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Stop worrying, do the research. How to cut through health message fatigue post-COVID

Stop worrying, do the research. How to cut through health message fatigue post-COVID
melanie klenk

By Melanie Klenk, Group Head of Healthcare

For the last two and a half years, health messages have been omnipresent in the news, in conversations with friends, neighbours and family, a matter of heated debate on every possible channel. Health messages were part of our daily interactions (and associated with great levels of anxiety), which has now led to a certain health message fatigue for many people.

Message fatigue refers to a state of being exhausted and tired of prolonged exposure to similarly-themed messages which can lead to inattention, disengagement and resistance to adopt promoted behaviours. Message fatigue can pose a significant barrier to effective health communication, as the pandemic has also shifted perceptions of wellbeing as people started to rethink what it means to be healthy, giving rise to a new wave of individualism. In short: instilling worry and fear has long stopped working – so what next in health and pharma communications? I advocate for a rigorous approach: challenging everything we think we know.

An ever-present questioning of what’s relevant and useful  

In this age of information overload, it has become the norm to question everything, but also instantly delete messages in our brains that we don’t deem relevant enough. Players in the healthcare system have to rethink their strategies of engagement and how to cut through and reach their audiences. Brands must embrace rigorous questioning of their data and apply more discipline than ever before in understanding their audiences. As an industry, health and pharma has never been short of scrutiny, and in this post-COVID era the rules of engagement keep shifting.

To succeed, brands need to fully understand people’s realities

In a podcast I recently listened to, a pharma marketing strategist said that pharma companies should treat patients like Nike treats athletes: truly listening to them at every stage of their development process, learning from them, and getting inspired by their incredible resilience in dealing with what life (or their disease, for that matter) throws at them. Brands need to be grounded in the daily realities of people living with a certain condition, meet them at eye level in their communications and offer deeply personalised experiences to earn attention and trust.

Rigorously challenging what we believe is true

To accomplish that, companies in the health space must offer a more holistic and future-proof look at a person’s wellbeing. Move beyond discussing unmet needs, individual symptoms, clinical trial endpoints, technological product features, improving outcomes. If patient centricity is more than a buzzword, shouldn’t we do our best to understand a person’s daily life experiences? Shouldn’t we question if we are absolutely sure we know what really matters to them?

When we say we want to create “meaningful engagements” – how were our perceptions of what that looks like shaped? Aren’t we all biased by internal views, sometimes dated research, what we consume and what sort of worked in the past? Have we tested what difference a “call-to-action” really makes? What and who are the prime influencers of health-related behaviours? If those questions leave us slightly uneasy, it’s time to rethink and put more effort behind strategic insights as well as partnerships with the advocacy and expert community early on.  

Translating the science into the best possible life experience

As health and science communicators, we take pride in the fact that we know how to translate the science and explain complex issues simply. That still holds true, however in this world where the complexities continue to be so dense and multifaceted it’s hard to keep up, wouldn’t it be awesome if we were known to be the ones who translate the science into the best possible life experience of a person living with a certain condition? Anchoring ourselves in the experience of every individual human being, beyond anecdotal evidence, we need to strike a chord with the richness of their daily lives, pleasures, connections, worries and struggles. We can only pair that with a richness of data and insights. If we want to overcome health message fatigue, communication programmes led by research and driven by data can only be the answer.

Four simple steps you can take immediately

  • Question everything. What impact can you truly have with communications based on your current set of insights? What are the gaps? What influences your target audiences the most?
  • Immerse yourself into what’s happening out there. Have you considered the repercussions of wider societal, cultural, economic, technological, consumer and health trends in your communications planning?
  • Invest smartly. Have you set budgets aside that allow you to regularly evaluate and re-assess what you think you know about your target audiences?
  • Think bigger than your current scope. Can you build new partnerships or alliances that broaden the context – and therefore the relevance – of your work?

Do this regularly and trust, quality real-time engagement, and thought leadership will follow. And if you’d like a shortcut, let us know if you’re up for a challenger session.

Read Emily Luscombe’s communications insights revealed through cancer treatment

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