Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: The Heart of Health Literacy: Motivating People to Act

The Heart of Health Literacy: Motivating People to Act

Managing Editor

Why should anyone do something we ask them to do?


This question is at the heart of health communications. As health communicators, it is our job to convince patients, doctors, the general public, or whatever audience we're talking to, that what we are asking them to do is the right thing for them to do. And the key to that is in communicating the "why."


When we communicate about health, we must seek to better understand the thoughts and emotions that go into a decision that one makes about their health care. It is often far more complicated than "I want to be healthy" or "I want to lose weight." We have to figure out what motivates our audience. And then we have to figure out how to get them to spread the word. Like it or not, most people don't care what we have to say. There are so many messages blasted at people all day long that we're lucky any messages stick at all. And although that may be frustrating and even disheartening as a communicator, there's a piece of this puzzle that works really well for communicating why someone should do something.


Flip the Funnel


Peer-to-peer communication is becoming far more trusted than communication from companies-even those companies that have the audience's best interest at heart. We have to leverage the power of word of mouth. For many, it is easier to trust "someone like me." According to David Meerman Scott, marketing strategist and best-selling author, people have a variety of motivations for passing along a message, including the desire to help others, provide education, demonstrate knowledge, create a social connection, and validate one's own opinion. It's our job to craft our message in a way that will get other people to broadcast it.


Best-selling author and marketing guru Seth Grodin call's this flipping the funnel. Although traditional outbound marketing works well for some things, we are remiss if we don't make efforts to harness the power of word of mouth. So, rather than shouting at your audience, hoping to draw them into your sales funnel, turn the funnel on its side and make it a megaphone. Empower your audience to become an evangelist-or a cheerleader or your biggest fan-and help share your message.


But even before you start strategizing about getting others to share your message, you need to think of your audience. Who are they? How do they talk? What do you know about them? What motivates them? Then-and only then-you can start crafting your message. When you do so, you should use plain language-language that your audience uses-and keep the health literacy levels of your audience in mind. You should create audience personas so that the content you create is specific to each group. You use different messaging for moms of school-aged kids than you use for college students. If you fail to recognize the differences in your audience, you fail to take that first critical step of communicating the "why." 


Speaking at the Plain Talk in Complex Times 2013 conference last month in Arlington, VA, Ginny Redish, president of Redish & Associates, Inc., in Bethesda, MD, emphasized this point as well. The purpose of any written material should not just be to educate or inform; you have to take the next step. Once your audience is educated or informed, what do you want them todo with what they've learned? She says your tactics should be three-fold:


  • Write purpose statements for your content that focus on what you want readers to do.
  • Develop personas to help you focus your writing.
  • Analyze examples in light of your purposes, your personas, and their relevant conversations.


With all of this said, the bottom line is this: we have to know who we are writing to, what motivates them to act, and what we want them to do. Communicating appropriately and effectively isn't always easy, but it's always rewarding, and it's always the right thing to do.


This is part 4 of the Healthyist's series on Health Literacy. For more on our thoughts on health literacy, read part 1, Let's Be Health Literacy Heroes, This Month and Always,   part 2,  Are We Thinking Clearly About Health Literacy?, and part 3, Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus: Differences in Conversational Styles Between the Sexes and What it Means for Health Communications, and part 5, Communicating in a Changing Health Care Landscape.

Communicating in a Changing Health Care Landscape


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