Think about how many times in your life you’ve heard someone say “Man, I’ve got a good story about that!” Or, when a child asks, “Can you tell me a story?” Telling a really good story is a gift, a strength, a leverage point, a passion—especially in health care.  

In fact, it’s how our brains are hardwired. Psychological research is elaborating on how stories have the ability to change our own perceptions about different scenarios, the way we feel during them and our actual observed behavior.

One research study revealed that a neurochemical called oxytocin is a “safe to approach others” signal; oxytocin is produced when we are trusted or shown a kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others by enhancing a sense of empathy (our ability to experience others’ emotions).

Empathy connects the audiences from different backgrounds and walks of life to unite for roughly 30 minutes by finding one element of the story to get hooked on.

As health care marketers, empathy is literally in our blood. It’s the inspiration behind the next great campaign strategy, the poignant elements of conversations with patients and physicians during our research and the backbone of how we can connect with audiences to elevate a certain message, or challenge certain perspectives.

It’s how we can spark curiosity in others as they begin their own patient journeys.

Here are 5 strategies for becoming a better health care marketer by becoming a better storyteller.

1. Imagery is everything.

Your words should create a sense of authenticity to the story you are telling.

For instance, if a woman is sharing a story of overcoming breast cancer and highlighting the long struggle it took for her to get to a new chapter of life and recounting the journey ahead, I want to feel it in my bones. I want to be able to feel that woman’s blood, sweat, and tears that may have been shed in order to really understand how she is feeling, now that she is cancer free.

I want to be able to take these written words, head over to my Creative Department, and, when they portray what this woman looks like, it will be a mirror image because they, too, know exactly who this woman is, just by reading her story.

2. Spark a sense of deep curiosity.

I will never forget the powerful emotional response I had to a story that was shared by an organization called debra. They featured a boy named Asa who has epidermolysis bullosa (EB), “the worst disease you have never heard of.” (Watch that video. I’m not crying, you’re crying!)

A message so strong and so powerful: “a disease you have never heard of.” I want to know about it. I want to understand what it’s like for children who live with EB. I want to know what causes it. I want to know what researchers are doing to help find a cure. I want to help kids with EB.

3. Motivate your audience to take action on your story.

We’re in the business of changing minds through education, advocacy and creating compelling calls to action. What better business to be in when it comes to a person’s preventive health?

Rather than try and come up with another witty email about “why it’s important to get that colonoscopy,” really try to understand the point of opposition. Why would someone not want to get a colonoscopy. They don’t have the time? Too uncomfortable or embarrassed? Not exactly the most appealing situation to be in? Well, neither is colon cancer.

Many hospitals, health organizations and even physicians are tapping into the power of storytelling to highlight the concept of “I wish I had known then, what I know now.” By sharing relatable scenarios of patients who may have benefited from a really great story to promote that preventive screening, these “influencers” can educate about health risks, as told by someone who wished they connected with this message in the past.

4. Be authentic. Say what you mean.

Fairytales are great for the imagination but real, human-centric stories are good for the soul. Using real, honest, raw, gut-wrenching experiences about past encounters, especially in health care, create a platform for people who may know nothing about a particular condition or person’s experience with it and level the playing field.

Let’s go back to Asa, the child with EB. Chances are, you’ve probably never heard of this condition. But, for parents of children with EB, sharing stories about changing their child’s bandages every day, and the emotional toll it takes both on their child and themselves, is real. The shrieks from pain, the tears, the physical and emotional stress, the financial and opportunity costs are all real. So, when sharing a story with someone who may not know anything about what you’re initially talking about, they [hopefully] will by the end.

5. Change someone’s mind.

According to Penn State College of Medicine researchers, medical students’ attitudes about dementia patients, who, by nature, present a challenging and unique set of circumstances to care for, “improved substantially after students participated in storytelling exercises that made them more sympathetic to their patient’s conditions.”

As a health care strategist, avid storyteller and passionate advocate for children’s health, I’ve witnessed, firsthand, the importance of storytelling in health care.

Health care needs more stories to continuously reinforce the compassionate field which we work in. It needs more stories to spark curiosity in trying to find the next great treatment or cure for patients like Asa. And, health care needs YOU, as a marketer and now, a good storyteller, to tell those stories.

Bonus tip? Use words, visuals and audio to share stories to appeal to the different ways we learn.

How does storytelling show up in your health care marketing strategies?