NCHCMM 2016 brought together health communicators from across the nation. Image by CDC.

NCHCMM 2016 brought together health communicators from across the nation to share strategies and best practices. Image by CDC.

Health communication has an important goal: to inform and influence healthy behavior. At last week’s National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media, health communicators from across the U.S. gathered to share strategies and best practices. With so many competing messages in the media, however, how do you ensure your organization’s campaign cuts through the clutter?

According to Lee Carter, president of Maslansky and Partners, it’s all about carefully crafting a powerful message that resonates with your audience. Carter shared her tips for achieving this in the Porter Novelli-sponsored session “It’s Not What You Say That Matters, It’s What They Hear: Non-Partisan Communications Lessons from the Campaign Trail.” Here are five essential components of effective messaging — including some surprising lessons from recent U.S. presidential campaigns — that can be applied to improve health communication:

  1. Create a master narrative: Whether you’re launching a health communication campaign or running for president, make it clear that you stand for something. Carter used the example of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign message compared to those of his many GOP opponents in the primary election. Trump’s message “Make America Great Again” stood out because it had all the hallmarks of an effective master narrative: it was simple, he used it repetitively across all platforms and it was easy for others to re-tell.
  2. Support your story: To back up your master narrative, offer adequate support. Carter discussed Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign as an example of this. Sanders’ campaign platform included many issues, but he promoted three most often: income inequality, making college affordable and getting money out of politics. By focusing on these specific issues, Sanders was able to support his overall message of kick-starting a “political revolution” to create “a future we believe in.” To best support your narrative, make your messages easy to understand, use relevant language targeted toward your audience and use symbols to tell your story.
  3. Be authentic: When communicating your message, strive to be yourself. It’s important to know who you are and who you’re not. Recognize and highlight your strengths, but make sure you also know your weaknesses, and lean into them if necessary.
  4. Tell a story: Never underestimate the power of storytelling in conveying your message. Data and facts are great ways to support your message, but telling a good story can be just as — if not more — effective in many instances. To resonate with the masses, a good story must be scalable, full of details and true to the person or group communicating the message.
  5. Control your story: You know your story best, so make sure you’re the one controlling its direction. For example, when the media reported that GOP candidates Ted Cruz and John Kasich were meeting together to talk campaign strategy, the two candidates denied any alliance. By not acknowledging the event, they missed an opportunity to galvanize not only their supporters, but all Republican voters who were dissatisfied with the other remaining candidate in their party. To stay in control of your story, avoid ambiguity, be transparent and be prepared to reframe the message if necessary.