Review and Develop Messages

Message maps are used to inform all communication relating to the emergency, and are especially useful during the initial phases. As the emergency evolves, however, communication needs to become more strategic and focused to respond to the changing needs and context. Messages, therefore, become part of a broader SBCC strategy that identifies primary and influencing audiences, communication objectives and approaches to promote behavior change.

Key to an effective SBCC strategy is positioning. Positioning refers to the most compelling and unique benefit that the audience can experience by engaging in the desired behaviors communicated by the key messages. Effective positioning has an emotional appeal that “hooks” audiences and presents the desired behaviors in ways that are both persuasive and appealing.

Messages therefore need to tell people clearly what benefits they can reap if they engage in the desired behaviors. The key benefit, much like the messages, is also likely to evolve throughout the course of the emergency. At the beginning, people’s motivation to perform the desired behaviors is probably going to be survival and stopping the outbreak. In the subsequent phases, the key benefit may highlight the value in rebuilding communities and avoiding future outbreaks.

Importantly, the key benefit must go beyond standard program goals, such as “having a healthy community” or “contributing to the development of your country,” as these are unlikely to “hook” the audiences. Rather, key benefits need to consider what appeals to the audience, taking into consideration immediate, personal, social and economic rewards associated with stopping and preventing future emergencies.

The key benefit should frame the whole communication strategy and needs to be promoted across all communication channels and activities. It is crucial to capture the key benefit that would best resonate with the audiences. Reviewing relevant available data, such as ethnographic, sociological or other research studies can help identify the key benefit. If such information is not available, it is worth spending some time running focus group discussions with target communities to gain an understanding of what would most appeal to them and motivate action. Some ideas of how to run rapid needs assessments and focus group discussions are provided in Units 2 and 3.

Important Information for Message Design

Although during an emergency it is often necessary to have messages that target the general population, messages will also need to be tailored for individual audience segments. In both cases, it is important to review the following information about the audience in relation to the emergency and the issue causing the emergency:

  • What is their level of knowledge?
  • What are common beliefs and attitudes?
  • What are their general risk perceptions?
  • What is their general level of perceived self-efficacy?
  • What are the dominant social and cultural norms around behaviors and practices linked to the emergency?
  • What are their emotions associated with the emergency and related behaviors?
  • What are the dominant current behaviors?
  • What are key barriers to the desired behaviors?
  • What are key facilitators for the desired behaviors?