How the “Rule of 7” applies to corporate health programs February 26th, 2014, by Ken Buckley

Have you heard of the “rule of 7?”

It’s an old marketing adage that says you need to tell someone something seven times before they remember it. But is it true?

Well, you know yourself that whether or not you remember something depends how busy you are, how interested you are, and how the message is delivered. Keep in mind also that some people need to read it, not hear it, before they take in the message. Others need to “do” and be actively involved before it sinks in.

Then there are psychological factors such as whether they see a need. Are they aware their health or wellbeing is a problem, and do they actually want help with fixing it? If not, they’ll just tune you out like all the rest of the noise that surrounds us. (It’s said the average person will see or hear 1 million marketing messages in a year – that’s almost 3,000 per day!)

So, in summary, it seems “seven” is a bit of an arbitrary number. However, it is true that you need to convey a message more than once before people will act on it.

It’s an important issue for health promotion in the workplace. How do you get your employees’ attention, firstly to raise awareness of the need to change, and secondly to get them to turn up to your events?

Here are some tips:

1.     Have a continuous stream of messages

You never know when an employee is going to be ready for change. Some are as keen as mustard to make changes right now, while others oblivious or even resistant to the need for change.

Make sure you always have a continuous stream of messages about health and about your program.

That way, when Barry’s doctor tells him he needs to increase his exercise, Barry can turn up to work the next day and see with new eyes that poster in the hallway promoting your new exercise campaign or challenge.

You don’t want to bombard them day after day, but aim to ensure there’s always something somewhere about your program.

2.     Use multiple channels

Some employees only take in information that’s emailed to their inbox. Others are so snowed by email that a poster in the bathroom will be more effective. For others, they need to hear it from someone, such as their team leader or a colleague.

Make sure your marketing program incorporates lots of channels and communication types. Sure, put up lots of posters, but also have emailers and provide team leaders with briefing kits. Consider other cut-through methods such as tent card to put on desks, or recorded phone messages from the CEO.

3.     Be consistent – branding helps

Having a consistent look and feel to your messages gives your marketing a cumulative effect. It helps employees tie all your messages together. Without branding, if you say something seven times, you might as well be saying it once in seven different places, there’s no reinforcement.

4.     Tell me, show me and involve me

There’s a saying (sometimes attributed to a Chinese proverb): Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand”.

This is a twist on the rule of 7, and probably a more relevant way to think about your messaging.

Tell me: This is your announcement phase. Use posters, emailers, wellness champions, staff meetings – any and all channels to tell employees about your program, and about the benefits of taking part.

Show me: This is where your program activities convey the message. Think checks and consultations where employees are given highly personal feedback about their health and the need for change. Think seminars & webinars. Think cooking demonstrations and health expos.

Involve me: Employee health campaigns are a great example here. Employees “practice” new habits, such as walking 10,000 steps a day or eating more vegetable, and in so doing they learn how to incorporate healthy habits into their daily lifestyle, and then they truly “get the message”.

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