“We are all in this together” has become a rallying cry during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, although a significant portion of the population is not “fully involved” when it comes to get vaccinated.
While the phrase focuses on civilians, new research from the University of Notre Dame suggests that experts from different fields need to work together to overcome the public health crisis and that science can benefit from using strategies marketing with vaccines, just as brands do with customers. .
“Market segmentation strategies can be used to overcome COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and other health crisesis forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Affairs of Mitchell OlsenAssistant Professor of Marketing at Notre Dame Mendoza College of Commercewith Matthew Meng of Utah State University.
After the initial rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in early 2021, some public health officials and politicians believed herd immunity could be achieved across the entire US population by July 4. Although early vaccination rates seemed to indicate this was an achievable goal, inoculation rates began to drop over the summer as those who wanted a shot had already done so. More than 30% of American adults are still not fully vaccinated.
The team conducted a national survey of vaccine holders to demonstrate how a process of market segmentation can be beneficial.
“Our survey revealed important distinctions between four groups of COVID-19 vaccine resistants regarding the nature and strength of the reasons for their aversion to the vaccine and the solutions to which they are most open,” Olsen said. “We then discussed how organizations like the CDC can recruit marketing strategists and consumer psychologists in future health crises.”
In May, the team conducted a nationally representative survey of 1,068 adults in the United States who were unvaccinated or partially vaccinated and considered themselves unlikely to fully vaccinate. All participants indicated the importance of 16 different reasons in their decision not to be fully vaccinated. They also commented on how helpful 18 possible solutions would be to encourage them to get fully vaccinated.
Results, including demographic profiles, were compared after respondents were categorized into one of four segments – unvaccinated refusers, unvaccinated hesitants, partial refuses, or partial hesitants. The segmentation was based on whether respondents are completely unvaccinated or partially vaccinated and whether they indicate that they will definitely or probably not receive the COVID-19 vaccine or the second dose, if applicable.
“It seems like much of the public narrative has treated those who don’t intend to fully vaccinate as a homogenous group who should be approached with one-size-fits-all ‘solutions,'” Olsen said. “Obviously that approach doesn’t seem to be working.”
Marketers have long recognized that consumers will evaluate the same product differently. They increase acceptance of their products by recognizing these differences and tailoring the marketing mix in a way that resonates better with a particular segment of the population.
A market segmentation approach can make vaccination campaigns more effective by improving the source, content and/or placement of the message. For example, the approach used today often involves government officials pleading with unvaccinated people to get vaccinated through traditional media channels.
“Our national survey shows that this approach may actually be counterproductive because, for some, one of the main reasons for not getting vaccinated is lack of trust in government,” Olsen said. “The more certain groups hear government officials pleading with them to get vaccinated, the less likely they will be to do so.”
Market segmentation is ultimately about empathy, according to Olsen. This requires the researcher to really listen to people and understand their underlying concerns and motivations so that they are able to respond in a relevant and impactful way. With the unvaccinated, this may involve knowing their concerns, acknowledging and validating those concerns, and communicating in a way that addresses them without being condescending.
“With those avoiding the vaccine because they don’t trust the government and feel that vaccines were developed too quickly, an effective messaging strategy can ensure that the message is not coming from a government official, but perhaps rather be from a doctor or celebrity that the segment identifies with,” Olsen explained. “The post could explain how safeguards were used in the development process to ensure the vaccine was developed safely despite its speed, and messages could appear where vaccine holders are most likely to engage, such as a doctor’s office or in digital posts on COVID-19-related pages.
According to Olsen, using a market segmentation approach will improve acceptance of a product, whether it’s a toaster oven, laundry detergent, or vaccine. Similarly, engaging marketing strategists and consumer psychologists early in public health crises can improve outcomes for public policymakers and health organizations.
Contact: Mitchell Olsen, 574-631-1734, [email protected]