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Research: An Essential Communication Tool

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Convincing both seasoned and newly minted PhD's to leave the lab and come to Washington, D.C., to spend a year as a science policy advisor for a government agency – how do you do that?! For the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), it started with a comprehensive survey of current, past and future participants in one of their prestigious fellowship programs. These fellows use their scientific backgrounds to support sound policy decisions in the executive and legislative branches of government.

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American Association for the Advancement of Science — Two display ads from the recruitment campaign highlight the two strongest messages from the online survey – the game-changing and career-enhancing nature of the experience – based on quantitative research.
American Association for the Advancement of Science — The trade show backdrop from the campaign keeps in mind what messages motivate prospective fellows to apply for the program, based on our research.
American Association for the Advancement of Science — Two trade show banners reflect the motivating messages that we discovered in our survey during the research phase.

Despite this unique opportunity for professional development, it took some digging to understand why a scientist or engineer would apply for this program.

That’s why we employed a research-based strategy to determine what would motivate potential candidates to leave the lab and head to the nation’s capital. Working closely with our PR partners, Tricom Associates, we began with a survey to pinpoint which message would resonate most with the scientific community: enhancing your career or serving the greater good.

From the survey and focus groups we learned that respondents were keenly interested in the potential for advancing their careers followed by an interest in affecting public policy. This differed from our client’s initial thoughts about main messages for the campaign, which gravitated towards influencing national policy decisions. After discussing the survey results we produced our first group of creative studies, keeping the message of a life and career-changing opportunity front and center.

We created a series of advertisements to test the messages, but our research was not done yet! We produced another survey and sent it to past, present and potential fellows to see which approach to the messaging resonated most. Survey participants were asked to rate each design on a scale of 1-5 based on clarity, appeal, distinctiveness, credibility and humanity.

From our research we learned:

  • Concepts that expressed the monumental opportunity of the program were most appealing to past and present fellows
  • Concepts that focused on the nature of the job itself resonated more with prospects (our target audience)

Next time, build your campaign around a tested message

Using research in your communications campaigns may give you unexpected results, but it is always worth it to know if you are sending the right messages. Being sure that you are “simpatico” with your target audience can significantly impact the success of a campaign. Once you establish key motivating factors, it is a best practice to test solutions before launching. A little feedback in the early stages can make a world of difference in the long run!

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