Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Spring 2018

President's Message: Refresh, Renew, and Reach

Gary Bennett, PhD, SBM President

James F. Sallis, PhD, SBM president
Gary Bennett, PhD
SBM President

In just a few weeks, we will gather in New Orleans for the Society of Behavioral Medicine’s (SBM's) 39th Annual Meeting. I look forward to every SBM meeting, but this one is especially poignant because it marks the end of my presidential term. After a year in this role, I can report that our society is healthy, vibrant, and focused on impact. Today, I am even more confident of what I wrote in my first Outlook message, nearly a year ago: "Rarely in our country's history has there been greater need for what SBM members can uniquely provide -- evidence-based insights and solutions that can improve Americans' health."

In my conversations with members this year, I have frequently asked what they envision for both the field and the society. They often mention wanting more federal support for behavioral medicine, more training opportunities in emerging areas, more fora for inter-society interaction, and more time in the day. However, most frequently, our members say that they want our work to be more prominent.  It's become a familiar refrain for me -- members want our science to be more widely recognized, differentiated from similar-sounding areas (e.g., behavioral health), and visible in the products, policies, and health messaging that we experience each day.

One member captured this notion by saying that he wanted SBM to be, "the go-to source for what works in behavior change." I share this perspective. I think our science is too good -- and too important -- to keep to ourselves. When a journalist is covering a topic that is relevant to behavioral medicine, I want our members to get the first call. When a company is developing a new behavior change product or service, I want them to integrate our member's science. When policymakers are looking for ideas that work to improve health, lower costs, expand the reach of evidence-based treatments, I want them to come to us.

We live in a culture that prizes prominence for its own sake, and I'm certainly not arguing that we should seek fame. SBM may never [need to] be a household name. But I and others believe that heightened visibility can confer real returns for the society and its members. It's not possible to complete this task in a single term, but we decided to get started by focusing on SBM's brand. 

Why rebrand? How many times have you discussed behavioral medicine with others, only to have them mistake it for behavioral health? Or, try this: contact a colleague and ask how she describes behavioral medicine to others. It will almost certainly differ from your approach. Now, contact another colleague, and you'll find the same result. I suspect that you'll hear as many different strategies as colleagues you contact. This isn't an internal concern, but it challenges efforts to communicate our mission to external audiences. And we brand not for ourselves, but for others. 

To achieve the translational goals that many of us hold, I've argued that we will need to extend our reach to engage a range of stakeholders who are unfamiliar with our work. Today, those efforts are challenged by the "competition" we face in the marketplace of ideas. Indeed, it's becoming harder to differentiate behavioral medicine from behavioral health, lifestyle medicine, wellness, and even behavioral economics. With more interest in behavioral science coming from a range of academic disciplines, we will face increasing competition for members, sponsors (including those from federal and philanthropic organizations), as well as potential dissemination partners. Again, we SBM members understand our differentiators, but we brand for others, not ourselves.

Brands are probably unfamiliar for most of us, but they matter. After Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel prize for his work in behavioral economics -- a field that has captured the attention of funders, the public, policymakers, and the private sector -- he said, "the term 'behavioral economics,' as it is used today ... that’s really social psychology. "Social psychology," he argued, "had to disguise itself as economics before it had an impact on the culture." Although we may recoil at this notion, the sentiment is clear: brands matter, even in science. 

Last summer, our Board decided to engage a partner to lead our brand refresh. We conducted a national search and ultimately retained the Infinia Group, a New York City-based consultancy that has previously worked with nonprofit organizations in health and healthcare. Over several weeks, Infinia met with a range of SBM stakeholders, including new and established members, former and current board members, Wisdom Council members, and those who were external to the society. Infinia also performed a competitive analysis, benchmarking SBM against our peer organizations. Throughout, they assessed how we define and describe behavioral medicine, what we want from and for the field, and where we fit in the broader behavioral science marketplace. The iterative process culminated with a strategy session at our fall Board meeting in Washington, DC. There, Infinia presented several ways of reimagining our presentation to external audiences. We discussed potential taglines, organizational descriptions, and had robust discussions about new programmatic directions for the society. Over the next several months a small working group has worked with Infinia to develop a reimagined visual identity, including a new logo, mark, website design, print collateral designs, as well as identities for some of our new assets (including our upcoming podcast). 

You'll be able to see the new SBM logo very soon. We plan to reveal it after the awards ceremony, following my talk at the upcoming Annual Meeting. Join me at 5 p.m. April 12 in Ballroom CD.

Change is never easy, and many seem to think that we academics have a genetic aversion to it. I'm pleased to say that my experience has been quite the opposite. On this, and the full range of activities we've pursued this year, our members have been deeply invested, engaged, and willing to share their talents in service to our field and society. Enhancing the field's visibility is a multi-year effort, and I am thrilled that our future leaders will push this work forward. I consider myself hugely fortunate to work in a field that is enriched by the generosity, creativity, and dedication of so many colleagues. Together, I am confident that we will achieve our goal to improve and extend lives as we cease being the "best-kept secret in health and medicine."

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve. I encourage you to do the same.