CMO Minute: When it comes to vaccines, marketing lessons still apply

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Dr. David Bridwell, People Scientist

We often recognize that marketing problems boil down to changes in perception and behavior. But what’s less often appreciated is the fact that our understanding of changes in perception and behavior can actually be informed by what we know about marketing. In other words, we can understand how individuals go about making major life decisions using principles from marketing. 

Vaccinations are an interesting case study, and the challenges of vaccinating the entire world in the content of the current pandemic essentially poses a giant marketing problem for humanity. It involves arguably the biggest change in global human behavior (getting a critical number of the population vaccinated) as well as infrastructural changes, distribution issues, and messaging challenges. 

As with all marketing challenges, our behavior change goals meet the real world reality of having limited resources. We bump into distribution challenges, limited finances, and answering the question of who to reach at what time with what message. 

Previous studies have shown that with immunization it’s easier to change people’s behavior surrounding immunization than it is to change their beliefs. This means it’s important to understand people’s existing beliefs and leverage or align their existing beliefs with the desired behavior. 

As always, it starts with research and understanding your audience. You need to focus on the views that people currently have and identify the messaging that will best resonate with those views. Taking a broad overview as an example, polls suggest that less than half of the country is currently planning to get a vaccine for coronavirus when it’s available. That’s the first important piece of information, and it speaks to targeting people in your market (those likely to use your product) and those outside your market (expanding into those who don’t currently use your product category). 

According to recent research, people generally fall into one of five categories surrounding their attitudes and beliefs toward vaccines. There are “immunization advocates” that are in favor of vaccines (33% of adults). Then, there are those that go along with vaccines, but they’re less passionate about them (26%). then there are “health advocates” that generally trust their doctors (25%), those on the fence (13%), and those who are worried (2.6%). 

When we think about behavioral change surrounding vaccines, we need to recognize the different psychological perspectives of the audience and the messaging that will resonate with these different audiences. Identify the people in the market, identify those outside of the market, and identify messaging that’s appropriate for different segments. Because, when it comes to vaccines, marketing lessons still apply. 

This blog post is part of a series where we’re discussing psychological barriers that lead to behavior change toward taking vaccines. In the next parts of this series, we’ll talk about the barriers to behavior change and the heuristics and biases that make behavior change difficult.

And, we’ll talk about how we can identify and resolve those barriers to behavior change. 

We’re focusing on vaccines here since this is a crucial issue for society, but these lessons apply to human behavior change in general. 

Intermark Group is a full-service marketing agency that embeds psychology in their creative, helping brands psychologically connect with their audience. For help with your marketing and behavior change challenges, give us a call at 800-624-9239 or email us at [email protected].