I had the distinct pleasure and privilege to sit down with Daphne Metland for an insightful conversation. Daphne is a behaviour change pioneer and a global expert on health communications with an intense passion for improving maternal health. Her work has aided brands, NGOs, governments, and charities, contributing to significant transformations in the lives of millions.
She founded the award-winning agency, Thrive: Words that Change Lives, in 2000. An insightful visionary, Daphne identified early on the enormous potential offered by the digital age to empower individuals with information that could encourage positive behaviour change. Today, this recognition remains the cornerstone of her work.
As we delved into our discussion, we explored the ever-evolving world of behaviour change communication, the transformative impact of technology and AI, and the challenges and rewards of running a successful agency. Her wealth of experience, her sharp understanding of the digital landscape, and her indomitable passion for creating real, positive change made for an enriching and insightful conversation.
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The Power and Nuance of Behaviour Change Communication
For over two decades, Daphne Metland has been harnessing the power of words to influence behaviour, combining her expertise in health and communication to create impactful messages. Global Health Content, her agency, is dedicated to creating content that brings about change, not just awareness. This approach resonated deeply with me, as my own career in digital marketing has revolved around driving action through engaging content.
Daphne’s philosophy transcends simply putting words on paper. It involves careful consideration of behaviour change principles, understanding how to facilitate meaningful changes in people’s lives, and writing with a deep awareness of diverse audiences. As someone who believes in the power of personalized content, I was captivated by this multi-dimensional approach. It’s not just about the ‘what’ of the content, but also the ‘how’, ‘why’, and ‘for whom’.
AI: A Challenge, An Opportunity, and a Tool for Personalization
The conversation about AI was another high point of our discussion. I have long championed AI’s role in digital marketing, seeing it as a tool for personalization and efficiency rather than a threat. Daphne’s perspective echoed this. She envisions AI helping to create even more personalized content that can inspire behavioural change. Her view of the future of her field includes AI as a strategic partner rather than a replacement for human creativity and insight, a perspective I strongly align with.
Making a Difference: From South Africa to India
Thrive’s work isn’t confined by geographical boundaries. Their impactful campaigns have been implemented in various parts of the world. Daphne’s recounting of a project in South Africa aimed at reducing the transmission of HIV from mothers to babies was particularly poignant. Despite substantial challenges, they were able to craft a successful program that made a real difference.
Similarly, a child development initiative in India used locally available materials to communicate and stimulate child development. I was moved by the creativity and adaptability shown in these projects, reminding me of how important it is to understand and respect local contexts when crafting global messages.
Juggling Act: Work, Life, and the Challenges of Running an Agency
Running an agency, particularly in a niche sector, is a perpetual balancing act. As a businesswoman and mother, I understand the challenges involved in maintaining this equilibrium. Daphne has not only risen to these challenges but has crafted an agency culture around the concept of flexibility. Her insights on the agency’s approach to work-life balance, including offering term-time contracts and accommodating various working hours, are a beacon for other companies redefining their work culture in this era.
Building a Team Around Passion
During our conversation, Daphne stressed the importance of having a passionate team. This sentiment deeply resonates with me; in my experience, recruiting individuals who are truly passionate about their work can be transformative for any organization. Daphne’s strategy of hiring for passion and training for skills is a model I believe more companies should adopt.
Envisioning the Future of Global Health Content and Beyond
Daphne shared her vision for the future of Global Health Content. She sees a significant role for AI and machine learning in fine-tuning their strategies, allowing for even more personalised messaging and effective behaviour change interventions.
This view echoes my own belief that technology and data can powerfully augment our understanding of audiences, enabling more personalised and resonant messaging. I was particularly struck by Daphne’s insight on how these tools could help make communication more nuanced and responsive, tailored to individual needs, cultural contexts, and evolving circumstances.
She also underscored the potential of data analysis and machine learning to better understand patterns and predict behaviours, potentially revolutionising the design of interventions. It was refreshing to hear her embrace the potential of technology, while also maintaining the irreplaceable value of human judgment, intuition, and creativity.
Balancing Innovation with Human Touch
Throughout our conversation, one theme remained clear: the balance between technological innovation and the human touch. Daphne sees AI as a tool to enhance, not replace, the human creativity and empathy at the heart of her work. It’s a perspective I firmly agree with. The most effective use of AI is not to replace human input but to augment our capabilities and help us create more compelling, personalised and impactful content.
Resilience in the Face of Change
Despite the immense challenges posed by a rapidly changing technological landscape and a global pandemic, Daphne is optimistic about the future of Global Health Content. I found her resilience and forward-thinking approach inspiring. Her attitude reinforces a lesson that I too have learnt over my career: adaptability is key to thriving in our ever-changing digital age.
A Mission-Driven Agency
Daphne Metland’s journey is more than just a business success story; it’s a testament to the potential of combining passion, knowledge, and innovative technology to drive real change in the world. It’s clear that Thrive isn’t just a content agency; they’re an agency on a mission.
“AI can give us the tools, but it’s still people who have to use them. It’s still people who have to create the narratives and the messages that resonate with other people,” Daphne states. This conviction, that technology and human ingenuity must work hand in hand, resonates with my own philosophy.
As we navigate the evolving digital landscape, the work of agencies like Thrive stands as a beacon. It serves as a reminder of the profound impact thoughtful, targeted, and well-executed communication can have on global health outcomes. It emphasizes the need for a balance between leveraging innovative technologies and maintaining the crucial human touch in our narratives.
My conversation with Daphne Metland has offered invaluable insights into the changing dynamics of behaviour change communication, the potential of emerging technologies, and the importance of human passion and adaptability in this journey. As we look to the future, it’s clear that this blend of creativity, empathy, innovation, and resilience will continue to shape the landscape of global health communication.