Commentary

Empathy: Increase Success Rate In Communications

There’s an incredibly powerful video that has been circulating socially over the past year or so created by Cleveland Clinic, called “Empathy: The Human Connection To Patient Care.” It provides a moving reminder not to assume that we know what patients and other people are going through. As I observe and discuss with others the rapidly changing healthcare market, it seems to me that many organizations often make that same mistaken assumption as communicators. We assume what our target audiences understand our healthcare brands.

Don’t get me wrong; this is not an indictment against healthcare marketers. The people charged with managing communications programs within healthcare organizations are typically exceptionally bright, energetic, well educated, socially sophisticated and well intentioned. Why is it, then, that the communications coming from so many recognized brands fail to effectively engage and inform their target audiences? Some would say marketing spending needs to be increased to break through. More so than spend levels, I believe it may be because the communications themselves are being pushed to do too much too fast.

The pressures on healthcare marketing communications managers are immense. Pressure to drive enrollment and profitable growth. Pressure to use industry-accepted language and not be too far out of the norm. Pressure to portray physicians in a highly respected manner (deservedly so), which too often translates into traditional situations and seen-before behaviors.

There’s pressure to keep pace with the rapidly changing list of key initiatives management is focused on. Pressure to out-perform a cross-town (or cross-country) competitor. Pressure to build the brand and, at the same time, communicate all the extraneous messages that Board members, donors and other stakeholders are suddenly enamored with. Pressure to demonstrate ROI. Pressure to do more, more, more.

The problem is, “more” is the antithesis of efficacy in marketing communication, especially in a category with as many moving parts as healthcare. Consumers just can’t keep up.

Here are three touchstone suggestions should you happen to be feeling the pressure of constant change and doing more in your communications:

1. Remember, the role of communications is to streamline and simplify core ideas we need to get across. Successful messaging requires a long term, focused roadmap and commitment to stay the course. When pushed, don’t change the aperture -- have the courage to say no. If not, it will be a slow, painful, professional death by a million inquiries into why the metrics haven’t moved enough each quarter.

2. Next, take a look at your message cadence and remember that people need to see and hear things more times than you might think to really understand it. Millward Brown, a leading global market research firm specializing in communications, estimates it takes an average of six to nine exposures for a target audience to truly understand and internalize a message. If you’ve got a highly constrained budget (as many marketers do), think about cutting back your message breadth and increase frequency.

3. Finally (and back to the video where I started), take the right steps to ensure you’re looking at your brand and communications through your potential customer’s eyes — someone who doesn’t create messaging for a living, isn’t talking healthcare 12 hours a day, and doesn’t have the brand’s ads playing on a repetitive loop on a monitor nearby. A variety of research methodologies can be of help here. Be open to listening to others, even if they don’t get it. Or can’t keep track. Or find it irrelevant. Those comments are gifts, not threats. They may simply be telling you that you’re communications are moving too fast. 

Having empathy for your target audience and being a good listener takes practice and patience. But, the advice your target provides might just help you remain employed and get your next promotion, by helping you be clearer. And it will help ensure we’re increasing our success rate in educating people on the value of health systems, health insurance, healthcare overall, and living healthy a life.

1 comment about "Empathy: Increase Success Rate In Communications ".
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  1. R.J. Lewis from e-Healthcare Solutions, LLC, June 15, 2014 at 5:20 p.m.

    Great piece Dave. Thanks for sharing!

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