• LinkedIn

Shifting From Healthcare Marketing to Storytelling

While marketing is a critical task for every health system, storytelling creates opportunities to reach new audiences, including those who aren't yet ready to convert.

Real-life narratives help your health system build relationships with prospective patients, job candidates, donors and other members of your community.

Let’s explore the differences between the two types of communication and see where storytelling can supplement your marketing efforts. 

Marketing: The Science of Influence

Marketing is overtly promotional.
It pushes out messages your organization creates or approves to persuade audiences to:

  • Schedule an appointment
  • Apply for a job
  • Make a donation
  • Become a hospice volunteer
  • Do other tasks that benefit your health system

Audiences’ openness to marketing varies depending on their current needs, mood and familiarity with your brand.

Storytelling: The Art of Empathy

Compared to marketing, storytelling is less overtly promotional. Its primary goal isn’t to drive conversions, but to inspire, inform, or entertain audiences. Everyone, from children to senior citizens, loves a good story. The movie, TV and book-publishing industries exist because this ancient art form touches something fundamental in human nature. Stories come from your target audiences’ neighbors, coworkers, friends and loved ones and satisfy our innate curiosity about other people. Authentic, well-told stories foster an emotional connection to your brand.

How to Use Stories

So, where do stories fit into your communications strategy? Consider these examples.

Strengthen Ties to Your Community

Patient stories help build relationships at a time when confidence in healthcare organizations is spotty. Americans’ trust in healthcare companies ranges from just 50% to 70%, depending on their race and political affiliation, according to a 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer report [PDF]. But think of the times you and your loved ones have asked each other to recommend a provider, clinic or treatment option. You trust that people in your position (fellow patients) have your best interests at heart. As a communications professional, you can put this principle of social proof to work by highlighting healthcare consumers’ positive encounters with your organization.

Bronson Healthcare did so by using VitalSite functionality to create a content hub called Bronson Positivity. It features thousands of submissions that came directly from patients and families. By publishing full names and leaving these stories in the writers’ own words, Bronson Healthcare gives the stories a high level of credibility. They’ve received tens of thousands of views in the past year, thanks to the health system’s strategic promotion of the hub and strong community interest.

In addition to building trust and boosting site traffic, stories have a powerful role to play in patient education. Research shows they can help increase kidney donations, reduce fears about childbirth and help women retain information about breastfeeding. Informed, empowered patients are exactly who your health system wants.

Recruit Job Candidates

Maybe your health system’s careers webpages already feature employee testimonials that give a quick sales pitch about your workplace. These positive employee reviews are crucial for recruitment. However, you can enrich your content by supplementing quotes and soundbites with stories that give tangible examples of how your organization helped team members overcome challenges.

Could nurses on a certain unit describe how your hospital gave them the resources and freedom to innovate in ways that improved patient care or staff satisfaction? Perhaps a department came together to support a colleague in need after an accident. Or maybe you can find a junior team member who achieved professional success thanks to an exceptional mentor or role model.  

Employee stories accounted for more than half the traffic to Cape Cod Healthcare’s careers content in 2023. The organization has published dozens of “Meet Our Team” webpages, each with a video that features several minutes of commentary from a team member. Viewers get to learn about key moments in these clinicians’ professional and personal lives. The engaging profiles give a face to Cape Cod Healthcare, humanizing its brand and making it relatable to a wide range of job seekers.

Encourage Donations

Studies have shown donors give more when thinking of a specific, identifiable recipient rather than anonymous, statistical groups. You can take advantage of this phenomenon. Share the stories of community members whose lives improved thanks to the generosity of your health system’s benefactors.

Avera Foundation did this by publishing the inspiring story of a baby who’s enjoying good health after receiving neonatal intensive care at Avera Health. The #GivingTuesday Facebook post was shared 509 times, creating valuable free publicity for the organization.

Key Features of Every Good Narrative

Regardless of the topic or target audience, you can craft a compelling story by including these elements:

  • Characterization – Relatable people are at the heart of any good story. Tell us a little about the personal lives and motivations of the patient, caregiver, team member or other “main character.” Readers or viewers should be able to sympathize with them and see them evolve throughout the narrative.
  • Conflict – The people in your story must face and overcome a challenge. Maybe they’re seeking a diagnosis for mysterious symptoms, trying to find specialized care or searching for a meaningful career.
  • Plot – The series of events should have a clear structure. A strong plot keeps your audience invested and eager to know what happens next.

Story Formats

Depending on your resources and the availability of the people in your story, you may choose to write a profile, make a video or record a podcast. Each format has advantages.

Written Narratives

Text content is accessible to a wide range of audiences, including people who have slow internet connections or use screen readers to navigate the web. Written copy is keyword-rich and easily searchable, making it likely to turn up in organic search results.


Podcasts provide another layer of authenticity and connection to your organization by allowing an audience to hear a storyteller’s voice. They’re an excellent option for conversations and interviews. Audio-only formats also offer a convenient choice for multitaskers because people can listen while commuting, exercising or doing other activities.


Videos combine visual and auditory elements, making them highly engaging. They’re perhaps the best option for humanizing your brand and introducing audiences to the people of your health system. Just be sure to use a video player that provides or allows captions for accessibility.

Want Help Getting Started?

Adding stories to your site doesn’t have to involve extensive design, development time or flashy new tools. The task could be as simple as creating a few webpages. But if you’re dreaming bigger, contact Geonetric for creative solutions for leveraging VitalSite, a healthcare content management system that offers a dynamic content hub designed for storytelling and other types of content marketing.

Regardless of your software, Geonetric’s content strategists, writers, SEO specialists and other digital marketing experts are ready to help you engage your audiences. Reach out today to start telling your story!

Shifting From Healthcare Marketing to Storytelling