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
- 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,
Be Health Literacy Heroes, This Month and Always, part
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