As the tenets of content marketing become widely adopted in healthcare, as in other industries, we are hearing more about storytelling. Story as a branding or marketing technique has reached medicine: Storytelling as a way to engage our audience, our patient community. Storytelling as a way to make our doctors more human, more accessible. My advice for those who work in healthcare branding and marketing: Work with your hospitals and medical practices to help them start story doing. This article is about how to make their story part of the authentic, cogent message for a hospital.
Note that it is crucial that you also listen to your patients’ stories:
If you want to provide ‘real value’ to patients then you will listen to their stories and discover that they care more about being treated with dignity and respect than they do about mortality rates, healthcare reform and policy. Patricia Redsicker, Social Media Manager and Blogger
As we all become more familiar with the device of story as a social media and marketing strategy, we slowly become jaded. We become skeptical as an audience. We become cynical as “target customers” ... We notice that the poignant story showcased on a hospital’s website has little to do with our recent experience as a patient at that hospital. Or we notice that a story, although persuasive and engaging, has little to do with the actual organization: although it may be entirely true, their story seems contrived … unrelated to the hospital’s core culture. And we notice that EVERY hospital claims to be state-of-the-art, or innovative, or the best of … whatever. As you – Chief Marketing Officer, or Director of Communications, or VP of Digital Strategy, or Outside Guru Consultant, or some similar title – begin to think about using storytelling in your content marketing program , consider the core culture of your organization. Make certain that your stories are consistent with your core values. The story that you tell must be consistent with the patient experience! If there is a disconnect, you’ve got troubles. Make certain that you are doing story, not merely telling story. The term is “storyDOing,” a term coined by Co:Collective.
What is Story DOING?
Story DOING is characterized by: (1) Stories that are shared by and cared about by the entire organization; (2) Stories that reflect ambitions beyond mere commercial goals; (3) Stories that drive action throughout the organization; (4) Those actions comprise a cohesive whole.
In other words, Story DOING is the real deal … it is authentic. Story doing results in true, lasting engagement. Story doing results in more social shares; more loyal customers; more annual revenue growth; and more revenue overall. And, in this age of uncertainty in healthcare – ACA, HCR, EMR, ACO, HCAHPS, CGCAHPS, and the entire painful alphabet soup – revenue matters more than ever.
It’s About the Connection
Even more important is the connection with your patient community. And that will be optimized by meeting these 4 criteria above. EVERY Hospital is State-of-the-Art. So What?
So how is YOUR Hospital different? Authentic?
Let’s look at just one example to illustrate the concept of story doing – story that is part of a hospital culture. For this example, we’ll use the ubiquitous notion of “state-of-the-art” that is so common in healthcare.
The way that “state-of-the-art” is used in storytelling is to find one example of something new that our hospital is doing, and to send out a press release, boasting of our innovation. We’re all familiar with this (we may even be guilty of this in our own marketing): We commonly see some notice that a hospital has a newly acquired surgical robot, hyping that they are innovative, and forward-looking. Every hospital claims to be state-of-the-art. Most are merely pretenders. They are merely “story telling.”
In contrast, as just one example, Children’s Hospital of Michigan (CHM)*, has been story doing. Here is their story:
The administration and influencers at this Midwestern Children’s Hospital – the “inner circle” that runs the hospital – strongly believed in the power of using technology to optimize the care of their pediatric patients. Nearly two decades ago, they began integrating this belief into their behavior, into the hospital culture. They were story doing:
They recognized that many medication errors are made when transcribing the doctor’s written orders at the pharmacy, and again back at the bedside when the nurses are allocating the medications to patients. Their solution: eliminate several steps by installing a pharmacy robot that uses bar-codes instead of written orders, and a robotic arm to select and dispense medications.
The surgeons at CHM were early innovators in robotic surgery, but they didn’t merely acquire a surgical robot. No, they were doing: they remodeled an entire OR-suite to accommodate a surgical robot and installed voice-activated controls for the surgeons to easily control the environment; they built a laboratory and training facility that housed another surgical robot used for advanced training of special surgical fellows; and they installed another surgical robot over-seas to help perfect robotic tele-surgery. In 2002, Children’s Hospital of Michigan performed the nation’s first advanced computer-assisted robot-enhanced surgical procedure at a children’s hospital.
These initiatives were successful at CHM because the stories were shared and cared about by the entire organization, and often by their surrounding community: They celebrated some firsts; They shared the ambition to be among the best children’s hospitals. Their ambitions went beyond mere revenue: they aspired to care for your children like they would their own. This resonated. And this drove action throughout the organization. The sum of all their stories built a cohesive whole.
That’s Story DOING.
And, this was reflected in the success of their content marketing and their branding message: From 2000-2010, the message from CHM was “we provide state-of-the-art care for children; we care for your children as we would our own!” Story DOING in action.
As a result, this small Midwestern children’s hospital is routinely listed among the nation’s best children’s hospitals, despite their location in the heart of the worst economy in the country – Detroit – ground zero of the economic melt-down. The lesson: it’s not enough to say that you are (fill in the blank with your differentiator here). No, you must live it. You must DO it. That’s Story Doing. It’s time to move beyond mere story telling. Start story doing!
What’s YOUR Story?
What about YOU? YOUR Hospital? What’s YOUR Story?
Please leave a comment and let me know.
More examples of best practices in healthcare story doing:
Awesome Book, Authored by Ty Montague: True Story: How to Combine Story and Action to Transform Your Business (Amazon)
From Harvard Business Review: Good Companies are Story Tellers; Great Companies are Story Doers.
Of course, the device of story should be a two-way road to discovery!
For a beautifully written article on the use of story to help capture insights into a patient’s medical history, read Sarah Kearson’s post at HealthLeaders Media: Storytelling in Healthcare Enhances Experience for Patients and Providers.
* Disclaimer: I have no financial or other relationship with Children’s Hospital of Michigan; merely that I have great respect for those practitioners and administrators at CHM who have dedicated their lives to the care of sick children … to care for your child as they would care for their own.
Similarly, I have no financial or other relationship with the Cleveland Clinic, St. Jude Children’s, Boston Children’s, or storydoing.com