Few industries are as complex today as healthcare. The pace of disruption is unrelenting as new entrants, new discoveries, and new technologies are emerging nearly every day. Category leaders are being challenged to deliver patient-first, systemic change; start-ups are striving to fill gaps in the healthcare ecosystem; patients are looking for experiences that make them feel seen, heard, and valued. Underscoring all of this is the reality of inequities that can no longer be ignored. Amid this turmoil and opportunity, healthcare is faced with a new set of imperatives—ones that build on learnings from the Covid-19 pandemic and carry forward more human-centered, equity-based imperatives. For marketers, it is no longer enough to believe the work starts and ends with acquiring a patient at the lowest CPA. We have a part to play in devising holistic strategies that support our organizations and the imperatives they are trying to address.
Reimagining marketing strategy to better align on organizational structure
Delivering for the patient or the healthcare consumer means understanding the barriers and key stakeholders that are keeping your CEO/president up at night. Ask yourself if your organization’s marketing strategies are truly oriented toward addressing those concerns.
According to a recent survey by the American College of Healthcare Executives, for hospital presidents/CEOs, workforce challenges have moved to the top of the list, with financial challenges close behind. While access to care and patient satisfaction remain important, these data points reinforce that the patient as a marketing focus is not sufficient. Whether you lead a hospital system or sit somewhere else in the healthcare ecosystem, your marketing strategy needs to move past the consumer/patient focus of most marketing strategies today.
Using a narrative marketing framework as your baseline
Addressing this complexity requires a new framework that can position marketing to have broader impact. Looking at the foundational thinking of Nobel Prize–winning economist Robert Shiller and his theory of narrative economics and pairing it with the AI-powered consumer and market intelligence platforms provides a new way to process this complexity into an actionable framework. We now have access to best-in-class AI tools that can process billions of pieces of indexed content across all forms of structured and unstructured data on the web and offer us insights into how to create and manage narratives that will result in impact for our organizations.
How to actually get started with narratives
Delivering for the patient or the healthcare consumer requires two steps: understanding the macro-barriers to delivering on the organizational strategy, and identifying the key stakeholders you need to influence as a starting point. These may appear to be well documented, but the process of clarifying through stakeholder interviews and research often leads to important discussions around prioritization. Using traditional research methods can offer a view of how your organization is set up to succeed against competitors, but employing insights available through AI-enabled platforms gives organizations unprecedented data inputs that can lead to clear mapping of the narratives you need to own or change in the market.
In addition, these platforms offer new ways to lay the groundwork for measuring the impact of a narrative marketing strategy on your organization. AI can index company narratives relative to strategy, opportunities, and threats, and create benchmarks to watch over time related to sentiment, intensity, and impressions. Ultimately these can be tied back to ROI and stakeholder value that move past typical marketing performance metrics or traditional brand metrics.
Leverage narratives to target specific audiences
Once your narratives are identified and prioritized, you can begin to build strategies that target specific audiences or behaviors. Leveraging AI allows organizations to identify mission-critical conversations and shape narratives. Using paid, earned, and owned channels, you can then co-opt and own critical discussions and relationships, driving engagement, influence, and outcomes. AI platforms can evaluate how your organization and your peers are discussed in news, blogs, forums, and social and owned channels. It can show you which channels are driving volume, sources of influence, domains, professionals, and individuals discussing the disease or their personal experience. It can analyze trends, brands, behavior, sentiment, and more with the goal of helping to inform marketing strategies, creative executions, and communications that will resonate with each audience and be amplified most effectively.
Typically, we find organizations can identify a handful of core narratives that can then be supported across an integrated plan. For example, for an association one narrative may be around issues of equity for a disease or condition. By using a narrative framework, it is possible to connect that narrative across regulators to drive policy change, the press to drive attention, donors to rouse support, and people living with the disease or condition to impact behavior change. How narrative strategies are mapped and employed will vary, but the need to connect across channels is critical to success. If your marketing, social, and communications teams are not connected and working from the same set of narrative maps, important potential impact can go unrealized.
Creating new possibilities and a path forward
This kind of connected planning is hard to achieve, but that difficulty opens a door for those organizations that succeed; there is a huge competitive advantage awaiting you. Smart CEOs and CMOs who can embrace the complexity and solve it with a narrative marketing framework are the ones who will drive results—for their organizations and the healthcare consumer.
Photo: Dilok Klaisataporn, Getty Images