How to take advantage of the ‘Fresh Start Effect’ in your communications

A New Year, A Fresh Start

Researchers at the Wharton Business School (Dai et al., 2013) have found that people are more likely to engage in aspirational behaviours following temporal landmarks. In other words, we are more likely to try to improve ourselves (by exercising, eating better, or quitting smoking, for example) at the beginning of a new week, month, or year, or immediately following a birthday or holiday.

The researchers tested their hypothesis by analyzing i) Google searches related to ‘diet’, ii) gym attendance records, and iii) commitment contracts created on stikK, a website that helps customers achieve their personal goals. In all cases they found that aspirational behaviour increased after temporal landmarks. Their finding is consistent with ‘relocation therapy’ research (Kaufman, 2013) that suggests people can create turning points in their lives by moving to a new residence to start over.

This ‘Fresh Start Effect’ can be a useful tool for marketers. If you’re providing health care services, selling eco-friendly household products, recruiting volunteers, engaging donors, or trying to change unhealthy behaviours, consider nudging your target audience with a timely message linked to a significant temporal landmark.

New Year’s Day is a big opportunity. Drop them a note about this being their healthiest or most environmentally sustainable year ever, and show how your products or services can help achieve that. Send them a quick Monday Memo to remind them about their aspirations, and keep them on track for the week. If you have birthdays in your database, take advantage of that fact not only to wish someone a happy birthday but suggest ways they might make their coming year significantly better than the previous one. Keep your messaging focused on them. This is primarily about aspiring to a better life and achieving it, not buying and selling.

Missed the New Year’s Resolution angle this year? Not to worry. You can start fresh next week, next month, and next year!