Emotional Marketing in Healthcare: How are You Using It?

Healthcare is rooted in science. As such, it is an industry that relies on rationality and evidence. Data and statistics are vital for developing drugs, for treating patients, and even for successful marketing.

That said, for the healthcare consumer, the rational, evidence-based facts are often secondary. Health is a topic rife with emotion. Often, this emotion is at an extreme level, like for people dealing with a difficult diagnosis or struggling with making treatment decisions or feeling overwhelmed by the financial burdens of being sick.

Emotional marketing in healthcare is an effective way to engage because it taps into the emotion that is already so present for the healthcare consumer.


Why Emotional Marketing is Effective

In a 2009 Ad Age piece, Hamish Pringle explained that research shows advertising that combines facts and emotion tends to be more successful. These ads were almost twice as likely to generate large profit as campaigns that were purely rational without emotion.

Emotional campaigns can help create a sense of lasting differentiation for the brand. Marketing efforts that combine the rational and the emotional are sticky, they’re engaging, and they foster a feeling of connection between the healthcare consumer and the brand.

But why exactly are emotional campaigns so effective?

An emotional connection leads to affective commitment, according to research by Elyria Kemp from the University of New Orleans. When there is affective commitment, “consumers may come to identify with the health care provider’s brand and a self-brand connection is formed.”

A number of factors contribute to developing an emotional connection. – source


Emotional marketing in healthcare works because it is authentic and empathetic. The explanation lies with the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is triggered by both positive and negative emotions, according to research from the University of Michigan. Ann Graybiel from MIT led a study on emotional decision-making that was able to identify neural circuits involved in processing emotion and making decisions.

Specifically, a dopamine-fueled system called the striosome-dendron bouquet plays a key role in decision-making. When the marketer wants to influence decision-making, it’s worthwhile to consider this dopamine feedback loop.

MIT researchers were able to target the role of emotion-triggered dopamine in decision-making. – source


Is Emotional Marketing Better for Patients?

While emotional marketing has clear benefits for healthcare companies, what about the patients? Is there value to the healthcare consumer?

Dr. Yael Schenker, a physician at the University of Pittsburgh, isn’t so sure. In her research, she analyzed over 500 cancer-related magazine and television ads and found that most relied on emotional appeals, primarily evoking hope and/or fear.

85% of the ads featured emotional appeals, with 61% evoking hope and 30% evoking fear. Schenker told the New York Times that her research “debunks the notion that advertising empowers patients to make better choices.” The NYT builds on Schenker’s argument and makes a strong cautionary argument about the dangers of emotional marketing. As healthcare ad spending continues to rise, this concern continues to gain relevance.

When emotion is used to hide or distract from relevant facts, including price and risks, the patient may ultimately be hurt. Not only are fear and similar emotions potentially harmful to the patient, it turns out they can be demotivating and not result in the desired effect for the marketer anyway.

Although many healthcare organizations have used fear-based marketing, research shows that positive emotions will be more successful.

Research published in the American Marketing Association journal found that activating a positive emotion fosters processing of health information, while activating a negative emotion hinders processing of health information. Positive emotions like hope, peace, humor, inspiration, interest, joy, and gratitude can be effectively used in healthcare marketing campaigns.

In their mammogram marketing efforts, Texas-based Solis Women’s Health found that fear led to anxiety which led to procrastination. When they changed to a marketing campaign that tapped into positive emotions instead, they saw growth of more than 10 percent in one year.

Positive messaging led to growth for Solis. – source


Using positive emotion in their marketing was certainly good for Solis, but it was also undeniably good for patients. Research shows that when more women get mammograms, lives are saved. For every 10,000 women, mammograms probably save around 60 lives, according to the American Medical Association.


Authentic Emotion Drives Results

When emotion is used to connect with patients in an authentic, empathetic way, patients serve to benefit. If a patient would truly benefit from your healthcare product or service, and if they might not know about you otherwise, emotional marketing can be a good tool to introduce the patient to what you do. This introduction would be a win-win, good for the patient as well as for you.

A great way to incorporate authentic emotion into your marketing is to use user-generated content from real patients. Research has shown that patients trust UGC more than other forms of media. The inherently authentic emotional content may well explain why that is the case.

Patient leaders are already creating and sharing health content at a rapid rate. When a healthcare company engages with these Patient Leaders and includes UGC in their marketing campaigns, there is higher engagement.

This was made clear in this WEGO Health case study where Patient Leader creative was compared with healthcare company-branded creative. The results speak for themselves.

Using the real patient voice works. – source


Examples of Successful Campaigns Using Emotional Marketing in Healthcare

The mammogram marketing campaign from Solis Women’s Health is one good example of how emotional marketing can be good for both patients and healthcare companies. Here are a few more examples.


Philips: Breathless Choir

Philips came up with an ad for their portable mini oxygen concentrator that used emotional storytelling with great success. The Breathless Choir video told a number of real patient stories, people with various breathing challenges from conditions like Cystic Fibrosis and COPD.

These patients then came together to learn to sing. The resulting choir performance tugs on the heartstrings and evokes positive feelings like hope and joy. More than 15 million people watched the video online and it inspired a wealth of user-generated content in response.

It’s worth adding that the product was not at all the feature of the ad. In fact, it’s not even mentioned although it is visible. According to Philips, revenue for the devices rose 14% in the quarter that the campaign launched.

Philips used emotional storytelling to great effect. – source


Amino: Storytelling UGC

Amino engaged with Patient Leaders through WEGO Health Experts to create a campaign of user-generated content around the issue of rising healthcare costs. By using real patient stories that tap into the emotions of the issue, Amino was able to expand awareness and foster conversation.

Amino has been able to repurpose this emotional UGC on their blog. – source


GlaxoSmithKline’s Theraflu: “What Powers You?” Stories

In their series of ads for their popular OTC treatment for cold and flu, GlaxoSmithKline shows the power of going beyond the brand. By telling the inspiring stories of real people in their “What Powers You?” campaign, GlaxoSmithKline taps into a number of positive emotions. The actual product is secondary to the campaign.

Packing lunches for the homeless, complete with love notes, is a story that taps into positive emotions. – source


Closing Thoughts

One of the best ways to incorporate emotion into your marketing strategy is to use storytelling. This is the difference between a straightforward testimonial and an engaging patient story. The latter is far more likely to create an emotional response and a feeling of connection.

Storytelling in marketing is about painting a vivid picture, rather than just listing a stream of facts. Facts should be included to be ethical and more effective, but they don’t have to be the main focus.

Emotional marketing in healthcare has the potential to be of great benefit to both the healthcare consumer and the healthcare company, but there is a right way and a wrong way to approach it. When tapping into emotion in your marketing, it should always be done in a patient-centric way rather than with the goal of misleading or distracting the patient.

For best results, be sure to balance the emotional and the rational, and try to focus on positive emotions.

How are you using emotion in your marketing campaigns?

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