The U.S. Treasury Department has worked for years to move payments to and from the government from paper format to electronic, a new technology implemented primarily to save money but also for efficiency and security reasons. In the early 2000s it was focused on how to encourage the last 20 percent of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients to accept direct deposit payments from those programs. The target audience was defined by its program participation and its lack of acceptance of this technology. But its motivations were a mystery. Was there active resistance? Lack of awareness? Physical impediments? Something else? There was an “understanding target audience” gap.
In this research, Artemis Strategy Group determined that the critical contextual insight was related to the SSI recipients. For many, life posed so many challenges that even a seemingly minor decision like direct deposit was overwhelming. In addition, they retained a strong attachment to the tangible aspects of physical checks. It was clear that any effort to change behaviors had to address this larger spectrum of life issues as well as offer a psychological substitute for the perceived emotional rewards of a paper check.
Our insights on the target audience’s larger contextual issues encouraged the Treasury to change the way it spoke to recipients about direct deposit by focusing on the dimensions that connected most clearly with the underlying needs of this population. Ultimately a new delivery mechanism (prepaid cards) was adopted by the Treasury to help overcome the strong attachment to the tangible nature of checks.