Creating Momentum And Movements
It’s hard to pin down when it all began, but today there is a plethora of awareness months for a range of different causes, including many disease states. The disease-focused awareness months aim to raise funds for research, as well as share information on the cause, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a specific disease. They are usually sponsored and promoted by major charities in partnership with public service organizations and medical associations.
But another element crucial to the success of these campaigns is the direct involvement of the community of people affected by the disease. This organic aspect of a campaign builds over time. This momentum can turn a campaign into a true movement—changing attitudes, behavior, and outcomes. While raising money to help find a cure may be an end goal, a lot can happen in the meantime—well beyond what was envisioned when the awareness campaign first started. And this is thanks, in large part, to momentum.
Momentum on the run
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so let’s take breast cancer awareness as an example. In October 1983, the first Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on behalf of breast cancer was held in Dallas, with 800 participants. By 2002, according to the organizers, 1.3 million people participated in more than 100 races around the United States and in two foreign countries. In 2010, there were more than 1.6 million participants and over 100,000 volunteers. Today, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is celebrating 26 years of awareness, education, and empowerment. Millions of people and many corporations participate in local and global events that give support in some way to breast cancer patients. Patients, their loved ones, caregivers, and the healthcare community have a strong platform in which to share and connect to help further the cause. That’s serious momentum.
What does this mean from a channel strategy perspective? It means that there are many opportunities to connect with and ignite initiatives with many different constituents around the country and the world. The challenge is to achieve the critical mass needed so that organic momentum can really take off.
Critical mass matters
Critical mass is originally a term from nuclear physics referring to the minimum amount of fissile material needed to keep a chain reaction going in a nuclear reactor. In terms of social dynamics, it is the existence of sufficient momentum for a movement to sustain itself. For example, the social movements in Egypt and Libya have attained critical mass, whereas the movements in Yemen and Syria have not.
How does this relate to awareness-driven marketing strategies? Well, applying the underlying principles of critical mass, it would make more sense to spend 90% of the annual media budget in one burst rather than portion it out over time. In the age of social marketing, the exponential power of people networks can saturate the marketplace to the point where a massive shift in behavior occurs—whether it’s breast or prostate cancer screening, checking cholesterol levels, or a sudden surge in using pedometers to track daily activity.
These shifts in behavior are prompted by short, saturating bursts of awareness-driven marketing activity. And awareness marketers know this. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure website gets three to four times the traffic during October than any other month. At a macro level, a roadblock strategy for banner ad placement that uses multiple banner ads on the same page also follows the principle of short-term saturation for long-term retention.
Generating awareness in a post social (media) world
The first belief system of social media was based on observing online forums where people connect with other people to discuss topics (iVillage), review products or places (Amazon, Yelp), and solve problems (the open source movement). In a post-social world, we’ve discovered that the source of the information is a major influencer in behavior change. For example, trusted sources have a far better shot at shaping opinion than direct communication from an expert. According to the CafeMom study conducted by Razorfish, 62% of moms rated information from their friends as very valuable versus 36% who rated online experts the same way.
At the end of the day, the main goal of awareness months is not just to raise awareness, but also to drive change. Applying the idea of critical mass to disease awareness campaigns, the objective would be to shape a majority opinion within a circle of friends so they can influence each other’s behavior towards mammograms, vaccinations, or any range of awareness-based issues. This focus on aligning with real-life, grassroots connections (peer to peer) to shape behavior is a key piece for building any successful awareness program in the post social age.