Announcement: BPD Finalizes Acquisition of Revive: Premier Firms in Healthcare Marketing and Communications Join Together, Creating a Powerful Bench of Integrated Expertise and Services for Healthcare Organizations. Learn more

How to Engage Patients in a World of Marketing Overload: 3 Tips

May 14, 2015
Billboards, Healthcare Marketing, Marketing Goals, Risk Taking

A recent Yankelovich study claims the average city-dweller gets around 5,000 visual messages a day. Other studies claim even higher numbers. Regardless, I think we all can agree that your potential patients are bombarded daily by a boatload of information in traditional, digital and experiential media.

So how does a healthcare marketer stick out and engage patients in this world of marketing overload?  Try starting with a good, solid set of marketing fundamentals. 

First, start out by interviewing the key people in your organization: leadership, stakeholders, ringleaders, janitors—pretty much anyone who’ll talk with you.  Research and focus-groups also help to achieve quantifiable data or intelligence prior to any marketing campaign being developed. This way, you’re not just shooting from the hip, hoping you’ll get it right. It’s more like mixing critical logic with good old-fashioned opinion; from it one is almost guaranteed to find some kind of new insight.

Next, comes strategy and planning devised against the research and testing, and then comes the actual marketing executions. Believe it or not, this doesn’t necessarily have to be done in a linear fashion because sometimes creative executions can precede strategy; there’s really no hard and fast rule. Remember advertising is an art that uses science as its device, so a variety of approaches can still yield inspired results.

But oft times, what many of us think is the easiest and most fun part—the creative execution—can be muddled with very common mistakes. So, I’ve put together a three-step rule to keep in the back of your head when you, as a marketer, are attempting this feat:

Is it simple? 

Is it persuasive?

And the tough one…

Is it different?


Simplicity eludes many beginner hospital marketers because they feel they have to explain and say too much in one execution, with their marketing pieces ending up looking like the Gideon Bible. The key is to try to stay single-minded in strategy and execution.

Take this analogy: If you and a friend were standing face-to-face approximately eight feet apart and your friend held three tennis balls in each hand. Suddenly she decides to throw all six tennis balls to you at the same time. How many do you think you’d catch? If you’re lucky maybe one or two. It works the same with marketing communications. Give your audience one good thing to catch, because they probably can’t handle any more than that at one time.

When there’s just way too much assaulting the eye, your audience will just shut off and not read your piece. It becomes invisible. A design professor at Carnegie-Mellon did a study showing that people, at a glance, will avoid reading something all together if the copy line is more than 39 total characters in length. So for a headline, and even body copy, it  becomes more effective if one uses shorter,  more concise line lengths. Wichita State University has also yielded similar findings with 35 characters per line. 

The old “Seven Words Or Less On A Billboard” is another rule worth remembering. The idea is that people flying by on a roadway cannot read and comprehend more than seven total words on a piece of advertising. I often see hospital billboards containing around 15-20 total words. Those billboards are simply being ignored by potential patients.

Usability and heuristic design principles on the Web are also there for a reason. People want to scan quickly, comprehend, easily find, react and move on. Honing or distilling a webpage design down to its purest form is sometimes challenging but absolutely necessary.

Common sense says the solution to squeezing too much content into a single marketing piece is to divide and conquer by spreading out your content over multiple pieces, or just having other places patients can go when they need more information. Our rule of thumb is to send patients to a hospital’s website (or microsite) where they can access all the information they need, watch a testimonial video or two, and then set up an appointment with a physician in just a few clicks.

And don’t forget the call-to-action. One of the most important rules is to make it simple for people to respond to your communication. If your audience can’t find a URL, a phone number, a button for responding, you may have problems…

Is it Persuasive?

To persuade your target audience, you need to attract them, engage them and then ultimately win them over. To do that, you need a compelling, potent, powerful, valid, strong, attractive and effective approach. A unique, attractive photograph of something can be highly persuasive. A concise, well-written, impactful headline can be persuasive. A brand new medium can be highly persuasive. A new color scheme can be persuasive. A likeable spokesperson with a great reputation can be persuasive. A unique illustration style that’s never been used for healthcare before, etc. There are many ways to be persuasive, the goal being to create something that someone will ultimately desire, want to use or consume.

Create something that is hard to be denied or ignored. In other words, make it shine. Not all photographers, illustrators, writers, coders, designers and art directors are created equal – there’s an art to making something look and sound great. 

Is it Different?  

This is probably the most difficult of the three to achieve because so many healthcare organizations end up imitating their competitors’ marketing. This is following instead of leading.

The key is to take an alternative approach to the usual strategy and execution.  Try a different tonality or voice that is not commonplace. Invent or innovate a brand new communications medium. Use a marketing concept that has never been seen before. True uniqueness and originality takes guts—it means sticking your neck out and getting noticed, surprising your audience by teaching and informing them, igniting a bond between your services and your audience. 

Sometimes this is rather hard to identify, but if you dig deep you’ll almost assuredly find something unique to set your hospital apart.  Remember, being brave and bold and embracing the differences of your organization is ultimately what it’s all about.

And if all else fails, hire a talented advertising/marketing/digital firm like BPD, because these are just a few of the many disciplines we employ when helping healthcare clients achieve marketing greatness.

Photo by: Allen.G /

James Hale

James Hale is a Forever BPDerr. At the time of this post, he was Senior Art Director at Brown, Parker & DeMarinis Advertising. His career included stints in the San Francisco, New York and Miami ad markets at Saatchi & Saatchi and Ogilvy & Mather New York, with work appearing in the One Show, Communication Arts, Andys and the National Addy Award competitions.

Want to know more?

Get in touch