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Disrupting Healthcare Marketing One Story at a Time


Brand Insights - Thought Leadership | Paid Program

Our approach to promoting health and wellness communications has come a long way from articulating features and benefits. Not that such information is unimportant, but rather because there’s a better way to connect and engage customers: disruptive storytelling. It’s storytelling because it harkens back to how we learned about the world as children, with images and words that spun endearing and enduring narratives in a humanized way. It’s disruptive because it takes familiar content and transforms it into something intriguing, so that you sit up and pay greater attention. Let’s get into some of the tenets that make disruptive storytelling so impactful.

Master the elements

Let’s face it: we work in a very complex field, with data, regulations, multiple stakeholders, and the many details of vital care. People tend to believe that complicated narratives must be smarter. Ironically, the art of storytelling begins with keeping things simple. People consume content in digestible bites that are easy to process. And the more complex the ideas, the simpler the story should be. It’s the equivalent of lowering your voice to compel closer attention.

Make it human. Scientific rigor—while critically important to our customers—can often make for a cold, detached presentation. We must challenge ourselves to find the humanity in the numbers and graphs. We must re-imagine the role of science so that it echoes the back and forth of two people having a dialogue over a cup of coffee.

Use recognizable characters that are true to life. Despite efforts to go beyond the trite and expected, happy characters still populate the health and wellness canon. We understand. Communications should be aspirational and optimistic. However, such thinking should not be at the expense of credibility and relevancy. Nowhere in the fair balance information does one see the phrase, may cause dancing. Show people to whom the audience can relate. Put a blemish on them. Invite customers to immerse themselves in the story, and live in the minds of our very real protagonists.

Have a co-author. Too often when we put keyboard and stylus to work, we are pushing out information from a third-person perspective. Disruption occurs when the audience understands the story from the inside out—a ghost-writing of sorts, where we are showing, not telling.

Getting to the heart of the matter

Like any classic narrative, there are four points along the story continuum: problem, tension, lesson, and resolution. A great example is seen in Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA), a condition that’s characterized by episodes of sudden uncontrollable and inappropriate laughing or crying due to certain neurologic diseases or injury. Features and benefits of medical solutions don’t begin to scratch the surface of the patient experience. Focusing on a collection of symptoms, while essential to diagnosis, must accompany a more robust story about this surreal condition. HCPs are not treating patients; they’re treating people. So, who are these people? They are struggling souls who cry at birthday parties, and unsympathetic characters who may find themselves giddy in the face of tragedy. A PBA awareness campaign features the actor, Danny Glover, alternately laughing and crying on camera. While he legitimately has PBA, and his status as a celebrity would help spread the word about this condition, the question arises: do patients see a reflection of themselves in a movie star? And if not, how can we be expected to understand their journey? The maker of the only approved prescription for PBA opted for a different approach, one that showed patients trapped by their minds betraying their bodies. They dare to dramatize the problem and disrupt our perception by narrating from the inside out. The lesson learned by HCPs is to look beyond typical depression and understand how to empathize. Then they enter the story as bona fide characters themselves.

When you think about it, there never is just one story that captures the rich drama of human care. Think of it as a series one might stream as we step into the lives of people we grow to know and even cherish, episode by episode. And if we do our jobs correctly, with an eye toward disrupting antique notions about health and wellness, maybe we can create something bingeworthy.