> Developing Products
Developing Products to Deliver Your Message
Your partnership might be tempted to rely only on print products to reach out to your target audiences. Print is an excellent medium for broad, general information that introduces your partnership and its work. It’s especially useful for your organizational description and one-pager, and for other “leave-behind” material that supports your face-to-face meetings.
But the print medium will only take your partnership so far. With such traditional products as brochures, fact sheets and newsletters it’s difficult to focus narrowly on the specific audiences you’ve identified in your strategic communications plan. Most of the time these products are used because they’re cheap to produce, or convenient to distribute or easy to write.
But, as with messages, the most successful communications products are the ones that are audience-focused. Your audience’s day-to-day routines, their physical abilities, and their experience of the world will determine how receptive they will be to a given product or vehicle. For example, an audience of homebound older adults might find a newsletter written in 11-point type too difficult to read. Colleagues at a conference on aging might find your Issue Brief to be just one more document in a growing pile that they’ll discard before heading to the airport.
As with messages, you want your product to cut through the clutter of stuff competing for your audience’s attention. Take the time to really consider what these particular people are ready to hear from you and how best they can receive that information. Researching and getting to know your specific audience will multiply your chances of success.
Good products grow out of the answers to the following questions:
- How does this specific audience best like to receive information?
- How will our vehicle or product influence the way this audience thinks about long term care and our partnership?
- Does this product or vehicle have staying power? Will this audience retain the product or throw it away?
- Is this the right time in our “relationship” with this audience to use this product or vehicle?
Some questions to guide you as you consider the questions above:
- At what point in the day is your audience likely to be most receptive to your approach?
- What communications vehicles are they likely to rely on most frequently?
- Of those, which ones will grab their attention the best?
- Of those, which ones are they likely to spend the most time with?
- Of those, which are likely to influence them? Which are they likely to remember? Which are they likely to share with others?
The products or vehicles you choose are limited only by your imagination. The days of relying on expensive printers or time-consuming production are long gone. And don’t forget the basics. Some audiences are far more likely to respond to a one-on-one interaction as simple as a phone call or handwritten note than to a slickly produced television show.
Some audiences —such as older adults living in a particular neighborhood— might be more responsive if they hear your message from their hairdresser or pharmacist. So the messenger you choose becomes as critical as the product. You might want to enlist the hairdresser’s help handing out an invitation to a luncheon, or a refrigerator magnet with an important 800 number on it. Having the product handed to them by someone they know and trust might mean that your audience will respond to it more readily.
Some other things you’ll want to know about your specific audience, and keep in mind when developing your products, are:
- the audience’s reading skills;
- which language(s) they are most comfortable with;
- whether you need to use visuals to help convey your messages;
- who would be the best spokesperson or messenger to reach this audience;
- whether this audience needs a great deal of education about your issues or is already well aware (e.g., what stage of the communications process?); and
- how to best distribute this product, and who you can enlist to help.
As you work through these issues and brainstorm useful communications products, remember to consider your budget and how much staff time is involved in the development, production, delivery and follow-up for each product. If you’re not sure about which products would work best with a particular audience, do some more research. Talk with some people who belong to that demographic group and ask them. Here again, a better match with your specific audience will multiply your chances for success.
These tasks can be addressed by whoever is responsible for a given communications objective; or by a small committee within your partnership that is charged with primary responsibility for the strategic communications plan. In either case, it can be useful to draw on the full knowledge and resources of the partnership in learning the answers to these questions.
The Connecting Caring Communities partnership in Milwaukee reports that they initially had more success engaging older adults in one neighborhood than in another. In the first neighborhood, focus groups were held in conjunction with monthly lunch meetings with older citizens. Later, monthly meetings were convened with the neighborhood "ambassadors," the self-identified group of older volunteers who spoke with their neighbors and friends to see what they thought were the most important issues facing their neighborhood. According to the partnership, the involvement of these older adult residents in the neighborhood workgroup proved invaluable. Older residents identified personal safety, transportation, lack of a neighborhood gathering place/social isolation, and lack of information about services as priorities.
In the second neighborhood, the partnership encountered some setbacks, while not entirely surprising, slowed the momentum of the project. They approached this neighborhood the same way they did the first one. Two organizations were chosen as the local subcontractors responsible for the neighborhood planning activity. And initial focus groups were held to meet with and listen to older residents, and to identify local leadership. From this point forward, the experience evolved in a different way than in the first neighborhood.
One of the lead organizations, the neighborhood association, encountered funding problems and was not able to be an anchor. Staffing changes at the other lead organization also resulted in the loss of momentum. Perhaps most importantly, no identifiable leadership emerged among the neighborhood’s older adults. The partnership re-grouped, sought additional leadership from the local hospital, hired new staff, revitalized a senior advisory council, and has now mobilized the neighborhood around the issue of creating a new “Gathering Place” for neighborhood older adults. The neighborhood project is now on the map.
Keep in mind even in almost identical neighborhoods, there can be variables that will influence your communications efforts with your target audiences and the vehicles you select. Be flexible. If you run into unexpected challenges or barriers to your success, be prepared to try something else.
A nonprofit organization in California was alarmed by the rising incidence of emergency hospital visits by older adults with unchecked diabetes, many of whose food choices were responsible for wildly fluctuating blood sugar levels. The nonprofit began offering free tours of local grocery stores—complete with taste-testing, free coupons and recipes—to help this audience learn to shop and cook more healthfully. In the first few months of the program, the group had a waiting list of hundreds of people with diabetes wanting to join the tours. Among those who did, there was a marked reduction in their number of diabetes-related emergency room visits in the following months.
In the next section we look at finding the resources to accomplish the tasks you’ve set out in your strategic communications plan.