Our personal views about health are changing the way we want to be engaged

Arpy Dragffy
8 min readNov 20, 2018


If you read every nutrition label on your food, listened to every ad about fitness, and read every pamphlet about your personal health… your life would likely be very different than it actually is today.

  • Data doesn’t motivate us, our loved ones and our personal goals motivate us.
  • Just as importantly, we’re not motivated by being perfect, we are motivated by making fewer poor choices.

This was a consistent finding from four recent projects that our CX Innovation & Design Thinking firm, PH1 Media, completed across the public health and food sectors. It is likely one of the main reasons public and private organisations struggle to engage consumers on public health issues, and also likely contributes to challenges related to other social impact and goal-based causes — like nature conservation, or higher education.

We believe that organisations who take advantage of this innovation opportunity can improve their marketing, user experience (UX), and customer experience (CX).

How users view their own health and personal goals

Our research was conducted over the course of four projects:

  1. Innovating the support smokers receive on their journey to quit
  2. Innovating your access to information to make healthier dining choices
  3. Innovating the transparency of the seafood industry
  4. Innovating perceptions about frozen dairy products

The constant factor across all of these projects was that consumers behave much differently about their health than you would expect they would.

In all four projects, consumers prefered to make decisions about health based on perceptions rather than verified data. Our research also showed that consumers tend to be less motivated by health goals, and instead motivated by personal achievements.

  • The majority of smokers prefer to get information about smoking from people like themselves rather than experts. Quitting may be their ultimate goal but they are motivated every time to meet micro-goals, like smoking one less cigarette per day.
  • When thinking about food, the majority of consumers prefer to make decision using simple rules they’ve made for themselves, instead of looking at nutritional information. Interestingly, the average consumer tends to only change their long-term eating habits when they, or a loved one, are faced with a major health condition.
  • The seafood industry has been subject to several scandals about incorrectly labelled fish and illegal practices, yet the majority of consumers don’t seek information from grocers and food service to validate their trust. They are more motivated by shopping at perceived “reputable retailers” and buying product with certifications than by true transparency.
  • Frozen treats get a similar treatment. Rather than eliminating them from our diets, Canadians prefer smaller portion sizes and products that indicate they are healthier. ‘Guilty pleasure’ is the best way to describe why we treat ourselves on a stressful day.

Lessons for organisations in any industry

We believe these lessons are an innovation opportunity that allow organisations to create deeper engagement around personal goals, like health, food, charity, social causes, and community:

Lesson #1: Many organisations may be trying to motivate using goals that don’t align to what is important to a user.

  • Example: Finance, insurance, lotteries, and the real estate industry often use goals in their campaigns to encourage users to think about their future. For some users the future isn’t their priority, personal, near-term pain points are how they want to be engaged. Charity lotteries have been the subject of recent reports and studies showing that their customers can’t relate to the prizes and ultimately can’t afford them even if they do win due to taxes and other costs.
  • How to integrate: To understand how to motivate you need to first understand the context and intent of your users. This enables your team to understand which words resonate most, which value propositions matter most, and which motivations are of most importance. You also want to avoid situations which may confuse users more than motivate them, like how nutrition information on food causes anxiety because of the complexity.

Lesson #2: Users are not motivated by goals, they are motivated by their ability to meet a goal.

  • Example: Committing to a goal of losing fifteen pounds may be less motivating than the knowledge that 90% of people achieve this goal within one year (and what the average person did to achieve this). Milestones along the way also help create momentum by showing that you are getting closer and that it is achievable. Unlike most charities that focus on large mandates Dosomething.org is a platform that inspires youth by celebrating micro-actions they can take.
  • How to integrate: Many organisations leverage large goals as a way to motivate users, however they may be more successfully motivated by leveraging the success of others. Create a measurement framework that allows your organisation to communicate inspiring data that can help motivate and make consumers feel like a part of a success community. This would also help keep people motivated when learning new products or courses. When considering charities and foundations working on homelessness and climate change they should consider that ‘quick wins’ may be the inspiration their advocates need to stay motivated towards the ultimate goals of ending homelessness, etc.

Lesson #3: As much as users want to be the best version of themselves, they are generally more interested in limiting their relapses and finding a sustainable balance.

  • Example: Consumers are increasingly eating organic, eating less meat, and eating more local. For many, committing to doing these all of the time is a stressful matter due to their discretionary income and because of social pressures. For many people who want to achieve the goal of eating no meat, the motivation isn’t a result of being perfect, it is a result of balancing ‘poor’ behaviour (eating meat) with an increasing amount of ‘positive’ behaviour (eating less meat).We have observed that the motivation comes from meeting and exceeding realistic targets, often ones based on balancing poor and good behaviours.
  • How to integrate: Promote an environment where users can find the support and guidance needed to help them make less bad choices, more often. ‘Relapses’ should be considered a part of the growth process, not part of failing the process. In industries aiming to create more positive behaviours related to food, environmentalism, health, finances users should be encouraged to track their and measure their positive and negative behaviours so that they find the confidence to improve the balance. In fitness many programs encourage cheat days and this allows participants to celebrate their progress thus far, while challenging them to be more focused on non-cheat days. This model may apply well in some forms to other industries and use cases.

Lesson #4: When users are seeking a trustworthy source, the majority prefer not to have to look for the information, they prefer to have a handful of authorities or certifications they rely on.

  • Example: Fair trade and unfair labour practices are major concerns today because so many food, fashion, and CPG products are sourced Internationally. While consumers may indicate that these issues are important to them, they generally would prefer to trust the brand, retailer, or certification than to look up how each product is sourced. The MSC certification is one of the most respected in the industry, however consumers do not seek verification of their purchases themselves.
  • How to integrate: Organisations that are investing in making sourcing information and due diligence transparent may be better served by making partnerships with groups that consumers trust. It may not need to be a certification. Depending on your particular users, they may have a higher level of trust in specific retailers, news outlets, and influencers who may be secured with less effort than a certification. In the case of charities, users who want to be certain their donations are spent effectively will likely prefer to see videos of donors like themselves talking about the work rather than a 3rd party audit.

Lesson #5: Many users are less interested in authoritative information, and more interested in getting decision support to help them understand their choices.

  • Example: Investing has traditionally relied on speaking to advisors and getting expert insights. It is now moving towards a model of automated products that help them make the investments that align to their goals and personalities. This may be due to users feeling overwhelmed by the the amount of information and choices possible in investing. They prefer to get decision support rather than advice and that is what fintech startups like Wealthsimple have done to reach new audiences.
  • How to integrate: Over the past decade, organizations have spent a big budget creating large websites that may in fact be creating a barrier to users. Today’s users prefer to spend less time learning, and want faster access to answers specific to their context. Rather than providing them a UX that requires searching through ten pages and read 1,000 words so that they can make a decision, provide them easy-to-access tools that help answer questions and offer in-context support that answers the most common questions/problems related to the task they are currently doing.

Lesson #6: Users prefer to get support and advice from people they can relate to, not from experts.

  • Example: Smokers are less likely to call a support line operated by trained experts than they are to ask someone who is not an expert for advice. Our research found that unless the support line can directly answer their question, they would prefer getting support from people who have recently gone through the same issue that they have. This can come in the form of being able to ask them a question or reading about the experiences of people they consider to be similar to themselves. One of Canada’s largest banks, RBC, recently launched Arrive as a way to guide and new families and provide them hyper-relevant support.
  • How to integrate: Understanding relevance is the key. Expert support can be made more relevant and accessible if call-to-actions specifically list what questions about the page users are reading are available via the expert. And if your goal is to leverage crowdsourced support from peers, the content displayed should be gathered via a data analysis that indicates that there would be a high level of relevance between the two users. The peer support should be about topics that are relevant based on the page they are currently viewing.

Have you found similar results in your work? Our firm’s goal is to empower public and private organisations to think in a more human-centred way about behaviour, and this case it is about being more realistic and relatable when it comes to goals and support.

Arpy Dragffy is the Strategy Lead at Vancouver-based Innovation Research & CX Strategy firm PH1 Media. He works with leading Canadian and international organisations to audit and assess innovation opportunities through market analysis, CX/UX/Usability audits, Design Thinking, and research. He has two decades of experience in technology and experience design.