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This is a big communication week.

Talked to one professor about health outreach to journalists and got the usual, "We try but those darn journalists are just sensation-writing nitwits!"

Talked to another professor about how the spiral of silence seems to break down a little on the internet -- people's unwillingness to take a stance opposite the group resulting in a skewed perception of what the group's opinion is, since those with the seemingly predominant opinion are more outspoken. On the internet, of course, all the nonverbal social cues are removed or toned down. But what is the effect of skype and conference calls? A question to ponder.

Yet another professor wanted to discuss a mix-up in assignments that I had caused by poor decision making, getting rushed and handing in the wrong thing which then made me look less scrupulous than I would like to be. Though, homework frazzles me in general, something I'm working on. But like tardiness, it is slow going; I have not yet determined the reason behind it.

Then I had to write an introduction e-mail. I dislike business e-mails on the grounds that I do not understand the rules, and no one teaches them. And that will be my next post.
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...is marketing it as public health.

People are motivated by self-interest, and they say it like it's a bad thing. If everything we knew to improve health was marketed like Coca-Cola, though, who knows what paragon of fitness and immunological perfection we would all be! Well, actually, it would be hard to market it exactly like Coca-Cola, which after all has the advertising funds to actually buy the world a Coke.

After this morning's class, I would have said it wasn't hard to work out a public health marketing campaign. I loved the metric we were given for it, because it lets you show what the "true" goal of the campaign is, but then focuses on the "product" being sold.

1. Actual product
2. Priority Population
3. Core product
4. Position (competition)
5. Augmented product
6. Price
7. Placement
8. Promotion

1. Actual product: In terms of public health, this can mean anything from getting vaccinations to getting exercise, breast feeding, or washing your hands before eating. Something simple is best. If this were commercial marketing of soda, this would be the can of pop.

2. Priority population: The target audience. Who is gonna buy? To me, this is actually the most nuanced part of the whole process. Public health as a field focuses on the "most needy". However, the neediest are already drowning in intervention programs, busy with scraping the bottom of the barrel, and in general half-deaf to any new demands on their lives.

So we aim for the low-hanging fruit, those people who are just about ready to buy the product anyway, or who only need a little push to follow our expert advice. But wait, there's more! The demographics don't really break people into tidy groups. Age ranges only do so much, gender only does so much. So segmentation into more specific groups helps. (Woman 20-35: College students. Young professionals. Stay at home moms. Career women. Career women with kids. You get the idea) 

3. Core product: This is where the traditional public health experts get snooty (at least according to my sources...I haven't experienced it first hand), since they feel people should be doing healthy stuff for the "right reasons". Phooey. 

The core product is what people are buying into. They don't get vaccinations to improve herd heatlh, they get them so they don't miss a day of work. Kids don't go rollerblading to decrease rising trends in obesity, they do it for the cool factor--and it's fun. Women won't breast feed their babies to save Medicaid money (though it does), they do it for a special mother-child bond. And did you know you burn more calories breast feeding than during the actual pregnancy? Oh, the fun facts we learn in social marketing. 

4. Position--this is how we deal with competition. Competition is all the things in life that take time or money away from the action desired by our campaign.

It can be the internet *wave* Hi y'all!*
It can be jobs.
It can be sleep, school, relaxing activities.
Even other health needs like cooking dinner.

Again, nuance. We will return to ways to deal with the competition.

5. Augmented product: All the toys that make selling the product (can of soda, rollerblading, breast feeding) so much easier! Free entry to skateparks, pink ribbons, baseball caps, etc. Reusable grocery bags help reduce plastic bag litter.

6. Price: The price is right. Vaccinations are often covered by insurance or federal and state programs (hurray, something to use our insurance dollars!). Breast feeding: Cheaper than formula! Rollerblading...well, free skate rentals sound good. I still question if free=better sales. In vet school we are told that people who enroll in puppy classes are less likely to get rid of the puppy, because they feel they have an investment. And hands up--who goes to the gym because they're paying for it?

7. Placement: Can be surprisingly closely tied to price. Convenience is huge. Recycling only caught on once curb-side pick-up was started and let people follow their exact same routine.

8. Promotion: The smallest factor. Not that it hurts to have a marketing budget, corporations have found they can budge their bottom line a crucial percentage point or two, enough to pay for super bowl ads. But it only lets people know there's a program. All the other factors make them want to take part in it.

We hope.



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I have several half-abandoned blogs scattered across the internet, and it looks like it's time to add another one! I have just gotten back from Australia and a really depressing but still very cool conference that, when not talking with great enthusiasm about causes of death in animals, talked with gravity about the serious threats to the ecosystem. Many of these threats are already firmly entrenched, such as invasive species, pollution by degraded plastic, and the oft-cited topic of climate change. The world as we know it is already farther down the path of destruction than most people realize.

This doesn't mean there is nothing to do so full speed ahead. There are many ways that we can change our behavior and the environment we live in. There will be no putting it back in the box we took it out of, but I for one believe it's worth seeing what we can accomplish together. If we can cover an entire island chain in houses in a single generation, we might not be able to turn it back into its pristine state (assuming it had one) but we had better darn well be able to coax it back into some sort of functioning ecosystem.

Personally, I like ecosystems because I think they're way more complicated than we give them credit for, and I think they are beautiful. But they are also life sustaining. And we can all agree that everyone benefits from healthy ecosystems, be it for fish and timber, clean water, or personal aesthetic.

My blog will hopefully be a first step in my own efforts to bridge the gap between what scientists discover about our world and what everybody else knows. There's a lot of challenges, though. As I see them:
1. Base level knowledge.
Most non-scientists don't know how to interpret science, because there's a base level understanding needed for critical thinking. Without understanding, there is no trust, and without trust, there's not a whole heck of a lot of learning.
2. REALLY base level knowledge.
This one varies by person. Does it really matter that everyone know how cellular respiration works? Or maybe for some people it's better just to understand food safety. No one can agree on what we "should" know, but without out some experience with basic life functions, i.e. how a plant grows from seed to plant to food, it's probably going to be hard to find common ground.
3. Incentive
I see this as a job for communication sciences. Finding the message that speaks to people is hard, and it's even harder when there's no pay-off for their hard work in listening. Anyone who has had eight hours of classes each day for a year KNOWS that listening is hard work. But there's lots of ways to get the message across. Humor is good (see xkcd.com). So is good formatting (not present in this particular blog post). My personal favorite is cake, but that one is hard to convey over the internet.)

4. New and improved information
Both ways. Effective ways to communicate...and useful information communicated. To that end, I will be practicing presentation of scientific information, the things I find. I will also give tips for scientists on how to present their information so that it is appreciated by the masses. First tip: Start a blog...

Disclaimer: I am only a veterinary medical student. I will do my best to fact check and write clearly, but I love hearing from others, so if you know the topic or think I made a mistake, let me know! 

And if you've made it all the way down here, congratulations! Help me think of a name for the sort of blog I'm envisioning, because I'm pretty sure "caprices" sends the wrong message. :)

June 2014

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