Immune to reason: Why compelling content is about a lot more than just marketing

Some time ago I was listening to a conversation on NewstalkZB about people’s attitudes to vaccinations in New Zealand. The gist of the conversation was that more and more young mothers are refusing to vaccinate their children (although information about whether that is true or not is contradictory).

One woman, who intimated she was in her late 20s, called up the radio station to answer the question about why young mothers were choosing not to vaccinate their children, despite the science. To put it bluntly, she blamed Google: “They get all their information from Google,” she said.

When I Googled “vaccinating children”, one of the first things I saw was an image of a doctor sticking a large, very scary needle into a frightened child’s arm. Dominating page one of Google were headlines like, “Dr Kurt: Why I will NEVER choose to vaccinate my own son…”; “Six reasons to say NO to vaccination | The Health Home…” and “Chemist gives 3 reasons why he doesn’t vaccinate”.

While there was content from health authorities on page one, it was invariably boring, condescending, commercial and hard to understand. If you Google “vaccinating children nz” you turn up searches like: “New Zealand Immunisation Schedule | Ministry of Health”; “Immunisation | Ministry of Health NZ” and “Immunisation overview” | Kidshealth”. So while the pro-vaccination presence is there, it is hardly engaging. Most of it reads like a brochure you can get at your local GP and seems to me to be a sign of a health system going through the motions of the doing the right thing, but with very little interest in doing it right.

Health Ministry headlines like this are as about as interesting as waiting for the kettle to boil, and as a result they compete poorly with the more emotive, conversational and down-to-earth content offered by the anti-vaccination lobby.

Clearly health authorities overseas and in New Zealand are failing the public because they have ignored the need to produce high quality engaging content, and the increase in mother’s choosing not to vaccinate is evidence of that (apparently refusals to vaccinate had doubled in Marlborough and Nelson – at least in 2012).

Content marketing is not only about commercial imperatives. Good content marketing – for commercial, philanthropic or even public health reasons – is about identifying with your audience, engaging them in a way that they can understand and telling the truth because if you don’t, the lies will win

Further down the search page you at last get to a result that reads “We were hippies about it – health – national | Stuff.co.nz”. That’s a much better headline and good example of the stories we should be telling, but it originates with the professional media. Brands, organisations and authorities cannot wait around for the media to show interest, and they don’t need to either. The content marketing tools we have available today – even native advertising products offered by mainstream media – give companies and organisations every opportunity to grab the bull by the horns, to seize the high ground, and start speaking truth.

In the past, companies, organisations and authorities bemoaned media’s lack of interest in what they had to say. Content marketing means these organisations no longer need the media to reach their audience – although a bit of media is always helpful. There’s no excuse, but the vacuum remains.

Let’s have a look at two vaccination results culled from the internet.

Example A: From an official government health site:

Headline: “What are the reasons to vaccinate my baby?”

“Protecting your child’s health is very important to you. That’s why most parents choose immunisation. Nothing protections babies better from 14 serious childhood diseases. Choose immunisation. It’s the powerful defence that’s safe, proven and effective…”

Example B: From an opposing blogger:

Headline: “Herd Immunity: Three reasons why I don’t vaccinate my children…”

“Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children and protect them with vaccine exemption forms are often chastised and stereotyped for putting their own kids at risk. But what is even stranger than this assault on individual freedom and informed choice, is that these concerned parents are attacked for putting vaccinated children at risk. These attacks are based on the theory of ‘herd immunity’. This hypothesis was plucked out of an old college textbook.”

I would suggest that example B works better and is more likely to be believed. Note the conversational tone of the anti-vaccination content, and its use of emotion and metaphor. It’s not hard to see that it is more convincing than the first piece put out by the United States Centre for Disease Control. Most importantly, note the passion in the second piece. Clearly the blogger has a cause, a stake in the message.

It’s not just vaccinations either. A Google of “to fluoridate or not to fluoridate” turns up the following sequence of headlines (bearing in mind different search terms and phrases will turn up different results, and I had to try and think like somebody making up their mind about the subject):

Fluoride Action Network | 50 Reasons to Oppose Fluoridation

Most developed countries, including Japan and 97% of the western European population, do not consume fluoridated water. In the U.S., about 70% of public ...

Fluoride Action Network | Debate: To fluoridate or not to ...

Feb 26, 2015 - The idea that water fluoridation is a vast Communist conspiracy aimed at undermining public health is largely a thing of the past. However, the ...

Fluoride Myths & Facts | Campaign for Dental Health

Fluoride is not a medication. It is a mineral, and when present at the right level, fluoride in drinking water has two beneficial effects: preventing tooth decay and ...

Of the first five results, four were opposed to fluoridation. Where are the voices of reason in all this? Hand tied and hog bound by bureaucracy?

Both the fluoridation and vaccination debates highlight the simple fact that content marketing is a powerful tool for experts to put forward their views – to engage, persuade and influence their audiences, and there is just no excuse for not taking advantage of what content marketing has to offer in this regard.

Content marketing is not only about commercial imperatives. Good content marketing – for commercial, philanthropic or even public health reasons – is about identifying with your audience, engaging them in a way that they can understand and telling the truth because if you don’t, the lies will win. Content marketing is not only a powerful marketing tool, it is the responsible thing to do.

Your organisation faces the same risks that health authorities are currently having to deal with. If you do not provide content, enough content and engaging content, your competitor’s – including a fair number of flakes and nutbars – will happily fill that vacuum for you.