Dial Testing Messaging to Break Through COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy

With demand for the COVID-19 vaccine leveling off in some states, vaccine hesitancy is a very hot topic right now. At Lillian Labs, with the help of our sister company Dialsmith, I recently conducted a few studies looking into how to message to those who are still hesitant or opposed to getting the COVID-19 vaccine and dial testing was a central component of these studies.

In a study I conducted in partnership with non-profit Boost Oregon, we used online dial testing to gauge reaction to two, distinct messaging approaches:

Message one: a science-focused approach, which highlighted the benefits of getting vaccinated from a scientific and medical standpoint.

Message two: a loving-focused approach, which called out the benefits of getting vaccinated as a way to protect and help your loved ones and community.

See me talk about the key takeaways from the study in this video interview.


We were particularly interested in comparing/contrasting the reactions based on two different splits of the participant groups: Persuadable vs Opposition and African American vs Caucasion.

“Persuadable” versus “Opposition”

This grouping was based on how the participants answered one key question, “How likely are you to get vaccinated?” Participants selected an answer on a scale from zero (not at all likely) to 10 (very likely). Those who answered zero to three fell into the Opposition group. Those who answered four to seven fell into the Persuadable group. Those who answered eight or higher were considered already likely to get the vaccine and were therefore taken out of the study.

Here’s what the dial testing results looked like for the two messaging approaches based off of the Persuadable (blue line) vs Opposition (green line) split.

As you can see, for both messages, there is a wide split (about a 20-point differential) between how the Persuadable and the Opposition group responded. The Persuadable group responded positively to both approaches , hovering up near 70 (out of 100). And they particularly responded positively to quotes from two medical experts towards the end of the message as evidenced by the upward trends at the end of each message. Neither message performed well with the Opposition group, with both messages struggling to hit the 50 mark. But the nice benefit of dial testing is that we can delve deeper and see that there were a few moments within each message that told a deeper story–these are noted in the charts above. For example, the Opposition group responded much more positively to the quote in the Loving approach from Dr. Frederick, a surgeon and the dean of Howard University, who spoke about his personal choice to get vaccinated, than they did the quote in the Science approach from Dr. Fauci, who spoke scientifically about how safe the vaccine is and its benefits. The Opposition group also responded much more positively when the message focused more on the indirect impacts from the pandemic such as everyone’s financial and mental wellness.

African American versus Caucasian

We examined this split to test the assumption that communities of color are more resistant to getting the vaccine than people who identified as Caucasian. The results were actually the opposite with the African American group scoring the two approaches slightly higher than the Caucasian group. But the split between these two groups is much less than what we saw between the Persuadable and the Opposition groups.

On the whole, the loving-focused approached scored slightly better than the science-focused approach with all four groups. Additionally, both messages were impactful with the Persuadable group as 42% said they were likely to get the vaccine after viewing one or both of the messages.

Want to Know More?

If you’re interested in seeing the full dial testing results, reading the full summary report from the Boost Oregon study, or have additional questions, please feel free to reach out. I can be reached at Gina@LillianLabs.com.