Effective Communications Stimulate Sustainable Engagement (3 of 7)

A core premise in marketing any good or service is that clear and relevant messages need to developed, packaged and delivered to potential buyers in a reasonably persuasive manner.

Advertisers use a fundamental approach known as “AIDA” – Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action, which recognizes that most people will not act based on seeing a single message. Media plans for ad campaigns are built on the science of target audience “effective reach” of 3+ or 5+ times. And those impressions deepen awareness, stimulate interest, activate desire and drive action.

For most employers, especially Benefits and HR departments, this is not an inherent skill set. Most of their communications work is policy-focused or compliance-oriented.

Driving health behavior change is very different.

One of the key reasons that we see such an “Engagement Gap” in the industry is that most communications efforts for health and well-being improvement aren’t well designed. Many use the “kitchen sink” approach (a la Open Enrollment materials), and try to put the whole story out in a single pitch. Others rely on their web portals to provide their information. And there are many other permutations that also fall short.

It’s generally better to use a multi-phase, multi-media communications campaign that provides bits of information at a time. Use special events, leadership statements, well-being ambassadors, place-based media, and other elements of what could be considered a combo advertising and public relations campaign.

For a more in-depth look at ways to improve your approach to communications planning, check out How Madison Avenue Methods Can Help Drive Health Behavior Change, which I published in the SHRM on-line resource a few years back.

Preparing a truly effective communications campaign takes a lot of time and effort. It should get the same care and attention (and investment) as consumer brand marketing campaigns do, because unfortunately, selling health and well-being improvement is not as easy as we’d like for it to be.

Consumer Insights Shape Sustainable Engagement (2 of 7)

Many health and well-being improvement programs are built as “one size fits all” and the results usually show it. Consumers are individuals and, especially when it comes to health improvement, they need to be addressed in ways that are particularly relevant to them.

Developing insights from primary and secondary research, from observation and from an iterative exploratory process can be powerful in refining an approach geared to drive action.

Consultants offer segmentation schemes, which are helpful in carving up the population into manageable slices, but they still treat people as part of a group. A recent pilot program at Healthways got into personality profiles, which enabled well-being coaches to better understand the type of each of people they were helping. This provided a dual effect – the ability to be more tailored in their conversation approach, and the added advantage of enabling individuals to do their own self-assessment, and provided a higher level of self-awareness.

As in advertising, the better a marketer can understand their target audience, the more effective they can be in crafting and delivering their messages, and in the selection of media channels to use with both broad and direct outreach.

It is also important to also understand the culture in which individuals work and socialize, their economic challenges and their perspectives on health and well-being.

For employers, some of this emerges from discussions with management, but it is often surprising (or maybe not) how much more can be learned through a deeper dive with the workforce to better assess their psychographic and attitudinal dynamics.

The use of advisory teams, focus groups, and site visits all help provide an ethnographic profile that supports communications, incentives and interventions. It is also valuable to identify potential rational or emotional barriers in the decision pathway of individuals or groups, to better address them in the story flow that emerges in the next phase.

Business Objectives Initiate Sustainable Engagement (1 of 7)

The underpinning of any successful business model needs to be the purposeful ambition or intent through which it is implemented. Companies have processes and procedures for most of their functional areas, and the Sustainable Engagement Framework is not much different.

Except that it is intended to change people’s habits toward better health and well-being, one of the most challenging areas of human behavior.

Billions of dollars are spent annually on advertising and marketing campaigns designed to stimulate purchase interest for specific products and services. The amount of money invested in motivating people to improve their health is actually a drop in the bucket compared to what advertisers spend. This makes the work of the health and well-being improvement programs offered by health plans, employers and the vendors that support them that much more demanding.

The first step then, in the mission, is to have real clarity of purpose. By being specific about the health risks to be reduced, the cost savings to be gained, the percentage of chronic condition sufferers to be addressed, the number of individuals that participate in given events or programs, and on and on, then there can be greater clarity about what we’re after, about how we’ll be measured in the end.

This part of the process needs to be informed by corporate strategic direction, and crafted with the participation of all key stakeholders, so there is a shared purpose with well-defined goals. It is important also to establish interim metrics – which can be reported on a timely basis – with potential “what if” contingencies in place.

By having a clear scope, not just for the first year, but for the longer term, it should be easier to understand what is needed to properly fund the work ahead. This work should also set expectations and provide relevant transparency for all.

Driving Sustainable Engagement

As I approached the challenge of defining engagement and mapping out an approach that would help make it sustainable at Healthways, one area of knowledge I tapped was the creative development process we used in advertising. People don’t realize how much research and planning go into the preparation of an effective ad campaign.

Similarly, when thinking about what will stimulate or motivate a person to consider changing a health behavior, there’s also a process to it. Part of the reason for defining and articulating the process is to gain acceptance from customers, typically employers, who need to play a role in making it work.

In this piece, I’ll briefly describe the seven components of the Sustainable Engagement Framework, and then delve deeper into detail on each in other posts.

Sustainable Engagement Framework simple1. Business Objectives. What specifically does the company aim to achieve with a health and well-being improvement strategy? By identifying the outcomes in detail, the strategy can be richer.
2. Consumer Insights. What do we know about the population being targeted – demographics, psychographics, habits, social norms, etc? More insight is better as it plays into the other areas.
3. Effective Communications. Typically the most challenging area of any initiative. Messaging need to influence without being pushy, and have good frequency without people tuning out.
4. Relevant Incentives. Where does the population need a bit of an extra nudge that can be accomplished with a carrot, or a stick? This is a popular area, but needs to be tempered.
5. Appropriate Interventions. Different people need different encouragement or reinforcement. Insight helps here, but it is also good if there is flexibility to adapt to one’s personality and style.
6. Measurable Outcomes. Using Drucker’s mantra, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” be clear at the outset about what can be measured and when, and prepare to adjust as needed.
7. Supportive Environment. The atmosphere and culture need to adapt to be encouraging, accepting and enabling for people to feel comfortable with their own changes.

This fairly basic approach actually does wonders to begin to put shape around the concept of engagement, and allows for stakeholders to “see” how the process is essential, and why the customer needs to actively participate actively and as a partner with their health and well-being improvement vendor.

The AIDA of Consumer Engagement

It’s pretty amazing to think that with the high degree of dissatisfaction of consumer engagement in health and well-being improvement programs, more attention isn’t focused on effective strategy.

That’s not to say efforts aren’t being made to get individuals to participate. In fact the amount of money going into incentives is rapidly increasing, the number of “cool and unique” apps is growing, and areas like social mapping, peer influence and behavioral economics are being tapped.

But a fundamental factor is that to get people to change, they need to go through their own process, their own “decision pathway.” The expectation that by putting something out there that they “should” do doesn’t mean it will penetrate their awareness and drive action.

AIDA with borderThink about what it takes to “make a sale” for various goods and services that we buy on a regular or occasional basis, and we can begin to translate consumer marketing concepts as a way to improve engagement.

Marketing really is the missing element, and while some clinical purists may not like the idea, it worked for the prescription drug industry and it can work for the health and well-being sector as well.

One fundamental truth about marketing is that effective campaigns move consumers through a process of AIDA- Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action. Too often, employers and health plans try to drive action, before properly setting the stage and preparing the consumer with information and insight.

By building a smart, strategically-oriented communication and incentive plan, employers and health plans can begin by building Awareness using key messages – whether about health risks, or well-being, or fitness or whatever other main topic is relevant – building context is important.

Interest can be created through additional communications, colleague discussions, testimonials, etc., and can begin to prepare people’s mindsets.

Desire can be stimulated through incentives, special offers, penalties and an array of tactics that will ultimately lead to Action, which is the first major hoop of sustainable engagement.

The important point is that pushing Action too early can fizzle, so set the stage with AIDA.