Message and Materials Development & Pretesting

The second phase of the social marketing program involves development of the message and materials. Based upon the results of the research conducted in the planning stages of the program, concepts and materials are created and pre-tested with members of the target audience. This testing and refinement process is one of the essential elements of a social marketing program. There are a number of different ways of evaluating the effectiveness of the product positioning, packaging, name and promotional materials, but all involve getting feedback from the consumer directly.

Concept/Positioning Testing

Prior to actually producing materials, positioning concepts must be developed and evaluated by members of the target audience. "Positioning" refers to the way the product is perceived by the target audience relative to other similar products. Generally, the positioning is based upon the key selling point of the product. Product positionings may be derived from the attributes or product features (e.g., electronically tested condoms), product benefits (e.g., "for a happy family"), user image (e.g., "for the man who takes charge of his life"), product use (how or when it is to be used--e.g., "with the woman you love"), or category (e.g., to prevent AIDS versus to prevent pregnancy). Selecting the best positioning statement is often based upon testing of a few different concepts in focus groups or in-depth interviews.

The objectives of testing the positioning concepts are to determine the level of interest in the product, what the concept statement communicates to the audience, whether consumers feel it is relevant to their lives, perceptions of uniqueness, importance and credibility of the statement, perceived benefits and barriers to use, reasons why they would use the product, its overall appeal and the image of the brand and its users.

Research participants are shown each concept statement, one at a time, and asked to respond. At this point, the testing is to determine what to say, not how to say it. Determination of a name for the product or campaign may also occur during this process. The strongest concept is chosen based upon the research findings and the marketing strategy and objectives. This pretesting helps to clear up confusing language, provide insights to help refine and strengthen further work, decide the most meaningful feature or benefit of the product and generate ideas for development of the advertising message.

Materials Testing

Before taking the final concept statement and beginning mass production of the communications materials and package (if a physical product), still more research is necessary. Using the information obtained from the concept testing, materials are created, and then tested using pre-finished executions. These may include theme lines, posters, news clips, videotapes, brochures, public service announcements and product packaging. These materials should be evaluated in terms of memorability, impact, communication, comprehension, believability, acceptability, image, persuasion and other key attributes. Although focus groups and in-depth interviews are often used at this stage, there are additional methods of testing materials as well.

One of these research methodologies is the central-site intercept interview. Interviewers are stationed at a location commonly visited by the target audience, such as a shopping mall. The interviewers then select and screen subjects who appear to fit the target audience definition and ask them to answer a questionnaire after exposure to a near-finished version of the social marketing messages or materials. This method is not statistically representative nor projectable to the entire target audience, but it can reach a large number of people quickly and inexpensively.

Other, more sophisticated means exist to assess the effectiveness of campaign materials, especially those made for television. Several syndicated copy testing services exist, which offer two general types of methodologies--forced exposure and natural exposure testing. Forced exposure, such as theater testing, involves the recruitment of people to a central location to ostensibly preview and evaluate new television programs. During the session, respondents see a television program along with a "clutter" of advertisements for various products and services, either once or a number of times. They then are asked to remember and write down the products or brands for which they saw ads and the commercial message for each. They may also fill out a pre/post brand choice questionnaire. This method can also be used to test public service announcements.

Both theater-style testing and day-after recall tests can be done with radio ads as well. Print testing uses a modified type of theater test, in which the advertisement is presented along with other ads in a magazine format and tested for memorability, communication and persuasion. All of these methods, however, can be very expensive, especially if done by a testing service.

Readability Testing

With printed materials, the readability of the text is crucial, particularly for lower SES audiences, who are more likely to have lower reading levels than the general population. The readability of printed text may be assessed, either by hand or using a computer program, by using standard formulas, such as SMOG or FOG, that analyze sentence length and number of polysyllabic words. Longer sentences and more syllables mean that a higher reading level is needed by the intended audience in order to fully understand the material. Readability testing is generally recommended for materials that have a lot of text, such as longer print ads, brochures or information kits.

Professional Review

In addition to testing the materials with the target audience, it is often helpful to have health communication peers and representatives of intermediary organizations review them as well. The professional reviewers evaluate the pre-finished materials, and comment on appropriateness, clarity, design and comprehensiveness. This may be done over the phone or through a written questionnaire.

Test Market

The best way to gauge potential success of the social marketing program is the test market. By bringing together all of the elements of the marketing mix in a real situation, the test market provides a "dress rehearsal" before launching the program everywhere. A key to the projectability of the results is in the selection of the location for the test market. The findings may be different, based upon variables such as race, ethnicity and size of the area, and this must be accounted for. Using an experimental design, with one or more control markets, may help to reduce some of these uncertainties.

The test market can help to diagnose strengths and weaknesses of the program, so that each element can be fine-tuned. It will allow the staff to become experienced in operating the program and to measure real-life costs. In addition, it can be invaluable in identifying any social, political or cultural problems that may be encountered.

Before the program is introduced to the test market, certain benchmark measures should be assessed. These include consumer awareness, knowledge and use of the product, or other indicators, such as condom sales or number of calls to a toll-free hotline. The test market generally lasts three months to a year, or until a steady performance level (e.g., awareness or behavior) is achieved. The measurements should be taken often, in order to determine how people are reacting at each phase of the product's lifecycle.

Although this is the best way to predict how the program will do when rolled out nationwide, test markets do have disadvantages. First, they can be very costly and time consuming, especially if the program is not successful. Second, by the time the program moves from the test market to full placement, certain variables in the environment may have changed that impact upon the success of the program. The test market is the ultimate evaluation of all of the elements of the program, and even with the best of research in the beginning, it may not always succeed.

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Weinreich Communications 2006