Just press pause

One paradigm stands in the way of all communication programs, materials, and strategic thinking we bring to bear: lack of time.

As communicators, our mission is to increase awareness and educate people about ideas, products, and companies in an effort to influence our audience, spark action, and ultimately foster behavior change. However, one paradigm stands in the way of all communication programs, materials, and strategic thinking we bring to bear: lack of time.  

As our world becomes more technologically advanced, we have managed to fit more and more into our days. As employees, it means that every minute is accounted for. Outside the office, our time is over-scheduled and spent running errands. This dynamic is a formidable barrier to our communications efforts. Why? Because in order to reach people with a message - or two - we have to get them to pause and actually take a minute to read, listen, and see. In a world where everyone is running a mile a minute, this is easier said than done.   

Nowhere is this dynamic more visible than in healthcare communications. The information and concepts we communicate are complex and take time to consider and digest. As marketers, we spend most of our time and resources developing intricate campaigns, materials, and ads. And while we often reach our intended audience, it is unclear if we are truly influencing them.  

Our challenge is to not only create compelling messages and materials, but deliver them in a way that causes people to pause and listen. When people take a step back to accept a message, we have a golden opportunity to educate and influence.   

So how do we get people to pause? Achieving that moment requires a keen understanding of the emotional and rational drivers of behavior, as well as insight into what gets people to suspend what they are doing and be open to new information.  

Our colleagues in the consumer world understand this concept well and study consumer behavior day-in and day-out. In healthcare, we have a general understanding of the behavioral attitudes of doctors and patients, but rarely do we delve into their lives as people. We tend to focus communication to doctors when they are wearing their white coats, or to patients when they are at the doctor's office, yet this may be one of the busiest times to reach them with new information. While diving deep into consumer behavior may not be routine in the healthcare world, we here at Cohn & Wolfe found our most effective healthcare programs are those built on deep research.

By understanding consumer behavior outside of the doctor's office, we can plan the right time to reach them with key messages. Specifically, we need to determine when they will take time to gather information related to healthcare directed programming. Is it post doctor's visit, when patients go online to gather details on a condition? This could mean tagging online content and web pages with search terms typically used by a person who has just received a particular diagnosis. Or, is it when our audience is on the subway or at a baseball game, staring at messaging in various ads. In these moments we may have a captive audience, open to reading and listening to what we have to say. We tend to focus on the “right messages” and the “right audience,” but what happened to the “right time?”  

Getting to the time piece requires consumer behavior insights, which ultimately are critical to fostering education and behavior change. So as we try to influence people to be compliant, manage a chronic disease, or understand all their therapeutic options, we need to take inventory of the rational and emotional drivers that influence their day and where and when they may be most open to pressing pause.

Olga Fleming is EVP and MD of New York healthcare at Cohn & Wolfe.

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