News | 04 February 2020

Is B2B healthcare ready for emotive human storytelling?

More brands are making heartfelt connections as the culture of compliance relaxes its grip on creativity

Healthcare marketing feels like an exciting space to be working in right now, with some inspiring consumer campaigns coming out in 2019. In Men, we are with you, Prostate Cancer UK used Shakespeare’s Hamlet as the stirring soundtrack to celebrate men and all the brilliant, silly, caring, selfless things they do. And Every Mind Matters from Public Health England reached from the heart to help empower everyone to cultivate better mental health.

A surge in creativity

The raw materials for excellent healthcare marketing have always been there. Matters of illness and wellness are naturally emotive, with human stories of tragedy and triumph, resilience and endurance. And the audiences concerned are highly involved in the issues, in a way they wouldn’t be with consumer goods and services that are just ‘nice to have’. But the industry’s culture of compliance and regulation has historically strangled creativity, with risk aversion and slow moving decision keeping the status quo. Start-up culture, with its ‘fail fast’ mentality, along with digital transformation and social media, have all created tension with compliance culture, leading to a surge in marketing creativity.

Now we’re seeing the ripple effect of these changes in the world of B2B healthcare marketing, which unfortunately has something of an image problem. It has traditionally been seen as a creative backwater full of dull product benefits visualisations, uninispiring stock photography and super-safe colour schemes. But as compliance warms to the new mood in healthcare, some B2B brands have made braver choices, tapping into universal human truths to get their message across.

Finding an authentic storyline

Part of our job at Embrace is to help creatively cautious brands move out of their comfort zones and make work that elevates them above the competition. The way we do this is often by dialling out of the original brief and taking a broader look at what’s going on, and looking deeper into the brand’s values. When there is traditionally so much focus on product features and benefits, it can be easy to lose sight of what’s important, and miss the chance to make that connection. The challenge is to find an authentic storyline that truly supports the brand purpose.

We listen to sufferers of the conditions our healthcare clients treat, to find out about the issues facing them – physical, psychological and social. We look into the relationship with the caregiver. In the case of one client providing dressings for ongoing chronic skin ulcers, we found that when living with a wound that may not heal for years, what is important is hope. We used this to drive a campaign that reached through with a human message that recognised what it’s like to endure the condition.

Activating the narrative

After digging into the brief, building the proposition, and crafting the look and feel of the campaign, its activation is the opportunity to take your brand further. B2B creative work is increasingly being used more dynamically across multiple touchpoints from sales materials to websites. A short video can bring a product to life on landing pages and across social in a way that a static ad in a B2B publication could never do. And the moving image is the perfect medium for storytelling that creates intrigue and provokes an emotional response.

One practical way to elevate the narrative is with image choice that better reflects the more empowered health consumer and the society we are living in now. That means no to images of older couples gazing out to sea and more depictions of people engaged in their own health journey, and showing a broader range of relationships.

Of course a large part of a medical brand’s currency is in trust, built up over the years, and all branding work needs to honour this, treading a path between responsible guardianship and innovation. We may not be channeling Shakespeare yet, but the time is ripe for B2B healthcare marketing break out of its creative stupor. And one way to do this is with cleverly crafted, emotive human stories that more of us can relate to.

Author
Paul Turner,
Creative Director