Messaging Health: Changing Behaviors with Clear Communication

I recently picked up a book called “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.” It’s a fascinating read about how and why the brain develops habits, how they affect our lives and how to change habits you don’t like.

One of the most interesting portions of the book is how an advertising man – Claude C. Hopkins – turned America from a nation of people with rotting teeth (dental hygiene was so bad during World War I that the government declared it a national security threat) and only 7 percent of people owned a tube of toothpaste to the point that 65 percent had a tube just a decade later.

How did one man bring about such change?

According to Hopkins, he:

  1. Found a simple and obvious problem (even though the majority didn’t recognize it as a problem at the time)
  2. Clearly defined the benefit of the product to address the problem


Easy, right?

Unfortunately, while this same basic approach should be taken with every communication endeavor, I find that many message tracks lack these key elements. Instead, messages will convey the features of a product and end there. For early adopters of new products or technology or services, features may be enough. But the earliest adopters represent only about 15 percent of a potential sales target. People who are likely to sit on the fence about a purchasing decision need to hear the benefits they get from the product – the problem it solves.

The problem a product solves is particularly important because it forces companies to consider and address the pain points of their customers.

Of course, this messaging model wasn’t the only reason that Americans revolutionized their dental habits. After all, by the time Hopkins started hawking toothpaste, several other competitors had tried and failed to bring about the same change. The last ingredient in Hopkins’ success was that the product – Pepsodent – was also remarkable. It was – at the time – like seeing a Purple Cow in a field of brown cows.

But that’s a different topic. For a different post.

For now, it’s enough to remember that the fastest way to help people “get” your product or service or technology is to talk about problems and the benefits you and your products can provide to solve these problems.


Connect with Julie:

Twitter: @julieajohnson1
LinkedIn: Julie A. Johnson