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How to tell healthcare stories and why you should

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

When it comes to healthcare stories in your marketing, the best ones win the hearts and minds of your audience. And in 2021, authentic marketing is the trend.

But when authenticity is the marketing buzz word, where does that leave clinicians whose profession is built upon boundaries and confidentiality?

The simple answer is it depends.

In 2021 the boundaries between work and home life are blurred in a way that’s not likely to ever change back. Even for therapists and physicians, telehealth visits mean that patients might be viewing you providers in you home environment.

The fact that we all have a life outside of work is no longer something we hide, and for most of us, this is a relief.

Plus, last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests further raised widespread demand for authenticity from even small business owners. Clients and patients expect transparency and authenticity from the brands they buy and even the healthcare practices and facilities they use.

Why healthcare stories matter

We are a culture of storytellers. Anthropologists explain that storytelling goes back to our hunter gatherer days when sitting around a fire listening to a captivating storyteller literally kept us alive. “Stories told by firelight put listeners on the same emotional wavelength, elicited understanding, trust, and sympathy, and built positive reputations for qualities like humor, congeniality, and innovation,” according to University of Utah anthropology professor Polly Wiessner.

What kept us connected then is still what attracts us to others now. A good story from a clinician or facility goes a long way to reach clients and patients, especially as digital media gets more crowded every day. The brands that are winning at marketing are no longer necessarily the ones with the biggest coffers. They’re the businesses telling the most authentic, compelling story about what they do. They’re telling healthcare stories that stick.

Allison at Abundance Practice Building shares stories all the time about what her life was like working for agencies and then transitioning to private practice. Her audience can see themselves in her journey.

Others have gone even farther in sharing personal stories on social media. Therapists, who are cautioned in training and by state licensing agencies, are typically very careful about self disclosure. And like all healthcare, focusing on the client or patient instead of yourself is the whole point. Young therapists, especially, who have grown up as digital natives are pushing this boundary.

Therapist Tiffany Roe, whose made it part of her online mission to make mental health shame free, shared the following Instagram Reel with her 121K followers. She was reported to her state licensure for disclosing this, which prompted other therapists to react by making their own similar Reels.

These businesses understand that we use social media to connect with others and to be entertained. If you consistently offer a clear, concise and memorable message about your product or service, and then you package that in a good story, you’ll stand out in a crowded online marketplace where everyone else is also screaming for attention.

And while most clinicians aren’t ready for this level of disclosure or risk, stories can still be powerful without be so personal.

Stories should be more universal than personal

The kind of story that works in marketing is one that your audience can relate to as well. The story is yours, but it is about your audience. This should come as a relief to clinicians concerned about privacy and sharing too much information with your audience.

A powerful story doesn’t have to be life changing to matter. A moment in time that stands out as funny, unusual, colorful, challenging or made you think is fodder for a a good story. The point is that the story has to lead the listener to a message that will resonate.

Dr. Lucy McBride mastered this throughout the pandemic, on her mission to spread facts not fear about COVID-19. She’s posted consistent Instagram posts, sent weekly newsletters and is getting published in major news publications every week. She won hearts and minds by being so relatable. She shares the fact and then also about what it’s like for her own family.

4 kinds of stories clinicians should tell in your healthcare marketing

I like to think of marketing stories for clinicians in four categories. The first two are about the personality parts of you that you bring to your work. The second two are about the professional stories that set you apart. Both categories matter when it comes to attracting your audience.

Why: These are stories of why you do this work. For some this might be your purpose with a capital “P.” Maybe there’s one big thing that makes you get up each day and pursue the work you do. This is you if you had an incident where you or your loved one were sick or struggled and you knew then you’d grow up to work to heal others.

If you don’t have that one big story that drives you, that’s okay too. You might have smaller stories that add up to your purpose. A teacher who sparked your interest in the field or a child who looks up to you for what you do. Sometimes the telling of these “smaller” stories will even lead you to the one big purpose story.

What: These are stories of what you bring to your work that’s uniquely you. I like to think of these as personality stories. People are attracted to people they like, and healthcare is no exception. These are the stories that make you likable. This could be bigger identity traits like your race, gender, religion or even that you’re a working mom. Or it can be your interests that make up your personality like running, cooking or gardening.

Training and expertise certainly matter, but most people prefer a clinician they simply like and relate to.

Dr. Phil Boucher does a great job of giving pediatric and parenting advice while showing he is also in the weeds of parenting.

How: These are the stories of how you do this work. What sets you apart from every other clinician in your area? These are the stories of what you struggled through to learn in your field, the research you did or are doing. How you developed your framework or approach to helping patients to clients. The way you think about the your work that’s different than others in your field.

For what purpose: These are the stories that explain where you are going. To what end is it all for? These are the stories of the results you achieve. Depending on your field, you may or may not be able to share specific stories. A pediatrician, physical therapist or dentist can certainly share specific stories and even photos or videos of results (with a signed HIPAA compliant form).

A mental health therapist surely can’t share specific results, but you can share stories about what’s the meaning of your work. You can also share general stories. For example, you could illustrate how you help people with anxiety or sleep disorders in general.

You can also share so many details about what your ideal client is likely going through that it becomes clear you’ve seen this scene play out numerous times before. Once you describe the situation and how you help, your target client will feel seen.

How to come up with story ideas for your healthcare marketing

Think of your life in chunks of five or 10 years. Write down everything you can remember in that time. If it’s something you’re willing to share, see if you can tie a message about how you help or something your audience needs to hear around that story.

I also recommend thinking of every challenge or objection your target audience faces. Identify a time that you faced that challenge and how you overcame it. Identify how you helped others overcome those challenges or objections. This can include your patients or your friends or family.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to generate stories that work for healthcare

  1. Was there a moment when everything changed? (Connect that to how you can change something for your audience)

  2. What was some important lessons I learned and when was the moment I learned it? (Connect that to how you help your audience learn or practice this lesson)

  3. What was something important you accomplished and what did it take to do it? (Connect that to how you help your audience get there)

  4. What was something you hard you still managed to learn and what was that like for you? (Connect that to how it helps you show empathy)

  5. What was something really special for you as a kid and why? (Connect that to a way you make an experience working with you more pleasant)

  6. When was a time when you didn’t have the right tools you needed? (Connect that to how you ensure your audience does have the tools they need)

  7. When was a time someone went out of their way to help you? (Connect that to how you help others)

  8. When did you feel most proud to be doing this work? (Connect to how you are grateful to your audience)

  9. When did you feel you were meant to do this? (Connect to how you help others)

How to share stories so they resonate

Once you have a story, it’s important that you describe the moment in time so that your audience can picture the scene. Share small details like the name of the teacher, the car model or the breed of the dog you found. Then, tie the end of the story to an important message for your audience. You can usually find a few messages that work for each story so that you can reuse the story.

Here’s a framework for how to tell a story:

  1. Open with something to draw your reader or listener in. On social media, you only have a line or two to draw your reader in, so use an opening like…Has this ever happened to you? Can you relate to this? Imagine this: and then set the scene. On an email or on your website, you have more wiggle room to start a story out with an opening that paints a more detailed picture.

  2. Next share the actual story. You can change details for privacy, but share a few actual details so your audience can visualize your story.

  3. Tie your story to a message. For example, the message can be that they’re not alone. Or that their objection doesn’t have to be a stumbling block.

  4. End with a call to action. If the story is more sensitive, this might not be “Leave me a 🙌 if you relate to this” (although it could!). In this case, you can encourage people to go to something on your website. Or “double tap” to like it. But if your story is more benign about a frustration in traffic or spilling coffee, then you can ask people to respond if this has happened to them.

When NOT to share a story

What you’re willing to share in a story will vary depending on your personal preferences, you position and even your state. But some general principles do apply to sharing personal stories. Following are a few questions to ask before sharing a story. You should also practice it a few times before sharing it. If you ask yourself these questions, and you’re still not sure if you should share it, then wait. Ask a mentor or colleague what they think.

  1. Do you still feel raw from this story?

  2. How will you feel if your ideal client hears the story? How about a stranger? How about a family member or friend?

  3. Will your audience relate to it?

  4. Is your message something your audience needs to hear?

  5. Did you change all the necessary details to protect your privacy or others’?

The more you tell stories, the easier this gets. You’ll hone your skills as you continually draw your audience in.

📧 Want to gather stories but don’t have the time? That’s what we do. Let’s talk!

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