• Barb Mayfield

Creating communication? Collaborate!


“Effective messages are created with and for an audience” is the overriding theme of the chapter that opens Section 3, “Nutrition Communication is Audience-Focused” in Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide. To create effective messages for an audience, collaborate with your audience from identifying the need all the way to evaluating the outcomes.

If you’ve ever created communication that failed to hit the mark, it is likely you tried to go it alone. You thought you knew what the audience needed, would find appealing, would understand, and would put into practice. Instead, you learned that when you’re wrong about any of those audience factors, communication will likely fail.

To prevent communication failure, work with your audience. They are the best resource for knowing whether the message will meet their needs, is understandable, resonates with them and inspires change.

Begin the process of communication creation with a needs assessment. A needs assessment can be formal or informal. It can involve just a few people or a large representative group. Many approaches can be used – surveys, interviews, focus groups, observations, even videotaped voice recordings.

Observe. Ask good questions. Pay attention. Listen and learn.

Find out what the audience knows, what confuses them, and what they want to learn. Ask them how they prefer to obtain information. Ask them about their values and beliefs. What are their behaviors? What are their motivators and barriers to change? What are their goals for learning and change?

I have so many examples of ways that performing a needs assessment prevented me from making a huge blunder in what I communicated and how I communicated. For example, when preparing to create a series of nutrition workshops for childcare programs, our original plan for what would be covered assumed that family-style service was the norm. However, when I conducted a needs assessment via surveys and interviews with program directors and food service directors, I discovered that the vast majority of programs did not practice family-style service even though it was the recommended practice. With this knowledge we created a key section of the workshop focused on why and how to implement family-style service.

Similarly, when we were determining the depth and breadth of content to cover in Communicating Nutrition, we conducted a needs assessment. One of our key findings was the fact that the vast majority of academic programs for future nutrition professionals do not have a course in nutrition communication and the majority of current nutrition professionals have limited training in nutrition communication. Therefore, the book needed to be a practical resource for both future and current nutrition professionals. Additionally, the book and support materials for educators needed to work well across the curriculum.

A needs assessment not only provides a wealth of information for communication creation and delivery, it begins the process of building a connection between communicator and audience. An audience that feels heard is also an audience who will be more responsive to learning and taking action.

A needs assessment informs the creation of communication that is tailored and audience-focused. When the audience remains involved throughout the communication creation process, this continued collaboration further enhances effectiveness. The audience is in the best position to help answer questions such as “Which design will be most appealing?” or “What message will resonate?” or “Is this explanation understandable?” Build in ways to solicit audience input throughout the communication design process. In the creation of Communicating Nutrition, this ongoing collaboration involved a team of reviewers and another group of educators and students who pilot tested the book. Read a review of the book from an educator who participated in this pilot test.

When communication is ready for delivery, realize that building awareness of the communication will be easier when the audience is already involved in its creation. The audience themselves will help spread the word and we know that word-of-mouth remains the most cost-effective marketing available.

An audience that has been involved from the beginning will continue to be highly engaged during communication delivery and will provide honest and accurate feedback to evaluate its effectiveness.

The chapter closes with this summary, “Whether creating one line of copy, a social media post, an article, a presentation, a video, or any type of program, intervention, or campaign, an audience focus – determined through a needs assessment and ongoing audience involvement – is essential for communication to be effective.”

In next week’s blog I will share how collaborating with a group of students resulted in the creation of a student-focused Instagram account that will feature nutrition communication content created with and for students.


“It’s easier for people to see it your way if you first see it their way.” ~ Dan Zadra

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