Imagine you’re a man in your 60s driving down the highway. You see a billboard that reads “heart disease remains the leading killer of adults over age 65 – visit your doctor today.” Later at home, you read a success story on social media about someone your age who worked with his cardiologist to lower his cholesterol so he could throw a ball with his grandson again. Which message is more motivating?
One of the greatest challenges in healthcare marketing is communicating what you do vs. why you do it. Too often, the focus is on stats and outcomes rather than the human element – the empathy that the story brings. That’s the why.
The most dramatic and compelling stories in healthcare are all about saving lives and drastically improving health. In a way, isn’t that the story that every healthcare-related organization wants to share?
After all, if your organization provides case management software or surgical tools or even the maintenance for ambulances, aren’t you part of this story too?
Yes, but that leads to yet another, more complicated problem: if every healthcare-related organization is working to save lives and improve health, can they all really tell the same story and stand out?
No. The whole point of sharing your story is to stand apart from your competitors in the minds of your most important audiences. And if everyone is sharing the same story, your audiences are simply overwhelmed and will eventually tune out.
In two decades of working with providers of complex healthcare services, we’ve learned that the most important asset any organization owns is what we call its Capital S Story. This story stands above all the others a provider, insurer, medical device maker or pharma manufacturer might share because it answers these fundamental questions: Why should somebody buy from you, work for you, invest in you or partner with you?
Our firm successfully helps clients stand out from competitors with an approach based upon decades of storytelling experience in journalism, PR and marketing, plus key insights from biology, psychology and sociology (yes, there’s science to what we do too!).
Your brain on Story
Our brains are hardwired for storytelling and research proves it. As the original communication medium, storytelling requires no batteries and no Internet – just a brain and an imagination. Today’s tools, including social media, are great enhancements to storytelling, but they do not define it or replace it.
More importantly, today’s tools have created a level of digital clutter that leaves your most important audiences overwhelmed and hungering for unique, compelling and memorable storytelling. The brains of those you most want to reach were not born in 2004, like Facebook, or 2010, like Instagram. They evolved over eons and, thus, the wiring that creates attention, comprehension and action are driven by something more elemental than the latest, greatest marketing tool.
Our brains are driven by story, a statement that is now a scientific fact demonstrated in repeated studies. As one example, a 2021 study by the Center for Neuroscience at the University of California, Davis, shows that the hippocampus is the brain’s storyteller, connecting separate, distant events into a single narrative. Without this critical storytelling function, the researchers found it’s difficult for people to remember how one event relates to another, or why it’s important.
When the first person who figured out how to start a fire on purpose taught the second person how to start a fire on purpose, they probably told a story. And so should you if you want to reach your most important audiences and compel them to engage with you.
As I pointed out earlier, you should be sharing a very specific story – yours. Not your competitor’s, not a variation of your competitor’s and certainly not the same story everyone else is sharing.
Shortcuts to understanding
We’ve learned that the Capital S Story describes the very character and nature of the organization. So by its very definition, that story is unique. We’ve also learned that to bring that story to life, audiences subconsciously seek what we call “synaptic shortcuts.”
These might be better understood as archetypal stories. For example, if you join a new healthcare organization and you’re sharing that with a friend, you could mindlessly drill through the features and benefits of what the organization does or you could tell your friend that your new employer is “a David and Goliath story,” taking on the established powers in your area of specialty.
You do not need to be a Biblical scholar to know that David and Goliath is the underdog story, one of the most memorable and easily understood archetypal stories of all.
In our work with healthcare organizations, we comb through the hundreds of potential variations of the 12 major families of archetypal stories (see illustration) to define the character and nature of our client’s organization. Then we align their archetypal story with the specifics of their organization to compose their Capital S Story.
It’s the combination of archetypal stories that our pre-Internet human brains understand almost instinctively and the specifics of your organization that form your unique, compelling and memorable Capital S Story.
The cure for marketing woes
While so much of healthcare today is driven by exciting discoveries and opportunities for the future, so much of healthcare marketing is driven by repetition and duplication that makes it that much harder to stand apart from competitors.
Time and again, we see organizations struggling to predict or sustain their growth because they are unable to articulate their Capital S Story. The frustration that comes from being stuck or unable to predict growth is a complication that no healthcare-related organization needs in today’s challenging environment.
How do you begin to uncover your Capital S Story? Start by developing answers to these fundamental questions: Why someone would buy from you, work for you, invest in you or partner with you.
Developing the unique, compelling and memorable story that drives your organization’s results is a worthwhile endeavor for your organization, your employees, your investors and your partners. After all, how can we all save lives and dramatically improve human health if no one understands the value of what we do?
Paul Furiga is president and chief storyteller at WordWrite. A former journalist, he wrote and edited more than 20,000 stories over a two-decade career before applying his experience to PR and marketing. His book on the topic is ‘Finding Your Capital S Story, Why your Story Drives your Brand.’
WordWrite is an award-winning storytelling agency in Pittsburgh. WordWrite helps providers of complex healthcare services uncover, develop and share their Capital S Story, the most important marketing tool they own, to reveal why someone would buy from them, work for them, invest in them or partner with them.