Getting the Message Right

A winning message is one that has been tested to ensure its words and imagery click with the audience it is intended to impress. You could be eating humble pie if you don’t test your messaging first.

A winning message is one that has been tested to ensure its words and imagery click with the audience it is intended to impress. You could be eating humble pie if you don’t test your messaging first.

Organizations can be forced to eat humble pie when they don’t test their branding, key messages or product explanations to make sure their intended audience understands what they are trying to convey.

Staff brainstorming can produce clever ideas, but they aren’t strategic concepts unless tested to make sure they click with customers. Ditto for creative material that can sing to an internal audience, but fall flat with the people you are trying to convince.

Getting the message right is all about making sure you're using the right words, images and emotional content for the particular audience. The only way to have a degree of confidence you are right is to run it by a representative sample of people you seek to reach.

Smart organizations tap into their consumers or target audiences to identify and test messages that work. It takes nothing more than asking questions. In fact, most organizations already have tools that could be employed for effective marketing and communications efforts.

Use focus groups

Invite a small sample of people who fit the target audience to meet with you. Ask questions about the issue or product. Listen closely to the words they use and the concepts they describe. The language they use is the language you need to use to make them understand what you mean. It could be as simple as turning a familiar phrase.

Example: A health insurance client used focus groups to identify new messaging for promotional material. After changing brochures and ads to new consumer-furnished messages, sales increased by 6 percent.

Add a few open-ended questions to surveys

Provide respondents the opportunity to explain what they like, want or need. Ask how they talk about products and issues with their friends. Identify what is important. A note of caution, though: Be sure the survey sample matches the characteristics of the intended audience for the communication effort.

Example: A physician network used comments from an online survey to identify topics for newsletters, content for social media posts and ad themes. The rate of opens and clicks increased as content became more relevant.

Tap into social media

Creating conversations about the product or issue. Follow up with certain individuals to probe for additional information. Again, pay close attention to the words they use and how they approach your product, service or concept.

The key to effective messaging is making it relevant, informative and persuasive. Be sure what you say is important to the audience while providing meaningful information conveyed in words and imagery that resonates with them.

Tom Eiland is a CFM partner and the leader of the firm’s research practice. His work merges online research with client communications and engagement efforts, and he has a wide range of clients in the education, health care and transportation sectors. You can reach Tom at tome@cfmpdx.com.

Survival of the Biggest in Healthcare

In a case of a survival of the biggest, large health care organizations are getting bigger, raising eyebrows and concerns among Oregon business and government leaders who worry about the impact on prices, choices and even quality.

In a case of a survival of the biggest, large health care organizations are getting bigger, raising eyebrows and concerns among Oregon business and government leaders who worry about the impact on prices, choices and even quality.

Oregon decision makers are raising the caution flag over consolidation in the health care industry. A recent CFM/Oregon Business online survey found nearly three in four (74 percent) are very or somewhat concerned about the ongoing trend of consolidation in healthcare.

The CFM/Oregon Business online survey was conducted in April among 293 business and government managers.

While the media has focused primarily on recent mergers in the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries, a similar trend has been largely overlooked in the healthcare services market, including health systems, hospitals and physician clinics.

In the Pacific Northwest, Providence Health & Services and OHSU have significantly expanded their market footprints through acquisitions, mergers, affiliations and partnerships. Legacy acquired the Silverton Health System and Kaiser acquired Group Health. A few years ago Southwest Washington Medical Center in Clark County Washington became part of the PeaceHealth organization. Similar consolidation is occurring throughout the country.

Industry leaders tout the benefits of consolidation, citing lower administrative costs, improved efficiencies in capital investments and better quality of care and outcomes. However, Oregon decision makers aren’t sure bigger is better. In addition to being concerned about merger activity in general, decision makers think the problems associated with consolidation will outweigh the benefits in the following seven of eight areas: 

A majority of decision makers say consolidation will have a negative impact on:

· Cost of healthcare services (66 percent negative impact)

· Access to routine healthcare services in rural areas (53 percent negative impact)

· Overall customer service (52 percent negative impact)

 Managers think the impact of consolidation would more likely be negative than positive for:

· Ability to schedule appointments for routine care when you want it (44 percent negative impact)

· Overall quality of healthcare (38 percent)

· Level of respect and courtesy patients will experience (37 percent negative impact)

· Access to medical specialists (32 percent negative impact)

At best, managers were evenly divided about the range of services available (30 percent positive, 29 percent negative impact).

So what does it all mean? Healthcare providers face an uphill battle to reduce concerns about consolidation. As consolidation continues, as it surely will, organizations should develop trust and confidence by implementing these five key pieces of advice.

· Deliver on the promise of better quality of care.

· Be transparent about costs.

· Improve operations, like billings.

· Increase access and availability of care in urban, suburban and rural areas.

· Make every patient touchpoint a positive experience.

Tom Eiland is a CFM partner and the leader of the firm’s research practice. His work merges online research with client communications and engagement efforts, and he has a wide range of clients in the education, health care and transportation sectors. You can reach Tom at tome@cfmpdx.com.

 

Amid Alarming Terrorism, War Declines Worldwide

News headlines make it seem as if the world is blowing up when in reality war between nations involving uniformed soldiers is the lowest it has been in decades.                                        (Photo Credit: DAVID BONAZZI FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)

News headlines make it seem as if the world is blowing up when in reality war between nations involving uniformed soldiers is the lowest it has been in decades.                                        (Photo Credit: DAVID BONAZZI FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)

Newspaper headlines blare that we live in dangerous times, but that overshadows another reality – we also live in one of the most peaceful times in modern history.

Despite high-profile terrorist attacks, data shows the number of deaths caused by war is markedly lower than in any time since World War II. When the Colombian government signed a ceasefire with rebels in June, it ended the lone remaining military conflict in the entire Western Hemisphere.

In a blog posted on Medium, political economist Angus Hervey wrote, “If you can tear your attention away from the 24-hour news cycle, you’ll be astonished to hear that we are experiencing one of the least discussed, yet most remarkable cultural shifts of all time: war, one of our species’ most abiding and defining social practices, is at its lowest ebb.”

An op-ed written by Joshua Goldstein and Steven Pinker in the Boston Globe claims, “For nearly two-thirds of a century, from 1945 to 2011, war had been in overall decline. The global death rate had fallen from 22 per 100,000 people to 0.3.”

There have been new armed conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and Ukraine. “The Syrian civil war became the bloodiest conflict in a generation, with hundreds of thousands killed, millions displaced, and multiple foreign powers joining the fight or supporting their proxies,” Goldstein and Pinker concede. But, they add, a partial ceasefire in Syria has sharply reduced casualties, the ceasefire in Ukraine has largely held and Boko Haram is being driven out of large chunks of its previously held territory.

“But, mercifully, as the major wars have died down, new ones have not sprung up in their place,” Goldstein and Pinker say. “Of special note is the continuing absence of wars between the world’s uniformed national armies. These forces exceed 20 million soldiers and are armed to the teeth. Yet the last sustained war between these armies was in 2003, in Iraq.”

Hervey stresses that war isn’t extinct. But it is declining, especially between states with some form of democracy. “After centuries of hard-earned lessons, people are starting to understand that governance really matters,” he wrote. “Democracy is more prevalent today than ever before, and despite all its obvious flaws, it’s still a hell of a lot better than authoritarianism and feudal serfdom.”

“Since democracies don’t usually go to war with each other, the likelihood of interstate war, which kills more people than the kinds of intermittent, non-state conflicts we see today, is declining,” Hervey concluded. "As the world becomes more interconnected, the powerful have ever more incentives to avoid the catastrophic economic consequences of going to war, too. Conflict isn’t good for your economy in a world of dense trade networks and digital flows.”

Hervey says as major warfare declines, mankind has “an opportunity to turn our collective efforts to overcoming other forms of violence such as domestic abuse, slavery and racial, political and religious persecution.” He might have added the “violence” caused by drug addiction and climate change.

The world isn’t good enough, but it seems to be getting better. “War,” Hervey says, “is not inevitable."

Tried-and-True Next-Bench Market Research

Think of market research as a map showing the way from a customer problem to a solution, a journey that often starts by experiencing or seeing something calling out for a fix.

Think of market research as a map showing the way from a customer problem to a solution, a journey that often starts by experiencing or seeing something calling out for a fix.

Tektronix was built on a simple but effective market research strategy: An engineer would lean over to the next bench and ask his co-worker what he needed. 

Next-bench market research carried Tektronix from a small startup to a Fortune 500 powerhouse. The Beaverton-based company made products that addressed real problems in the emerging electronics industry and created Emmy-winning opportunities in television broadcasting.

When a product to solve a problem or exploit an opportunity didn’t exist, Tektronix invented it, sometimes pioneering and patenting technology that made the product possible. At its best, Tektronix was an assembly line of engineers looking at the bench next to theirs to see what would make work easier and products more reliable. Engineers were less interested in whether they could make a product and more interested on why they needed to make it.

Today, it is fascinating to watch ABC's Shark Tank where countless entrepreneurs pitch their products and product ideas to high-profile investors. The pitches invariably start with a description of the problem their product aims to solve. 

Some of the products and problems aren’t monumental. A cooler with a light so you know what beverage you're grabbing in the dark. A smiley-faced yellow sponge that will remove sticky goo on plates, pans and utensils without scratching their surface. Ugly Christmas sweaters to give as gag gifts or to wear irreverently at family celebrations.

The Breathometer, a smartphone breathalyzer, was Shark Tank's first $1 million deal. All five sharks were sold on the pitch. Now even Richard Branson is investing in it. 

The Breathometer, a smartphone breathalyzer, was Shark Tank's first $1 million deal. All five sharks were sold on the pitch. Now even Richard Branson is investing in it. 

Others have more import. A subscription service that will take pictures taken on a smartphone and convert them into keepsake picture books. A smartphone breathalyzer that enables someone to determine whether they have had too much to drink to drive. Ava the Elephant, a medicine dropper that offers a friendly face for kids when taking bad-tasting medicine.

The vast majority of the pitchmen and pitchwomen who appear on the popular TV show experience first-hand a problem and search the market for solutions but can't find answer. So they create their own. They engage in the equivalent of next-bench market research – finding a problem to fix.

Filling a need is the most fundamental reason to make a product or offer a service. If you start with filling a need, your market research will follow a path shaped by what it takes to fill that need. And it will define your market differentiator, what makes your product special and different.

A lot of other factors go into a successful business, but next-bench market research has a proven track record of getting someone headed in the right direction of fixing a problem, big or small, that people face in their everyday lives.

Drop Stop, a long plastic gap-filler, was designed to prevent your personal belongings from getting lost under your car seat.  

Drop Stop, a long plastic gap-filler, was designed to prevent your personal belongings from getting lost under your car seat.  

Like Drop Stop, a 17-inch long piece of plastic that acts as a gap filler blocking keys, phones, loose change or your wallet from slipping into that impenetrable crevice next to your car seat. A simple idea and a practical, affordable solution to a perplexing problem. The product's co-inventor came up with the idea after he dropped his cell phone in his car seat gap, took his eye off the road to retrieve it and wound up in an accident. It was painful and embarrassing, but it proved to be invaluable next-bench market research.

Lies, Damned Lies and Demographics

Demographics could be turned on their head in the 2016 presidential election by an unconventional candidate with unpredictable appeal in “flippable” states that could determine who wins in November.

Demographics could be turned on their head in the 2016 presidential election by an unconventional candidate with unpredictable appeal in “flippable” states that could determine who wins in November.

Demographics are just statistics with faces. But demographics are also statistics influenced by non-quantitative facts, such as political passion.

In presidential elections, demographics draw a lot of attention. This year is no exception, though some of the usual demographic lines have been scrambled, in large part because of the insurgent “outsider” campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Trump has attracted strong support from white men, including union workers in Rust Belt states, and evangelicals, despite a lack of credentials on dealing with social issues. Sanders’ “political revolution" appealed to many young voters, but it also revived the interest of older voters who had dropped off of the political map. Hillary Clinton, who has strong appeal for women voters, has managed to gather as strong or stronger support from African-Americans and Latinos than Barack Obama in 2008.

Despite high negative ratings and demographic predictions that Republican presidential prospects this year were circling the drain, Trump emerged from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week with a slight lead over Clinton.

According to fivethirtyeight.com, Republican presidential nominees do best among white voters without college degrees. But this demographic cohort is aging and declining by about 3 percent every four years. Meanwhile, whites with a college degree, who lean Republican but do cross over, are increasing by 1 or more percentage points every four years.

“In other words, Democrats’ coalition of non-white, young and well-educated voters continues to expand every election, while Republicans’ coalition of white, older and less-educated voters keeps shrinking,” said David Wasserman, writing for fivethirtyeight.com. "It’s no wonder Democrats have an emerging ‘stranglehold on the Electoral College’ because of favorable trends in states like Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Virginia.”

However, that stranglehold seems a little limp in this election cycle. 

Nate Silver, founder of FiveThirtyEight, says demographics don’t favor Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as strongly as some might imagine.

Nate Silver, founder of FiveThirtyEight, says demographics don’t favor Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as strongly as some might imagine.

Nate Silver, the founder of FiveThirtyEight, says just a small percentage shift in voting could flip Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin to the GOP in 2016, providing enough electoral votes to capture the presidency.

Trump is stretching traditional demographic line by pushing his opposition to trade deals and a law and order agenda that hold appeal for disaffected voters in the Rust Belt and Middle America.

Of those states Silver identifies as “flippable," Sanders outpolled Clinton in Colorado, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. Sanders and Clinton were virtually tied in Iowa and Sanders came close to winning Michigan, another Rust Belt state with a lot of blue-collar union voters. A contributing factor in Sanders’ success was his opposition to trade deals, which he said left many American workers in the lurch.

The Clinton campaign is working hard at the Democratic National Convention this week to woo Sanders’ supporters. But Silver says it may be a fool’s errand because many Sanders’ supporters are new or irregular voters who may not even vote in November. He also says some Sanders’ voters are politically independent and “ticket-splitters."

The upshot is Clinton may be forced to hustle to retain union voters from Trump and Sanders supporters from a third-party candidate like Jill Stein of the Green Party.

Another demographic down note for Clinton is that her commanding lead among Latino voters may be deceiving in terms of its impact on the Electoral College. Silver says Latino votes are concentrated in states such as California, New York and Texas that aren’t in play. That is changing as Latino populations increase across the nation, which have led some to suggest that predictably red states like Arizona could become purple. However, the change may not occur this year.

Some of Clinton’s strongest support in the primary came in Southern states where African-American votes dominated Democratic voting. Normally they wouldn’t turn Red states blue, but conservative voters upset with Trump could produce surprises in states such as North Carolina and George, where polls show Trump even with Clinton. Another election-day surprise could be Utah, dominated by Mormons who are offended by Trump’s politics. Clinton is holding her own there, too.

Voters Express Exhaustion Over Campaign Coverage

A Pew Research Center poll shows a majority of Americans are already exhausted from all the news media coverage of the 2016 presidential election – with four more months of campaigning still to go.

A Pew Research Center poll shows a majority of Americans are already exhausted from all the news media coverage of the 2016 presidential election – with four more months of campaigning still to go.

Voters feel exhausted from media coverage of the 2016 presidential election, but not because of too much attention paid to candidate positions on important issues.

A new Pew Research Center Poll conducted from June 7 to July 5 finds 59 percent of respondents worn out from election news with four months of campaigning yet to go. But almost the same number of respondents say they feel shortchanged by the amount of coverage focused on policy questions.

Forty-four percent of respondents think there has been too much attention paid to candidate comments and 43 percent say the personal lives of candidates has also gotten too much ink and air time.

Some 45 percent of respondents believe the candidates' experience level has been overlooked. That view is especially strong among respondents identifying themselves as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents.

Those expressing the most exhaustion with election coverage are younger adults, women, whites and independents, Pew Research says. Almost two-thirds of 18 to 29 year olds said they are worn out.

A separate Pew Research poll in June gleaned that 65 percent of registered voters felt the presidential campaigns had failed to focus on important policy issues. That view held across party lines. So it is little wonder that Pew Research found 55 percent of respondents thought media coverage of the actual issues was thin.

Respondents had mixed views about coverage of candidates' moral character (30 percent too much, 34 percent too little, 33 percent just right) and who is leading in the polls (37 percent too little, 46 percent just right, 13 percent too little).

An earlier Pew Research survey found relatively strong interest among voters in the 2016 presidential campaign. The amount of coverage is less likely to weigh down close followers of the election (41 percent) and more likely to fatigue those who are barely paying attention (69 percent).

The next few weeks will be chock-full of political coverage as Republicans and Democrats hold their national conventions to nominate their standard bearers. But the 2016 Olympics start in August, which could provide a short reprieve before a barrage of political TV ads begin in the fall.