What Does Brand Storytelling Really Mean in Healthcare? And What Does Coca-Cola Have to Do with It?

If you’re at all familiar with content marketing, you’ve likely heard the term “storytelling” bandied about. Two common variations on this term are “brand story” and “brand storytelling.” But what do these terms mean? When experts extol the virtues of “brand storytelling” for hospitals, medical practices, and health systems, do they mean you should focus on publishing patient stories?

What brand storytelling really means in healthcare content marketing

Some people take the term “storytelling” literally, and that’s certainly one way to interpret it. Patient and provider stories can be part of the healthcare brand story experience, but human interest stories represent only one chapter in the book that is your overall brand story. So…what else does it include?

When I talk with clients about telling the story of their brand, I’m referring to conveying the brand promise to patients and prospective patients. That still sounds mystical, doesn’t it? Allow me to demystify it for you.

What can you learn about healthcare storytelling from Coca-Cola®?

Let’s use Coke® as a refreshing example.

I’m not privy to Coke’s internal marketing discussions or anything like that, but I do know a little about branding. And if you know anything about Coca-Cola, then you know they don’t market their product, per se. You won’t find Coca-Cola advertisements touting its brand features. Coca-Cola is a carbonated, caffeinated beverage typically served cold, over ice. But does that description tell the story of Coke?

No, it does not. Because Coca-Cola’s brand promise isn’t about the product, it’s all about the feelings. When you drink a Coke, you will feel happy, loving, laid back. When you drink a Coke, you will feel an impulse to share the product with others, to laugh, and to connect on an emotional level.

An African American man and women drink bottles of Coca-Cola while laughing at each other.

The Coca-Cola brand promise is about brotherhood and sisterhood, of inclusivity and love – of bringing the whole world together in peace and harmony. Drinking Coke will put a smile on your face.

A vintage "have a Coke and a smile" advertisement with a blonde woman

Coke’s brand promise is not: drink our soda and feel buzzed from the caffeine. It’s: drink our soda and find yourself smiling and loving life, surrounded by a happy family.

A vintage Coca-Cola ad showing a 1950s family with a Mom, Dad and teenage son

How does Coca-Cola tell its brand story? Is it through profiles of Coke drinkers? Perhaps. You may be able to find profiles of extraordinary Coke drinkers. But that’s not what “storytelling” means in the context of telling their brand story. Instead, every marketing asset they produce hews to the themes of happiness, love, inclusivity, and sharing. Their storytelling is all about the brand promise.

How to adapt this strategy for healthcare content marketing

In order to make brand storytelling work for your hospital, medical practice, health system, or other type of healthcare brand, you first have to determine what your brand promise IS. Only your organizational leadership can determine that. However, I can tell you a few things your brand promise is NOT:

  • Services
  • Treatments
  • Providers
  • Affordablility
  • Location

If that shocks you, take comfort in the idea that a great many healthcare marketers confuse brand features with brand promise – and those things are not the same. Your brand promise is emotional. It’s about the feeling people get when interacting with your brand. When you get this right, you gain a huge competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Here are some things your brand promise might be:

  • Comfort
  • Security
  • Happiness
  • Well-being
  • Confidence
  • Attractiveness

Once you’ve determined what your brand promise consists of (and have composed a formal brand positioning statement), then you can get to work telling the stories that convey this promise. Without using personal profiles of any kind, you can craft content that conveys some or all of the elements of your brand promise.

And that’s what storytelling really means in healthcare content marketing.

I’m a huge advocate of creating healthcare content that connects on an emotional level. If you need help figuring out how to tell your brand story, I would be delighted to help. Book a free 30-minute consultation to talk about your healthcare brand story and how we can tell it together.

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Editor’s note: Coca-Cola and Coke are a registered trademarks of Coca-Cola Company. All vintage ad images copyright Coca-Cola.