3 Storytelling Principles for Marketers to Start Using Today

by Heather Hammond, Managing Editor - 12/18/18


Effective storytelling is a hallmark of the modern healthcare marketer. Here are three principles that ensure your content creates an emotional connection.

While storytelling has become en vogue for marketers everywhere, it’s not a new technique for communication. In fact, storytelling is the foundation of civilizations, dating back to ancient times, and has served to inform, keep safe, track history and perpetuate and build cultures, not to mention entertain.

Scientists have discovered plenty of evidence of storytelling’s power to enhance memory and change behavior. Neuroscientist Paul Zak writes that “stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts.” We don’t passively experience stories—we feel them unfold through the body’s release of various hormones at different points in the tale. Those hormones can help prompt certain behaviors, such as altruism.

Today, the ability to build and differentiate your brand through effective storytelling is considered a hallmark of market leaders across all categories—and especially in health care. In their seminar Storynomics, Robert McKee, screenwriter and storytelling guru, and Tom Gerace, CEO of Skyword, talk about the building blocks of story and how marketers can use them to set content apart and move their audience toward action. Here’s how you can put these principles into practice and drive brand and revenue growth through your content strategy.

What are the elements of a good story? Let's explore the cornerstones and how to connect them with your healthcare audiences.

Negative Floor

Many traditional marketers shy away from anything unpleasant in marketing for fear it will reflect negatively on their brand. However, in order to have a happy ending, you have to build a negative floor from which to rise. Your high school English teacher called it conflict—and your story is built on this.

For example, when crafting stories to engage potential donors, keep in mind that patient outcomes don’t always have a happy ending. It might seem counterintuitive, but being transparent about situations where your hospital exhausted all possible resources can paint a realistic picture that resonates with donors and motivates them to get involved.

By the same token, patient stories that do have a happy ending aren’t nearly as powerful unless the reader has a sense of how far the individual has come. The outcome is all the sweeter—and the role your organization played in making it possible shines all the brighter—if the reader understands how a medical condition upended a patient’s life and limited his or her abilities prior to treatment.

Emotional Connection

In a well-told story, your audience connects on an emotional level. When your audience can empathize with the story, they will likely remember it and feel connected to your brand as well.

This approach is particularly effective when promoting new medical technology. While it’s tempting to highlight the features of your da Vinci® machine or share how many slices your state-of-the-art CT scanner has, consumers care less about specifications than the procedure’s benefits to their well-being. Focus instead on the quicker recovery, and highlight patients who were able to return to work and to the things they love thanks to these advances. Give attention to the person-centered aspects of your equipment, such as less radiation from your CT machine and less postoperative pain for da Vinci patients, rather than the high-tech aspects.

Object of Desire

This might be the diamond in the rough of storytelling. Ask yourself: What does your character really want? And as a marketer, go one step further and ask: What does my audience really want? These should align for an effective storytelling experience.

The object of desire is not always the resolution; it’s usually hidden underneath the resolution itself. Sometimes, having knee surgery can solve the ongoing problem of pain, but the fact that the patient can now play with his grandkids is his true object of desire. He didn’t desire the surgery, he desired the life he was able to live once his health was restored. That sentiment speaks to the human desire for connection and love and is something your audience will connect with emotionally. At its core, the object of desire is the ability to enjoy that which gives the patient’s life meaning, whether it’s going for a run every morning, taking the trip of a lifetime with a spouse, or planting a garden.

Let Us Help Tell Your Story

True North Custom works with 500+ healthcare organizations to tell their stories through integrated content strategiesFind out how we can help engage consumers and physicians in your area to create a connection that drives brand and revenue growth.

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Topics: Content Strategy

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