How to Market Sensitive Healthcare Topics: A Guide

How to Market Sensitive Healthcare Topics: A Guide

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

When my wife Clara met her new workout trainer, he asked, “What can I help you with?” She replied with a smile, “menopause.”

She elaborated, “My doctor helps me with hormone therapy, and I work out five days a week at a boot camp. But I feel stuck with the way I look and feel. I want to lose fat, build muscle, and feel healthier.”

When she shared this story with me, we laughed and remarked on how far things have come in recent years. When we were growing up, no one in polite company would dare say the word “menopause.”

Clara’s little anecdote inspired today's topic, so I asked if I could share her story. She said, “Of course!”

The good news is that marketing has finally begun to break through the silence on many of our biggest health taboos, including but not limited to topics like mental health, addiction, and sexual issues.

As societal norms shift and conversations become more open, healthcare organizations must recognize the need to engage with sensitive healthcare topics to better serve their communities.

But how can healthcare organizations ensure their campaigns are successful and engage the right audiences?

Today, I share some recent marketing examples of sensitive healthcare topics such as mental health, transgender healthcare, body odor, menstruation, and erectile dysfunction.

While the healthcare industry still has a long way to go, several leading organizations have responded to cultural and societal changes, challenged stereotypes, and railed against the stigma, helping pave the way toward acceptance.

As you will see in the following examples, several healthcare organizations have addressed these issues head-on, playing an essential role in improved awareness, inclusivity, and overall public health outcomes.

Throughout this blog, you will learn how healthcare organizations have changed the narrative on sensitive issues using mechanisms like storytelling and targeted advertising strategies to build consumer trust, inform, and empower.

It’s time to normalize difficult conversations and empower patients through transparency, education, and open communication.

Crafting Educational Content to Inform and Empower

Nearly 50 million (20%) U.S. adults experience mental health issues each year.

Despite these staggering statistics, a lack of understanding persists, often causing this topic to be neglected in the workplace, schools, and local communities.

Healthcare organizations specializing in mental health treatment services can educate local and national communities by incorporating their latest research into their marketing campaigns to help demystify challenging topics like anxiety and depression and encourage more open communication.

These organizations can also leverage trends in traditional media (e.g., television shows like “This Is Us”) and social media (e.g., celebrities talking more openly about their mental health) to help reduce the stigma.

Telemedicine and meditation apps, like BetterHelp and Calm, have increased brand awareness messaging in their digital marketing campaigns to boost engagement and growth as federal laws continue to put mental health on the same level as physical health (e.g., The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 and the Affordable Care Act of 2010).

However, this is still a reactive strategy that answers problems once they exist. Mental health organizations must take a proactive approach to remain competitive with market disruptors.

Feel Therapeutics is a shining example of how organizations can combine artificial intelligence (AI) with wearable devices to passively monitor and detect early signs of mental health conditions. They also lead the way in destigmatizing mental health issues by incorporating answers to FAQs throughout their website content and promoting their services through paid search, social media, tradeshows, and seminars.

How can your healthcare organization inform and empower patients through educational materials?

  • Host interactive webinars or workshops featuring expert speakers and Q&A sessions to foster open communication and break down barriers.
  • Use user-generated content (with permission) in your marketing campaigns to elevate patient success stories and create a sense of community.
  • Develop visually engaging infographics to simplify complex topics or information to increase awareness, promote broader understanding, and overcome misinformation.
  • Craft blogs and articles to position your organization as a trusted resource for individuals seeking care or guidance on sensitive health issues.

Organizations looking to educate and empower individuals to seek proactive healthcare services should also focus on improving their organic and local SEO, ensuring they appear in places like Google’s Local Pack, People Also Ask, and Knowledge Panel sections.

Building Consumer Trust with Empathy and Expertise

Transgender individuals are a high-risk population for mental and physical health problems. Though they account for 1.03% of the U.S. adult population—2.6 million individuals—they continue to be underserved by the American medical system.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, transgender adults are significantly less likely than cisgender adults to have flu shots and routine doctor’s visits.

Healthcare organizations can build trust and improve the collective health of the transgender community by promoting culturally competent care, creating transgender-friendly spaces, and using pro-transgender messaging in their marketing campaigns.

Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest managed care organizations in the U.S., is paving the way for other healthcare organizations by implementing transgender-inclusive healthcare policies and investing in culturally competent care training for its healthcare providers.

In June 2022, Kaiser launched a 30-second television commercial featuring a transmasculine, nonbinary medical doctor. The commercial showcases that Kaiser Permanente values the transgender community and provides compassionate, high-quality, and inclusive health care. The tone is nonjudgmental and understanding, and the simple statement, “We want everyone to feel safe, feel seen, and feel valued,” fills a much-needed void.

How can your healthcare organization build consumer trust?

  • Ensure your marketing materials, website, and patient communication use inclusive, gender-neutral language and imagery that reflects your diverse target audience and signals that your organization is a welcoming environment for all individuals.
  • Provide comprehensive and empowering patient education materials (e.g., brochures, videos, online guides, etc.) to demonstrate your expertise and commitment to patient health.

Storytelling as a Tool for Stigma Reduction

Sensitive health topics have been handled with kid gloves for far too long, at least according to modern brands disrupting the taboo market.

Women’s brands Lume and THINX are forgoing the old ways of marketing taboo health topics by facing them head-on with straightforward content that addresses the stigma through relatable narratives and personal journeys.

Both use storytelling, humor, education, and empowerment to break down the taboo of body odor and menstruating in public. They show women (and people who menstruate) of all ages that body odor and menstruation are natural, normal, and completely healthy—but they don’t need to be embarrassing or keep you from doing the things you love.

Lume leverages digital marketing strategies like website content, paid video ads, and organic social media to educate consumers about the culprit of most body odors and the effectiveness of its vegan and cruelty-free products against it.

They’ve also broken the sound barrier on body odor by curating and sharing consumer testimonials and user-generated content (which is plentiful) across on their website and social platforms to build authenticity and trust. But they don’t stop there. While their products are designed for women by women, they’ve also tailored some campaigns and storytelling to resonate with younger girls and even men.

Now, let’s shift our focus to THINX. This brand is well-known for flipping the script on menstruation with in-your-face (and often controversial) ads that get people talking. In 2020, its television commercial was rejected by ten networks. Why? It dared to be accurate, opting to use a red liquid instead of the longstanding policy of blue or clear.

While broadcast television hasn’t embraced these medically accurate ads just yet, big brands like Kimberly-Clark are using red liquid in social media and streaming ads to help destigmatize periods and educate people on menstrual health.

How can your healthcare organization use storytelling for stigma reduction?

  • Encourage patients to share their stories and experiences with your brand (within proper HIPAA requirements).
  • Create an integrated narrative campaign for your social media channels that includes video and written content that shares key messages in a compelling way.
  • Leverage storytelling to share educational content and provide insights about sensitive health topics (e.g., case studies, statistics, and real-life examples).

Targeted Advertising Strategies for Delicate Topics

As women’s health companies continue to fight the good fight to overcome stigmas by creating sensitive yet impactful advertising campaigns for health products, men’s health companies, like the Toronto-based startup Phoenix, are also on the march, breaking the silence on erectile dysfunction (ED).

In the Super Bowl 58 ad, they didn’t shy away from its sensitive topic, choosing to address ED head-on with verve and vigor—dispelling the stigma that it is a personal issue to be dealt with quietly.

This targeted ad strategy is a humorous call to arms, encouraging men to talk about ED with each other and without shame. It took advantage of a once-a-year opportunity to reach nearly one-half of Canada’s population by employing psychographic segmentation to appeal to men’s innate desire to be considered strong, capable, and courageous.

How can your healthcare organization create targeted advertising strategies for delicate topics?

  • Segment your audience to ensure your messaging reaches the right individuals.
  • Create tailored messaging and imagery that directly addresses your target audience segment’s concerns, needs, or experiences.
  • Use compassionate and informative content that educates instead of sensational or fear-based content that further stigmatizes your audience.
  • Ensure your targeted messages appear in contextually relevant and appropriate places (e.g., websites or platforms featuring content related to your sensitive health topic).

It’s Time for Brands to Talk Plainly About Sensitive Health Topics

As policies around women’s healthcare continue to tighten, and with men’s participation in health screenings hovering around 55%, it’s more important than ever for healthcare organizations to step up and lead conversations about health topics considered taboo, sensitive, uncomfortable, or potentially embarrassing. 

Healthcare consumers are ready for transparent marketing, straightforward messaging, and honest conversations about sensitive health topics. Healthcare marketing has the power to break down barriers, challenge stereotypes, and foster a more inclusive and informed society.

A single, well-crafted ad can flip the script, spark meaningful conversation, and create a new level of understanding about important healthcare issues.

It can also build your organization’s awareness, credibility, authority, and patient growth.

At Healthcare Success, we embrace ethical transparency in all our healthcare marketing services, helping our clients build trust, credibility, and authority with their target audience.

If you’d like to learn how we can help you win at taboo marketing, please contact our experienced healthcare marketing agency today.

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