Does it apply to me? How to improve messaging in healthcare communications

Message development is a science and an art.

Message development is a science and an art. In the paid media world, much time is spent crafting messages, testing them, revising, testing again, and eventually finalizing them for external consumption.  In PR, the process isn't as complicated, but maybe it should be.  Audiences today are short on time and have limited attention spans. They want information that is relevant to them, and they are vocal about products and companies that don't speak in an authentic voice.  Subconsciously we all consume information based on one fundamental question: “Does it apply to me?” 

This dynamic is especially important in scientific and healthcare communications as messaging can be quite complicated.  We want to motivate doctors and patients on mechanisms of action, data, and intricate value propositions.  We spend significant time developing messaging that communicates our ‘advantage' or ‘reason to believe.'  But are our messages relatable?  Probably not. What is missing is that extra step of customizing messages to speak to the audiences we want to influence and motivate.

Tailored messaging isn't a new concept, but arriving at insights that allow us to customize messaging is becoming much more complex.  To do so, we not only need to be clear on who our key audience is, but also on where they get their information, how they consume it, and what motivates them to get engaged. This phase of insight gathering is usually cut short, especially when launching campaigns on tight timelines. However, that extra step is not only necessary; it's invaluable in fostering impact. 

Essentially, we need to infuse the human element in the narrative we create; without it we are talking at our audience and not to them.  If we think about campaigns that have been successful at understanding and engaging their target, at their root is messaging that is audience specific.  The Dove ‘Natural Beauty' campaign provides a great example of messaging that is audience directed and speaks to women in a way that is relatable and genuine.  We can do the same, even in complex therapeutic environments.  It may require ethnography and other means of really getting into the mind of our audience, but it is well worth the investment of time and resources. 

Bringing the functional benefit of our messages to life isn't a nice to have, it's a must have.  It's what differentiates good programs from great ones.  We need to speak in an authentic voice and apply our proposition to our audience in a meaningful way.  If it's all about them, then education and engagement will come naturally.

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

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