Consumer Researchers Can Save the Day!

Last week, “Beyond Politics: Promoting Covid-19 Vaccination in the United States” (with Kevin Schulman) was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The paper has been widely touted by the medical community as innovative and practical advice to persuade the vaccine-hesitant. What the medical community does not realize is that this advice is largely a collection of consumer behavior’s classic findings–information that the JCR community knows and teaches and applies with ease.  Over the last week, I’ve had a stream of calls, meetings, and presentations to help healthcare stakeholders understand these CB concepts and how to use them to explain the vaccine, frame the choice of vaccination, and look for a wider range of identity-based hurdles to overcome. It has been one of the most rewarding professional experiences of my life.

The reason for the fulfillment is, of course, the role it can play in ending the pandemic that has turned all our worlds upside-down. The U.S. is aiming for more than an 80% national vaccination rate for life to return to normal. According to Pew Research over the last year, we will have to motivate 100% of the people who say they will definitely get vaccinated, 100% of the people who say they will probably get vaccinated, and 100% of the people who say they will probably not get vaccinated to sign-up for and follow-through on a two-dose vaccination. As marketers, we know the daunting gap between those who say they will do something and those who actually do–purchase likelihood is not purchase. The goal of 80+% vaccination will be difficult to reach and I wonder if the healthcare community has the tools they need for the persuasive campaign of the century.

But we, consumer researchers, do have those tools.  We do understand how to segment markets, how to reach niche targets, how to create choice triggers, how to uncover hidden hurdles, how to listen and how to observe, how to look for context effects, how emotions color risk, how people are influenced by WOM, and how to design and send messages for every level of involvement.  When it comes to the great vaccination push of 2021, we can save the day.

How? Reach out to your local county’s vaccination effort. Send an email and offer your help.  They might not need you immediately as they struggle with the vaccination roll-out and a lack of supplies, but they soon will wonder how to reach important segments of the community, like firefighters or nursing home workers or public school teachers.  If you are in a state capital, reach out to the state’s Department of Health.  Or, offer to help the medical professionals in your own social circle. You can use this NEJM paper as a worksheet, or expand it to include your own area of expertise.

It’s not everyday that we marketers are seen as heroes, but here is our opportunity. Let’s not miss out on it.


Stacy Wood

Stacy is the Langdon Distinguished University Professor of Marketing at NC State University and a member of the JCR editorial team.

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