In this blog, I want to explore the different forces that shape behaviour change. Whenever you want to design a strategy that aims at changing behaviour, you have to ask yourself three questions: 

  • Macro-forces: What are the trends I can tap into?
  • Meso-forces: What are the needs I can tap into?
  • Micro-forces: What are the biases I can tap into?

1. The macro forces: What are the trends I can tap into?

The world is changing at an accelerating speed. It took only 66 years between the first flight of the Wright brothers and Neil Armstrong, setting the first step on the moon in 1969. It only took 30 years for China to transform from a developing country into the biggest economy in the world. The iPhone is only 14 years old, kickstarting an era of ubiquitous access to knowledge, services, social capital and radical new ideas for commerce, creating companies like Uber, Netflix and Over the past few decades, China alone has lifted hundreds of millions of citizens to become part of the middle class. And middle-class people want stability and want to consume, travel and be entertained. 

These macro forces have an enormous impact on behaviour change.

If you want to introduce an innovative offering into the market, it matters a lot if you’re able to tap into these trends.

If you are Carsharing company Sharenow, it matters a lot if you can tap into a big inner-city market of people who don’t own a car and feel perfectly comfortable hiring and unlocking one with their smartphone. What seemed unfamiliar five years makes perfect sense today. We’ve seen an interesting trend in the Netherlands during COVID of families leaving the metropolitan cities and moving into the countryside or smaller communities. This trend is an exciting opportunity to tap into e-bikes and electric cars. Another emerging trend that COVID accelerates is that every entrepreneur is thinking hard about designing the optimal environment for combining physical presence with distributed working. 

When you think about introducing a new product or service into the market, it’s vital to understand the trends. Successful innovators understand that demographic, technological, cultural and economic trends generate new opportunities.  

2. Meso-Forces: What are the needs I can tap into?

The second category of forces that shape behaviour are needs and motivations. They drive behaviour in unconscious yet essential ways. All of us have deeply rooted desires: The desire for love, recognition, competence, social status, belonging, adventure, purpose, protection and excitement. Every brand in the world taps into these deeper needs: 

  • BMW taps into the desire to project masculinity and social status
  • Volvo taps into the desire for security and protection
  • Beer brands all tap into the desire for friendship and connection
  • Business schools tap into the desire for competence and social status.

There’s a saying in Silicon valley that every successful tech company taps into one of the seven deadly sins. Understanding these drivers, motivations or Jobs-to-be-Done is essential for designing interventions for behavioural change. If you can’t tap into an existing desire, your intervention will probably fail. The Behavioural Design Canvas is a great tool to uncover these forces. 

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3. Micro-Forces: What are the biases I can tap into? 

The third category of behavioural forces is micro-forces. Let’s suppose you uncovered a behavioural trend (say: middle classes flock to cities in hordes and can’t afford a car). You also crafted a proposition that taps into a deep desire (e.g. you offer luxury electric vans to go on weekend trips in the countryside to fulfil the desire for adventure and social status).

The big question from a behavioural change perspective is now: How do I trigger people to buy what I’m offering?

To become successful, you will need to find ways to get people to see the message, boost the motivation to try it, reduce doubts and uncertainties and make it as easy and frictionless as possible to order it. In the case of our electric van, you will boost motivation through social proof, reduce anxiety by demonstrating the comfort of sleeping in the vehicle in a demo video or guaranteeing 24/7 support, including insurance. You might want to look for hot trigger moments and advertise on billboards near busy roads, where traffic jams increase people’s motivation for escapism.

For this layer, a great tool to think about designing interventions is our SWAC-tool. In the SWAC-model you will find many principles from the science of influence to spark behaviour (S), to boost the desire to want (W) something, to help people to be able, so they can do it (C), and make them do it again and again (A).


Designing a strategy for behavioural change requires you to think in three layers. True innovators tap into emerging trends. They see where the puck is going. They also understand the psychological needs that drive behavioural change. And they take great detail in figuring out the details to get people actually to change their behaviour. 

Tom De Bruyne

Cover visual by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

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