Healthcare Marketing And The Black Community: Meet Us Where We Are

It’s no secret that Black Americans have a historical distrust of the medical and healthcare industry. 

According to the American Cancer Society, “Black people have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial/ethnic group for most cancers in the U.S… about a third of African-American women reported experiencing racial discrimination at a health provider visit.” 

The organization reports that prostate cancer death rates in Black men are more than double those of every other racial/ethnic group, and Black women are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women and are twice as likely to die if they are over 50.  These are just a few therapeutic areas in which Black men and women over-index in outcomes that result in death or other debilitating effects.   



Do these data points suggest a population that is trustful and well cared for by the healthcare system? Obviously not. 

People of all backgrounds, if they are poor, tend to have sub-optimal healthcare outcomes, because they have sub-optimal access to quality care. That socioeconomic status is linked to lower-quality treatment compared to patients with good insurance, education, and well-paying jobs. Proximity to care, employment, insurance, housing, language barriers, and other socio-cultural factors also serve as barriers to treatment. 

In the wake of 2020, protests surrounding the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and an overall reckoning in our industry about how to show up in order to break down systematic barriers, we are long overdue to evaluate the role marketers play in addressing inequalities that Black Americans face when it comes to interacting with health care systems. 

Pharma and healthcare brands can and should be leading the way. But how do we effectively market care to a community that historically and structurally has been left behind?   

First, acknowledge that structural racism in healthcare exists. Denial will get us nowhere. And, we must understand that there exists no one-size-fits-all approach to building trust between healthcare providers and Black Americans. 

Second, partner with experts who can go beyond aggregating data to drive insights and instead supplement them to understand the cultural dynamics and nuances of Black patients’ experiences with healthcare in the present day. Cultural insights cannot always be packaged up into hard data, but they can develop a brand’s cultural aptitude.

Get hyper-local and place paid healthcare advocates as ombudsmen on-site at hospitals, doctors' offices, and insurance companies to help patients and their families navigate the bureaucracy and terminology they need to make informed decisions about their care.  

Tap into local organizations, community groups, and faith-based organizations to try and gain credibility from trusted voices and key opinion leaders. Culturally, it’s common to focus not just on the message, but the messenger. We need people who are trusted to communicate life-saving and critical information about their health. Black people want to have a conversation. They don’t want to be talked at but talked with.  

Take for example, our work with Pro Football Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe for Janssen Pharmaceutical’s “Talk that Talk,” campaign, a movement and call to action to help change the story of Black men and prostate cancer (the second leading cause of cancer death for Black men) by driving awareness and inspiring screening for early detection. Paramount to the success of the campaign was staying true to the authentic portrayal of the Black experience by achieving cultural relevance through utilizing key community leaders like Shannon Sharpe. 

Healthcare companies would also do well to familiarize themselves with the language of underserved populations and work with partners who speak and understand it. Understand the nuances in how we communicate with each other, generationally, locally, and beyond, and meet us where we are. 

Work with minority-owned agencies to achieve these efforts and not exclusively with giant agency networks or consultancies. And identify Black-owned media companies, platforms, and channels and spend behind them to reach your audience.  

After all, would you go to a French restaurant if you’re looking for Mexican food?




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