Change — no matter how necessary — is tough to pursue. This should be abundantly clear if you’ve ever made a new year’s resolution but given up after a few weeks. As complicated as change can seem for your personal life, however, it’s often even trickier in the marketing world, where abandoning tried-and-tested strategies may feel downright foolish.

The reality of the fast-paced world of marketing is that, while branding should remain consistent, specific tactics for reaching consumers will need to evolve over time. As you learn more about which strategies reach certain types of prospects, you’ll need to adjust your approach to make the most of every marketing dollar. If you’ve gotten comfortable or complacent using a particular strategy, however, you may be reluctant to take that critical first step.

The intricacies of the process of changing can be seen in a powerful framework from psychology expert James O. Prochaska. As the force behind the transtheoretical model of behavior change, Prochaska believes that changes are rarely as quick or decisive as they seem. Rather, they occur incrementally during a drawn-out process known as the stages of change.

While Prochaska’s Stages of Change were largely formed with the intention of helping people adopt healthier lifestyles, they can be applied to nearly any area of personal or professional life. These stages are surprisingly useful in the marketing world, where a business owner’s resistance to change can be significant and more pronounced depending on where someone is in their decision-making process. In this guide, we’ll explain what these stages are, how they work, and why they apply to marketing initiatives. Not only are these stages important to help you break unhealthy cycles in your business but also to prevent them from worsening.

Transtheoretical Stages of Behavior Change

Print Design and Illustrations by Maya Chastain


Precontemplation is the first stage of Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change

As the entry point of the change process, the precontemplation stage involves the initial perception of a problem. At this stage, most people are highly resistant to the very idea of making a change or accepting assistance. They may, however, begin to recognize that something is wrong.

If you run a business with an outdated marketing strategy, precontemplation may involve the early realization that your current approach isn’t working. You may initially be resistant to this idea — your previous marketing strategy has gotten you this far, right? Still, something doesn’t feel quite right. Precontemplation can be intangible and hard to pin down specifics. While it might not be staring you in the face just yet, your gut is telling you something is off.


Contemplate is the second stage of the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change

By the time the contemplation stage has arrived, the need for change has become evident. Still, this stage involves a great deal of ambivalence about taking action. This may be accompanied by rationalizing both the previous behavior and the new option. Procrastination is also common at this time, as the thought of changing may still feel overwhelming.

With marketing, procrastination might look like a continued reliance on outdated methods, even when metrics show that they fail to deliver the desired return on investment. Similarly, if you look at the definition of insanity from a business perspective it is making the same attempt over and over again but expecting a different result. Still, the thought of trying something new — such as redesigning your website, getting more involved on social media, or investing advertising dollars into a new campaign or platform you’ve never tried before — might seem overwhelming. And because of this, it can be hard to get motivated enough to push for real change and see it through.


Preparation is the third stage of the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change

This critical stage reveals a readiness to move forward with change. At this point, there is an actual intention to adjust your approach, even if this initially feels uncomfortable. You’ll begin to take small steps on the path to lasting change.

If your intended change involves digital marketing, this stage may involve a consultation with an expert. You’ll be more open to outside opinions once you’ve reached the preparation stage — and you’ll be glad to have somebody reaffirm your decision to adjust your approach. Preparation could also mean exploring the possibilities for your next marketing initiative and making a game plan for eventually implementing a new strategy.

In our experience, there are so many options available to small business owners when it comes to marketing and advertising that it can be overwhelming and difficult to know what options make sense or will bear fruit. You must also take into consideration how these strategies will impact both short-term and long-term costs and revenue. Planning and creating a solid strategy are hands down, the most critically important steps in carrying out any marketing endeavor. Therefore, consider outside help during this phase most of all.


Action is the fourth stage of the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change

When people think of making significant changes, they typically picture the action stage. This is certainly the flashiest point of the process — and the most likely to attract attention. That being said, the action stage can also be the most stressful. Just look at how much had to happen in the earlier stages of change just to get to a space of forward progress!

To ensure a successful outcome, seek help. If you have a health problem, wouldn’t you consult with a physician? Or if you are looking to invest in stocks or retirement, contacting a financial advisor is always a solid first step. The same should be true for marketing. Consulting with a digital marketing agency allows you to create a realistic, effective plan for setting your strategy in motion.

This stage also involves moving forward with your plan of action. At this point, you should already feel confident that making strategic changes is right for your business and for your marketing initiative and you should know exactly what that entails. Now, it’s time to delve into details and watch your strategy come to life! Depending on your preferred marketing approach, this could mean developing new content for your blog, a new social media initiative, overhauling your website’s design, launching a new product or service, or creating new buyer personas as you adjust your brand identity.


Maintenance is the fifth stage of the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change

With the main actions out of the way, the maintenance stage centers around efforts to avoid backsliding into formerly damaging approaches or behaviors. Small adjustments may be required at this point, but in general, this stage is marked by ongoing signs of commitment to your new approach to life.

With marketing initiatives, the maintenance phase may involve careful tracking of your campaign to ensure that it’s making the intended return on investment. If you observe positive progress, you’ll be less likely to return to the problematic strategies that held you back in the past. If, however, you see areas that require further change, you can circle back to a previous stage and start fresh as you seek new changes.

A common mistake that business owners make when it comes to marketing is too many changes too quickly. Marketing is often a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to build a following. It takes time to reap the rewards of a content-based strategy. And, it takes time to build authority, credibility, and trustworthiness in any market. Trying to leapfrog ahead without careful planning or methodically analyzing results and making calculated decisions will lead to disaster.

There is a misconception that if you build it, they will come. But in reality, when you launch a new marketing endeavor, all you’ve built is an “island in the middle of the ocean.” Building any worthwhile endeavor takes time, patience, and determination to make your deserted island into a sought-after destination.


Termination is the sixth stage of the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change

When we think of positive change, we like to imagine a happy ending, in which we’re able to decisively conquer all obstacles and make our new way of life permanent. Change is rarely that simple, however. More often, there is at least some degree of backpedaling. This can commonly be seen in addiction treatment, where relapse is often tough to avoid. As such, many people never leave the maintenance phase of Prochaska’s stages.

Remaining in maintenance should not be seen as a failure, but rather, as the opportunity to continue to grow and evolve. That being said, some people may move beyond maintenance to a final stage known as termination. At this point, there is no longer any desire to return to the previous behavior.

In marketing, this could mean that you’ve truly embraced a new approach, which works well for your business and can be sustained far into the future. While you’ll still want to track metrics to avoid growing stagnant, you can feel confident that the changes you previously made were worthwhile and bearing fruit.

Break the Cycle of Unhealthy Marketing with Vinci Digital

Break the cycle of unhealthy marketing with Vinci Digital

No matter where you find yourself within Prochaska’s stages, you can benefit from the insight and support of a trusted digital marketing agency. Left to your own devices, you’re far more likely to continue cycling through the early stages of precontemplation and contemplation. With the right resources, however, you can finally make the changes needed to get consumers excited about your business.

Marketing is an evolutionary process and should be seen as a perpetually moving target. That’s not to be taken negatively in the sense that you will always miss the mark. By moving target we mean there are numerous components all working together that are constantly in flux and influenced by other marketers, your target markets, industry trends, consumer preferences, the economy, and many other factors. Therefore, to become complacent or dormant in your approach may not impact your business short-term, but absolutely will negatively impact your business long-term as these moving pieces continue to shift while you remain stagnant.

Our team at Vinci Digital understands how difficult it can be to change up your approach to digital marketing, even when the tactics you’ve relied on are obviously ineffective or less than optimal. We’re here to remove the stress from this process so you can feel confident in adopting new marketing solutions. Contact us today to learn more about our approach to digital marketing.

PS: Do the stages of change feel relevant to your marketing strategy? Do you currently identify with any of these stages as you take on new initiatives or try to ditch strategies that have previously held you back? Leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Gerald D. Vinci

Gerald D. Vinci

Gerald D. Vinci is the CEO of Vinci Digital with over 20 years of experience in marketing and advertising. He partners with mid-size, established businesses as a growth and scalability consultant and strategic branding advisor as well as offering a full-suite of agency services. Gerald calls Carmel, CA home with his wife Safira and two children. He has co-authored two books, and is working on his own upcoming book titled, “Small Business Pricing Mastery – Creating effective pricing and defining value for today’s products and services.”