3 reasons storytelling is essential in health care marketing

Yes, industry rules can restrict you, but there are ways to humanize the care your hospital or practice offers, and personal outreach is as important as bedside manner.

Some 10 years ago, I opened a meeting with a prospective client by posing a question. It brought such an interesting result that I now use it to start almost all my new business meetings.

“So, what’s your story?”

People’s responses are generally interesting and attention-grabbing, and there’s good reason for that. Humans naturally crave stories; we have an insatiable thirst for narratives. Without the handles of a clear and relatable story to grab, we tend to shy away from connecting with whoever or whatever is vying for our attention.

Once I made this realization, I began to notice companies from nearly every sector were applying this principle to their websites in a number of fun ways. They were guiding readers through stories and delivering stronger, more effective messages.

However, I also detected that the health care industry was shying away from this tactic. Health care is brimming with inspiring stories, so why aren’t communicators sharing them?

Rules and regulations

Health care storytelling is slowed by two significant challenges: complexity and regulations.

Not only can some health-related concepts be difficult to present in layman’s terms, but there are also policies, mandates and HIPAA restrictions that limit word choice and presentation. It isn’t easy to make complicated concepts fun—especially when there are rules pertaining to how they can be disseminated.When marketers have faced these challenges, many settled not on simplicity but on generic content. It’s time to make your website engaging and accurate, exciting and compliant.

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Here are three reasons to tell your story:

  1. We need stories. Humans have a biological need for stories. They help us find our place in the world and feel connected. Smart marketers use stories consistently to build rapport with people and keep them coming back for more.
  2. We need the simplicity of stories. We learn early that all stories possess three main elements: a beginning, a middle and an end. Looking deeper, stories pose a problem, have characters who incite interest or concern, and provide a resolution. Health care mirrors this and is packed with valuable stories on many different levels. Get creative, and share these gems.
  3. We need people to be engaged through our stories. Good stories build strong connections that motivate people to take action. Grab your audience with a great story, and they’ll probably buy in. Note how Cushing’s Connection crafts its stories, and follow its lead.

To create an engaging story, the first step is to identify your ideal audience. A one-size-fits-all approach to storytelling doesn’t work. For example, millennials and Baby Boomers have completely different interests, issues, consumption habits and vocabularies.

Once you home in on your audience, ask them to participate. A common storytelling mistake is urging your audience to follow along rather than join in. When people become immersed in your story, you’ve achieved a valuable connection and have opened the door to a deep, long-term relationship.

Effective stories create this bond by focusing on conflict resolution. Your audience is shopping for health care services or products because they’re addressing an issue or challenge. When you hit the conflict pressure points early, you’ll create more interest and drive curiosity about the solutions you offer.

In addition, you must deliver your story with the proper cadence. People like to find patterns at their own pace. Strike a balance that doesn’t rush your audience through your story nor leave them with too many uncertainties.

No skimping allowed

Have health care marketers been lax in their storytelling efforts because it’s difficult and takes time, effort and limitless creative energy? Maybe, but storytelling is not impossible.

Creating a short, clear and relatable story will help people see why your product or service is the best. In return, they’ll be more apt to take action. If your website is a venue to dump mountains of complicated jargon that overwhelms and confuses potential customers, it’s time to look at storytelling.

Todd Wolfenbarger has more than 25 years of senior marketing experience with Fortune 50 companies. He is president and partner of The Summit Group . A version of this post was published on the company website.

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