Adapting the Customer-Centric approach to public health marketing campaigns

KW2 is one of the most experienced public health communications companies in the Midwest, with over 32 years in the category. We’ve communicated more public sector behavior change to more people than any other Wisconsin company. We’re turned to for our proven process in effective public health campaigns, drawing from customer-centric marketing principles. The customer-centric approach, applied to the unique needs of public health marketing campaigns, succeeds because we involve the audience from the start, resulting in positive behavior change while facing some of the toughest issues in public health.

In the world of consumer products, the process of launching something new doesn’t begin with the logo, colors or messaging—it begins with identifying a true need in the market. Customer-Centric marketing is an approach to business that focuses on providing a positive customer experience to gain a competitive advantage. We adapt this model for public health by applying this framework to the difficult challenges of public health marketing. Rather than “customers,” we’re framing everything around the public, or a specific audience. We aren’t measuring success by “purchase,” but rather a buy-in to an idea, concept or long-term behavior change. And finally, we aren’t gaining a “competitive advantage” in the traditional sense; we’re instead inspiring long-term, positive changes that result in healthier outcomes. 

Step 1: Understand the Problem

The customer-centric approach means that success starts with the “end user.” In effective public health campaigns, this means framing everything around the public. We begin by researching current awareness levels of the problem and understanding of the issue among different audiences. 

State agencies and public health communicators deeply understand the history, current issues and importance of the challenges they’re tackling. So, our first task becomes knowing what they know – the scope of the issue, past initiatives and successes, and the goals of the initiative. It means working closely with our partners who not only conduct extensive primary research, but who also see the issues firsthand.

Step 2: Research Current Perceptions

Once we understand how an issue is impacting the state of public health, we immediately start talking to the intended audience—those impacted. We interview community members, community leaders and those who interact with those most impacted by the issue at hand. And we supplement our understanding by researching and investigating other organizations’ approaches to the same problem or a similar one, learning about key differences in the audiences or their challenges and translating this into a deeper knowledge on what’s worked in the past.

Countering underage drinking? We spoke directly to those with the most influence – parents.

Fighting the state’s opioid epidemic? We went directly into the state’s justice system and spoke with former addicts who had insights to share with our team.  

No matter how difficult to reach, we strive to speak directly with those who know the most about the issue. This helps us develop an understanding of the issue from those it most deeply impacts—their perceptions of the issue, the barriers they’ve faced in their direct interactions with the issue and the big insights that can lead to effective behavior change.

Step 3: Develop Messaging 

Our creative and messaging teams take the data we’ve gathered directly from those who this messaging will reach – and we use their current perceptions and barriers to develop strategic messaging and creative approaches for the campaign.

We found in research with parents that many simply didn’t know what tobacco companies are doing to market to youth – they were shocked to see today’s colorful packaging and sweet flavors. So, our messaging centered around teaching parents what tobacco products look like today.

We learned from protective factors training professionals that building strong families starts with helping those families learn about and make use of five key family strengths. So, we created a campaign promoting those five strengths, with messaging that included positive, practical tips for developing them. 

Step 4: Test & Validate 

Our adapted customer-centric approach to public health marketing continues with validating the message we’ve developed. Not only is the message crafted to address the pain points, barriers and perceptions of our audience, but it is also validated through focus group testing.

Depending on the job, we’ve run taglines, logos, messaging and even on-camera talent through state-wide focus groups to get input from multiple demographics, geographies and perspectives. This helps us refine our messages and even helped us adjust our strategies based on how the audience interprets what we’ve presented. 

In addition to representative populations, we also involve community leaders and stakeholders in this process. They are plugged into the unique needs and challenges of their community, and their experiences and perspectives are incredibly valuable in ensuring the message we promote to the public resonates. This includes cultural sensitivity considerations, partnering with them and creating events with them that truly involve the community rather than simply advertising a message to them.

With this research-driven, target audience-focused foundation, you’re ready to effectively implement campaigns in your communities.

See some recent campaign examples, showing how our audience-informed public health campaigns reduced stigma with our HIV In Real Life campaign in Milwaukee, taught parents about deceitful e-cigarette packaging that directly targets kids and turned a scientific framework that parents can download to use at the dinner table. 

Proven Approach, Proven Results

It’s not easy. Changing rote and learned behaviors can be a much bigger marketing challenge than driving toothpaste preference. But we’ve seen time and again that public health initiatives can succeed when implementing the “customer-first” perspective. It’s helped our clients have a positive impact on the overall health of our state – one issue at a time.