How to Develop a Channel Mix Plan
A channel mix plan for a social and behavior change communication (SBCC) program is a strategic document that identifies the types of communication channels that best reach the priority audience to deliver the messages and the optimal blend of channels that maximizes reach and effectiveness of the messages.
A channel mix plan includes:
- Information on what channels are most effective for the priority audience, based on past impact, audience needs and preferences, and channel availability.
- Recommendations for how the program should combine different channels based on the advantages and disadvantages of each, the fit between the message and the channel, as well as the appropriate timing and scheduling of the messages.
- Information on resources available and how they will be allocated to different channels.
Ultimately, the channel mix selected for the program depends on the communication landscape, audience characteristics, the program’s objectives and messages, reach and intensity, and budget.
Why Create a Channel Mix Plan?
Without a well-developed channel mix plan, messages may not reach the priority audience, resulting in wasted resources. Even if the communication messages and materials are wonderfully and cleverly designed, if they do not reach the intended audience, they will not be effective.
Using a strategic blend of multiple channels, including mass media, community and interpersonal channels, increases an audience’s exposure to messages. It also increases repetition of the message, allowing different channels to reinforce meaning. Repeat exposure improves the likelihood that a message will be understood, accepted and acted upon.
An effective channel mix plan ensures that messages appear in the right place and at the right time to reach the priority audience.
Who Should Develop the Channel Mix Plan?
A small, focused team of key communication staff should plan the channel mix.
When Should the Channel Mix Plan be Developed?
The communication team should develop the channel mix plan after completing the situation analysis, audience analysis and creative brief (unless channel mix planning is done as part of marketing planning). Completing these documents outlines background information on the situation and priority audience in relation to the key health or social issue, and provides a guidepost for creative deliverables that fit within the overall strategic approach. The team should also have designed messages since decisions about what channels to use can depend on the type of message being delivered.
Estimated Time Needed
Developing a channel mix plan can often be done in one day if the team has done a thorough analysis of the audience(s) and the communication landscape. If more research needs to be done, more time will be required.
After completing the activities for developing a channel mix, the team will:
- Determine the advantages and disadvantages of the different channels.
- Understand the benefits of using a multi-channel approach.
- Select an appropriate mix of channels to best reach the intended audience(s).
Step 1: Assess Available Channels
Assess what channels are available to the priority audience(s) and how effective they will be in reaching them. To locate this information for media channels, the team can consult local television, radio stations and press offices. Typically, local advertising agencies also compile latest versions of this information. Additional information may be found in published media analysis studies. For community and interpersonal channels, it can be helpful to look at partner organizations’ reports, clinic-based data and local government statistics. Access to the Internet, social media and mobile phones is on the increase globally. These need to be considered as part of the media mix, as well.
At this stage, also determine the costs associated with each of the available channels, as well as how many people they reach on average with a single exposure. Keep this information for inclusion in the Channel Strategy Chart.
After reviewing these resources, make a list of all the channels that are available to the priority audience(s).
Step 2: Determine the Priority Audience’s Habits and Channel Preferences
It is critical to understand which channels the priority audience prefers and uses regularly so that the team can reach them with the messages. Start by reviewing the audience analysis and situation analysis to understand audience habits and channel preferences. Keeping in mind the available channels, look for the following information:
What channels does the priority audience prefer? In particular, what channels do they prefer for receiving health information?
Look at what TV or radio shows they prefer, the websites they visit, social media they use, the community events they attend and to whom they prefer to talk about the health problem.
How do they spend their time?
Look at which religious congregations and community clubs they attend, where they spend a significant part of their day and what businesses they frequent.
Which channels do they regularly use or turn to? When and for what purposes do they use each channel?
The audience may use mobile phones frequently, but would not want to receive health-related information on them.
What channels are considered credible and for what kinds of information?
The audience may enjoy reading a magazine for fun, but would not trust any health information from that source.
What is the audience’s literacy level? Does the audience prefer audio or visual messages?
Even though the audience may be literate, they may still prefer and accept messages that are delivered aurally.
To whom do they turn for support or advice, particularly for the health topic being addressed?
Are there community leaders or peer groups that are respected?
Step 3: Consider the Strengths and Limitations of Channels
There is no one perfect channel. Each channel has inherent strengths and limitations due to its nature. A blend of channels can be used to capitalize on inherent strengths, allowing for greater impact. Using multiple channels can also have a cumulative and reinforcing effect, increasing the effectiveness of the messages communicated.
For each channel available to the audience, make a list of its unique strengths and limitations. The table below provides examples of general strengths and limitations. The team should supplement this with relevant local information.
Community dialogue, peer-to-peer, health provider-client, inter-spousal and parent-child communication
Community drama, interactive story telling, music, community events, video group discussion, mobile video units, talks and workshops, door-to-door visits, demonstrations and community radio
Mass Media and Mid-Media
Radio, TV, print, film, outdoor – posters, billboards
Digital and Social Media
Mobile phones, SMS, Facebook, Internet, twitter, eToolkits, web sites, eForums, blogs, YouTube, Chat rooms
Step 4: Determine What Channels Best Fit the Program’s Objectives
Channel selection depends on what the program is trying to accomplish. Review program objectives from the creative brief or communication strategy. Ask what is the purpose of the SBCC intervention. It may be to:
- Inform and educate.
- Persuade and promote.
- Increase intention to act.
- Impart skills.
- Encourage behavior change.
- Reinforce behavior change.
- Nurture advocacy.
If the objective is to impart skills, for example, an interpersonal channel that allows for interactivity and feedback would be an appropriate choice. If the objective is to inform, a mass media channel combined with social media may be the best option.
Determine which channels best fit the program’s objectives and make a list of those channels.
Step 5: Establish a Preference for Reach or Intensity
Based on the program’s objectives, determine the balance between reach – the number of individuals or households exposed to the program’s messages – and intensity – the average number of times individuals or households are exposed to the program’s messages. Due to resource constraints, there is a trade-off between the two. Typically, when reach is high, intensity will be low. If intensity is high, then reach will be low. For example, a program may choose to broadcast a message on all radio stations (high reach) or concentrate on a few stations with more messages that reach a particular segment (high intensity).
In an epidemic, it is important to reach a large number of people with time-sensitive messages. In that case, the team might decide that reach is more important and select a mass-media channel that extends to a wide audience. If, instead, a health problem is concentrated in a certain area or among a specific population, the team might decide that intensity is more important and select channels that allow multiple contact points with the audience, such as peer education sessions.
Step 6: Consider the Fit between Messages and Channels
Certain channels lend themselves to certain messages. If a message is long or detailed, for example, print (in connectivity-challenged areas) or the Internet (where people search or browse) would be more appropriate than a 30-second TV spot. If a message must include images, certain channels, like radio, would not convey the whole message. Messages that are complex and may require clarification would be best suited to interpersonal or digital channels.
Take, for example, a message to youth about sexual behavior:
- What are the media policy and rules in the audience’s environment? How much detail about sexual behavior can be depicted on television or on radio? Perhaps interpersonal or digital media are better platforms?
- What are the social values and culture? What would audiences find appropriate? Determining the most appropriate channel for sensitive topics will help avoid turning off the audience, offending them or making them uncomfortable.
Review the messages already designed for the intervention (see the message design guide). Consider the characteristics and content of the messages to determine which channels are most appropriate.
Step 7: Select the Channel Mix
Review the lists and tables the team compiled in Steps 1-6. Based on those considerations, make a decision about what channels the program will use. Write down which channels will be used and how they complement each other. Also include how each channel is expected to contribute to the achievement of program objectives.
Step 8: Establish the Timing and Frequency
For each channel listed in Step 7, decide when and how frequently to use it. In establishing the timing, reflect back to the tables developed in Steps 1-6 to make sure the timing makes sense with how the channels complement and build on one another, and what the potential costs may be. For example, the team may start with a TV campaign to raise awareness, followed by a big community event and home visits to impact local norms and clarify the message.
Decisions about when to use a channel can depend on the following factors, among others:
- Health events
- Festivals or established events
- Agricultural and manufacturing cycles
- Fiscal year
- Media costs at specific times (of day or in a season)
Decisions about how frequently to use a channel will depend partially on both cost considerations and desired impact. The team may choose, for example, to hold weekly community discussion groups because it is critical to get community members discussing a health topic regularly.
Step 9: Think about Budget
Think about what resources are available to the program and the cost for using each channel. Ask if the program has sufficient resources to utilize the channel mix and frequency selected. If not, determine how the program can generate additional resources. It may be that the team can negotiate costs with media sources (value added time given when some is paid for) or combine efforts and resources with a local partner. The team can also look for existing events and activities funded by other sources that they can take advantage of. There may be others already holding mothers’ groups and the program could integrate messages into the existing activities. If sufficient resources still are not available, the program may need to modify the planned channel mix to fit the available budget.
Step 10: Create the Channel Mix Plan
With the information gathered on channels, preference, cost and reach in the earlier steps, create a channel mix plan using the Channel Mix Chart (see Template 1: Channel Strategy Chart). A sample Channel Mix Chart can be found in the samples section.
|Selected Channel||Preference||Cost||Reach||Timing & Frequency|
Tips & Recommendations
- Be careful not to default to using the channels that are easy to use or “seem like a good idea.” Channels should be chosen based on actual information and audience preferences.
- Think about not only the resources currently available for communication activities but also resources that can be generated or leveraged. For example, some television or radio stations may offer value-added time in addition to the time purchased.
Glossary & Concepts
- Reach is the number of individuals or households exposed to a program’s messages.
- Intensity is the average number of times individuals or households are exposed to a program’s messages.
Banner Photo: © 2013 Valerie Caldas, Courtesy of Photoshare
SBC How-to Guides are short guides that provide step-by-step instructions on how to perform core social and behavior change tasks. From formative research through monitoring and evaluation, these guides cover each step of the SBC process, offer useful hints, and include important resources and references.