How to Tailor COVID-19 Information to Your Specific Audience

Illustration of various professionals in their uniforms

To improve vaccine confidence and COVID-19 vaccination rates, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shares steps for tailoring messaging and materials to your specific audience.

  • Step 1: Understand your audience.
  • Step 2: Create tailored messages and materials.
  • Step 3: Get audience input and feedback.

Health communications and social marketing work best when they are engaging, relevant, motivating, and actionable.

Step 1: Understand Your Audience

There are three things you need to know about your audience to effectively tailor messages and materials.

1. Their knowledge, perceptions, beliefs, motivations, and barriers related to COVID-19 vaccines

Many factors can affect someone’s decision to get vaccinated. Answering the following questions about your audience will help you create vaccine messages that are relevant and compelling.

  • What does your audience know about COVID-19 vaccines?
  • What does your audience know about the risks of COVID-19?
  • What does your audience know about the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination?
  • What would motivate your audience to get vaccinated?
  • How does your audience feel about getting vaccinated?
  • Have others in their circle of influence had positive or negative experiences?
  • What core beliefs, values, and moral foundations drive your intended audience’s decision making?
  • Are freedom, liberty, and purity important to them? What are their religious beliefs?

2. Their communication preferences

Knowing your audience’s communication preferences will allow you to reach them effectively and efficiently where they are and in ways they prefer. Consider the following questions:

  • What is their preferred language?
  • How do they prefer to receive information (online, in person, print, audio, video)?
  • What is their literacy level for written communication and health information?
  • Where do they look for COVID-19 vaccine information?
  • Which social media platforms do they use?
  • Who do they trust for health information?
  • When and where are they most receptive to getting health information?

3. Their socio-cultural context

Social Listening and Monitoring Tools
Social Listening and Monitoring Tools

Download the CDC Rapid Community Assessment Guidepdf icon for steps and adaptable tools to quickly gather information and better understand your community of focus.

Your audience’s community, environment, and norms can shape the way they perceive and consider vaccination.

Thinking through the following questions can help you choose images, examples, and stories that resonate with their lived experience and make calls to action that align with what is feasible and acceptable.

  • What is their family status (single, family with children, multigenerational setting)?
  • What are common occupations? Are they essential or frontline workers?
  • Where do they live (urban, rural, suburban areas)?
  • Which racial and ethnic groups do they represent?
  • Where do people in their community gather?
  • What is their level of education and income?
  • What type of health care, if any, do they have access to?
  • How common is vaccination where they live (for example, is it the norm)?

If you don’t have answers to the questions above, don’t make assumptions. Instead, conduct web searches and literature reviews to identify research findings and other information about your audience. If information or research does not exist, consider conducting a community assessment to learn more.

Step 2: Create Tailored Messages and Materials

Focus on your audience’s “why” or motivations for getting vaccinated.

Tap into emotional triggers. Everyone who chooses to get vaccinated does it for a reason—to protect themselves and their family or to get back to activities like seeing friends, resuming work, or returning to in-person school.

The reasons that drive someone’s decision to get vaccinated will always be those that are most compelling to them personally.

  • Example: Young adults may be less concerned about their own health, but more motivated to help prevent infection in older family members. Messages to them should emphasize protecting their loved ones.

Incorporate values that resonate with your audience.

Values such as liberty and purity have been associated with vaccination intentions. Position them as reasons for getting vaccinated rather than reasons for not getting vaccinated.

  • Example for audiences with strong ties to liberty: “Vaccination helps you take personal control of your life and allows you to be free to live a healthy life.”
  • Example for audiences with strong ties to purity: “Vaccination boosts the body’s natural defenses against disease to keep you free of infection.”

Invite people to have conversations with their healthcare professionals.

Use messaging such as “talk to your doctor” instead of telling them to get vaccinated. This is a nonthreatening way to help your audience learn more about COVID-19 vaccination from someone they know and trust.

Provide details on how to get vaccinated.

Include simple, doable, and time-bound calls to action, such as “Go to Vaccines.gov to find a vaccination location today.” For local outreach, provide more specific details, such as vaccination locations, phone numbers, addresses, and hours.

Helpful Resources

Clear communication is important no matter who you’re trying to reach. The following are helpful resources when drafting your messaging and materials:

Step 3: Get Audience Input and Feedback

Even if you have a strong understanding of your audience, it’s important to get input and feedback from them on the messages and materials before disseminating.

Include audience members in the design process.

If possible, include members of the intended audience in developing messaging and materials that they think will resonate. If resources allow, design a few versions of materials and messages to get feedback from the audience.

Test materials with the intended audience.

This will help ensure what you’ve developed will be effective, appealing, and useful to your audience and minimize the risk of unintended reactions. You can do this via focus groups or online surveys.

Consider engaging relevant community partners in materials design and testing. This can build trust and ensure that the materials are culturally appropriate.

Helpful Resources

For more guidance on testing materials, refer to the following resources:

Page last reviewed: July 28, 2021