Empathy in Healthcare Communications

Consider your audience’s perspective

How much of your healthcare marketing content starts with the words “we” or “I”?

If you’re not getting the results you want from the content you create, it may be time to change your perspective. As long as you put the spotlight on your organization and not your audience, you miss the opportunity to demonstrate empathy in your healthcare communications. And empathy is an essential ingredient for effective content marketing, especially when you’re marketing a healthcare service or product.

Start with listening.

As a marketer, it’s your job to know your audience. It can be tempting to use your own experience to make assumptions about their problems and what they need. But cognitive empathy—the ability to understand how another person is feeling and might be thinking—requires both imagination and research. Spend some time finding out what your prospective customers or patients are going through and what critical problems they want solved before you begin providing your solutions. You can use one or more of the following tools to listen in:

  • Conduct qualitative surveys with existing customers. (If possible, set up some informational interviews so you can get feedback firsthand.)
  • Talk to your salespeople about their interactions with your customers (or talk to providers, if you are marketing healthcare services to patients).
  • Read online healthcare forums or use social listening software to learn what questions your audience is asking, what problems they’re having, and what topics are trending.
  • Read case studies, white papers, and industry reports done by marketers in similar businesses.
  • Evaluate what your competition is communicating to their potential customers.

Put your focus on your audience’s story.

You probably have a great story to tell. But telling your story without
establishing context can be as unwelcome as unsolicited advice. Your link to
your audience, whether they are patients, healthcare professionals or
healthcare business executives, is through their frame of reference.

Demonstrate empathy in your healthcare communications by painting a picture of where your audience is now. Confirm what’s important to them, what issues they’re struggling with, and what they want their future to look like. When people feel heard, they become more receptive to whatever solutions you can provide.

Develop an emotional connection.

Harvard professor, Gerald Zaltman, concluded that 95% of the purchase decisions people make take place in their subconscious minds. In other words, these decisions are most often made based on how you make someone feel. If you can help them feel good about you, it’s more likely they will pay attention to the various attributes of your services and/or products.

Consider, for a second, a hawker at a county fair, shouting out all the features of his wares. Being loud doesn’t build him an audience. But if he catches your eye when you’re walking by and says something personal to you or manages to get you to laugh, he increases his chances of getting you to stop and listen (if only for the entertainment value).

So, how do you nurture positive emotions and increase the likelihood your
target market will be receptive to your communications? Consider using one or more
of the following tactics:

  1. Write in the second person.  Use “you” versus “we” or “they” to engage your audience and help them imagine themselves in the scenario you’re presenting.  
  2. Write to the reading level of your audience. Consider that publications like the Economist and New Yorker shoot for a 5th grade level.
  3. Provide a good experience. Respect your audience’s time. Use headlines that can be scanned quickly to provide an overview of your content. (A lot can be communicated in a series of great headings.) Make your website easy to navigate so no one gets frustrated trying to find critical information that is hidden behind clever design. And always offer helpful calls to action that demonstrate your accessibility and encourage your audience to stay engaged.
  4. Share stories: Case studies and stories about real people are a great way to develop an emotional connection. While case studies can be used to demonstrate your achievements, they are most effective when they closely match your audience’s situation and goals.  

Continue the conversation

In the healthcare industry, few decisions are made on impulse. It often
takes multiple interactions before a customer or patient is ready to act. When
you take the time to make an emotional connection, your prospects are more
likely to trust you to meet their needs and reach out for the additional
content you create to move them through the proverbial marketing funnel.

For some great examples of how other healthcare organizations are creating connections with their audiences, download a free copy of my 9 Examples of Empathy in Healthcare Content Marketing.

Photo by Josh Calabrese

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