‘Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but the stories you tell.’
Roaming the Exhibit Hall at HIMSS17 last year, I found a truly unique healthcare solution. It solves seemingly intractable problems with uncommon grace and simplicity. It’s intuitive, innovative and disruptive. I predict that it will ascend the rarefied summit of ‘Revolutionizing How Healthcare Happens.’
What was this paradigm-shifting solution and what was the visionary company behind it?
All of them. All 1,323 exhibitors at the conference.
OK, maybe a few expressed a bit more modesty. But with varying degrees of word choice and hyperbolic intensity, most used this highly subjective template to describe their solutions. Their baby is the most beautiful in the world—just accept it.
But words that once felt so tantalizing and full of possibility have become eye-glazing clichés. Worse, they are beginning to subsume good storytelling, like a lush and varied landscape overrun by kudzu.
We live in an age of multi-media communication. We can slice-and-dice any demographic, curate content a million different ways, and measure it all more precisely than ever before. But somewhere along the way, many of us have forgotten how to tell a story—and tell it well.
Healthcare is full of terrific—and, yes, innovative—solutions. However, the signal you believe you are projecting into the marketplace with slick marketing and flashy buzzwords is just another forgettable layer of noise. Old-fashioned storytelling, on the other hand, is a method that more readily sticks in the minds of editors—and customers.
Lions and Gazelles
The journalism profession is shrinking and de-centralizing. The newspapers and magazines that aren’t shuttering are dramatically reducing staff and tightening the purse strings. Healthcare journalism is no exception.
Here’s an example. The HIMSS Annual Conference is the largest health IT tradeshow in North America. For many healthcare professionals, this show sets the agenda for the rest of the year. In 2015, 126 editors registered for the Conference—one for every 10 exhibitors.
In 2017, only 76 editors registered—one for every 17 exhibitors. And a number of those “editors” were actually in sales, seeking ad and sponsorship dollars. Plus, these editors aren’t just roaming the Exhibit Hall. They’re also interviewing keynote speakers, attending education sessions, hosting their own meetings—and trying to jam it all into four days.
Think of it this way: Your healthcare company is one of 1,300 lions chasing—at best—60 gazelles. A lot of you are going to go hungry.
This is not to say that your solution is not revolutionary. It’s probably great! Terrific—but guess what? Everyone else is saying the exact same thing about their solutions. Trust me, as a former healthcare reporter and editor, buzzwords were pure white noise. If you want to bag earned media in a shrinking media landscape, you need to up your game. You need to tell me a story.
Ideas Over Solutions
It would be easy enough to blast out yet another listicle of stuff you need to tell a good story. Here are 344 million of them via Google.
I would rather tell you how much I hated science as a kid.
A teacher in a too-short clip-on tie would blandly recite an endless list of equations, scientific jargon and theories until the bell rang for recess. I was temporarily free from the deadly boring grasp of arcane measurements cooked up by a bunch of Europeans who have been dead for 500 years.
None of what I was taught was wrong. It just didn’t mean anything to me.
Around that time, PBS aired Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. It was written and narrated by Carl Sagan, the famous science popularizer.
Sagan discussed all the same equations and theories and dead scientists as my teacher did. Some of it I understood, some of it I didn’t. But the difference was how all those facts connected to tell a 14-billion-year-old story. I was able to understand how all those discoveries impacted the world I lived in. Suddenly, the universe wasn’t a C+ on a future pop quiz. It was impossibly big and beautiful, brimming with weird worlds and strange physics. It was vast and violent and without mercy. And I was a part of it!
I don’t remember the name of my science teacher, but I remember Carl Sagan and the story he told in Cosmos.
All those capabilities and features of your healthcare solution—what deeper story do they tell? How do they impact the lives of the people who will use them? How does it add to the larger healthcare stories being told today?
It’s not enough to say you’re innovative. People don’t connect to “innovative.” They connect to stories.
Your story might be big. It might be small. But if it’s meaningful, if it connects, it will find an audience. Tell a great story—and your solution will rise above the noise.