The pandemic has so radically changed healthcare delivery and consumers’ behavior that marketers are now compelled to shift paradigms to reach their targets. Today, the traditional “rules” for public health awareness and education campaigns no longer apply; marketers must abandon pre-pandemic assumptions about how consumers want to be communicated with, what motivates them or whom they trust.

The good news is that people are more health literate than ever before. Their ability to make decisions based on scientific research has skyrocketed. So has their trust in science and scientists, while science skepticism is now declining. 

However, a significant and vocal minority representing different geographies, political persuasions and diverse backgrounds is moving in the opposite direction. This is fostering an overabundance of disinformation campaigns designed to sow fear and confusion at a time when verifiable information is a matter of life or death.

Studies have shown that individuals also have different perceptions about their personal risk because they have persuaded themselves that the data don’t apply to them. This personal lens has thwarted many of the national efforts regarding COVID-19 vaccinations and mask-wearing.

Finally, there are legitimate challenges to effectively communicating to people representing certain geographies, political leanings and ethnic backgrounds who have an inherent distrust of the government, scientists and/or the medical community.  

We need to recognize the still evolving mindset of health consumers and strategically plan communications program differently. Here are some ways to ensure messages and messengers resonate:

•  One size doesn’t fit all. We used to assume that a campaign with national reach and a national spokesperson yielded better results than a local one. But in today’s fractured society, a broadly targeted national public health message may fall flat or even backfire. Just consider how ineffective the masking messages about being “in this together” have been in some parts of the country, or how repetitive reminders to get vaccinated failed to motivate people ambivalent about the vacccines’ safety or effectiveness. Marketers now have access to data and insights that are increasingly personalized for every consumer. Today, we are using that data to understand how audiences differ, fine-tune messages and influencers most relevant to them and fuel communications strategies. In diverse communities in particular, securing health professionals and influencers who authentically share the same concerns and can deliver culturally resonant messages is critical.

•  Use storytelling to make science accessible and help people connect to it. Use stories to explain scientific data so people can easily relate to it and give them the chance to dig deeper with interactive digital campaigns that can address their questions. For people who underestimate their personal risk, give them the incontrovertible evidence they need to understand how they will personally benefit by changing their behavior.    

•  Protect the integrity of your information. Disinformation is everywhere, and any campaign can be a target. In this new world of fake news and deep fakes, health marketers need to be alert and ready to combat disinformation campaigns. Consider directing users to scientific or government resources to ensure they get information from reputable sources. Communicators can use software to detect harmful digital content threats in real time. Ensure your team is prepared with a procedure for how to react to disinformation before an incident.

Implementing a public health or disease education campaign today is filled with complex challenges, requiring a virtual village of experts to address them. In addition to data analytics and health insights, we need experts in medicine, public health, traditional, digital and social media, multi-cultural communications and influencers to imprint on the campaigns. It’s no longer just a public relations or social media campaign, nor a national vs. local program.

Today’s efforts must be fully integrated across all communications touch points to drive action, motivate change and reflect positively on a company’s reputation. And we need a broad array of perspectives and planning to ensure we address the many other COVID-19 related changes that have forever changed our world.

Dxtra Health Integrated Solutions is a global collective of 27 marketing specialty brands and more than 7,000 employees, anchored across Weber Shandwick, Golin, Octagon and Jack Morton. Dxtra Health Integrated Solutions companies bring together unique combinations of in-demand skills and expertise for clients, including experiential, public relations, sponsorships, innovation, brand, influencer, digital, social and analytics.