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Step Three: The Message

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Identify and develop the message you want to communicate.

Consider your objectives and audience when developing the messages you want to communicate. Once you have developed your communication objectives and learned about your audience, you can begin to make decisions about the focus and content of your messages based on this knowledge.

Some questions to consider and some suggestions for message creation include:

Q: Are the people in your audience aware of the health issues you are addressing in your communications, and what do they know?

If not, and if knowledge is incorrect or limited consider messages that:

  • Will catch their attention and appeal to them.
  • Provide information to fill in gaps in their knowledge.
  • Correct misconceptions.
  • Can be formatted for a wide range of channels to reach people.
  • Take advantage of national campaigns and observances.
  • Include endorsements or messages from the company leadership.

Q: Do they believe they are at risk and that the consequences of not acting are serious?

If not, consider messages that:

  • Explain risks and benefits in simple terms.
  • Help people at risk understand their risk by listing risk factors, sending them to a risk test.
  • Stress the severity of the health problem in terms of what matters to them.
  • Help personalize the risk and severity by offering testimonials from people like them.

Q:  Do your employees see a personal return on investment for changing their behavior? What benefits and disadvantages do they see in paying attention to your communications and following their recommendations?

If not, consider messages that:

  • Focus on a range of meaningful benefits for your audience (e.g., more energy to play with their children may be more meaningful than reduced chance of having a heart attack in 20 years).
  • Explain how the program has been developed based on their needs.
  • Describe what your work place has done to make behavior change easier (e.g., providing half an hour for physical activity, making healthy options available in the cafeteria or machines).
  • Describe incentives (if you choose to offer incentives).

Q: Do they believe they can change their health behavior, and do they have the skills?

If not, consider messages that:

  • Demonstrate or model the skills needed.
  • Describe how your wellness program will help them obtain the skills they need to make and sustain behavior change.
  • Describe what the work place has done to support people in these changes.
  • Include testimonials from people like them who have succeeded.
  • Offer praise or incentives for taking initial steps to change (if you choose to offer incentives).
  • Offer strategies for overcoming barriers.

Q: Do they think they have the support they need (at work and at home) to change their behavior?

If not, consider messages that:

  • Describe how company leadership supports the program and list any policies or work place changes that support them.
  • Encourage group activity or support (e.g., lectures, brown bag lunches, walking clubs).
  • Describe how employees can involve their family or messages for family members.

Once you have a clear idea of what you want to communicate in your messages, you can either look for existing communication materials or develop your own.

Review existing materials

Start by seeing what already exists that you can use or adapt for your employees. A range of diabetes and other relevant resources are available at:

Develop and test messages and materials

Sometimes you may need messages and materials to address your specific objectives and audiences so you will need to develop and test your own (in-house or through communication agency) or partner with other organizations to do this. You may be able to get help  from your organization’s marketing or education departments or from groups in your community that specialize in health promotion. Community-based health organizations, health education professional organizations, and schools of public health or communication are often interested in partnering with worksites to develop health communication programs. Example include local chapters of the American Diabetes Association, American Association of Diabetes Educators, Society for Public Health Education, and Schools of Public Health.

Whether you develop materials in-house or partner with an outside organizations, you will want to make sure the messages and materials developed are:

  • Simple and clear—make sure your main message is prominent; avoid jargon; consider the health literacy level of your audience; follow principles of clear communication.
  • Relevant to your audience- keep what you know about what your audience knows, believes and already does and the context in which they live and work; tailored messages work best.
  • Culturally appropriate—understand cultural factors affecting your audience and consider these in what you ask your employees to do, the content, language, and look of your materials. The CDC website Addressing Obesity Disparities has a toolkit that can be adapted.
  • Consistent—all messages and materials should reinforce each other;  ensure that related materials have the same look and feel; consider developing a brand and logos for your wellness program.
  • Appealing—produce high quality materials and make them appealing to your audience; your employees need to be interested enough to read or listen to your messages before they can act on them.

Test the ideas you have for messages and materials (concept testing) with some of the employees to see if you’re going in the right direction. When you have draft messages and materials, pretest them with a sample of employees.

More detailed information about how develop messages and materials and carry out concept testing and pretesting is available in Making Health Communication Programs Work [PDF – 4.1 MB].

Aids & Tools

Know More

  1. Learn more about health literacy and clear communications.
  2. provides tools to enhance your health promotion efforts.

Ask More

  1. Where can I find existing diabetes related health communication messages and materials?
    Click here to find diabetes specific communications resources from the National Diabetes Education Program.

Do More

  1. Learn more about information and resources to address diabetes health topics.