If you work in consumer-facing health communications, you face the considerable challenges of language barriers and health literacy gaps. Here’s how the US Department of Health and Human Services assessed it:
Only 12 percent of adults have Proficient health literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. In other words, nearly nine out of ten adults may lack the skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease.
That level of health illiteracy is of course concerning, because health is related to everything we do. Our health is affected by the amount of sleep we get, the nutrition we put into our bodies, the amount of social interaction we have with friends or family in a week, and even the way we sit in a chair. All of these factors impact our overall health.
So, how do health communications professionals work on this issue? How can they create content that is more understandable, and then spread that information as far and wide as possible? How does a healthcare brand make its important communications ‘contagious’?
Contagious is a sublime book written by Jonah Berger. He goes into six “STEPPS” that can help your content go viral. His framework can be incorporated into health communications and help professionals work smarter—not harder—with their content.
Berger’s STEPPS are as follows:
- Social Currency
- Practical Value
Understanding these can help you plan your content to make it a ‘social epidemic.’ If you want to spread your information fast and become top-of-mind, then you need to think about how to apply each of Berger’s STEPPS into your marketing campaigns.
Step 1: Social Currency
Social currency is the knowledge you have to add value to a conversation. The more you know, the more “status” you often have in society.
People are always talking about what was on the news and what they saw on social media. They use this information to start conversations at work, among friends and family, and even with total strangers. When we do this and share the right type of information, we gain social currency.
According to research cited by Buffer, there are two main reasons people share content:
- “to give others a better sense of who they are and what they care about”
- “to stay connected to people.”
The research showcases that people want to be liked. Berger explains that “[the] desire for social approval is fundamental human motivation.” With this knowledge, health organizations need handcrafted, creative content so people can engage with it.
Health organizations need to dive deeper into their target audience(s) and find valuable content based on the consumer’s interests and motivations. The content also needs to be remarkable. According to Berger:
“Remarkable content provides social currency because they make people who talk about them seem more, well, remarkable.”
In healthcare communications, you should almost always provide an example or visual to help explain the health-related concept. This will not only help with readers with lower health literacy rates, but it will also boost the attention and social currency value of the content.
Step 2: Triggers
Triggers are prompts that keep people talking about your brand or product. Berger provided a great example of triggers that may help you understand this concept better.
Rebecca Black’s song, “Friday”, has a prevalent trigger associated with it. Can you take a guess on what it is?
Drum roll please… the song’s title, “Friday”, is the trigger! When this song was popular, every Friday people would turn on this song because it was Friday.
Health organizations could easily take advantage of triggers because health is related to everything you do. Content could be focused on everyday health and wellness topics to prompt healthier decisions and lifestyle habits.
Step 3: Emotion
If you make someone feel an emotion with your content, you will create a bond with the recipient of your message. This person then has the ability to share your message with their network and spread your brand to potential new customers of your products or services.
According to Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman, purchase decisions, brand loyalty, and customer engagement are directly related to the subconscious mind. Emotional benefits can overpower the rational benefits of a product or service because people care about how they feel with a product or service.
Healthcare organizations should be factoring in how they can make people feel. A prime example of doing this step right, is Health Beat, a brand journalism publication of Spectrum Health. Health Beat publishes inspiring patient stories of hardship, hope, love, joy, and excitement that spark a range of emotions in their readers, leading them to share those stories on social media so others can share in that emotional connection.
Step 4: Public
Another step that is crucial is “public.” A key factor of this step is observability — meaning if people see something, they will engage with it. How far the engagement goes depends on the content and the person.
Berger also relates this concept to “social proof.” Social proof can be seen in how people wait in line for an overpriced cup of coffee. People assume the longer the line, the better the coffee. But in reality, they are herding to “social influence.” Social influence has a big effect on behavior.
Health organizations can take advantage of this step, but have to be careful what topics they promote and educate about.
For example, Berger discussed how anti-drug ads aren’t always the best tactic to prevent people from using them. Although the aim of these ads is to prevent young adults from using drugs, the response was often the opposite. Berger informs us that anti-drug ads promote drugs as bad, but clearly showcase that people are using them.
Showing the drug use creates visibility and social proof that can increase the appeal of drug use among teens, and even create a larger problem. It is important to remember this example as a cautionary tale when moving forward with health-related campaigns.
Step 5: Practical Value
People share practically valuable information to help others. This includes useful information.
Useful content is different for every person. It could be a tutorial video on how to prepare a meal, or an infographic giving consumers useful, relevant information. The opportunities to create useful informative content in healthcare are endless.
So, how do you know if your content has value? Ask yourself if the content provides a functional or emotional benefit to someone. If it does, you have your answer.
Step 6: Stories
Stories carry things — a lesson or moral; information or a take-home message. According to Berger, stories “provide a quick and easy way for people to acquire lots of knowledge in a vivid and engaging fashion.”
So how do you know if you are creating a good or bad story?
Good stories provide social currency, emotion, and practical value. Bad stories do not.
If you want to create desirable, shareable content in healthcare you need to put these STEPPS into action.
- Social Currency
- Practical Value
Think about how your message could be woven into these important considerations, and then wait for your consumers to engage with it or not. Then make adjustments and try again.
Remember, you can’t make something viral, but your audience can.
Marketing guru Seth Godin’s Purple Cow is written for marketing professionals, and anyone who wants to expand their horizons with a unique perspective. He explores marketing strategies and uses case studies to help explain his point of view.
Godin begins by explaining that marketing doesn’t have enough “P’s,” referring to the famous “Four P’s of Marketing”:
- and promotion.
Godin suggests that we need to account for more “P’s,” such as positioning, publicity, pass-along, permission, and Purple Cows.
What are Purple Cows?
Purple Cows are standout experiences (like literally seeing a “Purple Cow”) that create more than just the typical desired outcome such as a purchase, a reaction, a click, etc. Purple Cows are a promotion technique that works best when the goal is to spread more than just awareness. The goal of a Purple Cow is to generate something deeper and more lasting: loyalty, a relationship, a creative spark, even an obsession.
Purple Cows are important in your business because people are too busy and will ignore your messages if you don’t break through the noise with something exceptional.
I know firsthand that consumers are frustrated with the clutter of advertisements and traditional marketing, so much that their disdain for ads has led them to ad blockers.
So, what should marketers do? Create Purple Cow experiences for consumers with otaku.
Otaku is a Japanese term for people with obsessive interests. According to Godin, otaku describes something that’s more than a hobby, but a little less than an obsession.
Godin says, “Otaku is the overwhelming desire that gets someone to drive across town to try a new ramen-noodle shop that got a great review.”
As a marketer, I believe that otaku is an essential quality we are looking for in consumers. The more consumers have otaku towards your product, the more chances a Purple Cow phenomenon will occur.
A prime example of otaku in the United States is hot sauce. Boatloads of people are lining up to taste the hottest hot sauce and will compete in the most outrageous challenges. This obsession has led to a real business, therefore showing the impact of otaku.
Moving forward, we as marketers need to understand otaku-driven consumers to implement more successful products.
Purple Cow is a great book to gain inspiration for marketing professionals. Godin provides case studies that provide ideas on how to create remarkable experiences for our consumers.
My favorite case study was “How Dutch Boy Stirred Up the Paint Business.” Dutch Boy, a paint manufacturing company, created an entirely new product based on a key insight: people hated paint cans because they were heavy, hard to carry, hard to close, hard to pour from, and no fun. So, the marketing team changed the product, creating an easier to carry, easier to pour from, easier to close paint jug.
We need to take a design thinking approach towards marketing, and understand that sometimes you need to stop selling the product and think instead about how the consumers are engaging with it. If you exercise a little empathy, you can gain consumer insights that will increase purchasing decisions and sales.
That leads me to end with a question. How can you redefine what you sell and make it better?
As a new member of the Elexicon team, I wanted to learn more about not only our design processes but other communication professionals in our community. So, on January 17, 2019, I attended a West Michigan PRSA event on the topic of design thinking. The educational event was led by the West Michigan Center For Arts + Technology (WMCAT). The hosts were Brandy Arnold and Kirk Eklund, and they targeted the one-hour conversation toward PR practitioners.
What is design thinking?
According to the hosts, design thinking—or human-centered design—is “intentional problem solving.” This mindset can be applied when constructing products or processes.
This intentional problem solving method has a five-step approach that was originally proposed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. The five steps are:
Brandy and Kirk informed us that the five-step approach is not linear and that there will be no clear step to transform and/or solve a problem. Design thinking can even revert back to the first step due to research findings along the way. That said, it is important to include empathy in each step because centering the target audience will ensure a successful outcome for the entire process.
A design thinking example
To dig deeper into the impact of design thinking, Kirk provided an example: an MRI machine created by Doug Dietz, a designer at GE Healthcare.
Dietz created an MRI machine that was supposed to change healthcare. Although the MRI machine was helpful for providers, he discovered that patients, specifically kids, were afraid of the machine. He was dissatisfied with his original invention, and sought to find out why the kids feared the machine.
Dietz utilized the first step of design thinking: empathy. Through his study of how kids felt about the MRI machine, he found that younger kids feared it because there was a lack of adventure in the MRI experience. From this insight, Dietz adapted the machine to create the Adventure Series.
The results of Dietz’s human-centered design approach were outstanding. According to Kirk, the sedation rates of MRI experiences dropped from 80% to 1% from these changes. Furthermore, this example shows the tremendous impact of a collaboration between innovation and empathy.
To understand this design thinking example further, watch a TED Talk led by Doug Dietz himself.
“When you design for meaning, good things will happen.”Doug Dietz, designer at GE Healthcare
To wrap things up, I learned that design thinking is a flexible process that can help solve problems in unique ways.
Elexicon takes a similar approach to design thinking and human-centered design, which we incorporate into our agency principles. I believe that this process can help you solve even the most complex problems, and provide valuable insights for any company or organization.