Step Four: Getting the Message Across

In this page

  • Format and Message
  • Tailor Messages to Your Target Cultures
  • Address Low-Literacy Audiences
  • Create Materials for Each Audience Segment
  • Identify Sources
  • Test Your Materials

How to Tailor Your Materials for Your Audience

The overarching goal of your tobacco education materials is to motivate your target audiences to take action or shift their current beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. Whether you are adapting existing materials or creating new ones, understanding how to tailor your message to your audience will help you be more effective in meeting your project goals.

Remember that the more relevant and personal a connection you can make, the more effective you’ll be in achieving your desired outcomes. A one-size-fits-all approach to tobacco education materials usually results in materials that speak to no one effectively. Here are some steps to help tailor your messages.

Format and Message

The format of your message means understanding how and where your target audience prefers to get health and policy information. Producing and placing ads in a local community newspaper might not be an effective means of reaching those of lower socioeconomic status or individuals who don’t read newspapers. Outdoor and transit ads, on the other hand, may have a greater potential to reach low-income targets, including those who are homeless. Take the same thoughtful approach to printed and online materials to ensure that your materials will reach your target.

Tailor Messages to Your Target Cultures

Traditionally, organizations have taken materials that were first developed in English and had them translated to the language of the target audience. However, literal translations of English into other languages run the risk of the intended messages getting “lost in translation” and even potentially insulting your audience.

If you don’t have someone on your staff who can assist with cultural issues, reach out to organizations and individuals with established ties to your audience. In addition, hire reliable translation services with a track record in translating public health messages. See Step 5: Making Your Materials Accessible.

Address Low-Literacy Audiences

Literacy does not only mean writing to a defined reading level. Effectively reaching low-literacy audiences also means limiting the number and complexity of messages and using images and graphics that are easy to understand. When creating your materials, also consider the issue of health literacy in general, and specifically as it relates to your target’s base level of understanding of the risks of tobacco use and secondhand smoke. See Step 5: Making Your Materials Accessible.

Create Materials for Each Audience Segment

Target audiences are often too big and varied to be reached by a single set of materials. Consider “narrow-casting” your materials, instead of “broadcasting” them. Different segments or subgroups have different needs, preferences, and characteristics. Several sets of smaller and more focused materials aimed at two to three audience segments will be more effective than one big item aimed at a more diffuse group.

Identify Sources

Not only is it important to your funders to be acknowledged in your education materials, it is also important to your audience. Some members of traditionally underserved populations are mistrustful of those who try to influence their attitudes and behaviors, even when those efforts have the best of intentions. Your audience will want to know who is behind the materials targeting them and will understandably reject messages from unknown sources. Be sure to identify trusted individuals and organizations in the local community who are part of your education effort.

Funding Acknowledgment

Don’t forget to include any required logos or funder acknowledgments as you complete your design and layout. For details regarding how to acknowledge the California Tobacco Control Program (CTCP) and your contract number, please see our Funding Acknowledgement Page.


When producing educational materials, information included in the materials must be factually correct, with appropriate citation of source materials using a standard method for citing sources such as the Chicago Manual of Style. Please visit the Quick Reference Guide for clear examples of how to use the Chicago-style citation.

Test Your Materials

Before you go through the time and expense of producing your materials, test the creative concepts in a rough form to see whether they have the intended response with your target population. Later in the process, pilot test your finished materials among a representative sample of your target audience to learn whether the finished product receives the response you intended. See Step 8: Testing Your Materials.