Part One: Targeting and Tailoring Messages: What’s the difference and why should I care?

Think about doing a little target practice.  Imagine the target board…concentric rings coming to a small bull’s-eye in the center. What kind of gun would you choose to hit the mark?  A sawed off shotgun or a rifle with a scope?  The choice is obvious. Airing PSAs or producing health websites with messages crafted for a “general audience” is like shooting a target with a sawed-off shotgun.  The buckshot may or may not hit the paper marker, some may hit the bull’s-eye but a lot of the shot will miss the mark.  One way to achieve more accuracy is to direct your message at a smaller audience.
Targeting refers to the process of segmenting a general, heterogeneous audience into smaller more homogeneous groups. Targeting is based on the advertising principle of market segmentation.Factors that are generally used to segment a population are age, sex, race, income, ethnicity, location and diagnosis.It involves developing a single intervention approach for the subgroup. The subgroup can be very well defined, for example, Chinese-American men, aged 50 to 60 who frequent a certain health center.Targeted materials are based on an aggregate profile of a specific population subgroup.  The focus is on characteristics that are assumed to be shared within the group, hopefully based on formative research.  For example a heart healthy cookbook might be created for a group of Latina mothers in San Antonio. It might be written in Spanish at a sixth grade reading level, use Latina models to explain messages and include testimonials from members of the Latina community about the importance of heart healthy nutrition.

Targeting and tailoring are not the same thing.  To carry the target practice analogy to its conclusion, if you use a rifle with a scope you are extremely likely to hit the bulls-eye.  Tailoring is like hitting the bull’s-eye.    Tailored messages or strategies are not for a group of people but are created for one particular individual.   The process of tailoring segments your target audience to its smallest unit, one person.   Messages, derived from an assessment answered by that individual,  are crafted to address individual level factors that relate to the health or behavioral outcome of interest.  Psychosocial behavioral determinants, like perceived barriers, or perceived self-efficacy to engage in behavior change, are collected in survey format.   Given the capabilities of computers and software, crafting a message specific to one recipient is possible.  In fact it is possible to create tailored message programs to maximize individuality by producing thousands to millions of combinations of tailored messages.So, why should I, as a health communicator, care about targeting and tailoring?  Stay tuned to find out.