Storytelling, one of the foundational tools in healthcare marketing. And when done well, it is a very effective way to engage audiences, convey information, and influence people without using overt persuasion.

Most marketers know that, among a slew of academics and professional writers, there are more than a few elements that make a great story. Things like character, plot, tone, style, and pacing are table stakes. But there’s also the inner journey of the hero, the expected audience experience, and even your motivation for writing the story which end up dictating how a piece of writing is received.

Yet, in healthcare marketing, there are countless examples of where storytelling falls short, and the reasons are numerous: poor scripting, lack of real context, or an incomplete theme, just to name a few. Forced narrative. There are many reasons stories might fall flat or miss the point within the context of a healthcare marketing or patient support initiative.

This begs the question: How do we craft compelling stories while navigating potential messaging pitfalls?

Simply put, it all starts with design.

Design Thinking: Healthcare Storytelling’s Secret Weapon

There is one framework at our disposal for creating compelling, relevant, engaging, and effective healthcare marketing stories that we often overlook or might not consider: design thinking. More specifically, there is a particular tool in the healthcare design thinking toolkit that we use in healthcare design that will address all of those various elements of story listed above, along with one more very important component—context.

Real human context.

A design thinking approach to storytelling offers up a rich landscape of opportunity to capture all the elements that make a great story. By virtue of the multidisciplinary approach we take in facilitating healthcare design thinking, we have a front row seat to innumerable insights and truths that will invariably inspire and fuel an excellent story. And not just a simple story, one that is dramatic, intimate, simple, immersive, and relatable. These five very important aspects of storytelling are often overlooked when you focus on the more academic guidance embedded in all those elements that make a great story listed above.

5 Benefits of Design Thinking for Storytelling

1) Real, raw, honest human stories, especially healthcare stories, are generally full of drama. The human condition is dense and people often experience a disease or healthcare crisis in real time and often with palpable drama (no matter how nuanced). A great story needs drama—an emotional thread that illuminates the gritty truth at ground level.

TIP: Do not censor the drama of real life stories—taking out the bad bits damages trust.

2) People want to feel the story—they need (and you need) the story to be familiar and powerful. It is inconceivable that you would not get powerful, intimate, raw, and unique stories from patients (and healthcare providers) when conducting a well-designed qualitative interview—it’s impossible.

TIP: Don’t worry that one patient’s unique story might not be exactly the same as another’s—it is easier for the listener to fill in the gaps when the story is familiar.

3) Design thinking helps us keep things simple and focused. Patients (and other stakeholders) will generally share an abundance of insight, and that’s okay. Distilling their expert story should be priority number one—and telling that story in their expert words should bolster this priority. Simply-told stories are strong stories—it is often the simplest stories that people relate to the most.

TIP: Do not risk losing the audience with your added complexity, let the story tell itself.

4) The best stories will help your audience feel that they are living “that story.” This is a fundamental reason we tell stories, so that people might feel themselves somehow experiencing the emotions that are embedded in the story—thereby becoming one with the teller. The more a person can put themselves into your story, the more likely they will be to change their POV or opinion.

TIP: Trust the stakeholder’s truth—do not edit the raw story too much, you will risk losing important persuasive currency.

5) If a reader or audience member feels like this story is “about me” then you are relating at an important level and consumers are drawn into stories they can relate to. The more one relates to a story, the more likely they are to be persuaded or moved. Real life has ups and downs so people can relate better to stories that have a human side that the reader can relate to.

TIP: Nurturing agency and relatability is a foundational nuance you must not overlook.

Why Is Design Thinking the Right Tool To Improve Storytelling in Healthcare?

A design thinking approach to storytelling will help you check all the boxes listed above and thereby will help your stories nurture agency with the reader. When you capture real, raw, and highly relevant stories you will invariably uncover the drama, intimacy, and relate-ability that is so important to the consumer connecting the dots for themselves. And when readers find familiar meaning in your stories, you can rest assured they are fare more likely to take action.

Simple, well-designed stories that draw on the expert opinions and experiences of the patient will help readers reach the conclusion we want them to reach. And when the story emerges from within the truly empathic settings that design thinking naturally provides, your readers will rightfully trust the teller. And feelings about the teller will absolutely influence how readers and consumers react to your story.

FINAL SUGGESTION: Let LIFT show you a better path to story-gathering and storytelling. Let’s talk more about how design thinking can help you tell honest and impactful healthcare stories that will move your audience to take action.

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