If all politics is local, health messaging should be personal

Despite Americans' desire for privacy and data security, the truth is our lives are an open book. That's never more obvious than during election season.

Despite Americans' desire for privacy and data security, the truth is our lives are an open book. That's never more obvious than during election season.

Which brand of soap we buy, what websites we visit, where we go on vacation – veritable reams of data are readily available and are synthesized by political organizations to gain insight into voters. The same approach can be applied to healthcare campaigns. If “all politics is local,” then all health messaging is - or should be - personal.

Do you buy groceries twice a month at Whole Foods, once bought a sleeping bag at REI, and live and work in Chicago? Then the campaign collateral mailed to your house may be printed on recycled paper by an organized-labor printing shop, indicated by a prominent union seal, and feature the candidate dressed in jeans.

Are you a supporter of the National Rifle Association? Then your campaign collateral may be bright orange, the color of a hunter's jacket, with a type font that resembles military stenciling. No detail is too small when it comes to harnessing the power of subliminal messaging.

The purveyors of campaign collateral have perfected the art of micro-targeting, an intriguing concept that offers some compelling lessons for any industry, but particularly for those of us in healthcare. Says David Iannelli, global president at Research+Data Insights and a former NBC News/Wall Street Journal pollster: “Micro-targeting research is the marriage of marketing databases and political polling.” 

When it comes to developing strategic healthcare communications, consider going beyond the customary demographic profile of disease, gender, and age. Those features may be accurate, but it is a very wide net that doesn't consistently bubble up compelling, actionable insight. Using data that is readily available from third-party vendors, it is important to examine the psychographics behind the demographics – lifestyle adjacencies like habits, hobbies, and beliefs that are at the core of each of us.

With the power of insight, you can drill down to a level of specificity that can mean the difference between a call-to-action and a call-to-ignore. Let's say you need to reach female patients with psoriasis. Using analytics, we can learn a tremendous amount. Take two women who are both 35 years old. One is single, went on vacation last June at Sandals in Turks and Caicos, works at an advertising agency, and has a profile on Match.com. The other woman is a married, stay-at-home mom with three kids who volunteers at their private school. On paper, these women meet the same general demographic criteria, but their lives are vastly different, with unique priorities, desires, and routines. The communications campaigns for this disease, one that is highly visible with social implications, should therefore be made relevant to each of these women.

In this scenario, the data is used in a modeling exercise to derive smaller groupings of patients that is more closely aligned with lifestyle adjacencies. Key messages, media outreach, digital strategies, SEO/SEM, and other tactics should correlate with, and be a reflection of, the research.

For the sake of patient privacy, specific names and other personal, identifying information is not disclosed by data vendors, and individually-tailored campaigns would not be efficient or practical anyway. Nor should you ignore the popular approaches such as engaging advocacy groups or online patient communities; those are still valid for certain types of outreach.

But patients define themselves as being more than merely the sum of their disease. They are not just anonymous people with psoriasis, or cancer, or MS. They are parents, spouses, employees, volunteers, and so on, with an abundant and full life.

Ideally, any communications planning should be developed around business objectives and complementary sales and marketing activities. When using data as a powerful predictor of behavior, campaigns – whether presidential or pharmaceutical – can indeed result in a call-to-action.

Tali Mackay is SVP and healthcare practice lead for Los Angeles at Hill+Knowlton Strategies. She can be reached at tali.mackay@hkstrategies.com.

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