Five proven strategies to evaluate public health campaigns

Public health organizations work hard to get meaningful results for the populations they serve with each new awareness initiative or behavior change campaign. We know what they’re up against. KW2 specializes in behavior change marketing and public health campaigns. In fact, since 1986 we’ve contributed to more life-changing and life-saving efforts than any other communications company in the state of Wisconsin. In our past and current work for dozens and dozens of public health campaigns, ranging from debunking myths and reducing stigma surrounding HIV, to reducing Wisconsin’s adult smoking rates, we’ve achieved proven results.

Yes, funding can be tight, with most public health and public sector budgets typically not stretching far enough to cover campaign evaluation. State and federal entities conduct large-scale studies to get public health data, but due to methodologies, funding and other complexities, these results are typically not tied to any particular organization’s efforts. And because of the complexity of public health research and reporting, the results are usually published a year or more after a campaign has concluded.

No two campaigns’ objectives are alike, but we’ve found that proving effectiveness comes down to answering just three questions:

  • Did the campaign reach the community it needed to reach?
  • Is the community more aware of the message now than they were before?
  • Was there any positive behavior change impact, temporary or lasting, as a result of this campaign?

Here are KW2’s five proven strategies for evaluating the effectiveness of public health campaigns (plus one bonus).

1. Gather community insights and benchmarks 

Most public health campaigns address a need for a specific community or at-risk population. Before developing campaign messaging and creative, the behavior change and public health experts at KW2 form relationships with community leaders and activists to gather key insights. Through interviews and conversations, these networks help us set benchmarks and evaluate our efforts before, during and after a campaign.

Community connections produce anecdotal evidence of our campaign reach and impact. While the response is not statistically significant like survey results, it can be a meaningful way to not only gauge the success of our message and outreach, but also to form meaningful relationships with community leaders.

2. Conduct message exposure studies

KW2 has used phone, mailed and online surveys to gather information from a core sample of an intended audience before and after a campaign has run, asking Wisconsin residents aided and unaided awareness questions about the campaign or issue. A successful campaign will result in a statistically significant increase in awareness.

3. Gather media campaign metrics

When KW2 runs traditional media campaigns like radio, TV, bus shelter banners, or digital ads, our media partners provide reliable, audited numbers. This data shows what percentage of our intended audience was exposed to our messaging, in addition to how many times (frequency). When we evaluate these metrics, we make sure we’ve effectively reached our core population without spilling too much into other audiences. 

4. Evaluate website metrics

Like many of the B2B and B2C clients we work with, a website is your “always-on,” 24/7 marketing message. The place the audience can go any time to learn about you, communicate with you, and learn what your message is all about. Most public health campaigns involve the launch of a new website that’s built for the community in need, and the message that will serve the cause. KW2’s user experience designers and digital strategists don’t just organize the content on these campaign websites; they create them with measurability in mind. We track the most important metrics that will show you how many people you’ve reached, and what content influenced them:

  • What channels (paid and earned) led people to your campaign website.
  • Campaign-specific metrics, like locating a clinic on an interactive map, sharing an image on social medial or submitting a pledge to make a life change.
  • Shared and downloaded content, or other metrics to show if a message has been amplified.
  • Unique visitors vs. repeat visitors.
  • Demographics of visitors (such as location or age).

5. Engage in social listening

During message testing, create and test a hashtag or set of branded vocabulary to use throughout the life of the campaign. Set up a social listening service (choose from low-cost options like Google Alerts, Hootsuite or Sprout Social to know when people are talking about your campaign terms). Seeing social buzz and online conversations about your campaign is a great way to prove an effective reach. We encourage monitoring the use of key phrases before, during, and for a trailing period after a campaign has ended to get a true picture of how much of an impact the campaign has online.

BONUS: anecdotal evidence

Sometimes, community members and the general public see our campaigns and they just can’t help themselves. Parents call the organizations we work with just to tell them our ad hit close to home. One Milwaukee resident sent Facebook Friend requests to people who worked on a campaign because she felt so touched by the message she saw. A post-doctorate student saw one of our campaigns and asked if they could contribute research. While these results are not statistically significant, they help us take the temperature on how our ads are perceived.

The measurement strategies above vary in cost, scientific reliability, scalability and breadth, but we believe a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis helps prove the effectiveness of any public health or behavior change campaign.