Addressing Unspoken Fear in Healthcare Marketing

There’s a lot of fear in healthcare marketing — the unspoken fears that lurk in the minds of consumers, blocking their ability to absorb your content. Marketers who don’t address these nagging worries in the conversion funnel risk turning off prospects who are otherwise excellent candidates for that service line.

Healthcare Marketing Strategy
Credit: Pixabay by Gerd Altmann

There’s a lot of fear in healthcare marketing. I’m referring to unspoken fears that lurk in the minds of consumers, blocking their ability to absorb your content. Marketers who don’t address these nagging worries in the conversion funnel risk turning off prospects who are otherwise excellent candidates for that service line.

Fear is a funny thing. A little of it keeps you alert and causes you to be more careful. Too much fear and you cognitively shut down. The difference — in the first scenario you believe you can do something to minimize the danger, while in the other scenario you don’t know of a solution and you feel paralyzed.

Imagine marketing a service line for a serious health condition. Your reader may have insurance, but there’s a negative inner dialogue unfolding in his mind: “I will miss work. If I miss too much work, I might lose my job. If I lose my job, I won’t have life or health insurance. If I don’t have insurance or a job, I could bankrupt my family. They would end up with nothing.”

The prospect has catastrophized a possible outcome and now wants to avoid your messaging entirely out of both fear and guilt. And because these internal monologues are unspoken, it’s very difficult to get the kind of feedback that enables you to make improvements. If you have service line campaigns that are not performing, ask yourself if fear might be getting in the way and how you can break down those barriers to conversion.

You can address unspoken fears at several places along the funnel, starting right at the top and adding more detail along the consumer journey:

  • At the top of the funnel, consider adding a truthful, positive indicator into your outbound messaging that contrasts today’s treatment with what was available years ago. Advances in knowledge, techniques, and technology can help a fearful consumer move beyond legacy emotional assumptions and create a narrow window of reconsideration.
  • On your campaign page, proactively address common concerns while also streamlining navigational flow to your call-to-action. A generic FAQ link may be too subtle for consumers with nagging worries. Consider clearly labeled links such as “Time away from work,” “Insurance accepted,” “How outcomes have changed,” “Managing out-of-pocket costs” or similar topic-specific labels. Each item or grouping should conclude with your CTA.
  • System-generated emails triggered by user submissions as well as nurture campaigns should include links to content that normalizes typical concerns and provides reassurance that these can be discussed comfortably at the appointment. Some patient no-shows are caused by nagging worries that cause people to disengage even before an in-person consultation.
  • Consider adding a simple form at check-in that asks about the patient’s concerns and provides pre-populated topics to select. Patients can become surprisingly quiet when the doctor enters the room. If the provider knows what topics are weighing on the patient’s mind, the dialogue can be more meaningful and a foundation of trust developed.

And throughout this process, work with your organization’s best-performing providers as well as financial counselors, patient navigators, social workers and philanthropic foundation for insights that help improve responses to common patient concerns.

This Will Scare the !@#$% Out of You, Marketers!

Sit down for this one: 80 percent of CEOs do not trust their CMOs or marketing teams to deliver results. Ninety percent of those same CEOs DO trust their IT and finance teams, or so claims a recent study by the Fournaise Group.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 10.27.11 AMSit down for this one: 80 percent of CEOs do not trust their CMOs or marketing teams to deliver results. Ninety percent of those same CEOs DO trust their IT and finance teams, or so claims a recent study by the Fournaise Group.

Its no wonder that 93 percent of marketing leads feel increasing pressure to perform along with the added frustration of feeling they do not have the resources to get the results expected from the board room. And it’s also no surprise that the average tenure for CMOs is slipping, down to 26.5 months in 2015 from 35.5 months in 2014.

Given these “scary” numbers and others and other statistics about marketing challenges today, its not far off to claim that many in our profession have become the “working scared.” Scared of the rapid pace in which technology changes, scared that IT will soon takeover their functions, scared that unrealistic expectations for ROI based on media strategies, which are tough to measure anyway, will run them out of jobs and thwart their career paths, and so on.

The fear associated with failing our CEOs, shareholders, marketing teams, ourselves and our families is resulting in a lot of knee-jerk purchasing behavior by CMOs and the like. A friend of mine who is a top sales executive for a global marketing technology company describes CMOs as reactive more than proactive, spending huge amounts on technologies they don’t understand in search of that golden and instant ROI.

While there may not be a lot of upside to working in fear, it does give us a better understanding of what drives our consumers to think and buy like they do. Just like CMOs who buy technology they don’t understand – and in many cases don’t even know what the acronym stands for – in order to avoid a painful loss, consumers seek to buy things to help them do the same, just in other areas of life. For example, consumers buy luxury labels for clothing and cars that cost so much more than functional alternatives because we fear losing social status among those we seek to impress. We buy educational products or college degrees for fear of losing a quality of life we anticipate or have now. We buy technology that will keep us connected with our jobs, our networks and our knowledge sources so we don’t have to fear being left behind. The list goes on.

This Will Never Happen to You

Car accidents, failed businesses or marriages, and lackluster marketing campaigns happen to “everyone but me.” Or so we like to think — or, rather, are programmed to think.

Car accidents, failed businesses or marriages, and lackluster marketing campaigns happen to “everyone but me.” Or so we like to think — or, rather, are programmed to think.

According to Tali Sharot — author of “The Optimism Bias,” published in Time magazine in 2011, and then a research fellow at University College London’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging — our brain’s frontal cortex causes our thoughts of the future to be more positive than negative. We tend to associate our life events with good outcomes, not bad ones. You know, “other people get divorced, not us. Other people’s kids get sick, not ours. We have a chance of winning the lottery, despite all the odds,” and so on.

When you consider the role the frontal cortex plays in our lives, it makes sense. The frontal cortex drives our thoughts associated with goal-setting, and we set goals because we believe we can achieve them. If not, we would just live to exist, not to self-actualize, which is a key part of the human psyche, and a strong driver in many of the choices we make personally and professionally, as well as our purchasing choices.

So if we tend to live in a state of hope that life will turn out how we expect it to, what does that mean about our ability to accept the reality that the opposite might occur: That maybe we will be the ones to experience loss, tragedy, defeat and more?

Freud identified a series of ego defenses, or thought stages, we go through to help us survive against threats associated with reality and deal with conflicts. His daughter Anna elaborated on his concept of defense mechanisms and helped to build a list of mental stages that represent various ways of coping when reality is too much to accept. I call these defense mechanisms “denial stages,” or places we exist to avoid thinking about what we don’t want to face someday. The mechanisms, or denial stages, include:

  • Repression: When our unconscious keeps disturbing our unconscious thoughts from becoming conscious.
  • Denial: When we block external events from our awareness and choose not experience situations we can’t face.
  • Projection: When we project thoughts about traits we don’t like to admit about ourselves onto others to make our own weaknesses more acceptable.
  • Displacement: Substituting an impulse with another object, like eating sweet berries when you really wanted ice cream.
  • Regression: Moving back in psychological time to a place that seems safer than the place where you currently are in life.
  • Sublimation: When we satisfy an impulse with something positive, like putting your addictions into running vs. alcohol.

For any of us, many of our customers live in one or more of these stages. We need to “face” which of these stages affect our target consumers and how consumers might block our messages in order to fall deeper into denial. A state that does not open their minds to our products, messages, offers and such.

Take financial services for example. We do not want to think of ourselves as getting too old to work, so we might slip into denial and thus block out messages about retirement planning and investing. Life insurance companies face this dilemma every day. “Other people die and leave their children without a parent or with a compromised financial future.” No one wants to think about something that bad happening to their family and to engage in life insurance purchasing processes means accepting that it actually could.

Moving consumers from a state of denial in which they have likely dwelled comfortably for a long period of time is a tricky but critical process for marketers in just about any business category.

Fighting Fear of Zika: 3 Quick Email Tips

As Zika virus spreads, questions about the safety of traveling are once again being asked. Using email, some marketers have begun to address the the crisis.

As the Zika virus spreads through Latin America, questions about the safety of traveling are once again being asked. In recent weeks, via email and the Web, some marketers have begun to slowly and carefully address the crisis.

Believed to be transmitted primarily by infected mosquitoes, Zika has been linked to microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and possible brain damage. It’s been declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization(WHO), and President Obama asked for $1.8 billion in the new budget for a multi-pronged attack on the virus.

With millions of Americans thinking of, and even planning overseas visits, how do you calm fears about a growing epidemic and provide reassurance?

Here are a few ideas from email that I’ve received in my Who’s Mailing What! inbox since Feb. 9.

1. Get People’s Attention
Emails sent by Sandals, the operator of several chains of Caribbean resorts, are always jam-packed with offers. Various packages, deals and airline partner specials related to resort properties within that brand are spotlighted as you navigate down the html.

SandalsZikaFeb9After the first week of February, across all of its brands, Sandals has added a round read-and-white “ZIKA UPDATE” button that clicks through to a special landing page. While it is the same size as the other bursts typically used, its placement in the top image of the email, either just above or just below the fold, stands out.

2. Provide Important Information
Trust is the most essential ingredient in communication. To build and reinforce it, you need to give people as much information as possible. In this case, travelers need to know how to avoid, or at least minimize, the risk of infection by taking the right preventative measures.

SandalsSplashThe Sandals Zika landing page is topped with a big image of a couple holding hands on a beach and lots of reassuring copy about the company’s response to Zika. “ALL SANDALS & BEACHES RESORTS REMAIN TOTALLY ZIKA FREE” reads the banner at the top, with some quick stats and a breakdown of precautionary measures below.

Further down the page, a map and a chart detail the current Zika status in each of the Caribbean countries where the company has a resort. At the bottom, there’s a statement of Sandals’ commitment “to work with the Ministry of Health departments in each island to ensure that they remain free of the Zika virus.”

3.Offer Solutions
Despite their fears, most people will still travel. ExOfficio, a performance clothing retailer, recognized that “the pull of adventure is strong,” and sent an email that offered to “Mosquito-Proof Your Travels,” as the subject line put it.

ExOffNewThe top block of the promo sets up the fight: “BUGSAWAY VS. ZIKA,” then goes on to position its clothing line as a disease-fighter. Another section of text describes how clothing treated with permethrin, an insect repellent, is “EPA-registered” and “Appropriate For Families.”

ExOffClothesAnother block shows four examples, with pricing, of the “bug-defeating” clothing, two each for men and women. A click or tap leads to its landing page on the ExOfficio website.

All of these steps are about making sure that the customer is comfortable with the decision to make a trip.

According to news reports, some airlines, hotels, travel agencies and cruise operators have offered their clients the opportunity to cancel trips without penalty for either a refund or credit towards another future travel.

Whenever an international crisis arises, allowing customers to defer travel or switch to another destination is a measure of goodwill that builds customer loyalty. Any expense generated by this flexibility seems like a small price to pay when the customer’s peace of mind, and the reputation of the business, is at stake.

3 Ways to Use the Spell of FOMO in Copywriting

FOMO: The “Fear of Missing Out.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Perhaps this particular fear describes you or someone you know. FOMO is a phenomenon reported by 56 percent of social media users, and it even has its own hashtag. This particular fear isn’t just of missing out on social media posts, it extends to checking email, phone calls and more. More importantly to direct marketers, the driving emotion of the FOMO is powerful and when properly used

FOMO: The “Fear of Missing Out.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Perhaps this particular fear describes you or someone you know. FOMO is a phenomenon reported by 56 percent of social media users, and it even has its own hashtag. This particular fear isn’t just of missing out on social media posts, it extends to checking email, phone calls, and more. More importantly to direct marketers, the driving emotion of the FOMO is powerful and when properly used, you can write copy and create messaging to leverage this basic human fear.

The term FOMO was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. The acronym may be new, but classically trained direct mail copywriters have recognized the power of the fear of missing out for generations. We can use it in our copy to effectively sell because of how our brains are wired.

With mobile technology today, it is genuinely possible to become addicted to social networks because of the fear of missing out. It’s now effortless to compare and evaluate our own lives against that of our friends.

A survey last year of social media users by MyLife.com and reported by Mashable suggests:

  • 51 percent visit or log on to social networking sites more frequently now than two years earlier.
  • The average person manages 3.1 email addresses (up from 2.6 a year earlier).
  • 27 percent check their social networks as soon as they wake up.
  • 42 percent have multiple social networking accounts (61 percent for those age 18 to 34).
  • 56 percent are afraid of missing something such as an event, news or an important status update if they don’t keep an eye on social networks.

These stats suggest you’re more likely than not to be in the spell of FOMO.

But the reality is this: We’re all wired to have basic fear. And without taking inappropriate advantage of your prospective customers, there are ways you can appeal to this part of the brain—the amygdala—with messaging to make your sales programs more effective. Here are three uses with FOMO in mind as you write copy and create message positioning:

  • First to Know: If you fear missing out, you must surely want to be the first to know of an important development, new product or news. And, when you’re first to know, you’re most eager to tell others you’re first to know, and pass it along (to your benefit).
  • Inside Story: People like to have the inside scoop combined with effective storytelling. Combine the concepts of revealing your inside story with a unique selling proposition, or positioning, and the sum is greater than its parts.
  • Limited Time: When there is a limited time a product is available, it intensifies desire to acquire it now. The challenge today, however, is that it’s easy for customers to check out competition and discover that limited time appeal has its limits.

These uses also create urgency in your copy. Writing copy and messaging based on this intense human primal fear will drive higher response. There can be no question that the spell of FOMO is real and a part of your customer’s minds.

Copywriting: Stir Emotion, Calm the Mind

Stimulate. Calm. In the direct marketing world, these are two related, but contrasting messaging and copywriting concepts that every marketer and copywriter should master. Why? Because a sure-fire way to get attention from prospective customers is by stimulating emotion. But you don’t want to stimulate emotion and drop the ball there

Stimulate. Calm.

In the direct marketing world, these are two related, but contrasting messaging and copywriting concepts that every marketer and copywriter should master. Why? Because a sure-fire way to get attention from prospective customers is by stimulating emotion. But you don’t want to stimulate emotion and drop the ball there. You must then immediately calm the mind so your prospect’s fears are relieved, allowing them to become engaged with your message, so they will pause long enough for you to introduce them to your solution.

In my most recent column, “Leveraging Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt in Copywriting,” I described how fear paralyzes thinking because it’s an instinctive response from the amygdala, our lizard brain.

But because fear is so overwhelming as a natural response, it shuts off the thinking part of the brain. So while, as a copywriter, you want to stimulate emotion by tapping into fear, uncertainty and doubt, you need to quickly calm the mind so decision-making is unblocked. And you can do that by dangling a carrot in front of your audience to moderate their mood.

Search the Web for “how do you calm the mind” and you’ll get thousands of websites with meditation advice. While you don’t want to steer prospects to meditate—at least in the stereotypical way you think of meditation—you do want your prospect to be calmed enough to focus on your message.

To more fully grasp the connection between stimulating emotion and the need to calm the mind, it may be helpful to take a deeper dive into how our brains respond to stimuli. Your brain is filled with neurotransmitters, and knowing the signals they transmit will help you better understand how the brain functions. For marketers, it’s important that you know how to use these signals to strengthen your messaging.

Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that communicate information throughout our brains and bodies. They relay signals between nerve cells, called “neurons.” The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest. They can also affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight and can cause adverse symptoms when they are out of balance.

There are two kinds of neurotransmitters: inhibitory and excitatory. Excitatory neurotransmitters stimulate the brain. Inhibitory neurotransmitters calm the brain and help create balance.

So as a direct marketer, after stimulating emotion you must quickly balance the mood. When you over-stimulate, the inhibitory neurotransmitters can be depleted and instead of focusing on your solution, you leave your prospect focusing on their fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Those inhibitory neurotransmitters—those brain chemicals—include:

  • Serotonin, which is necessary for a stable mood and to balance any excessive excitatory (stimulating) neurotransmitter firing in the brain.
  • Gaba helps to calm and relax us, by balancing stimulation over-firing.
  • Dopamine is a special neurotransmitter because it is considered to be both excitatory and inhibitory. It’s very complex. When it spikes, it can motivate and give a person pleasure. When elevated or low, it can cause focus issues such as not remembering what a paragraph said when we just finished reading it (obviously, not something marketers want to happen when reading our copy).

With a cocktail of brain chemicals swirling around in your prospect’s mind, here are a few ways you can calm your prospect’s mind after stimulating their emotion:

  1. Announce a new discovery
  2. Introduce a solution
  3. Assure with a promise
  4. Promise a reward
  5. Brighten the mood of the message to evoke pleasant memory
  6. Introduce new learning

Stimulate. Calm. With these two initial steps, you’ve grabbed attention and have moderated mood so your prospect desires to hear and read more about you.

Leveraging Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt in Copywriting

Fear is paralyzing. And fear is important for marketers to understand and leverage. I was reminded of how fear takes over the mind while on vacation a couple of weeks ago in Barcelona, Spain. We rented a car for a drive to Andorra and Southern France, and while returning the car to the Barcelona’s city center, we got lost. The GPS navigation wasn’t helpful. The streets were crowded. Then a tap on the window by a motorcyclist next to our car, and pedestrians pointing

Fear is paralyzing. And fear is important for marketers to understand and leverage. I was reminded of how fear takes over the mind while on vacation a couple of weeks ago in Barcelona, Spain. We had rented a car for a drive to Andorra and Southern France and while returning the car to the Barcelona’s city center, we got lost. The GPS navigation wasn’t helpful. The streets were crowded. Then a tap on the window by a motorcyclist next to our car, and pedestrians pointing to the passenger rear tire sent me over the edge: the tire was nearly flat.

Going into the trip, I anticipated that renting a car and driving would generate some anxiety. It began with the fact that the car came with a manual transmission. The last time that I had driven a vehicle with a manual transmission was on the family farm in the 1970s. I thought driving with a manual transmission after all those years would be like never forgetting how to ride a bike. Apparently not. After dozens of times stalling the engine in intersections and at toll booths due to the learning curve of syncing acceleration and releasing the clutch, I felt fear. After three days of driving, I finally got past the learning curve of using a manual transmission.

But it was in the moments returning the car with a nearly flat tire that was my worst fear of all. There was no place to pull over on the crowded streets of Barcelona. Traffic was heavy. Motorcycles buzzed around us. Yet we were only blocks from the car rental facility. We couldn’t get there from where we were.

Fear consumed me. It’s an instinctive response, and there is science that helps to explain why fear is all-consuming.

The amygdala, or lizard brain, has an evolutionary purpose for humans to survive. The amygdala reacts in a “fight” or “flight” mode. It is alert to basic needs—anger, fear and reproduction—with memory formulated over a lifetime as it assesses how to respond to survive and reproduce.

The right amygdala retains negative emotions, especially fear and sadness. The left amygdala retains both pleasant and unpleasant emotions.

Because we’re wired for fear and negative emotion more dominantly than for positive emotions, fear, uncertainty and doubt take over.

And these emotions are the most powerful human emotions that marketers can leverage.

For fear to work, and for you to be credible in your copy, consider these three pathways:

  1. Begin by stimulating your prospect’s emotion with how you relate to their fear, uncertainty and doubt (“FUD”).
  2. Once you have acknowledged and reminded them of their FUD, you’re poised to take the next step of earning trust.
  3. Quickly calm their minds by offering your solution and clearing away the FUD.

When your mind is in constant fear, it’s difficult to think. You’re stuck. You’re frozen. You can’t make up your mind. Your decision-making power is blocked.

Marketers can leverage the power of fear to stimulate emotion, but to be effective, you must quickly calm the mind so that decision making is unblocked and you can move your customers to the thinking part of their brains where they can make decisions.

As for the rest of the Barcelona driving story, thankfully, after several minutes of fear and panic, we ditched using the navigation. Our daughter had been studying there for the semester and her internship’s office was in the general neighborhood of where we needed to return the car. She had never driven in the city, but was familiar with the streets.

She calmly gave me the turn-by-turn directions to the car rental return facility. When I finally recognized a landmark only a block away, my fear vanished and a calm enveloped me. We arrived before the tire had gone completely flat. And now I could think clearly once again and return to enjoying our vacation.

Michael Della Penna’s Conversations: How to Spark a Conversation Revolution!

Creating conversations is hard, despite all the knowledge and tools at our disposal today. it should be easier than ever, right? Not quite. As is all too often the case, fear can get in the way. More specifically, fear of the social media unknown.

Creating conversations is hard, despite all the knowledge and tools at our disposal today. It should be easier than ever, right? Not quite. As is all too often the case, fear can get in the way. More specifically, fear of the social media unknown.

For many marketers, that includes the biggest “what if” of all: What if someone talks badly about your brand? The simple fact is consumers are already talking. Therefore, learning how to spark and manage conversations isn’t only essential on today’s social internet, but it might just save your job or, better yet, get you promoted.

To do it right, marketers must abandon their comfort zone of hiding behind their marketing efforts, including crafting and delivering messages, measuring sales, and then hitting the rinse and repeat button. Instead, they must be open, transparent, adventurous and unafraid. So what’s the formula for sparking and facilitating a great conversation? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Focus on relationships, not technologies. Take the time to understand what your customers want and do online, then determine the kind of relationship you want to have with them.

2. Start with a clear and simple goal. Is your goal about improving customer service (like @comcastcares) or sharing a passion for a topic or issue (e.g., sports, fashion or music)? Have a specific goal in mind at the beginning and add to it over time as you learn.

3. Monitor and survey. Use social monitoring tools to understand what kinds of conversations are already taking place. Investigate your customers’ interests. You may find vastly different interests and engagement levels across certain demographics and customer segments — this often gives you some direction on where to start and who to target first.

4. Start small and experiment.
Most of us have limited resources, so start small. Go narrow, but deep. Then take some chances and do something unique to create value. For example, one of my clients hired a photographer to take exclusive photos at sporting events in order to share those photos with its fans and followers. Needless to say, it generated huge interest and continues to spark conversations around the communities’ shared passion for sports.

5. Try focusing on an industry development or event rather than your product or brand. Leverage big events and share your unique perspective. People will likely jump in as you build trust and establish credibility.

6. Feed the conversation with integrated marketing efforts.
Don’t forget to support your community efforts by using existing tools and resources. Socialize traditional channels such as email to grow awareness, interest and engagement.

7. Don’t forget the “social” in social media. Listen and respond quickly; be conversational, authentic and transparent. Recognize and support contributors by sharing their content with others and thanking them.

8. Measure everything.
What kinds of communications are resonating? Measure each effort’s impact against your objective. Look at quantitative and qualitative metrics. For @comcastcares, that might mean looking at how much customer service has improved and how it’s impacted the perceptions of consumers and the media.

9. Be flexible and willing to change direction. Go with the flow. If an approach isn’t resonating, try something new. Let your customers guide the conversation. In fact, the most successful communities are the ones in which the hosting brands eventually get to a place where they post the least. Over time these brands have been able to earn the trust of the community. They simply spark and facilitate the conversation rather than dominate it. Remember, trust = money.

10. Stick to it. Engaging visitors and customers in conversation doesn’t happen overnight. Stick to it. With a little practice and patience — and lots of listening and flexibility — you’ll find your way.

Building successful conversations is really about listening, relinquishing control and being willing to fail. While this is new thinking for many marketers, it can and is being done well among brands that focus on their relationships, not campaigns.

Finally, success also requires practice. This was best said in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”: “Practice isn’t something you do until you’re good. It is something that makes you good.”

‘Til next time.