18th February 2020

Beyond woke: the important difference between awareness and action

Apparently, in 2020, we’re all meant to be ‘woke’. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, to be woke means that you have an active awareness of the major issues of the day—you’re ‘awake’ to all of society’s troubles and injustices.

For me, awareness is only half the story. It’s what we do with this new or renewed awareness that makes the real difference.

How easy is it to be aware when we have so much information thrown at us on the daily?

There are many things that we are told we should be ‘aware of’ these days. A quick Google of ‘awareness raising’ produces a multitude of different campaigns and initiatives, like:

  • Water consumption

  • Energy efficiency

  • Heart disease in women

  • Construction safety

  • Whiskey tourism

As a communications agency, we work with clients across multiple industries and sectors on their communication strategies.

When we work with brands and organisations on public awareness or education campaigns, we challenge them on the motivation behind them. Are they looking for people to ‘know’ or are they looking for people to ‘engage’? If it’s the latter, then it’s less about awareness building and more about a campaign for behavioural change.

As consumers, we are presented with two choices: we can take the information given to us and move on or we can take the information and make a small step towards change.

In our experience, awareness campaigns can only be effective if the output or outcome is action. It’s an iterative process that doesn’t (and absolutely shouldn’t!) end after campaign launch.

We often have this conversation with our clients; it’s about the tricky balance of getting a point across while also making an impact. It’s about giving people something to participate in or act on.

What are we meant to do with our newfound awareness?

A few months ago, while listening to an interview on Newstalk Breakfast about a report into childhood obesity, I heard Shane Coleman ask his interviewee: “So, what is it you’re looking to achieve with this new campaign?” She confidently responded: “Well, it’s really about raising awareness of the issue.”

That’s great, I thought. But what do you want me to do with this information now? What will make me actively conscious of it? If I were a parent trying to keep a check on my fussy-eating children, how are you helping me find a solution?

It struck me: awareness raising is the default response to an issue. We educate people without ever really turning this new information into action.

The Story of Water, Irish Water’s costly documentary, spent only 2 of its 45 minutes discussing consumer action.

Irish Water was recently called out by media after it reportedly spent over €800,000 on a TV documentary, The Story of Water, as part of a multi-annual public information campaign.

Budget and production aside, from a communications perspective, what the documentary seemed to miss was its ultimate goal of getting the public more conscious of more efficient water consumption.

In its 45-minute running time, what consumers really only needed to see was the two minutes that told them how much water they were consuming, what the impact of this consumption was, and how they could make a positive change.

Are you aware now?

Awareness raising is all well and good, but without a clear action or result, how can we truly evaluate its success?

My colleague Nuala set out her thoughts on this very issue not long ago. How do you define success and achievements in a meaningful and considered way?

It’s not easy, but starting off your campaign with a clear objective, audience, and ‘ask’ will give you a strong basis for measurement.

Without establishing these aims and indicators, awareness raising risks falling into the vacuum of public information—or not falling anywhere at all.

Sticking to the goals and message is paramount if your campaign is to really resonate with your audience and drive action.

So, how can we make an impact?

There are some key questions that you can ask yourself before you set about educating your audiences:

  • What do you want people to know?

  • Who do you want to know it?

  • Why is it important to you (and them)?

  • Who should tell them this?

  • What do you want them to do as a result?

  • How do you want them to do it?

  • What do you want to see happen as a result?

Bring the planning back to basics and deliver something your audience can and wants to engage with.

Answering these simple questions could help take your campaign from awareness to positive and lasting action.

About the author

Lauren is a Senior Client Manager at 360. She helps clients achieve their goals by creating effective strategies and campaign plans. Outside of work, Lauren is always on the go, whether she’s at language classes, the gym, or meeting friends.

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