Action as Change Agent

Action as Change Agent

As much as we might like to think our belief systems influence our behaviors, it’s far more often the other way around. “Actions change attitudes much faster than attitudes change action,” explained Adam Ferrier, author of The Advertising Effect: How to Change Behavior.

Two well-documented theories help explain this somewhat counter-intuitive interplay between our beliefs and our behaviors:

  • The self-perception theory states that we draw inferences on who we are by observing our own behaviors. In other words, our actions inform our identities.
  • And the cognitive dissonance theory says that we experience discomfort when our behavior has betrayed our beliefs. In these instances, we are motivated to reduce the conflict between behavior and belief. The surprising part? We typically do so by changing our attitudes to match the behavior, not the other way around.

So what do these psychological truths mean for marketers? In short, when looking to influence an audience’s perceptions of a brand, a powerful message isn’t enough. By encouraging audiences to take action on the behalf of our clients, GOXD is able to have a much greater impact on brand perceptions.

And it’s true whether developing B-to-B or B-to-C programs. Consider the following approaches, all designed to spur audiences to action.

Ask them a favor

The Benjamin Franklin effect explains that “we grow to like people for whom we do nice things and dislike those to whom we are unkind.” When we do something nice for someone, we adjust our attitude to justify our actions. So consider asking your audience to do something on behalf of your brand. You might ask them to take a survey, share content, or share their ideas or thoughts by voting or even creating something, like in the popular Lay’s Do Us a Flavor campaign. The best favors to ask? Ones that are small, convenient, and not necessarily incentivized. Studies show that participants will be more inclined to mentally justify their actions — read: more inclined to actively change their perceptions — when they aren’t rewarded.

Get them talking

Once a brand advocate, always a brand advocate. It’s essentially the marketing application of cognitive dissonance, and we see it time and again: As soon as a person begins endorsing a brand, their loyalty to that brand strengthens and amplifies. Accordingly, if you want to inspire brand advocacy, give people an opportunity to endorse your brand and give them the tools to do so easily. For example, consider providing your audiences with a means to enrich their social presence, by creating unique or special shareable experiences for them. By giving them access to social currency in this way — that is, allowing them to present themselves as in-the-know about your company or industry — you align them with your brand for the long-term.

Invite them to participate

We are what we do. If you’re trying to relay a certain message about your brand or encourage a particular behavior among your audience, create an opportunity for your audience to embody that message or to practice that behavior. BBDGo, for example, wanted its employees to perceive their employer as socially conscious; instead of plainly relaying this message, the agency’s leaders invited employees to vote on the charitable organization that was most meaningful to them. They then created a relay across London that every employee participated in to raise money for the winning charity. Perceptions shifted organically.

These tactics — among the many that GOXD employs for our clients — indeed produce a change in audiences’ beliefs. But that change in beliefs is the calculated byproduct of the actions experiential marketing programs are designed to compel.


Lovaglia, Michael J. Knowing People: The Personal Use of Social Psychology. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007.

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