October 12, 2021

Translating complex healthcare concepts into simple, compelling messages

The Covid-19 pandemic has starkly illustrated the importance of communicating clearly. So much of the country’s current state of confusion and mistrust can be chalked up to communication. It’s a complex challenge, to be sure, as what we know about this thing has been changing since the earliest days. But the most effective messaging (social and political factors aside) has been the simplest: Get vaccinated. Wear a mask. Wash your hands.

For healthcare and community-based organizations, the subjects you need to communicate to your audiences can be complex, detailed, and multifaceted. That holds true for both internal and external messaging. Combine that with the busy schedules of your internal stakeholders and the limited attention span of your external stakeholders, and translating information from the complex to the simple is critical.

Your job depends on effectively communicating with all of your stakeholders quickly and clearly, and that can be a real challenge when dealing with complicated health and wellness topics. So let’s examine your two key audiences and their needs, then cover 7 strategies for keeping communication simple. 

Healthcare Messaging: Internal and External Audiences

Image of many different types of shoes symbolizing the various stakeholders healthcare and community-based organizations must communicate with.

As a healthcare or community-based organization marketer, you communicate with very different types of people. Internal stakeholders include clinicians and medical support staff who have technical training and expertise. That in-house audience also includes administrators, patient advocates, care providers, equipment preparers, housekeeping and other employees that don’t have a clinical background. These two groups of internal folks have very different levels of understanding around complex medical topics. But they share one key attribute: They’re incredibly busy and have little time to digest the information you’re sending. 

In fact, those non-clinical employees may have more in common with your external stakeholders. These are people in the community you serve, including patients and potential patients, clients and potential clients, business leaders, healthcare advocates, regulators, legislators, payers, and more. Because most lack medical expertise, messaging has to be delivered in lay terms. And because they lead busy lives, you’ll need to reach them multiple times across different channels. 

De-complicating the message is important when you’re marketing a new service or practice. But it’s even more so now with the onset of value-based care and addressing the social determinants of health, which involves educating patients so that they can take more responsibility for their care (disease prevention, lifestyle modification, getting vaccines, and so on).

7 Strategies for Simplifying the Message

Black background with white type saying "Hello" An example of keeping marketing communications simple.

For your clinical audiences, the communication challenge isn’t language and concepts, but time. For non-clinical and community audiences, the challenge isn’t time, but language and concepts.

The solution to both challenges? Simplicity. 

Essentially, your marketing team functions as a translator, distilling complex information so that it’s easily and quickly understood, no matter who you’re talking to. Here are seven strategies for simplifying your healthcare messaging: 

1) Understand the lives, needs, and learning habits of your audience segments. How deep is their medical knowledge? What else is fighting for their attention? What are the most important points you need for them to grasp? Where and how do they get information, and how do they process it? Are they visual or verbal learners? How much technical information do your practitioners need? 

2) Keep it simple. When addressing your community audiences, you’ll want to use words that real people use to describe your services or practices. Skip the clinical lingo and frame your messaging around how they will benefit: outcomes, improved lives, better health. The same goes for your non-medical internal staff: They need to grasp how new initiatives or requirements affect their work, but a billing rep can’t possibly be expected to understand OR sanitation or the latest knee replacement technology. Use analogies and metaphors to explain high-level concepts. And for practitioners, simplicity can call attention to the message amid other priorities and help them grasp the high points at a glance. 

3) Keep it short. Edit the message and then edit again. Use brief, sound-bite sentences. Headlines, subheads, and bullet points cue the reader about what information is most essential.  

Too often, marketers tend to layer information and facts upon each other and include more than they need to. The point is not to tell them everything, but to catch their attention and prompt action. At the next step, they’ll get all the details. 

4) Focus on the why. No matter the topic, aim to build an emotional connection with the audience and emphasize the result, solution, or impact. Give the audience a reason to read. How will this information make a provider’s job easier? How will it improve a patient’s health?             

5) Make it visual. Creatively display messaging with a combination of infographics or images and text. Layout is more important than you think; there must be a hierarchical flow that captures and leads the reader’s eyes to key information. Many people more readily digest concepts in visual form, so you’ll need to create multiple versions of the message in different formats: text, image, and video. 

6) Keep at it. Communicate repeatedly, regularly, and consistency across all the channels that your audiences use. Marketers know this concept as effective frequency — we know that it takes multiple exposures to a message before readers “get” it. For both internal and external stakeholders, consider a campaign approach with print, digital, and environmental messaging for even basic initiatives. While support staff might not see that system-wide email, they may see the poster in the cafeteria. 

7) Create a story. Humans are hard-wired to process information more deeply when it’s presented as a narrative rather than a set of facts and figures. Story is sticky: It’s memorable because you add an emotional layer to it that connects with the viewer. So use all of the above tactics — simple and brief information, presented with clarifying visuals, communicated across channels — to build a story about why this particular concept matters to them. Video is a great option here: Technology (along with stock footage and audio) makes quick video clips easy and inexpensive to produce. Don’t get hung up on creating something overly polished. In this age of self-produced social media videos, people don’t expect Hollywood productions. Getting the message out there is what’s most important.

The past 18 months have shown us that information has never been more critical for healthcare and community-based organizations — and the way that information is communicated makes all the difference. Less truly is more, always, and pictures truly do paint a thousand words. 

If your organization is less successful than you’d like in getting your message across, we can help. Our critical thinking, creative design, attention-grabbing writing, and strategic use of messaging platforms, can help you decipher the complicated and elegantly translate it into understandable, concise, and action-driving messaging. Let’s start a conversation.

Tenth Crow Creative is a brand marketing agency that creates, aligns, and promotes the external and internal messaging for organizations that support living healthier lives. Through insightful branding and compelling marketing campaigns, we help these essential organizations find their identities and effectively communicate to their stakeholders so they can fulfill their missions.