Will you take the vaccine? How the government can get its messaging right

We may be the first country to have a Covid-19 vaccine but the challenge for the UK government now is to also lead the way in convincing people to take it. We spoke to Richard Chataway about how to position the roll out, and what businesses should consider when creating important messaging. 

“Firstly, as with business messaging, the government needs to choose who to target,” Richard told us. “You have your hardcore anti-vaxxers at one end. At the other, you’ve got people that want to be at the front of the queue to get vaccinated. There’s little you can do from a behavioural standpoint with either of those sets of people. It’s the people in the middle who you have a chance to influence – those who perhaps aren’t too concerned about getting Covid-19 or don’t want to be the first to test the vaccine in case it has side effects. Frame the message in the right way and they will be convinced to be vaccinated.” 

“Evidence is going to be key. The widely publicised 90 to 95% success rates will be really helpful – much more so than if the figure was 60 to 70% which is still pretty effective for a vaccine but doesn’t sound anywhere near as definitive. The higher, the better so communicating that should make a big difference. For businesses, what is the data that you can use to back up your claims?”

“As always, keep it simple. The original ‘Stay at Home’ message achieved that really well. The tiering system might make sense at a scientific or policy level but when it comes to communication to the public, it’s not an easy message to understand.”

“Another consideration is who delivers the message. One of the things we learned from the Swine Flu outbreak was that if politicians start telling people what to do to prevent the spread of a virus, the advice isn’t adhered to as much as if a medical professional or scientific advisor communicates it. People don’t trust politicians. Whether you voted for them or not, you know they have an agenda. People like Chris Whitty are largely perceived as being independent experts and so carry more authority. That’s why when they do the briefings, the scientists almost get equal billing to Boris.”

“For businesses, some people might trust a celebrity or well-known individual in their field. You could align yourself with another trusted brand. Or it could be about tapping into social circles. If five of your closest friends have had the vaccine and are fine, then you’re much more likely to have it.”

“At the start of the pandemic, every company sent out an email detailing what they were doing about Covid with the subject, ‘A message from our CEO’. How effective were they? Probably not very. A CEO is not seen as an independent messenger. Plus the title suggests the email is about your business as opposed to what you’re doing for your customer to keep them safe. What’s your customer’s motivation? They’re probably not that interested in you, unfortunately. If you look at the most successful businesses of the 21st century – the likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix – they dominate their categories not because of technological innovation but because they understand how to influence behaviour.” 

Richard Chataway is the author of The Behaviour Business: How to apply behavioural science for business success, CEO of BVA Nudge Unit UK and founder of Communication Science Group (CSG).

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