Building a storytelling foundation in the healthcare space

In 2014, I was asked to read Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, published in 2007. In digital marketing terms, seven years is an eternity and I immediately dismissed it as dated. Useless. History.

Reluctantly, I read the book. And I was changed forever.

In the book, the authors discuss the six principles of the authors’ “SUCCESs” mnemonic: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and Stories. Each of these principles is designed to help people make their ideas more powerful, relatable, memorable and, ultimately, incite a desired action. For me, the principles all ladder up to the last one – stories – and are building blocks for telling stories that stick.

In the health field, stories have long been a part of how we communicate.

In sales, we use case studies. These stories simplify concepts and use data and outcomes to build credibility with healthcare professionals.

In marketing, we share emotional, unexpected stories of patient outcomes, breakthrough medications and restored hope for caregivers and loved ones.

In communications, we use concrete examples to help the public make associations, sometimes shocking them so that our ideas are stored in multiple memory centers of the brain.

Storytelling is particularly important in the healthcare space. We have two clear audiences – professionals (HCPs, PAs, NPs, etc.) and consumers (patients, caregivers, loved ones) – in search of different (but related) types of stories.

According to a recent MMS study, the most powerful factors for referral are the reputation of a doctor (41%), clinical outcomes (27%) and the reputation of a hospital (23%). In the same study, when doctors were asked what kind of marketing they most wanted to see, their overwhelming response (71%) was “clinical advances.” Clinical trials and research were also important, likely because they make treatments available to patients sooner, and because they can lead to clinical advances.

With that information, hospitals should use storytelling to raise the profiles of their best doctors and their hospital by focusing specifically on clinical advancements. Professional social platforms like Doximity and Sermo are two targeted solutions for getting case studies in front of your professional audience, helping them associate positive clinical outcomes with your hospital and staff.

In the consumer world, stories are also powerful influencers of perception. Patients and caregivers are increasingly savvy and digitally inclined, tirelessly consuming information and content to make the most informed decisions. While location and wait times are important, Healthgrades reports that older and higher income patients are “most likely to prioritize patient satisfaction ratings over convenience when they have a serious health issue.” Brookings, Becker’s and AARP all agree that consumers should and will do their research.

Knowing that patients are relying heavily on physician reviews, a great consumer story foundation will start with enlisting your happy customers. Reviews are essentially stories – testimonials of positive outcomes that will build trust with would-be clients. Video and social content is another way to share stories about cases in which the hospital provided a patient and family hope when all was lost. Of note, the factor named least important in the survey was having the “latest technology,” reinforcing the powerful emotional connection people have to each other’s recommendations.

When you decide to weave storytelling into your sales and marketing efforts, consider starting with an audit of the basics we’ve presented here. How do your online patient reviews fare? Can you do more to raise the profile and reputations of your physicians?

By focusing on the “SUCCESs” principles of storytelling and focusing on the types of stories that most influence your professional and consumer clients, you’ll be able to make a more-than-basic impact.