August 30, 2017

Health Care Marketing Trend: Make Stories That Matter

We’re screaming to patients from the rooftops…about us…about how great we are. These messages only have value in the shortest of terms, because they sound just like everyone else. The answer is to MAKE stories that matter. Here’s how…

In our travels across the country, we’re seeing the embers of a trend that we’d like to stoke into an inferno. We’re seeing the best health care marketers utilize proactive storytelling. And it’s not just changing their brand—it’s changing their professional lives. What is this form of storytelling? Well, get comfortable for just a moment, because we have to set the table before we carve up the steak.

There are plenty of tomes paying homage to the power of storytelling in the world of marketing. I’m not here to convince you of that power and if I need to, well…

But telling a health care marketer (especially you hospital CMOs out there) that you need to go out and find amazing stories is a little bit unfair. I’ve been in your offices. I’ve been with you in meetings. And most of our clients are too polite to say what they must be thinking:

“Hey there, Mr. Smarty Pants Consulting Guy…as you can see I am insanely busy.  There aren’t many stories to be found in my endless cycle of meetings and my colleagues aren’t exactly beating down my door with amazing stories to share. Get real!”

Fair point…but unfortunately, that doesn’t alleviate the need for storytelling. Why?

Because the following archaic messaging just won’t work anymore:

Great care close to home.

High-tech, high touch.

US News and World Report Top 1,550 Hospitals.

We craft these messages in health care but they are just that.


We’re screaming to patients from the rooftops…about us…about how great we are. These messages only have value in the shortest of terms, because they sound just like everyone else.

Your competitors are close to home and they’ll talk about great care.

Your competitors have the new technology too…and they’ll talk about being high touch.

Your competitors also bought the US News shield…and they’re slapping it on everything.

Seen any wait time positioning about ER lately? You get the idea.

Beyond not differentiating yourself from your competition, the real fatal flaw here is that hardly anybody believes anything anybody says anymore. That’s a lot of alliteration but stick with me.

People are more savvy and jaded than ever.

Trust in nearly every major bedrock institution in this country is at an all-time low. (If you’re not feeling that last statement, Franklin Street is in the middle of an intensive study on the nature of trust in these crazy times…stay tuned and we just might change your mind.)

Regardless of whether you trust me on the changing nature of trust (hehe…see what I did there?) we still find ourselves stuck in this conundrum.

The anecdote to this game is simply not to play. Let everyone else sound like everyone else.

Sure, at the end of this blog we’ve got a menu of tips and deeper reading to not only help you find better stories but also how to deliver them in a way that people can believe in you. And that’s because rather than telling them how great you are, you are showing them.

But that doesn’t solve our problem. We are still too damn busy to act like a scoop reporter all the time, Mr. Smarty Pants.

The answer is to MAKE stories that matter.

No, I’m not saying to exercise extreme literary licensce and make stuff up.

Let me explain it another way:

What if you started an initiative to get 1000 women to have their first mammogram?

What if you had an ER doctor talk to every high school student in your service area. What if they told these kids about the affects of opioid use they see firsthand?

What if you had your rock star family doctor knock on every door of each newcomer to your small town welcoming them with some healthy muffins, listening to their healthcare needs and even offering some free medical advice (when appropriate)?

When you make stories based on your actions instead of telling tales with your words, trust becomes a real, tangible thing.

The examples above require considerable effort inside your department as well as help from outside of the marketing department but the returns are also long term and very impactful.

You can document some of these in real time using written, visual or auditory mediums. Let’s take our fictional health system Bob’s Health Bazaar.

Bob’s Health Bazaar starts running messaging on multiple channels stating that we are going to get at least 1,000 women to have their first mammogram and for those who are willing (you’ll be shocked how many patients just want to be heard) you’d like to capture their thoughts and stories on audio.

You will uncover patient voices. You will reveal humanity. You will uncover trust.

You’ll have the voices of women explaining why they put that mammogram off for so many years and how relieved they were to find the experience that you gave them was much less scary than their fears.

You’ll listen as women remark on how much your experts taught them about what makes a woman truly high-risk.

You might even be able to follow a brave woman as she faces a biopsy.

Whatever the stories you uncover, you’ll be exposing the true beauty of what happens when people help people. You’ll remind your audience and (yourselves for that matter) of the impact you can have on these ONE THOUSAND moms, daughters, sisters, aunts, grandmothers and the people that love them…all through their own words.

Let your patients do the talking. Those are real words and real stories that everyone can believe. But just like I tell my daughter almost every day, if you really want it, you’ve got to go out there and MAKE it happen.

We are kind of fanatical about storytelling. There’s so many ways to find and enhance them and they are so powerful in health care, it should almost be its own blog. Until then, step into the old dusty Franklin Street library, find a comfortable chair and dig into some of these scribbles on the original (and still champion!) human art: storytelling.

Hey Content Nerds: In Health Care, Story is Still King

Cut Through the Chaos to Find Better Patient Stories

Brand Journalism Techniques

8 Wicked Spells to Conjure Real Moments On Camera

I’m Here to Make You Cry

The Art of Storytelling in Health Care Branding