing of detail depletes the inner resources we actually need to make big decisions
  • Choices are often about creating harmony within groups. There are plenty of societal and other causal factors that influence decisions, and these vary widely by demographic. A good example of this is how Asian American communities in particular participate in decision-making as broad family groups
  • Stories can matter more than research. Prof.Roundtree told a poignant tale of her uncle, who, when diagnosed with cancer, was offered the best possible advice on the treatments available, the effects, the benefits and so on. However, what made his ultimate decision to avoid chemotherapy was the evidence he had seen of the effects of it on a lady, similarly afflicted, who lived opposite on his street.


Her research is still work-in-progress, but I look forward to its completion and publication.


Following this was a move to a smaller room, where a thought leader from one of Isobar US’s favorite clients was about to take the floor, along with our own Colt Whitall.


Greg Stielstra works for Healthways, the US’s leading provider of Wellness solutions, in the unique position of in-house behavioral economist. Where Prof Roundtree works to understand decision-making, Greg works to influence it. As part of this he talks about a number of key levers that we can pull on in our brand, service and comms work, and how these have been bought to bear in their hugely successful and ground breaking work creating Blue Zonesof health in California and Iowa.


Among these levers:

  • Messenger is key – it adds levels of authority and engagement that a purely evidence-based piece ofcomms cannot match. Thus in Iowa, the Governor was enlisted as sponsor and spokesperson for the campaign.




  • Scarcity can be a valuable tool in driving urgency and action. In Iowa, the number of Blue Zone cities wererestricted, so communities competed harder to bring them to their own locale. Once awarded, the communities were then bound by Commitment to engage with them.



  • Social Proofing is supported by the insight that people don’t generally like making choices for themselves – they like copying other people’s choices, so supporting a message with real consumer stories is a powerful tool.


These kinds of insights have significant consequences for everyone who works in the conception and design of health brands, marketing and products – and any other are that requires a significant and sustained change of behavior.


The key takeouts for me are:

  • Health brands assume that everyone approaches complex decision from a rational and evidence-based perspective. Thus tools and messaging are generally defined in a logical and linear pattern. This does not match the approach of many segments of our market.
  • We need to define approaches to consumer engagement that take account of the consumer’s point of view, and this could have radical effects on how we define the journeys, tools and campaigns we provide. I think we have barely begun this journey as an industry.
  • We need to become much more skilled at detecting where a consumer is at psychologically before we start the process of conversion. To do this we need grow our skills in interpreting digital signals and sentiment. At Isobar we do plenty of this across search and social, but the industry hasn’t yet evolved the tools to aggregate all possible signals accurately into parseabledata.


So – plenty to think about!


As we move towards a more accurate consumer-led approach to defining brand and product, our key tools will be predictive UX design, to forecast and cater for our assumptions of consumer intent, and optimization, to grow and continuously develop the number of ways in which our products and services deal with the user intent expressed through them.


Exciting times ahead!