Do You Have The Courage to Make Things Simple?

The other day I got frustrated with the process of an online conference with a new platform. It required many steps to access the online presentation. First, it required me to sign in to the conference platform. Then look for the room and topic I wanted to attend. After that, sign in again as an attendee to the presentation, go Zoom platform, sign in, and access the webinar. In all the processes, I have forgotten my password and email I have used to registered, which require me to ask for it, wait and start the process. So, it took an extra effort to access the already running presentation, which added to my frustration. 

I’m sure the organizers were well-intended. And I assume part of the registration process focused on capturing the number of attendees to the conference and how many participants each topic attracted. All valid measures; however, they forgot the customer experience in their planning. And I wonder how many people quit based on time and frustration. By the time I listened to the speakers, my mood had changed from positive to negative. 

People’s needs are not so complicated, but we tend to make simple things more complex. And the more complicated things are, the less likely they are to going to act. Make things simple. 

Good enough can be scary. But quality is relative. 

We strive to produce a great experience, a high-quality product, or service. These are ideal performance measures, and most likely, their definition is based on our own point of view. However, your opinion of performance rarely matches the people you serve view of performance. In fact, it is most likely that you overshoot when you project your own idea of performance. 

Three basic performance lenses people use to choose between products or services. 

Functional refers to performance and reliability. How does it work as I expected? Did it take me too long to sing in? 

Emotional is about how people feel. What is the story they tell themselves about the product or service? I only buy the best. How does it make me feel? I got a good value. 

Social focus on the tribe, how they perceive others feel about them, and their signals to the group. What will they tell others? She is environmentally conscious; this reflects who I am. 

Simplicity is the key to brilliance.

Bruce Lee

What would happen if you intentionally lowered the performance in one area and increased to good enough in another in the name of simplicity? 

Three ways to make the complex more simple: 

Focus on the human experience. Understand which performance is more important to the people you serve and what tradeoff they are willing to make. 

Eliminate the non-essential. Do less, but better. Focus on what matters most, and decrease performance where it does not. 

Make the complex more simple.  Look through the peoples’ eyes. Create experiences that require less time, physical or mental effort. 

Simplicity is key. Make things easy to do.

Innovate, Don’t Force 

Trying to force people to consume when they don’t want to is not a good growth strategy. Instead, innovate to remove the barriers to action.

Be wary of the mantra: If we build it, they will come.

Have you ever felt pushed or trying to be influenced to do something, and the more they insist, the more you resist or entirely ignore it? Your reaction could be for many reasons. Maybe you are not interested because you had more pressing problems, you are solving the issue in another way, or because it is not that important to you. Are you being seen?

As marketers, strategies, and designers, we have to learn to see. Learning to see involves empathy and respect for the people we seek to serve. Learn to see their dreams, desires, and the culture they belong to or want to be part of.

Our job is to help them get where they want to go next.

In our eagerness to solve a problem and go to market, we tend to ignore two crucial assumptions and four barriers that can derail us from helping the people we seek to serve.

  • The first mistake is to assume that someone that does not consume wants to consume. Maybe the people you are serving are not interested, or your offer does apply to them in their current circumstances. It is a nice have but not a priority for them.
  • The second mistake is assuming that people that don’t consume our product are not consuming any products. Maybe they have found a way to work around what they want to get done. Have you ever used a knife as a screwdriver?

Innovate and Remove Four barriers to Action:

A third mistake is not understanding the barriers to consumption. If they are interested in the offer and are using a way to a surrogate to help them, then the question is, why are they not consuming?

Skills:

Do they have the ability to do so?

Recently I was working with a non-profit organization that serves first-generation Latino parents. LEAF helps them understand how to navigate the US school system. Coaching and workshops were in-person meetings. And then, Covid changed everything. And we had to pivot to an online session. The interest was still there, but no one was signing up and showing up. Although parents knew how to use their smartphones, they didn’t know how to subscribe and access the online meeting platform. So, LEAF focused on educating parents on registering for workshops, seminars, and using the online meeting platform.

Access:

They have the desire, but is the product or service accessible?

In 1993, I was working in a startup marketing agency. Little Caesars Pizza was losing market share to its competitors. The franchisee group approached us to help them with the Hispanic consumer. Hispanics love to eat pizza, and first-generation Latinos ate pizza as a celebration and a get-together party. But the celebratory occasion needed to happen at a seating down restaurant. And Little Caesars has no chairs or tables. It is a food pick up parlor. We needed to help Latinos change their perspective that a celebration could take place anywhere, and Littel Ceasar could be with them.

Wealth:

Do people have the financial assets to be able to afford the services?

Part of Latino students learning to navigate the US school system is taking the SAT and ACT, but how can they do that when parents have limited resources and are concern about more pressing things? LEAF partnered with the SAT Board to provide vouchers to low-income Latino parents enabling young students to take the test.

Time:

Is it too cumbersome or time-consuming?

During the H1N1 crisis, we worked to increase vaccination among Latinos and African Americans. The population at risk was ambivalent about getting vaccinated and didn’t have the time to go to a determined place when they work two jobs and needed to take care of the family. Thus, we brought the vaccine to them. We set at a tent in a convenient community location and partnered with a pharmacy to provide the vaccines.

If the people you serve have a desire for your offering and are non-consuming, don’t try to persuade them. Work on removing the consumption barriers. Don’t force, innovate.

How Design Thinking Makes You a Better Leader 

Growing up my leadership image was a charismatic, extroverted, and in control person. One who was having all the answers, always telling people what to do, and in charge. And it made sense, after all the Latino culture at the time valued hierarchy. 

Later on, I learned that different leadership styles vary from command and control to servant leadership and a mix in between. And after reading and being in the workforce for a while, my leadership is definition changed. Her is my definition:

Leadership is the art of facilitation and collaboration to achieve objectives by solving problems, setting direction, and give team ownership.

However, when I looked at how to improve my skills, I found that most of the literature focuses on the leadership definition, looking at what made past leaders successful and improving essential leadership skills such as interpersonal, communication, and management. These are crucial skills to develop and master; however, I found four gaps.

  • It focused on the end goal, personal objectives, and not much on who was doing the work.
  • Improving skills focus mostly on managing the individual and not working with the team.
  • It lacked how to foster collaboration and working as a team.
  • Lack of a framework to put different skills to work together

Leadership is human-centered at its core

These points sound self-serving. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t have anything against improving personal performance and skills. After all, as an athlete, I know how important it is to improve on a technique. Leadership is s human-centered at its core. And in a rush to get things done, sometimes we tend to forget this.

Problem Solving is key to Leadership 

A strategy is deciding what to do and not to do. And a critical part of the process is identifying what problems are worth the effort.

 “The ability to identify critical problems is the most underrated skill in management.” The MIT Leadership Center

If the ability to identify problems is the most underrated skill, then traditional leadership styles need to adapt to a new mindset and a new way of working.

Design thinking is a creative problem-solving process. It provides a framework for listening, learning, and then leading in today’s environment—a way of thinking and method to improve our leadership skills.

How does Design Thinking make you a better leader?

Let’s look at the process:

Empathize: Set aside your assumptions and understand the people you seek to serve and their challenges. As a manager, team leader, or team member, the people you want to help are the people who are working with you. Seeking to understand the problems people face, seeing things from their perspective before attempting to come up with ideas and create solutions will help fine-tune their real challenges.

Define: Clearly define the problem worth solving. Once you understand the many barriers that are stopping him/her from moving forward, working together, you choose one to three issues that have a high impact and low implantation effort to focus.

Ideate: Brainstorm to generate ideas and select one to three to prototype. After you had agreed on crucial problems to solve, you generate ideas that can provide potential solutions as a team.

Prototype: Create a model or a simple version of the final product (or process). This step could be as simple as working together to create a plan with three action tasks on what to do next.

Test: Test to learn. Here as a team, you define how you will know that things are working, agreeing on the implementation for some time, and observing what is working, what is not working, and if the assumptions made were right or not?

Iterate to fine-tune a solution. The last part is checking back on lessons learned and brainstorming to improve the areas that are not working or new challenges that arose from the test period.

Tackling risk and uncertainty is the new norm.

Businesses face many challenges from demographic shifts, diverse workforce, employee, and customer expectations. Add to this rapid industry, market, and technology disruption, and you are continually navigating white rapids.

Design Thinking provides a leadership framework to listen, identify problems worth solving, work as a team to bring solutions, and testing to learn what works and does not work.

Push resistance

You Can’t Change Minds Without Winning Hearts

Will pushing harder do the trick?

As a kid, I hated eating meat. The harder my mother pushed me to eat, the harder I resisted. As a result, I stayed seating at the table for two to three hours after everyone was gone. I couldn’t stand up until I finished my plate. Luckily, I had a German Sheppard that will save me from the pain of chewing one more bite.

The assumption is that pushing harder will do the trick. However, the approach often backfires. When someone pushes, the other person pushes back. They push back to keep doing what they are doing, in my case, avoiding chewing meat.

My mom’s objective to influence, convince, and reason with me had a good intention – eat your food to stay healthy. However, it mostly focused on her desired outcome, finish your food. She was so focused on her own goals that she pushes and pushed, forgetting to understand why I was not eating.

Seek to understand to create a meaningful connection

Inciting action and changing minds starts with empathy. Understand the fears, uncertainties, and desires are (FUD) of the people you want to serve. In other words, learn what drives them and what is blocking them. The insight will help lower the barriers to action and build trust.

79% of consumers said that brands have to demonstrate that ‘they understand and care about me’ before they are going to consider purchasing.’ – Wunderman study

I didn’t eat meat because it was difficult to cut and chew. It was a fight between me and the stake. Besides, I was a slow eater, and that made me feel worst. All my family had to wait for me to end eating before they could get up. That usually took about fifteen minutes, except the days we had a stake in the menu. Those days, they will get up ten minutes after they finished. I stayed until my plate was empty.

It wasn’t until she understood this that she changed how the steak was cooked and served. Maybe that’s why I love “Lomo Saltado” so much. After the change, I enjoyed dinner and finished with the rest of the family, which made me feel great.

Help them advance where they want to go.

People like to be in control of their choice and actions. Telling people what to do does not help. On the contrary, it falls with resistance and deaf ears. That’s what happened when we worked on the Zika campaign in Puerto Rico.

The Zika virus was an emergency campaign and an immediate threat to unborn babies. We hit the ground running, telling pregnant mothers and their partners what to do. However, we had not considered that Puerto Rico is an island, that living with mosquitos is part of everyday life, and mosquito-borne disease was nothing new to them. Our audience knew what to do. They have heard the same preventing behavior campaign since they were kids. They received the message with hesitation and anger. Thus, they were tuning out.

Moms and pregnant women wanted a healthy baby. However, they were overwhelmed with all that was going in Puerto Rico and how that affected their lives. What moms need to hear was a reminder to do these activities and not feel like a “bad” person for not doing them. We learned that two out of the four preventing behaviors were not doable.

With these insights, we designed social and traditional media stories that reminded them about two preventing behaviors they can do each day, like brushing your teeth each morning. We placed ads on venues that will trigger reminders such as on top of mosquito repellent shelves, cinema, and restaurant bathrooms. Results were outstanding, intent to “Use Insect Repellant” increased 39%, and repellent sales increased 15% from the previous year.

You can’t change minds without winning hearts. Winning hearts requires listening, building trust, and creating a meaningful connection. Understand the people you want to serve, gain insight that helps lower the barriers to action and, helps them get where they want to go.

Earn Consumer Attention with Brand Experience and Trust

Consumers have more power over your company’s success or failure than ever before. Yet, keeping their attention and brand love is becoming harder than before. Diminishing attention span, brand trust, and customer experience are not going away. They are becoming key deciding factors when choosing a brand.  

Noisy World

The battle for consumer attention is increasing ad clutter. Consumers receive, on average, 5 thousand ads per day. But consumer attention is decreasing. According to eMarketer, GenZ attention is four-seconds less that the millennial generation. Moreover, 3 out of 4 consumers use ad-blocking services or social media apps like WhatsApp to avoid ads.

Broken Trust

Brand trust is a deal-breaker. 81% of consumers say a key purchasing deciding factor is their ability to trust the brand to do what is right. Yet, the sentiment is that brands are abusing customer relationship with them. A ThinkNow study found that 34% of Millennials feel brands take advantage of them. Accenture found that 54% of the 7,000 businesses they study, experienced a material drop in trust. And Edelman’s Band Trust Barometer found that only 1 in 3 consumers is can trust most of the brands they buy. 

With changing conditions, how do you get and keep consumer attention? Here are 4 actions to increase consumer attention. 

Experience as the point Entry 

Positive customer experience fosters trust and delight customers. And is one of the biggest brand areas to focus on. 64% of consumers say their standard for good experiences is higher than ever. And 79% say it as important as a company’s products and services according to the 2018 Salesforce survey. 

Create meaningful experiences that appeal to what your customer values. Start by mapping a holistic experience, not only marketing communication. Look at how the different touchpoints interact with your customers. Then select what moments can delight your consumer, and see how you might close those gaps. The goal is to establish connections that are so memorable that they want to tell the world. 

Social Influence 

Design peer to peer communications. People want to hear from people like them. Leverage people’s strong desire to fit it and conform to the behavior of the group. Start to build a community and identify consumers whose advice is sought out. Encourage them to spread positive messages. 

Create Cultural Tension

61% of consumers would recommend a brand to thier friends if a brand aligns with thier social values.

Consumers expect brands to take a larger role in society. This doesn’t mean public relations stunts. It means being an active participant to make the world a better place. 

Take a stand. Understand your customers’ world view. And figure out how your brand values align with them. Then, think about what change you would like to see, and how the brand can help make the change.

Talk to the Heart 

The emotional connected consumer is more valuable.

Customers with an emotional attachment to a brand are 52% more valuable. They will pay more attention, buy more, care less about price, and spread the word. Create stories that resonate with your consumers’ cultural values, desires, and key motivators.  The payoff is much greater. 

Customer brand expectations and media behavior have shifted.  Capturing and keep their attention is getting harder. They are expecting brands to a force to social good and they don’t spend time in one place. Marketers can start to maximize their consumers’ attention by forming long-lasting relationships with these four actions.

What does it take to bring about behavior shifts?

Just because you place an ad doesn’t mean it will ignite behavior change. There is an assumption that if brands can get audience attention, give a piece of information, and associate the brand with emotions, marketers will inspire behavior change. 

If marketers only focus on persuading to change an audience beliefs and preferences, how easy do you think it will be for them to change? 

How can you ensure your marketing inspires people to change behavior?

Instead of trying to persuade your audience to change their believes or values, you meet them where they are by addressing knowledge gaps, social norms, and environment, you might have a change to ignite behavior change. 

Think about that for a second. Audiences look at content through their own lens of personal experiences, knowledge, values, attitudes, beliefs, and motivations. And not everyone will be using a product for the same reasons. We need to think how a product, message, and the behavior change you are promoting fits into their lives.  

Storytelling with cultural insight, not generalization, leads to influencing behavior and better experience. It’s the difference between designing a relevant marketing campaign and a generic one.

Telling stories that resonate and personalize your message for your audience is important, but how do you do this? Here are three elements that might help.

Knowledge Gap: 

Does your audience know about the behavior, do they understand, and do they think it is relevant to them? You might be presenting a solution to a problem; however, your audience might not be there with you. She might have a basic knowledge and understanding or none at all of the issue and risk you are presenting. A mistake is to assume, that your audience knows what you know, and wants what you want. Different audiences might have different knowledge base and if they don’t see a need or how it fits into their lives, they will not perceive your message relevant.

To optimize your goals, meet your audience where they are. Think that different behavior objectives might be necessary for different groups of people. 

Match the creative and message to your customer needs and understand your audience’s intent. Marketers need to understand exactly how people feel about an issue, use a product, what values, habits, aspirations or motivations will drive change.

Social Norms 

Will doing this new behavior be acceptable? Will it fit with their actual or aspirational self-image? Does it fit with how they relate to others or want to?

Behavior change is a function of social context. People want to live up to what is expected of them.  Culture, family, community, and peer influence are powerful forces in behavior.  

To build a story that creates cultural tension, make the new behavior desirable. You can take your consumers down a different path of resistance by stringing together the audience value and aspiration with the intended behavior. The objective is to make the new behavior acceptable and visible if possible. 

Community

Once people have made a change, what can we do to help them keep doing it?

People want to be part of something. Create an environment where your audience feels supported, can get and provide feedback, and is reminded to make the new behavior a habit. A simple way of doing this is creating a social medial group on Facebook, WhatsApp, or any other social media platform where they feel comfortable sharing and engaging. 

Marketers can be powerful agents for change when they understand people’s knowledge gaps, their audience social context, and the intent of why they use products or do what they what they do.  They can even be more powerful and more helpful when they can reach diverse groups of people with stories that are relevant to each audience group. 

Social Media Campaign Essentials

5 Social Media Campaign Essentials

Today’s communications landscape calls for an omnichannel media strategy and a social media campaign is often a component of this strategy. A successful social media campaign is more than publishing content on Twitter and Instagram. It requires a detailed strategy and clear goals that align with business objectives.

To achieve social media campaign goals, you should consider the following five main components of a communications campaign:

  1. Who is the target audience?
  2. What key points are important? What information will move the audience to action?
  3. Channel. What are the appropriate social media platforms for the audience?
  4. Develop original, branded content to establish thought leadership, visibility, and impact (social media content, blog posts, photos, videos). Curated content: Share relevant, informative content from external sources to showcase industry authority.
  5. Performance. Continuously monitor campaign performance with data analytics. Use dashboards to manage content and analytics for real-time adjustments.

In addition to these five facets of a communications campaign, conducting market research and using the appropriate social media tools can help you enhance productivity and effectiveness.

Be thoughtful and strategic—avoid falling into the trap of trying to reach everyone with multiple messages, using numerous social media platforms.

This article was written by Dr. Selena A. Ramkeesoon. Selena is a communications strategist in the Washington, DC metro area. Ⓒ 2019, Selena A. Ramkeesoon. All Rights Reserved.

AMO Customer Engagement

One Word that Will Help You Increase Your Customer Engagement

AMO a three-letter word that means love and a single framework to think about how to engage your customers.  Why is this important? Because your customers are not interested in what you sell, they are more interested on how you made them feel. 

Yes, you read correctly – how your product or service make them feel. People buy products or services to help them get something done. For instance, a smart phone helps to do several things, contact people via voice, email, video, social media, do research, play games, watch videos, and/or take notes, etc. These are the functions the smart phone provides and helps to get a job done. 

If you dig deeper, what emotions these functions provide to you? Do you feel more connected, smarter, more productive, belonging to the creative tribe (in the case of iPhones), on the cutting edge, more successful, or a better parent, son, daughter, friend, etc?  These unspoken feelings are the benefits why people buy products or services. 

Every decision is emotional. In his book, Descartes Error, Antonio Damasio, professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, argues that emotion is a necessary ingredient to almost all decisions.”These emotions create preferences which lead to our decision. 

If you still in doubt, think about water bottle. Water is a commodity that once was free, now ranges in price from $1.25 to $3.00. Have you asked yourself why? Water is water, right? However, people self-identify with a benefit that helps them feel better about themselves. They might justify rationally, but made the decision emotionally.  Thus, the diversification of water bottle options. 

Emotion, the benefit of how your product or services makes a prospect feel is  important for engagement. 

With this in mind, the AMO framework can help you think how to win hearts and minds of your customers in any initiative. By the way, an initiative is not confined to marketing communication, it could be service improvements, product developments, internal communications, etc. 

AMO:  Audience, Message, and Outcome

Audience: When thinking about your customers, think about them as your audience. Imagine you are a movie director producing a story about your product or service, where your product or service helps the hero (your customer) conquer its challenge. How does your offer help him/her overcome the challenge? How will it make him/her feel? What one key benefit does he/her gets from using what you offer? In other words, your value proposition. 

Message: Based on the key benefit and emotions that your offer brings about, you can start developing a message that resonates with your audience. Messages encompass visual (video, photos, graphics, etc) and words. To keep it simple, let’s focus on word message. The message can be a one sentence tag line that helps you position your product or services in the minds your customers and/or a guideline on how to communicate with your customers. 

Outcome: At the start of any initiative don’t forget to delineate what outcome you want to accomplish. Attract, convert, or delight your customers. Having an agreement on the outcome upfront, will help guide the development of a strategy and message to accomplish your goals.

The beauty of this three-letter word is that it helps narrow down where you should be focusing your strategy and marketing efforts to give you shot at achieving a meaningful customer engagement.

Is There a Blind Spot in Your Marketing Strategy?

If you have not considered marketing to Latinos, you might be missing a growth opportunity. The Latino consumer market is the fastest growing segment in America with spending power to the tune of $1.7 trillion—the equivalent of capturing a share of the Canadian or Mexican economy.

Currently, Latinos account for 1 in 5 Americans and soon will constitute 1 in 3 of the U.S. population.  Moreover, more than half of the U.S. Hispanic population is under the age of 29. Additionally, 25% of Generation Z, (3 to-23 years old) the largest generation group in the U.S., is Hispanic.

Latinos are well-connected and a powerful social force. They communicate more frequently with family, friends, and colleagues than non-Hispanics. According to the Keller Fay Group, compared to other ethnic groups, Latinos talk 20 times more about brands, and are 5 times more likely to share shopping recommendations according to CivicScience.  This means outreach to Hispanics can boost your marketing investment. Specifically, an earned media multiplier effect—brand awareness and peer influence—can result in an increased ROI.

If you are developing a Latino marketing campaign, let’s take a look at three potential blind spots:

Engaging Latino

Strategy goes nowhere unless it starts with the customer. John Sculley in his book Moonshot, advises the reader to put the customer at the center of abusiness concept. This is especially relevant with a diverse audience. You wouldn’t market to customers in a different country the same way you would market to the typical U.S. consumer, would you?  The Latino community is no different.

Culture matters to tell authentic stories and to create remarkable experiences. We have to recognize that not everyone is the same. Customers look at content through their personal lens of values, knowledge, experiences, attitudes, and beliefs.

Designing relevant marketing, communications and experiences, means creating messages and moments that your audience can identify with and say, “They are speaking to me,” “This is for me,” or “I can see myself.”  In other words, strive for cultural affinity. Why? Because Latino consumers will pay more attention, trust the brand more, and will be more likely to take action.

This means looking at each segment of the Latino population and considering their living context, values, aspirations, needs, motivations, and challenges, to design programs that achieve cultural affinity and relevancy.  According to theNielsen TV Brand EffectSurvey, advertising and programs that have cultural affinity are more impactful, as general population advertising doesn’t always resonate with Hispanic audiences.

English vs.Spanish-Language.

Think differently. It is not about English or Spanish. It is about language plus culture, context, and content. Language depends on the Latino audience segment and their language of comfort.

The Nielsen study found that Spanish-language ads perform better than English-language ads among Hispanic adults in terms of ad type, brand, and message memorability. These ads perform more than twice as well in likability. However, this does not mean doing a literal translation from English to Spanish.

It is frequently believed that English is the default language for bilingual Hispanics. However, Univision found this is one of the largest misperceptions. Bilingual Latinos speak in the language that is most appropriate to what they’re doing. For example, when looking at online videos, 74% of third-generation bilingual Latinos consume videos in Spanish.

On the other hand, younger Latinos are more comfortable speaking and consuming content in English. However, younger Latinos are watching more Spanish-language videos on streaming platforms like Netflix and YouTube, and actively seeking out and enjoying content tailored to them as Latinos. According to eMarketer,73% of third-generation Hispanics said they consume online videos “that speak to their Hispanic/Latino heritage.”  Why? Because retaining their culture is very important to them.

Language matters but is just one part of the equation. This underscores the need for brands to connect with Hispanics in a culturally-relevant way. Just because Hispanics are consuming content in English, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t incorporate Spanish into marketing campaigns, or because Latinos prefer speaking in Spanish you should do a direct translation into Spanish.

Building Online with Offline Experiences.

Customer trust is based on consumers sharing their experiences with other consumers online and offline. Word-of-mouth is the leading influencer of consumer purchase decisions in the U.S.  Notably, TV, radio, print, digital media, and offline events have a strong role to play in influencing word-of-mouth purchasing decisions.

Latinos are very active on social media, sharing posts and comments on issues specific to their communities and culture. Online and offline experiences give them an opportunity to build a relationship with the brand and ammunition to talk about it. Over 68% of Hispanic brand mentions referenced some form of online or offline marketing, compared to 60% of non-Hispanics.

The Keller Fay Groupstudy found that Hispanics are not only more likely to engage in word-of-mouth than the general public, but also more likely to pass along the information they hear to others.  What’s better than learning about a product or service than from people you know and trust?

Remember, emotions drive people to action and people tend to conform to what others are doing.  So igniting an emotion and making content more observable makes it easier to talk, share, and take action when the content and experience is cultural relevant.

Social Determinants of Health: Addressing Equity with Strategic Communications

Authored by Ⓒ Selena A. Ramkeesoon, MBA, PMP, MLS

Good health and coping with the inevitable challenges one encounters during a lifetime are a journey. Inadequate resources make a successful journey harder. At an individual level, lack of personal resources such as income and knowledge, limit an individual’s ability to follow optimal paths to health and vice versa. At a macro level, our society has a finite amount of resources—both monetary and service‐related—that realistically will not provide everything to everyone. We do not naturally think about health in terms of social factors. However, our health is significantly affected by our homes, jobs, and schools. The social determinants of health are the economic and social conditions—and their distribution among the population—influencing individual and group differences in health status.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services unveiled Healthy People 2020, the nation’s 10-year goals and objectives for health promotion and disease prevention. The Healthy People initiative is grounded in the principle that setting national objectives and monitoring progress can motivate action. Healthy People 2020 highlights the importance of addressing the social determinants of health by including “Create social and physical environments that promote good health for all” as one of the four overarching goals for the decade. This emphasis is shared by the World Health Organization, whose Commission on Social Determinants of Health in 2008 published the report, Closing the gap in a generation: Health equity through action on the social determinants of health.

We generally recognize five determinants of health of a population:

1. Biology and genetics (e.g., gender).
2. Individual behavior (e.g., alcohol or injection drug-use, unprotected sex, smoking).
3. Social environment (e.g., income, education level, marital status).
4. Physical environment (e.g., place of residence, population density, built environment).
5. Health services (e.g., access to and quality of care, insurance coverage).

Although we do not know the exact impact of each of these five determinants of population health, in theory, social environment, physical environment, and health services (which combined make up social determinants of health) represent 50 percent of the factors that influence population health. This leaves us subject to our choices and circumstances for safe and affordable housing, access to quality education and job training, public safety, health services, and availability of healthy foods. These factors and social patterning of health, disease, and illness often plague individuals seeking to break the vicious cycle of barriers that prohibit them from making positive lifestyle changes. These are key factors in health inequity or health disparity—a particular type of difference in health (or in the determinants of health that could be shaped by policies)—in which disadvantaged social groups systematically experience worse health or more health risks than do more advantaged social groups.

As a social marketing professional who has developed and implemented several health campaigns, I believe communicators must take into consideration and address each of the determinants when developing awareness and education programs; especially when we seek to reach and encourage action among special populations. For example, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, women, children, individuals with disabilities, and LGBTQ populations. It is these populations who are often heavily impacted and in the greatest need of such health messaging. Yet, it is also the same populations who are often “stuck” in a vicious cycle of barriers that prohibit them from making positive lifestyle changes.

Social determinants challenge us to take into consideration a person’s/or population’s environment and circumstances to appropriately develop messages and strategies that resonate, reaching the audience at the right time and in the right place, and that are realistic—meaning that audience circumstances truly allow them to act in the desired manner. Behavior change is difficult and individuals cannot do it themselves without support. Behavior change communication programs are designed to bring about behaviors that will improve health status and related long-term outcomes. Such programs are key to providing the support structure that help people make the necessary health changes in their lives. Effective action to address the social determinants of health requires having sufficient knowledge of the mechanisms influencing health inequities, and adopting a conceptual framework that not only clarifies the relationship between social determinants and health inequities, but also helps to identify entry points for intervention.

This article was written by Dr. Selena A. Ramkeesoon. Selena is a communications strategist in the Washington, DC metro area. Ⓒ 2019, Selena A. Ramkeesoon. All Rights Reserved.