Know Your Audience: What Does the Data Say?

If you read our blog post on identifying the “right” audience — which is part of Vanguard’s Strategic Communications Planning series — you know that before you start crafting messages for your audience, you need to segment them first. There are several ways to do this, from focus groups to literature reviews. However, the bottom line is that research into your target audiences gives you insight into how they are impacted by your issue and the best ways to reach them.

A great way to start segmenting your audience is to gather statistics and data. This helps eliminate some of the audiences you may have in mind right from the start, which saves you time and money in the long run. At Vanguard, we work on projects that impact the nation’s health and wellness. Using public health data sets allows us to identify those populations most impacted by a specific health issue. For instance, we can determine which population or audience is most affected by the negative consequences of underage drinking.

While there are many public health data sets and survey results freely available for analysis from the federal government, our experience helps us know and locate what data is needed for a project’s communication strategy. For health campaigns focused on underage drinking, we typically use the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) and Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS).

NSDUH is the annual survey sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). It is the primary source of information on the use of illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco in people 12 years old and older who are living in the United States. The survey results allow us to look at longitudinal data and find prevalence of alcohol use by various ages and demographics groups. Using NSDUH data from 2017, we learned youth in rural areas were more likely to report monthly binge drinking than youth in large metro areas.

The YRBSS, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), monitors six types of health risk behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among youth and adults. Alcohol and other substance misuse are one of the six behaviors studied. Using YRBSS data from 2017, we learned that almost as many Hispanic/Latino high school students (as defined by CDC) reported current binge drinking as white high school students.

It’s important to point out that these are just two of the many federal public health data sets freely available for use when researching the impact of certain health issues on a population. You can find the complete list in the Guide to HHS Surveys and Data Resources.