Healthcare storytelling is the new healthcare advertising.
By Rafael Cosentino
The health and wellness industry allocates billions to advertising budgets, creating one of the largest advertising categories in the U.S. In a consumer-centric on demand world, as healthcare marketers, how should we talk about our brands? Compliance with regulations leads us to a conservative approach. Creative progress tends to inch along as we lag other less regulated and more nimble industries.
I started in healthcare advertising in 1999 and have noticed a consistent flaw that can easily be remedied even in a highly regulated environment: Healthcare marketers and brand managers almost know too much about their brand(s) and they often sound more like clinicians than marketers. Emphasis on product details come off as too transactional and attract regulatory scrutiny. Seasoned marketers however, know the power of storytelling. Storytelling focused on relationship, not transactional product details. Storytelling empowers its audience with the courage and energy to rise to meet health challenges. We live in an age where we spend the majority of our time in front of screens. As such, we have evolved toward a natural resistance and a growing blind spot to invasive, interruptive advertising. To adapt to this resistance in a patient-centric world, healthcare advertising has evolved into storytelling, aimed at building empowering and supportive relationships. Relationships provide the viewer engagement with what they choose, when they want it, and permits the advertiser to deliver value; A win-win.
As we better understand the types of emotional triggers that play a role in consumer behavior, we can take steps to enhance our value and appropriately cross promote relevant brand messages in order to allow users to enter the sales funnel in a positive, authentic and ethical manner. Effective healthcare advertising generates a connection to the provider’s mission and its customers, not the patent on a drug. Those are minor details in a far more important story about how a soul went from suffering and scared to not suffering and relived, from feeling insecure to at being at ease, from having no plan or direction to having a well thought-out and personally relevant meaningful plan of action.
We can’t fake authentic.
As an industry we need to be able to grasp the underlying motivation and emotion that drives product cycles from awareness to action and do so in a creative authentic and ethical manner. Many segments of the healthcare industry are already on their way to building their entire marketing infrastructure around storytelling. Hospitals and health systems have already begun investing in highly advanced patient portals designed to provide would be patients with detailed personal stories around managing and overcoming health related obstacles. These patient portals offer updates about new treatment modalities, new technologies and even sections containing content around fitness, mediation, yoga, Pilates and even healthy recipes. All of this information is of course surrounded by links and access to core revenue generating services, information request forms and help lines. The shift to softer selling is obvious, no one is shopping for prescription medication if they aren’t sick and few of tomorrow’s patients are looking for elective procedures like Lasik or a lap band at this very moment. But when would be patient’s discovery relevant stories, the very natural process of elevated interest begins to occur, and this leads to demand.
Emotion plays a huge role in all products' lifecycle. Healthcare marketing that activates and relates to a person’s deep-seated motivations and emotional triggers like fear and hope, can both inspire action and stimulate thoughtfulness by double-to-triple digits, according to a 2018 Wunderman Health Inertia Study.
These types of studies reveal that emotional triggers like fear and hope stimulate parts of the brain and open a gateway which offers marketers a unique opportunity to create emotional associations with healthcare products, services and brands. Most people are motivated by the fundamental urge to live a fulfilling life. When people are exposed to notions of fear, about getting cancer from smoking or getting diabetes from being overweight for example, they are nearly three times more likely to make a commitment to quit smoking, eat less or begin a fitness routine. And when people are exposed to messages designed to generate feelings of hope, those same people more critically pondered the reasons and their next steps for quitting smoking, eating right or exercising.
Storytelling is often a before and after template allowing reader to feel the protagonist’s fears, pains and frustrations. The story telling journey includes realizing there is someone whose gone through this before, someone that looked for and discovered a solution, then made the effort and commitment to take the first step to solving the problem.
When your brand is telling a story, how do you get patients to visit? Standard online display ads, radio and TV spots are not an appropriate vehicle to drive this type of storytelling. Standard display ads look and feel like advertising. Banners, have a low click through rate and can be expensive on a per click basis. TV and radio spots have a low conversion to web content access. Native placements, and specifically content recommendation style placements are ideal to begin the journey of emotional storytelling. Content style placements are mostly unbranded, feel like editorial content and can be targeted.
Below are a few examples of native ads from Tap Native which only appear within health-related sites and can be targeted based on therapeutic category, demographic and geography.
It’s important that the emotional theme of your story start at the moment the patient begins their journey and is consistent throughout. All stories with discovery and create awareness, they build interest, create consideration and intent and finally move people to committing to action.
By combining storytelling and your sales funnel you can prepare customers to take specific next steps just like the protagonist in your story.
This learning process can be a positive and powerful way to build your brand. Consider the core service you offer, how your customer benefits, the emotional anxiety you alleviate and the emotional journey your customers take. Then create an authentic, powerful and useful story which is worthy of being told and which can become the cornerstone of your organization’s marketing efforts.