November 2, 2022

How to Communicate Across Healthcare Audiences

In the healthcare world, marketing departments are naturally focused on reaching patients, clients, and prospects in the community.  

But there are other audiences you need to connect with, too: namely, what we call “upstream” groups like regulators, legislators, stakeholders, donors, and boards of directors. There’s a third group in between, which consists of media, partners, and employees (current and potential). 

Each of these three groups needs very different types of information from you, and you need them to take very specific actions. The challenge, then, is to communicate with each distinctly, in ways that consistently and cohesively reflect the organization’s brand.  

Three Audience Groups for Healthcare Brands

Let’s look at these three constituencies, what you need from them, what they need from you, and how best to deliver information to them.

1) Upstream Audiences

 Who they are: These are folks who have some influence on the way your organization works. In the nonprofit space, they include sponsors and major-gift contributors, individuals who make smaller donations, and your board of directors who advance the organization’s mission and vision. For healthcare companies, this audience might include regulators and federal/state/local government entities that have approval or oversight roles. This audience holds the power to OK your company’s reimbursement rates or cost structure, and perhaps expansion plans. For both nonprofit and for-profit organizations, the upstream audience also includes local leaders (city council members, business groups, chambers of commerce) whose support of your work carries weight in the community. 

 What you need from them: Dollars, advocacy, approval and support of your plans and programs. 

 What they need from you and how to deliver it: Communicating with your upstream audience is a lot like lobbying, because they’re in a position to influence what you do and how you do it. Some of them may have regulatory or fiduciary duties related to your organization. So they need to understand quickly and precisely your financial health, mission and vision, long-range plans, challenges and opportunities, and specific program details. 

 They have some familiarity with the work you do; they’ve likely been involved in the healthcare industry or volunteered with your nonprofit for some time. And they’re probably experienced business professionals. So while the issues you’re communicating to them are complex — operations, budgets, strategic plans — you can present information at a higher level. 

 Your messaging to them might look more like a PowerPoint presentation than a patient brochure. Your goal is to inform and persuade, so give them facts and data in a way that’s easy to digest; think infographics, charts, bulleted content. Create a narrative around why you’re asking for their support — the impact you’ll have, the lives you’ll change, the people you’ll serve. 

2) Downstream Audiences

 Who they are: Quite simply, these are people who do or will access your services, patients or clients. But of course, this audience is not at all simple. Depending on the nature of your organization, this audience could be large and wildly diverse — people in a range of demographics across a wide geographic area. 

 What you need from them: Their patronage, their (personal or insurance) dollars, and perhaps most important, their positive word-of-mouth endorsement. You need them to make an appointment, successfully get care, have a great experience, and tell others. You’re building relationships over time with this audience. 

 What they need from you and how to deliver it: Communication with this audience is all about powerful consumer marketing. Mental and physical health issues are certainly complex and can be scary. So you need to put their concerns and experiences front and center in your messaging. Humanize what you do so they can see themselves in your care and feel comfortable and confident in what they can expect from you.

 Unlike communicating with your upstream audiences — which tends to be situational and periodic around annual planning or meetings — reaching your end consumers is a year-round, multi-channel undertaking. 

3) Midstream Audiences

 Who they are: In between the influencers/regulators/funders and the patients/clients/prospects are folks who have some other relationship with your healthcare or nonprofit organization. We’ll call them “midstream audiences.” 

 This group includes local and regional media that your PR team courts for positive coverage. It also includes peer organizations you partner with, such as physicians or social agencies that refer patients, collaborate on events, or share services. A key component of this audience, too, is the pool of prospective employees you are constantly reaching out to. 

 What you need from them: Though this group has diverse roles and interests, you’re basically seeking one thing from them: a favorable impression. If they believe in what you do, they’ll share your story, join your organization, and connect with you.

 What they need from you and how to deliver it: Outreach to this audience is a mix of information and inspiration. Wrap the facts and figures about your services in human stories that convey your organization’s mission and passion for the work.

Communicating Across Audiences with a Consistent Brand

 Think of upstream communication as persuasion, downstream communication as education, and midstream communication as a hybrid of the two.

 But the organization should always communicate in the same voice to every audience, every time. That’s the power of a strong brand: It defines the mission, unifies the team, crystallizes messaging, and builds internal and external relationships. A strong brand ensures that you’re recognizable, no matter where and how someone connects with you. Especially in the healthcare field, where consistency helps build trust. 

 If your marketing team is struggling to communicate effectively with one of your key audiences, we can help. Let’s talk about what you need

Tenth Crow Creative is a brand marketing agency that creates, aligns, and promotes messaging for health and wellness organizations. Through insightful branding, engaging design and compelling marketing campaigns, we help these essential organizations find their identities and effectively communicate with their stakeholders so they can fulfill their missions.