Creating a healthcare marketing strategy for a taboo topic

By nature, the healthcare industry touches some of the most emotional, personal and complex parts of people’s lives. That includes lots of things no one really wants to talk about–from death and disease to aging and the affordability of care. For marketers, this presents a particular challenge. After all, doesn’t marketing exist to get people talking about a service, product or issue, and then move them toward action? Why should healthcare be any different?

But when you’re dealing with a taboo topic, messaging and marketing are far from straightforward. Though “healthcare” umbrellas a wide range of services, industries and organization types, the health-related topics people don’t want to talk about can be roughly split into three categories: upsetting topics, private topics and complex topics. And almost every healthcare organization struggles with at least one of them. No matter which type you’re dealing with, your mission as a healthcare marketer must be to change the conversation and make a taboo topic into something people actually want to talk about. Let’s take a closer look. When you're dealing with a taboo #healthcare topic, #marketing is far from straightforward. Click To Tweet

Pick your healthcare marketing’s tone

In order for your product or service to cut through people’s hesitance to discuss a given issue, you need to craft healthcare marketing that shifts the way people think about it. That’s not a one-size-fits-all approach: you have a variety of options and need to figure out which one is an effective, long-term solution for your organization.

Healthcare marketing around upsetting topics

The first type of sensitive healthcare marketing is messaging around an issue that can be depressing or dark. Perhaps you offer end-of-life care, or services for people who have recently received difficult diagnoses. Or you’re talking to an audience that hasn’t fully accepted the type of healthcare they need yet.

One approach is to find a way to be a positive voice in a trying time for your audience. After all, if you’re offering a worthwhile health service, it should be something that will ease pain, bring comfort or in some way improve people’s outcomes.

An article written by Chicago Methodist Senior Services' president and published in the Daily Herald. A great example of a healthcare marketing touchpoint that takes a positive approach

An article written by Chicago Methodist Senior Services’ president and published in the Daily Herald. A great example of a healthcare marketing touchpoint that takes a positive approach.

In our work with Chicago Methodist Senior Services (CMSS), we needed to find a way to talk about care and programs for people with memory loss, and do so in a manner that respected both the needs of individuals with memory loss and the needs of their families. We worked together with their leadership team to find a balance in CMSS’ voice and tone. We are honest about the challenges of memory loss, but focused on the therapies and programs that can improve the lives of the people it impacts. This has taken the form of frequent guest pieces for both local media and wide-reaching national outlets, on topics such as “Is Alzheimer’s research really making progress? How patients and caregivers can help” and “How music therapy brings joy to people with memory loss.” 

Could your healthcare marketing team take something from this example and incorporate it into your own approach? #HealthcareMarketing tip: Find a way to be a positive voice in a trying time for your audience Click To Tweet

Healthcare marketing around private topics

Death and serious illness are far from the only sensitive healthcare topics. Every day, people search for help with particularly private needs, such as sexual and mental health, or care addressing other bodily functions that aren’t always considered topics of polite conversation.

A public transportation healthcare marketing ad for boundary-pushing Thinx, which makes underwear for use during your period.

A public transportation ad for boundary-pushing Thinx, which makes underwear for use during your period.

There are a number of ways to approach these topics — just look at the range of marketing approaches for menstrual products. Pad and tampon ads that emphasize the athleticism of their users over the actual function of the product are markedly different from Thinx’s boundary-pushing ads that use humor and directness to promote absorbent underwear.   

What will your healthcare marketing do? Will you position your brand as the one willing to address a taboo topic head-on? Will you invite people to start conversations they’ve avoided in the past? Or will you use coded language and a gentler touch to help hesitant people feel comfortable addressing a sensitive topic? This can’t be a spur-of-the-moment decision — you’ll need to find the tone and approach that you can sustain over the long term. Need some boundary-pushing #healthcaremarketing inspiration? Check out @SHEThinx Click To Tweet

Healthcare marketing around complex topics

There are plenty of healthcare services that are complex enough to lose many people’s interest. Your challenge as a marketer is to make those topics compelling enough to earn and keep your audience’s attention — especially when their health depends on it.

For many people living with chronic health conditions, simply staying on top of the latest research and lifestyle recommendations can be difficult. With so much information out there, it can be hard to tell trustworthy resources from questionable advice. Even reputable research is ever-changing, as new studies are published and old ones called into question. It’s easy to see why someone might throw up their hands and decide there is little they can do to improve their health.

Maybe your healthcare marketing can offer the solution they really need: help deciphering the medical jargon and complexities of their health concerns. This is the role that advocacy and education organizations often play.  

Educational resources like these from the American Diabetes Association can be a valuable healthcare marketing tool.

Educational resources like these from the American Diabetes Association can be a valuable healthcare marketing tool.

The American Diabetes Association is a good example. The organization is looking to drive donations for diabetes research, but they’ve also built robust digital offerings for people with diabetes, from an introduction to the basics to updates on research. The organization also publishes the bimonthly magazine Diabetes Forecast. All of these content offerings are shared on social media and promoted to members. This educational content provides true value to the people who need more reputable information about diabetes, while also raising the organization’s profile to drive donations for research. The @AmDiabetesAssn makes education a central part of their #healthcaremarketing Click To Tweet

Craft a healthcare marketing strategy that builds on your approach

Once you’ve made a strong choice about the direction and tone your healthcare marketing will take, you need to create a strategy to carry this approach throughout all of your messaging. Think about how this brand character will inform each aspect of how your organization appears to the world, from media relations to digital ads to the copy on your website.

In other words, the voice you choose should be the groundwork for an effective, achievable marketing plan, not something that is sporadically applied. If this new tone is a significant departure from how your brand has communicated in the past, you’ll need to consider how to transition your marketing and how much needs to change. Does it make sense to test or ease into your new approach? Are you considering a change so drastic that you may actually be considering a rebrand? What conversations do you need to have with your sales team or other departments before changing direction?

Finding the voice for your healthcare organization is an exciting challenge, and if you think it’s time to take the next step, we’d love to help. Want to learn more about Prosper Strategies’ healthcare marketing services? Contact us today. Finding the voice for your #healthcare organization is an exciting challenge. Click To Tweet


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