When companies seek help to grow membership or reach a new audience, communicators can begin with message testing. It’s a critical part of crafting a solid communication strategy. Unfortunately, it’s often skipped due to tight deadlines or limited budgets. But message testing can be as simple as reviewing a core message platform with a small sample of people, or as involved as hosting multiple focus groups with the target audience.
Whatever way it’s done, it can help identify crucial flash points or key issues, and help you get buy-in from leadership on current or new messages that you plan to use.
Here's why you should consider message testing before launching a campaign.
Like it or not, communicators, same as everyone else, fall prey to biases. Inevitably, your experiences color the messages you write and how they're distributed. But an isolated group of people who lack direct insight into the experiences of the target audience shouldn’t develop messaging. Real-life experiences are critical in determining perspective and needs of your campaign targets.
For example, healthcare communicators work on campaigns designed to reach physicians. While these communicators are professionals, it's unlikely they've attended medical school. In creating a campaign that will resonate with physicians, it’s important for communicators to gather input on messaging that will address issues of interest to doctors.
When healthcare communicators create content for a general audience, there are best practices that can help ensure messages are accessible to people who lack a high level of knowledge about healthcare.
Identify Issues Ahead of Time
As above, message testing also helps determine which messages will resonate and those that will fall flat. It opens the door for conversations with target audiences around issues communicators may not have considered.
- Maybe the message platform you thought was solid is missing a critical issue(s) that your target audience is focused on at the moment?
- Are there words or phrases that won't resonate with your audience members? You won’t know until you speak to them.
Perhaps there are words or phrases that have a variety of meanings for the groups you want to reach. As shown in this poll from de Beaumont Foundation around the COVID-19 pandemic–words matter. Whatever language you use, it needs to quickly engage the broadest audience possible. And you won’t know what those words, phrases and meanings are to various people until you speak to them.
Communicators often are surprised at the nuanced language or unintentional omissions that are very important to people and can make or break an effective message platform.
More important, this part of the process can help identify flaws with messages that may require you to take a step back, analyze the areas where you are hearing consistent feedback, and decide where to make changes before continuing testing. Taking this iterative approach ensures you will improve key points and that you reach a consensus before testing ends.
Get Buy-in from Leadership
In addition, message testing provides support to defend changes to an organization’s long-standing messages. It also can help convince leadership to adopt new messages in public-facing speaking opportunities.
But leaders must be brought along–from start to finish. As many PR pros know, it can be challenging to get leaders to avoid reverting to old messages. But when they are brought along in the process, understand the methodology of how messages are tested, see feedback from target audiences and understand the importance of message changes, they are more likely to accept it and even enthusiastically put it into practice.
Message testing is a valuable and essential part of any communication strategy. Ensuring it is a part of the planning process can make the difference between an effective campaign and one that doesn’t deliver.
Kathleen Petty is a managing supervisor at The Reis Group