Connect emotionally: the communications must-haves for COVID-19 vaccination uptake success

Bastion Brands founder and CEO Simon Davies outlines the key steps in communications strategy to ensuring the Government's COVID-19 vaccination rollout is a success.

COVID-19 vaccination uptake will be significant impacted by the effectiveness of communications. The good news is that attitudes and behaviours about vaccination are very malleable. Communication matters.

Yet Governments around the world are struggling with persuading a hesitant public to have the COVID-19 vaccination injection. This is because communication is too fact-based.

It’s a simple truth: if we want populations to have the vaccination: don’t let the facts get in the way of an emotional connection.

At the core of vaccine hesitancy are perceptions about risk and safety: does the person feel at risk to catching COVID, do they believe its impacts could be serious, and do they believe the vaccine is safe and effective?

Hesitancy is not due to lack of information. More information does not ensure more uptake. Underpinning hesitancy is a deep-rooted mistrust of vaccinations

The good news is that Australia has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. Vaccinating is an Australian social norm. For vaccines to be effective to ending pandemics, vaccination rates will need to exceed 70% of the population, minimum.

But COVID-19 has changed the stakes.

While an overwhelming majority of Australians plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Newspoll reports a significant 25% of voters said they would refuse vaccination or were undecided. Levels of scepticism are high in the community.

Members of the public are concerned about how scientists have managed to deliver safe COVID-19 vaccinations in just 10 months.

Misinformation about the efficacy and safety of the various vaccines on the market abound. Fear and uncertainty are building.

Persuasion is about finding the sweet spot between science and emotion – in being informative, and in stimulating an emotional response. 90 percent of the reasons a human being makes a decision is based on emotion: 10 percent on logic.

The five COVID-19 vaccination uptake communications success factors

For the COVID-19 vaccination uptake to be a success in Australia, here are the five most critical communications imperatives.

  • Storytelling

Tell stories, don’t just inundate with facts.

The most powerful way to connect emotionally with a human being is through stories. Stories and anecdotes about those affected positively by vaccinations are more likely to be effective than statistics. People want to hear about other people.

Understanding and harnessing the power behind storytelling needs to be the central persuasive marketing tool as Governments roll out the vaccine.

Early stories can be around how the vaccines were developed, how they work, how health care professionals are supporting them, and then – as positive case studies emerge – stories of success.

  • MICRophones

These are the Most Important COVID-19 Vaccination Referrers – health care professionals. A recommendation from an HCP is the strongest determinate of a vaccine’s acceptance.

HCPs are the most critical influencers and trusted advisors in vaccine confidence.

Communicating to HCPs about the vital role they play in talking to and reassuring patients about the need to have the vaccine is central to COVID-19 vaccination success in Australia.

  • Right message for each audience

One size does not fit all when it comes to COVID-19 vaccination messaging. Tailoring communication to each audience is critical. One message will simply not work with all groups we need to persuade. Each person’s vaccine journey is different based on their priority stage, and level of motivation.

How well a particular message will be received depends on a variety of factors, including an individual’s political affiliation, race, ethnicity, age and location. Key to bespoke messaging per audience will be identifying their major concerns.

Simply telling people, “Look, the science says it’s fine, just get the vaccine” is unlikely to prove a winning strategy. Campaigns that attempt to shame people into receiving the vaccine will be met with the same scepticism. Instead, emphasise what can be gained from immunity. Open up the dialogue, allowing people to voice their addressable concerns.

  • Right messenger for the right audiences

The right influencers and opinion leaders are powerful, credible persuaders with defined audiences.

Again, one size does not fit all. It’s critical that communications carefully matches influencers with audiences where they resonate, have credibility, are seen as role models and will have a positive impact.

For example, Lady Gaga would be a powerful influencer with certain groups, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with quite different audiences, cricketer Steve Smith with others. Influencers and opinion leaders can make a big and positive difference to COVID-19 vaccination uptake. Just make sure the match-making is spot on.

  • Make vaccinating highly visible

Distributing vaccinations where people spend considerable time is important. The Government’s plans to enlist pharmacies around Australia, for example, to provide COVID-19 vaccination vaccinations is a perfect example of this. In the UK, in some centres, the local cathedrals have been used, or other central high traffic venues of note.

People tend to think and act like their friends and families, which encourages adoption of behaviour. The key is for people to see other people getting vaccinated. It’s a highly effective way to overcoming the trust issue.

Simon Davies is the founder and CEO of Bastion Brands.


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