Three Things to Know About Building Prostate Cancer Awareness

  ABaby-boomer2t the just-concluded UsTOO 25th Anniversary Celebration in Chicago, I gave a short talk on marketing tactics that can help increase awareness about prostate cancer at the grass roots with the goal of increasing contributions. Here, and in two subsequent posts, I’ll talk about how anyone can apply a few simple principles and become a more effective advocate.

We’re here to talk about awareness and fundraising. Just as it does alphabetically, awareness must come before fundraising. That means we need to develop effective ways to increase awareness about prostate cancer among the public at large. My focus here is on what we can do as individuals on our own to help accomplish this goal.

There are three basic marketing realities we need to take care of before we can launch any awareness campaign:

1. Know what we’re competing with.
2. Know who are our “customers” are.
3. Know what they are looking for.

Know what we’re competing with: When I googled the phrase, “breast cancer awareness” I got 52,900,000 results. “Prostate cancer awareness” yielded just over a million. So, while there’s growing awareness about prostate cancer, there’s still a big awareness gap in the public’s mind. However, a guaranteed way not to to close that gap is to simply imitate something’s that already out there. Frankly, there’s little chance that blue September will ever achieve the same public awareness as the marketing juggernaut known as “pink October.” We need different strategies than just substituting blue ribbons for pink ones. There are many other cancers, as well, and each is a worthy cause. The question is, how do we make prostate cancer awareness distinct and compelling?

Know who our customers are: I think our “customers,” are everywhere. They’re the aging baby boom generation born between 1946 and 1964–adding up to some 77 million of us in the United States. I’m a leading edge baby boomer, born in 1946, now 68 years old, diagnosed when I was 62. Depending on who you ask, the average age of prostate cancer diagnosis is between 65 to 67. The sheer number of us aging boomers is projected to increase prostate cancer diagnoses in the US from about 220,000 in 2015 to around 300,000 by 2030, when the lagging edge of boomers born in 1964 start turning 65.

That’s about one out of six male boomers who will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in his life. But we’re not the only target customers. Don’t forget boomer women as well as the sons and daughters of boomers.  That adds up to millions of potential advocates. For better or worse, prostate cancer awareness definitely has demographics on its side.

Know what they are looking for:  Or to use the marketing lingo, what are boomer aspirations?  Boomers have been called the “Peter Pan” generation, obsessed with beauty and health, and never growing old. Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” is our generational anthem. If you’ve ever watched Parenthood on TV, you probably already know this.

Despite what we’d like to believe, in many ways we boomers are not that different than our parents. Like them, we boomers—especially men—do not want to talk about disease and certainly not cancer, even though we rank Alzheimers and cancer as our greatest health concerns. Also, we built our generational reputation in the 1960’s by not trusting authority, and as adults having watched MASH, ER, and Grey’s Anatomy, instead of Marcus Welby, we definitely do not see doctors as “gods in white lab coats.” So an appeal to medical authority–“you should get tested”– will not be all that effective with many boomers.

We boomers are also the generation that began the free speech movement, populated the Vietnam protests, and went on to become parents actively involved–some might say over-involved–in our children’s lives.

That’s proof that fire still burns in many boomer bellies: these are the folks who will happily adopt a new cause now that they are becoming grandparents. If they can feel they can make a positive difference, even if they don’t actually have—or can even get—prostate cancer, those are the folks that will help raise awareness about this pervasive men’s disease.

However, as the author of Bowling Alone has pointed out, boomers are not the enthusiastic club joiners that our parents of the greatest generation were. We’re doubtless more likely to head to the Internet and less likely to seek out face-to-face support groups on our own. So, how do we locate and inspire these “I want to make a difference” boomers who will become advocates, ready to spread awareness and passion—and then be glad to ask their friends for money?

In the next post we’ll look at some tactics we can use find and energize these “fire-in-the-belly” boomers.

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