Show, Don't Tell:

How to Practice Effective Storytelling in Healthcare Marketing

Posted on April 18, 2019 in Branding

"We are all storytellers. We all live in a network of stories. There isn't a stronger connection between people than storytelling."

-Jimmy Neil Smith, Director of the International Storytelling Center

Human beings are storytellers by nature. Our brains are conditioned to form strong emotional connections through stories. All information was once passed through the generations through stories, and to this day effective stories are more memorable than simple lists of facts.

Successful writers, teachers and professionals all use the art of emotional storytelling to create engagement with their audience. For healthcare practices, this process starts with defining what you want your brand’s “story” to be. If you don’t take control from the beginning by defining your own story, then the market, which is out of your control, will define it for you.

Patient stories are the lifeblood of your brand. They build trust and allow people to begin to form those deeper, emotional connections with your practice. You may have heard that word of mouth recommendations carry the most weight to patients when choosing a healthcare provider. However, a 2017 study showed that 85% of people considered an online testimonial to be just as trustworthy as a personal recommendation.

Third-party validation builds credibility in a way that talking about yourself simply cannot. Keep in mind that your competitors will also be talking about themselves: they offer great care, they use only the latest technology, or they are highly ranked in U.S. News & World Report. It can be tough to differentiate yourself from the competition unless you start to embrace one of the oldest rules in the sales book: show, don’t tell. What about their life was a struggle before they came to you? How did the treatment change how they are able to experience life? How has their life been since the treatment? Illustrate precisely how they would benefit from choosing your practice by telling them a story of how a patient overcame a challenge and how you helped them find the solution.

So what kind of story should you tell and how should you convey it? Any type of testimonial is helpful, but unattributed quotes or comments that sound generic from “Michael S. from Baltimore” are not going to carry as much weight as a specific and compelling story from a real patient, ideally accompanied by a video or at least professional photography. People would rather watch a two-minute video than try to read five to six paragraphs of medical jargon explaining your practice. The more a prospective patient can connect on an emotional level with the testimonial, the more compelling that testimonial is going to be to them. Therefore, you need to present a story to the viewer and give them something to relate to.

The key to effective storytelling is to find stories that are relatable and feel genuine. Just take a look at this fantastic patient story from Anne Arundel Medical Center.

The subject of the video feels like a real person, and in a very short period of time the viewer learns her life situation, the fact that she’s a crossing guard and why that matters to her, her experience with the medical center, her experience with AAMC and how the doctors there were able to approach her issue from a different angle to find a solution and how it’s improved her life now. It’s short, sweet, and much more compelling than just some text saying, “We can relieve knee pain."

Here is another example of excellent storytelling from St. Vincent’s Medical Center.

While this video is a bit longer at about three minutes, it has many of the same characteristics as the previous video – it’s compelling, it moves quickly, and the people feel like real people with real stories. What makes this video even more compelling is the way that it combines multiple patient testimonials with insights from the doctors who work at the hospital. This approach not only creates an emotional connection with other patients, but it also forms the beginnings of a relationship with several of the hospital’s doctors. Through one video, prospective patients get a better sense for how these doctors approach their job, their values and their temperaments.

Whichever medium you choose to tell your story, each story should follow a narrative arc, with a defined beginning, middle, and end.

  • In the beginning, the story’s hero (in our case, the patient) is facing some kind of challenge or impediment to living an enjoyable life. For the audience, this section will evoke feelings of empathy and compassion.
  • In the middle, the conflict or obstacle is revealed (the medical affliction), and the practice should be introduced as a guide that helps the hero through the challenging time. The audience will find themselves rooting for and possibly identifying with the hero.
  • In the end, the hero overcomes the obstacle. The audience, having just taken this emotional journey with the hero, will feel joy for the hero as well as hope that their own obstacles can be overcome in the same way.

Storytelling is a fundamental part of how we communicate as humans. By identifying the stories that reflect your business goals and allow the audience to form an emotional connection with your values, you can build the critical trust that will allow your practice to grow. At Herrmann, we help practices tell the stories that make them unique. Contact Herrmann’s Chief Business Development Officer, John Albert, today at john@herrmann.com to set up a free consultation and learn more about how Herrmann builds healthy brands.