• The private sector has proven more agile than the public sector as organizations have struggled during the pandemic to keep up with change.
  • The public sector can learn from strategies to build consumer trust and expand market share.
  • A new World Economic Forum report outlines 5 ways to build trust in vaccines, by understanding the drivers of vaccine confidence.

In the past five years, organizations dedicated to serving the public good have fallen behind big brands in their ability to rapidly understand people’s needs, emotions, and to drive effective action that benefits us all.

When lockdowns began in March 2020, a major US household brand of hand wipes pivoted their packaging and content marketing to ensure that consumers had trust in their efficacy to help prevent the spread of viruses. They did this in a time frame of hours and days. Not weeks. And it worked. Sales skyrocketed after the re-positioning, and they went on to continually adapt the message, as the competitive landscape evolved, to further expand market share in a lasting way.

At the same time, public health organizations were not as agile in aligning on and sharing science-based messaging on non-pharmaceutical interventions including wearing masks and social distancing.

Think about it from your personal experience – which types of organizations have gained or lost your trust during the past year?

So, what has created this gulf? Over the past five years, a range of new technologies have been developed for and by big brands, enabling them to be more agile in responding to continuously changing market conditions. These approaches leverage the rise in publicly available data and advances in artificial intelligence. And quite simply, the same technologies and capabilities have not yet reached organizations dedicated to public good. The pandemic starkly exposed this.

However, it’s not just true for public health organizations. It’s true for charities, non-profits, and global aid organizations in all arenas. There are various reasons for this lag: budget priorities, relatively weaker measurement mechanisms, incentives, skills, and the marketing focus of SaaS companies. Further, traditional approaches lack the speed, cost effectiveness, and ability to instantly be repeated as messaging needs change. Many organizations still think that ‘getting the message right’ is all it takes. It’s not. Getting it right, then monitoring and adapting as outside forces react to messaging and factors surrounding the original situation quickly change.

An immediate example is the communication challenges around COVID-19 vaccines. It could be argued that vaccine hesitancy is the most important communication and insights challenge of 2021. The data is clear: high levels of vaccination saves lives. Far too many lives still hinge on the effectiveness of communication to the public on this topic. Yet organizations all over the world are struggling to get this message across and some are inadvertently doing more harm than good.

Vaccines, Health and healthcare, Gavi

What is the World Economic Forum doing about access to vaccines?

In 2000, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance was launched at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, with an initial pledge of $750 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The aim of Gavi is to make vaccines more accessible and affordable for all - wherever people live in the world.

Along with saving an estimated 10 million lives worldwide in less than 20 years,through the vaccination of nearly 700 million children, - Gavi has most recently ensured a life-saving vaccine for Ebola.

At Davos 2016, we announced Gavi's partnership with Merck to make the life-saving Ebola vaccine a reality.

The Ebola vaccine is the result of years of energy and commitment from Merck; the generosity of Canada’s federal government; leadership by WHO; strong support to test the vaccine from both NGOs such as MSF and the countries affected by the West Africa outbreak; and the rapid response and dedication of the DRC Minister of Health. Without these efforts, it is unlikely this vaccine would be available for several years, if at all.

Read more about the Vaccine Alliance, and how you can contribute to the improvement of access to vaccines globally - in our Impact Story.

To assist in this challenge, the World Economic Forum ran an analysis in partnership with domain expert Dr Heidi Larson of the Vaccine Confidence Project (VCP) at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, powered by NetBase Quid technology. The goal of their research was to get a deep understanding of the obstacles to vaccine adoption, barriers to building trust and the communication strategies that move people to action.

The initial keyword search yielded 66 million conversations during a six-month period to April 2021. Sources included Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, forums and blogs. The data was evaluated using artificial intelligence and visualizations to test hypotheses, based on VCP’s decades of research into factors that drive and undermine confidence. The nuances of the emotions people demonstrated, as well as the longevity of the ideas, were also studied.

This research derived five key insights, that are being shared with the public today in a report, in the hope that this improves the effectiveness of public health organizations in their communications challenges.

The full analysis, How to Build Trust in Vaccines: Understanding the drivers of vaccine confidence, is available here. The five key insights revealed are:

1. Talk about the “protection” provided by the vaccine. That keyword has significantly more resonance and power than any other.

2. Avoid labelling, or an implication that there is a moral obligation on people to be vaccinated.

3. Keep messages simple, emphasizing gratitude, and flag relatable examples, rather than celebrities or politicians.

4. Seek to understand why people have low confidence and treat those concerns with empathy, not judgement.

5. Focus on the clearest benefit of vaccination: protection for communities from hospitalization and death because of COVID-19.

The connections between the various drivers of low vaccine confidence.
The connections between the various drivers of low vaccine confidence.
Image: NetBase Quid

This analysis is an example of the latest approaches used commonly by top brands, being applied to a matter of public health. However, it scratches the surface of the potential for new research partnerships and application of existing technology.

If you are reading this and you work at a major brand, agency, consultancy, or a technology company, how could you partner with the public sector to enhance a more nuanced understanding of consumers that could benefit the public good?