Having the COVID vaccine is one thing; persuading the public to get the vaccine is an entirely different matter.

A recent Pew Center study found only 29 percent of those surveyed said they would “definitely” get the COVID vaccine. When it comes to people of color, the outlook is even bleaker. An NAACP-sponsored study found that only 14 percent of black Americans surveyed said they would get the vaccine. While the reasons vary as to why most Americans are not yet confident they will get the vaccine, the solution is the same.

Not an easy task

It will take a joint, coordinated communications effort between government (federal, state, and local) and the private sector. Currently, I have not seen or heard of any government, NGO, or private sector organization taking the lead.

A successful communications effort designed to create a behavior requires consistency and discipline. Operation Warp Speed’s (the federal government’s effort to find a vaccine) stated goal is to facilitate and accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Motivating individuals to receive the vaccine is not one of the initiative’s charges.

Damaging mistakes are possible

Without a single entity ensuring consistency and discipline on the approach, strategy, and language, we will undoubtedly see numerous organizations working in silos to fill the leadership vacuum. At best, this scattered approach will have some impact; at worst, it will cause some who currently say they will get the vaccine to change their mind.

Many potholes need avoiding when communicating to influence behavior, or you risk doing more damage than good. An example is repeating the negative. Using language as “not dangerous” and “not toxic” will have the long-term impact of solidifying the idea that the vaccine is dangerous and toxic.

Another is information overload. With multiple entities providing different information, those targeted for influence may be overwhelmed by the introduction of too many ideas and concepts. When this occurs, the subconscious default is to shut down entirely and stick to the original opinion and behavior.

The most dangerous mistake (and the one most likely to happen) is triggering cognitive bias. This heuristic occurs when a person receives facts that run counter to their deeply held belief. Instead of changing their opinion, they do the opposite. Their original opinion becomes more entrenched.
Any one of these communication mistakes, plus many others, could cause a person who is persuadable to shut down and stick to their original decision, not to get vaccinated.

The longer we wait, the harder it will get

Every day we wait to have a coordinated communication effort, the harder it will be to achieve widespread inoculations. This means more time before social distancing and wearing masks become a thing of the past.

Issues and Crisis Management at The Gotfried Group

The Gotfried Group* has more than 20 years of experience helping businesses, non-profits, and government entities shape opinion and motivate behaviors across various industries and issues. What makes The Gotfried Group special, separates us from the competition, and the reason our clients are happy with the results they receive, is our purposeful use of behavioral science, pedagogy, and neuromarketing. We don’t guess what will work. We use what research has shown to be the most effective ways to capture attention, educate, influence, and persuade. This approach allows us to provide our clients the best results possible, faster, and efficiently.