A huge part of advocacy in healthcare is building awareness – awareness amongst patients and loved ones, healthcare providers, policymakers, and other important stakeholders. Disease awareness is so important that there are almost 200 disease awareness days on the United States National Health Observances calendar, and new disease awareness days are continuously proposed to Congress.

While the need for disease awareness is well-recognized, actually raising awareness has proven challenging. Simply talking about the disease is not enough to effectively raise disease awareness. The details of communications are so important to success in disease awareness advocacy that the World Health Organization (WHO) offers guidelines on how to develop key messages to influence target audiences.

A pervasive theme in disease awareness strategy – including those distributed by WHO – is the need to make things simple and easily digestible for consumers and audiences. Low health literacy can pose risks to healthcare consumers and therefore needs to be addressed through evidence-based methods for increasing understanding, appreciation, and awareness of the details of health, including of individual diseases.

Why Your Most Susceptible Demographic May Not Be Your Best Target

Increasing disease awareness comes with many challenges – one of which is who to target and how. While it may be intuitive to target those at highest risk for the disease of which you are trying to raise awareness, this strategy is not always the most successful. One example of where targeting the most highly affected demographic is not the most appropriate approach is with elderly patients whose caregivers have become the primary decision makers for the patients. A good target group in this case is women, who make up between 57 and 81 percent of all caregivers. In fact, women tend to be the healthcare decision makers in general – whether as mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, or friends. Women are therefore often the ones both collecting and distributing information about disease, so targeting this demographic is a promising strategy for generally raising disease awareness.

How do we reach women? According to Nielsen, a leading global information and measurement company that provides data and insights on when and where people connect with content, adult women consume traditional television more than other forms of media. Television advertisements are therefore likely to be the most efficient and cost effective way to raise awareness about disease among women. By reaching this group through television ads, disease awareness advocates can put women in a position to amplify key disease messages.

The Potential and Missed Opportunities of Television Ads

While television advertising remains a productive channel for raising disease awareness, the details of those commercials can make or break the return on investment (ROI) of those television ads. Once interest is sparked, most people go to the Internet to seek more information.

While disease awareness advocates are likely to garner attention around the disease of which they are raising awareness through their ads, they are less likely to create ads that empower consumers to access the critical information that the advocates have.

However, most commercials aren’t memorable or specific enough to prompt the consumer to connect with your brand directly. As a result, when consumers go online for more information, they’re likely to search the disease name, which will result in an abundance of information, but may not find content specific to the disease awareness campaign.

Vanity Tactics to Enhance Memorability

To avoid driving your audience to unrelated or even inaccurate information about the disease as opposed to your awareness campaign, it is important to provide memorable touchpoints that makes it easy for consumers find your specific content online, or call you directly.

To achieve this, other industries have successfully implemented vanity URLs and phone numbers into their ads. This approach is rooted in research. A study has shown that 72 percent of people can remember vanity toll-free numbers after hearing them, and that 90 percent of Americans have used toll-free numbers.

However, when implementing the vanity URL and phone number strategy, many disease awareness advocates have used vanity URLs and phone numbers that are complex and difficult to remember, defeating the purpose of using vanity names. A more successful strategy is using vanity URLs and phone numbers that are simple, easy-to-remember and use plain language, which has been shown to be a successful strategy for improving health literacy and disease awareness.

Given the computational limits of our brains and increased daily distractions, making things as easy and memorable for us as possible is the best way to build awareness and engagement. There is of course a reason that stocks with names that are easier to pronounce do better on the stock market. These names are more engaging, garner more trust, and are easier to remember when people want to seek out relevant information.

Advocacy is All About the Consumer

As other industries become more customer-centric, consumers are coming to expect the same level of service from the healthcare industry. By shifting focus from the organization’s needs to the consumer’s needs – not just at the health level – but also at the communications level, disease awareness advocates can significantly increase their engagement with target audiences and prompt action. The strategic use of vanity URLs and phone numbers is a proven technique that disease awareness advocates can use to achieve not only their goals but a goal of all healthcare stakeholders: knowledgeable healthcare consumers who are empowered to improve their own health and the health of their loved ones.

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