Market Leaders Advance Strategy through Storytelling

by Heather Hammond, Managing Editor - 01/30/19


Learn how storytelling can be a powerful way to connect with patients.

Marketing and storytelling go hand-in-hand. When stories are well-told, they move the audience to action—the ultimate goal of any marketer. It’s important to start with story because if your audience makes an emotional connection with the story, they will be motivated toward action.

Best-selling author, blogger and keynote speaker Seth Godin (we're fans of his new book This Is Marketing) agrees the two disciplines are inextricably linked when he says, "Marketing is storytelling." He proposes that every element associated with a brand is part of the story—your product, your service and your people—and therefore he encourages marketers to, "Tell it on purpose."

How to Craft a Compelling Story

The basics of healthcare marketing storytelling are not complicated, but are often overlooked when planning content and campaigns. First, consider your audience and what they need to hear based on where they are in the healthcare journey.

If you are trying to reach potential patients to attend a seminar about joint pain, think about their situation. They are probably experiencing joint pain right now, and perhaps have been for years. Maybe they’ve talked with their physician about it already, or maybe they have kept it to themselves and pushed through. Either way, they are ready for a change.

Now that you know a little about your audience, speak directly to them and their problem and become the solution. Find a patient story that speaks to this same problem, someone who has found healing through your health system—and tell that story. Bring your audience in by showing knowledge, expertise and compassion around their situation in life.

Ask yourself:

  1. Who is my audience?

  2. What do they need?

  3. What's in it (my content) for them?

Market leaders take these foundational storytelling principles and apply them to their PR and marketing efforts. To illustrate, here are the top ways we have seen healthcare marketers approach traditional topics and transition successfully to using story, which has ultimately led to increased patient acquisition.

Reimagining Renovations

One client we work with launched a multi-million-dollar construction campaign and was concerned about how to stay connected with its community and build trust through the building process, which was scheduled to take several years.

Instead of launching into facts and statistics, the health system chose to tell a story. In their quarterly print magazine, they set aside space to talk about the launch of the project in a way that was patient-centered and told a compelling story. The article described the process of deciding to take on this project and gave a behind-the-scenes peek at the initial board meeting where leadership first realized the scope and scale of the project. They also shared how they have involved staff, physicians and community members in the architectural decision-making process—all with the patient in mind.

What could have otherwise been a dry update about construction turned into a story about how these changes would ultimately benefit the reader. In the end, the audience can connect with the story and know that behind all the steel beams and re-routed parking lots of their health system are real people who care about them and are trying to improve their health and wellness and the way they deliver care.

Atypical Approach to Awards

It is often part of our job as marketers to talk about our awards. They build trust and show competence and care in a way that little else does because someone else is recognizing and praising the company’s positive qualities.

How we market these awards can speak to whether they resonate in the right way with your audience. First, ask yourself why customers will care about the award and how it will ultimately benefit them. Because health care is the business of service, we need to always be thinking about the customer.

Next, find the story to tell. For example, if your hospital earns a Baby-Friendly designation, think about why this matters for mothers and babies and tell that story. You can also find someone who had a great experience at your hospital and tell her story, showing how your efforts to earn the designation made an impact on the delivery of care.

Transforming Tech Content

“We hear statistics. We feel stories,” says Michelle Miller, head of content strategies, Innovative Solutions. We couldn’t agree more, and research shows a fact wrapped in a story is 22 times more memorable than presenting facts alone. There’s no greater place for this truth than when talking about surgery, which is not a pleasant topic for anyone.

Many of our clients have purchased equipment like the da Vinci® robotic-assisted surgery device and want to create marketing campaigns around these investments. Instead of talking about and showing the technology, we try to find a patient story and build a campaign around it.

For one client in particular, we developed a series of nurturing emails that told a patient story throughout, using warm images of the patient that were comforting. Instead of talking about the features and benefits of the newly purchased surgery equipment, we talked about how hard this patient’s life was before having surgery and how much he is able to do now, his quick recovery time and his new lease on life—with technology in a supporting role rather than taking center stage.

We led with a human story instead of features and benefits, which developed a relatable connection to a potentially difficult topic—and the campaign's outstanding results validated the storytelling approach.

Personalize Your Physicians

Marketing for new physicians should take on a personable quality. Go beyond talking about credentials and education and tell who they are as a person. Patients want physicians who will listen and who care, so speak to the heart of what they will be like when patients interact with them.

If a patient can see themselves in a story and connect to the physician through that story, then they are more likely to think about that physician and your health system or hospital when they need care. They have made a connection of empathy through the story and will be more likely to recall the story later.

Additionally, use patients themselves to talk about their experience with a physician. Surveys, focus groups and anonymous feedback are excellent places to find quotes about specific physicians you can spotlight in marketing content.

The bottom line: Stories compel readers to take action. The next time you are marketing a service line, consider starting with a story. Be sure to weave in clear calls to action into your marketing efforts, and provide a place for patients to move forward in their journey.

As with any marketing effort, start by defining the goal and how success will be measured and then build in ways to track performance so you will know when your stories are leading to an action.


Let Us Help Tell Your Story

True North Custom works with 500+ healthcare organizations to connect business strategy with storytelling. Find out how we can craft your stories in a way that differentiates your brand and creates preference for your service lines.

Contact Us →

Topics: Content Strategy, Content Marketing

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