Message Making 101: Creating Consumer-Friendly Messages

Successful nutrition messages are essentially CONSUMER-ORIENTED.

This is the basic premise of the New Nutrition Conversation with Consumers. As a consumer-oriented communications technique, it is grounded in understanding what consumers know, believe, value, and do relating to food, diet, and nutrition. In other words, get your audience’s pulse by LISTENING, LISTENING, and LEARNING from the consumers themselves. This is the best way to achieve authentic, consumer-oriented messages.

The venues for consumer-oriented communications are diverse. You can obtain a wealth of information through formal means (e.g. focus groups, in-home observation, and surveys) or informal channels (e.g. conversation and discussion among friends, coworkers, family members, among others). Ultimately, your objective is to use these data for crafting effective, consumer-friendly messages.

The development of consumer-oriented nutrition messages is a process that’s hinged on consumer input. The New Nutrition Conversation with Consumers is based on such a process illustrated by the Marketing Model (see graphic below).

(a.k.a. “Message Development Model”)



No consumer product succeeds in the market place without prior consumer “approval.” The Marketing Model outlines a process that’s often used by advertisers and market researchers to better understand consumer needs and wants before any product is launched.

The same marketing principles are applied in the context of the New Nutrition Conversation with Consumers except that this time, the “product” is the nutrition message. Thus, the Message Development Model describes 5 basic steps in creating and delivering impactful nutrition messages that are “consumer-tested and approved.”


Here are the 5 basic steps of the Message Development Model in greater detail. Note that each step is builds upon the previous ones. It could be an iterative process that yields unique results every time it is used. Don’t be afraid to explore, learn, and reinvent as you go along.

Step 1: Define the Issue

The first step in the Message Development Model for the New Nutrition Conversation with Consumers is critical—you need to find out what motivates your audience.

Go beyond demographics such as race/ethnicity, age, gender, education level, and income level. Delve into the psychographics of your audience. That is, determine the various qualities of your audience such as family structure, interests and hobbies, preferred recreational activities, values, life goals, concerns, and biases.

Marketing research and advertising often use focus groups, which are ideal techniques to learn this information. But you don’t need lots of resources to accomplish this step. Informal techniques such as one-on-one conversations with coworkers, friends, family, patients, and clients can help you to better understand your audience.

Step 2: Develop Initial Message Concepts

The information you learned in Step 1 will help you identify the specific actions and behaviors that you want to encourage and will give you clues on how to approach your audience. Use what you learned in Step 1 to address sources of discomfort about eating habits or making healthful changes in diet. Develop positive message concepts to empower consumers to make the changes.

Step 3: Assess Message Concepts

In Step 3—Assess Message Concepts—you can learn what your initial message concepts mean to your target audience. Remember, the reason for a New Nutrition Conversation with Consumers is that messages are often not “tested” to ensure that what you are trying to say is being heard correctly. So share your initial messages concepts with members of your audience.

Ask questions such as:

  • “What does this message mean to you?"
  • “Does this message motivate you?”
  • “Does this message fit with other things you value or want in life?”

Again, focus groups are a good method to test your initial message concepts. But informal conversations with your target audience can be just as effective.

Step 4: Fine Tune Messages

Sometimes messages may miss the mark. Consumers may not interpret the initial message concept the way it was intended. If so, simply go back to Step 2 with what you have learned and revise the initial message concepts.

Often, though, only fine-tuning—such as minor word changes—are needed.

Step 5: Validate Messages

Validating a message means confirming that a specific message is meaningful to many individuals in your audience.

In advertising and marketing, telephone surveys and questionnaires are often used to make sure that a message is meaningful to a larger audience. Informal surveys and conversations with many individuals, patients, and clients can also help determine if a message will be successful in delivering the health information you want to share.

If it turns out that a message is not meaningful to a larger audience, you can return to Step 2 or 4 to make adjustments.

Now it's your turn. To develop your own message using this model, follow the Message Development Checklist below.


See if you’ve satisfactorily fulfilled the different aspects involved in the stages of message development. Use the guide questions below to evaluate whether you’ve covered all your bases under each step.

STEP 1: Define the Issue

  • What is the central idea (or issue) you want to communicate?
  • To whom do you want to communicate the issue? What are the characteristics of your target audience in terms of the following:
    • Age
    • Gender
    • Family structure
    • Ethnicity
    • Education level
    • Income level
    • Hobbies and interests
    • Preferred recreational activities
    • Concerns and biases
    • Life goals
  • Is your target audience aware of the issue? Why or why not?
  • What do they think, feel, and believe about the issue?
  • Are their perceptions and attitudes toward the issue positive, negative, or neutral? Why?
  • How does your target audience respond to the issue? Are they doing anything about it? Why or why not?

STEP 2: Develop Initial Message Concepts

  • What is/are the specific action(s) or behavioral change(s) that you want your target audience to adopt?
  • What are the potential incentives that may motivate your target audience to adopting the behavior change (s)?
  • What are the potential barriers that may inhibit your target audience from adopting the behavior change(s)?
  • Does the language carry a positive tone? Is it “empowering” for the consumer to make changes?

STEP 3: Assess Message Concepts

  • Is the message meaningful to the target audience?
  • Is the message motivating to the target audience?
  • Is the message consistent with the target audience’s wants/needs and life values?
  • Self-efficacy: Does the message entail a behavior change that’s within the audience’s repertoire of skills? Or do additional skills need to be learned?

STEP 4: Fine Tune Messages

  • How receptive were the consumers to the message? (Positive, negative or neutral reaction—to what degree?)
  • Did the consumers interpret the message in the way you intended them to? Why or why not? What are the connotations they derived from the message?
  • Which part of the message was clear or unclear? Will minor word changes improve the meaning or should it be completely rewritten?

STEP 5: Validate Messages

  • Same guide questions as STEP 4, but this time applied to a larger number of individuals.


Take-Home Messages for Developing Consumer Messages That Work
  • Use these pointers to develop insightful messages that affect consumer behavior.
  • Speak in a language that is straightforward, relevant, and compelling to the audience.
  • Show consumers how to incorporate nutrition knowledge into everyday life by providing practical,
    easy-to-implement strategies.
  • Customize messages by giving specific reasons, meaningful to the audience, for changing behaviors.
    For example, talk about the benefits of taste, convenience, fun, culture, or feeling good.
  • Offer choices for making behavior changes. Consumers are empowered when they can
    make their own choices.