I’m feeling like the luckiest girl in the world this week because it’s finally been two weeks since my second Pfizer Covid-19 shot. It’s such a relief to be able to safely visit friends and family I’ve only seen virtually for the past year. With 20 percent of Americans fully inoculated, it finally seems like there’s some hope on the horizon for the world returning to “normal” somewhat soon.
However, according to the experts, one of the biggest threats to our long prosed herd immunity is vaccine hesitancy. According to NPR, up to 1 in 4 Americans do not want any of the vaccines developed to combat Covid-19. This is especially a problem in southern states and communities with a large percentage of Republican voters. In addition, African Americans have also been reportedly hesitant to get the vaccine due to “longstanding neglect by the health care system and past government malfeasance like the notorious Tuskegee syphilis experiments.” Recently, nearly 40% of U.S. Marines declined to take any of the vaccines provided to them. This could be a problem if it’s a precursor to how the U.S. as a whole is going to approach vaccinations because we need at least 70% of the population to get inoculated to reach herd immunity
To me, someone who religiously keeps up with the news and has read the reports on the safety and efficacy of each of the vaccines, it’s hard for me to understand why people feel this way. At first glance, it feels selfish – people are choosing to act on their own fears instead of doing their small part for the greater good. However, what I (and others) need to remember is that not everyone is receiving the same messaging when it comes to Covid-19. To some extent, you cannot entirely blame an individual who is confused by their state’s guidelines compared to everything they are seeing online. As states across the country open up the vaccines’ accessibility to everyone over 16, it’s time to use an omnichannel branding strategy to finally target those who are hesitant about getting the vaccine directly and change their mind – beating the pandemic will depend on it. Below, I’ve discussed how the U.S. government should use the five core digital branding strategies (access, engage, customize, connect, and collaborate) to build trust and accomplish this goal.
- One of the major problems with the initial rollout of the vaccine has been accessibility – there have been far fewer doses than those who wanted them in most areas until very recently. Compounding on this, many people have not been given accurate information about the safety and efficacy of these vaccines. Rumors and fake news spread like wildfire on social media – in fact, it’s been reported that only a dozen people have been responsible for “spreading the vast majority of disinformation.” Now that vaccine supply issues are disappearing in the United States, it’s time to purposefully reach out to those who are hesitant and make sure they have access to the scientific information they need about the vaccines to change their mind. This information should also clearly explain how what they may have seen before on social media or heard from their friends was incorrect.
- First, in addition to doing a better job of monitoring their sites for fake vaccine news, social media companies (such as Facebook and Twitter) need to partner with the government in order to distribute accurate information to those who they know (based on the data they collect) are more susceptible to fake news. Facebook in particular can track if someone is more likely to click on a conspiracy theory. The site needs to adjust its algorithms to ensure that accurate vaccine information is going to these users instead of fake news. The government also must purchase ad spots on traditionally conservative television channels and play commercials that tout the efficacy and safety of the vaccine in a way that makes viewers better understand. Finally, the government needs to encourage (through financial contributions) doctors and health care providers in rural areas (as well as in minority communities) to reach out to their patients and recommend that they get the vaccine as soon as they are able – whether it’s through emails, traditional mail, or by going door to door.
- While doctors and health care professionals should be our go-to source on information on Covid-19, many Americans report that they trust people they know, or feel like they know, more. This is where influencers come in. Because of this digital age, many Americans consider the content creators they follow on social media their “friends”. They trust their opinions on everything – from what makeup they use to where they shop. It’s time to incentivize influencers, particularly micro-influencers or local celebrities in areas where vaccine hesitancy is high, to post about their experience getting their Covid-19 vaccine to show how it is effective and safe.
- While it’s easy to group together those who are hesitant about getting the Covid-19 vaccine together, it’s important to understand that not everyone is nervous about getting their shot for the same reason. Some people are worried about how quickly the vaccine was created, while more extreme conspiracy theorists think the government wants to insert a microchip into their arm. Because such a wide array of concerns exist, the messaging around the vaccine needs to be custom and personalized to the doubts of every individual.
- This is another place where community outreach and grassroots marketing will be important. In order to understand why people are nervous about the vaccine, it will be important for the government to get out into the communities with the most hesitancy and talk to them about their worries. Through these conversations, information on why each individual does not want to get the vaccine can be compiled and stored in a CRM. Then, using email blasts/text message campaigns and marketing automation, health care providers could follow up with individuals about their specific concerns and provide them with information that would ease their minds about the vaccine.
- Who says getting inoculated can’t be fun? In order to get everyone working together to promote the vaccine, the government should start a ‘design your own covid-19 sticker challenge’ focused in areas where hesitancy is high. Sciencemag.org suggests that “visible indicators that [people] have received a COVID-19 vaccine, such as stickers or bracelets, could help persuade others to get the shots.” Implementing a contest with a monetary prize will get folks involved (even while remote) in the promotion of the vaccine. As more people participate, more people will be incentivized to actually go out and get their shot.
- According to sciencemag.org, “people are more compelled by stories than they are by statistics.” Not everyone is swayed by the cold hard facts about the covid-19 vaccine – they want to hear how an individual’s experience was. They want to see the proof that it’s safe with their own eyes. The government should create a space online, either through a social media platform or their own sites, where people can discuss their own individual stories about getting the vaccine with others in their community and how it has allowed them to start enjoying some of the simple things about life again. Fully inoculated people can share their selfies with their vaccine sticker and inspire those who are hesitant.
Overall, we need to focus on meeting people who are hesitant about getting the vaccine for Covid-19 where they are – looking down on those with different opinions than us do us no good as marketers. If we work to understand the fears of those who are nervous, combat the proliferation of fake news, and show how getting inoculated could actually be positive, we might just be successful in reaching herd immunity and finally ending this nightmare.