Contests Can’t Compete in the Race for Real Behavior Change

Contests are everywhere—particularly in our field of behavior change—so we know the argument we’re about to make will be unpopular with a lot of people. Here it is: while competition is exciting in Olympic events, we believe contests are not the hands-down outreach winner so many assume them to be.

The “spirit of competition” is often touted as an effective motivator, with vast resources being poured into contests that pit neighbor against neighbor, for example. We believe there are two problems with contests like these:

  1. The pleasure of winning is not a universal emotion, and
  2. Prizes place the motivation outside the individual and so only create temporary behavior change, at best.

Questionable Assumptions and Labeling Losers

It’s often assumed that winning a competition evokes happiness, pride in achievement and satisfaction in everyone. These are core human emotions identified by psychologists as being universal. However, we know from copious cross-cultural research that winning does not always bring happiness, pride and satisfaction. In many cultures, collaboration is valued more highly than competition. While winning a game might make one person feel proud, another might feel ashamed because of his/her particular background and values. So it is vitally important to put on cross-cultural “goggles” when we design outreach campaigns.

Another consequence of contests is all of the “losers,” who don’t win a prize and are therefore disappointed. This is typically the majority of participants, so why alienate most of your audience by dooming them to the label of loser?

Is Competition Now a Religion?

It is incorrect to assume that the desire to win will always motivate and change behavior. According to Alfie Kohn, author of No Contest: The Case Against Competition, “The race to be Number One has been described as America’s state religion. We have been trained … to believe in the value of beating people … Research and experience, however, demonstrate that competition is actually destructive … and counterproductive …” In another Kohn book entitled Punished by Rewards, he argues persuasively that holding out a potential reward (extrinsic motivation) is highly ineffective at changing behavior long-term.

A carefully designed contest can be an effective tactic for a target group that is more competitively oriented, if it is part of a larger, integrated campaign. In general we suggest using more constructive tactics that are more likely to result in long-term behavior change. We think that’s a winning idea.

 

Image by skynesher via iStockphoto

3 Rules for a Flourishing Website Redesign

Flower Growing in a garden

The Gigantic team is delighted that our newly designed website has gone live. The process of redesign, including a new identity, is something we take clients through all the time. Going through it ourselves reminded us of three ways a website is like a garden.

1. From seed to sprout, it always takes longer than you think. Redesigning and freshening content for a few web pages —- how hard can it be? Pretty challenging, actually. The website needs to reflect who you are, where you are going, and what you do..AND it’s got to do it in clearly organized, attractive and memorable chunks. Inevitably, internal differences are revealed as the organization re-examines its mission, values and direction— good discussions ensue, but they need time to be resolved. We typically allow six to eight months for a full re-design.

2. Choose easy maintenance over a gardening service. Websites can have so many cool features these days, but time and again we see organizations that have to rely on outside technical assistance to change a comma or upload a new photo. It’s important to:

  • Be realistic about internal capacities and get training on site upkeep as needed;
  • Have enough staff who understand and can use the content management system;
  • Document, document, document your procedures.

3. A living thing needs careful tending. Remember when when we overprinted time-limited brochures, or someone missed an error in a key headline or messed up the date of the newsletter? The advantage, but sometime headache, of websites is that they are living entities. On the upside, that means you don’t have to live with errors and can make changes anytime you like. However, it also means you need to supply new content nourishment and occasionally prune what’s there. So the launch of a site is just the beginning and needs to be accompanied by a manual of procedures and style. The manual should include guidelines on updating content, maintaining SEO, organizational tone, evaluating traffic and staff responsibilities. Otherwise, that healthy new site can wilt very quickly.

The new Gigantic-idea.com came to fruition with the help of our partners at Jiva Creative. We look forward to helping our next client with their rebranded website. We know we’ll approach the project with renewed enthusiasm, not to mention a bit more humility, now that we’ve walked in their shoes!

Ten Years of Gigantic History

Remember 2002?

  • The Mars Odyssey found signs of huge water ice deposits on the planet Mars.
  • The Rolling Stones’ LICKS world tour was underway.
  • A gallon of gas cost $1.61.
  • File-swapping site Napster was closed down.
  • Earth Summit 2002 was held in August in Johannesburg, South Africa; the U.S. did not send an official delegation.

Also in 2002: Shana Levy (now McCracken) and Lisa Duba joined up to form a new kind of marketing agency, focused on integrated, behavior-change-focused outreach campaigns for environmental programs. Gigantic Idea Studio was born. Ten years is a milestone for any business, and we feel proud as we look back at the past decade and recall the victories as well as the learning opportunities.

In 2001, Shana and Lisa were working on projects together as they had since 1995, when it dawned on them: Why not join forces and create a more powerful team?

Shana recalls: “Lisa and I already had dozens of projects under our belts, working together at a small marketing agency and then again on and off as sole proprietors. We knew our skills complemented each other, and we had a feeling that formalizing the alliance would be beneficial—not just to us but to our clients.”

“Looking back, it’s easy to see we’ve always been on an upward trajectory,” Lisa reflects, “but as entrepreneurs trying to make it in a very new field, every day has been a challenge. I guess the old saying is right. It really does take 10 years to be an ‘overnight success’!”

In the coming months we’ll be celebrating our 10th anniversary year in various ways, online and face-to-face. Watch this space to see what’s coming up! We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished in 10 years and envision great things for Gigantic and our clients for years to come.

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