Here’s to a new year – or for most, what may feel like another round of 2020.

It feels impossible to measure the ongoing impact of the pandemic. But one thing we know for certain is that communication – what we say, and how – is critical. This year, we expect to see more evolution in how we communicate health messages effectively.

Here are five areas for health communicators to watch this year.

1. Mental health and well-being will be a top priority

As the pandemic continues to strain on our well-being, it will also further shape workplace culture. A recent McKinsey survey suggests nine in 10 employers know COVID-19 impacts their employees by creating unprecedented anxiety and depression, and 70 per cent of those employers say they’re taking action.

Organizations will need to step up with more vulnerable and trusting internal communications from leadership, increased investment benefits, and real-time training and education in mental health and well-being. This past year, for example, Yahoo! launched the Mind Together mental health coalition, a program with Kellogg’s, Snap, and Spotify to address stigma around mental health for employees. Other companies are focusing on changes to working hours, with some Ontario-based companies transitioning to four-day work weeks to support employee health (and retain talent).

Greater emphasis on well-being will also have an impact on how we approach external communications. Holistic patient care will be the focal point for campaigns and we’ll see companies partner with credible stakeholder groups to develop well-being programs.

One example of this is our client Boehringer Ingelheim’s recent partnership with MindBeacon to support the mental well-being of those living with Generalized Pustular Psoriasis. The partnership allows clients to work one-on-one with a dedicated therapist who can tailor the material to their needs and provide support for up to 12 weeks.

2. Wearable tech’s popularity will create new opportunities

Remember when we all had a Fitbit, and we would compete to reach 10,000 steps? Those were the simple days of wearable technology. Now, a single watch can give you access to emails, social media, your heart rate and activity summary. The health and fitness sector quickly dominated the wearable tech industry before any other sector had the chance. Still, a more complex marketing strategy needs to come into play to reach audiences effectively.

Size matters. With wearable tech and social apps being redesigned to provide content in short, concise formats, marketers need to ensure they’re creating content tailor-made for those platforms. Content needs to be relevant, but also dynamic enough to earn attention on channels that are different from “traditional” social content accessed through a smartphone.

Wearable tech also offers a chance to reimagine targeting strategies. Take geofencing. The Apple Watch can track movement to record your daily jog route, while Google Maps can tell you the last time you visited a store. Marketers can use this information to advertise local businesses near a running route.

A particularly exciting area to keep an eye on is voice SEO. Voice tech is the easiest way to integrate with wearable tech – we ask Siri or Alexa how warm the weather is daily or ask them to add paper towels to our virtual shopping carts. Marketers will need to expand their search strategies to incorporate voice SEO as users rely on it more. Now is the time to implement voice SEO, before the field becomes too crowded.

3. The PESO approach will be the standard for communications strategies

As the number of community newspapers and media outlets continues to shrink (leaving us with possibly five dedicated health reporters across the country) health organizations will need to think beyond media relations and diversify how they reach their core audiences.

Evolving communications strategies effectively takes incorporating different channels into a campaign – specifically, considering Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned (PESO) opportunities.

Using the PESO approach creates a surround sound campaign, building the authority of your message by intercepting your audience (whether they be patients, doctors or government officials) through different media, at different touchpoints, with different messaging and messengers – ultimately supporting your marketing team’s goals of lead generations, retention and brand advocates.

4. Strategies that use data-driven audience insights will outperform mass outreach

In 2022, we’ll see increasing demand from the public for messages personally relevant to them. It won’t be enough to say that “1 in 2 Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime.” To truly reach the potential for engagement and action, key messages will need to include insights that apply to specific audiences.

That means communicators across all sectors and types of organizations will require segmented data on gender, ethnicity, age, lifestyle, and more to get people’s attention, make them care, and motivate a call to action. In other words, targeting your specific audience with messages tailored for them is more important to successful campaigns than ever before.

5. Trusted voices will continue to unpack crucial health data

While people have always had digital options – Dr. Google or WebMD – to get medical information, the pandemic magnified the need for credible and trusted voices. It’s why we saw the rise of the “media doctor.” Medical professionals, such as infectious disease consultant and general internist Dr. Isaac Bogoch from Toronto General Hospital, and Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, have become household names.

Specifically, doctors and health care practitioners like these have stepped into the spotlight to provide much-needed clarity, context and insights on health data.

CBC News reported early in the pandemic that public engagement depends on accessible and transparent scientific data and that remains true two years later. As infectious diseases specialist Dr. Andrew Morris put it then, “Having data is important for all aspects of tackling COVID-19. It lets us know where we’ve been. It lets us know where we’re going. If we don’t have that information, we don’t have a good idea of how to approach it. And we also don’t have an understanding of where our blind spots are.” With more twists and turns of the pandemic sure to come, the need for credible data – and the clear communication of that data from trustworthy experts – remains crucial.

As we move full steam ahead into 2022, elevating our programs for more impact will take focusing on people and their expectations of us as communicators. The most successful health communicators will be the ones who invest in using data to understand what their audiences truly need and then – then taking an integrated approach to deliver.