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One Big Mistake That Will Derail Your Public Education Campaign

As the executive director of a not-for-profit, how many times have you seen this happen: Your team designs a public education campaign with utmost care, beautifully produces it, sends it out into the world, and then … nothing.

You may get some likes or clicks, but can you say it actually changed anything? Did it succeed in inspiring people to champion your cause, share your news, solve a problem, sign a petition, donate, attend an event, bring others, volunteer or step up to lead?

If the answer is ‘no’, read on.

The fact is that most public education campaigns fail to deliver on the ultimate objective: effecting behaviour change. That’s because most campaigns are designed to reach as many people as possible – an admirable goal, but not an effective strategy. The hard truth is: when you try to appeal to everyone, you generally appeal to no one.

We’ll say it again: When you design a campaign for everyone, you design for no one.


It may seem counterintuitive, but when you identify a single key audience and narrow your focus to specifically serve their needs, your efforts gain momentum and your results grow.

Start with science and let your findings lead you.

The key to creating public education campaigns that deliver behaviour-changing results starts before you develop the campaign with a scientific discovery process that involves forming a hypothesis that supports your organizational goals. Then you conduct research to pinpoint and define a specific user group or target audience as a focus for your campaign. You want to fully understand who the people in this group are, how they prefer to engage with you and how they learn.

By using a variety of applied social scientific methods like interviews, focus groups and workshops, as well as literature reviews of relevant areas of knowledge, you can gain deep insight into your stakeholders’ motivations, emotional experiences, and learning preferences. This process will illuminate your target audience’s information-seeking behaviour, their aesthetic preferences, preferred access technologies and social media habits. Competitive analyses can be conducted to learn from related programs about what works well.

All these insights are used to precisely tune your outreach efforts to address your target audience’s challenges, goals and educational needs. In this way, the voices of your constituents become the heartbeat of your programs. You are also able to identify unifying principles and ideas for designing an ecosystem of program assets to reach this group and beyond. And when you add in data collection and measurement techniques, you’ll have all the elements of a powerful public education campaign that delivers real, sustained results.

In this way you’ll dramatically increase the probability that your highest priority audience members will get something valuable from your research, and other people will still see value in too.

Also see: Beyond Reports: Moving From Awarenes to Behaviour Change.


About Dialectic

Dialectic believes that design is a collaboration that fuses analytical and creative strengths with deep domain knowledge, to produce communications that connect. Contact us for more information on how to create public education campaigns that drive sustained behaviour-change results.

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