Marketing the COVID vaccine faces familiar challenges

Selling the COVID vaccine will require personalized and empathetic messaging.

Not only is the COVID vaccination effort the biggest in U.S. history; the public education campaign launched by DHHS — effectively to market the vaccination — is also large-scale. The Department has budgeted $250 million against a background of widespread mistrust. Some one in four Americans are currently reluctant to take the shots.

It’s a situation familiar to marketers. There’s a vast audience out there, but it’s unlikely to be responsive to just one, singular message (or, for that matter, to a single spokesperson). To better understand the challenge facing this campaign, we spoke with the founder and CEO of DeepIntent, a former Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center data scientist, Chris Paquette.

It comes down to empathy. “The campaign is in the planning stages right now,” said Paquette, “and they’re launching wave one in January.” The main obstacle the campaign faces, Paquette said, is the fragmentation of the media eco-system. “We’ve created a multi-polar world, and a side-effect of that is you have all this uncertainty, politicization and polarization around the vaccine. Really to connect and get the message across in a way that’s most effective, it really comes down to empathy.”

That means understanding the primary concerns of different demographics. “42 percent of the U.S. population say they’re not going to take the vaccine,” he said, “and within that there are different demographics and different reasoning about why they feel that way.”

Resistance is not homogeneous. From the health perspective, some people are concerned about negative side-effects and adverse reactions — “a very low likelihood,” he said — but there also people who perceive the vaccine as having been pushed through to serve a political agenda. “The most important thing that I believe health care marketers can do is understand that these concerns are out there, understand the contributing factors, and connect in an empathetic way with the demographics that hold those views.”

DeepIntent — which is not involved in the DHHS campaign — is a programmatic advertising platform designed to reach healthcare providers and patients with relevant messaging. In addition to a DSP, DeepIntent has a planning capability based on de-identified health care data sets, and measurement capabilities which can connect ad exposures to offline clinical events — again, in a privacy-safe way.

The platform can match patient demographics to diseases or other clinical events, which includes understanding which demographics have a higher proclivity to getting vaccinated. That’s a way of identifying audiences which might be clinically relevant in the context of the COVID vaccination campaign: the DeepIntent platform uses machine learning models to optimize messaging or ad placement and delivery.

The difficulty lies in distinguishing sub-groups susceptible to different kinds of messages. “There are ways you can find out from external surveys,” said Paquette. “You can ingest the demographic profiles, load them with other clinical data, and then bring some external insights.”

Why we care. It’s an important insight that different groups might have different reasons to be resistant to taking the COVID vaccine. W’ll be watching to see whether the hugely expensive DHHS campaign reflects that, and if it uses data-driven segmentation strategies to target those different audiences.

This story first appeared on MarTech Today.


About The Author

Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech Today. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space. He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020. Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.

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