WHPRMS February Blog: Tell a Story. Save a life.

I am a big fan of storytelling. Recently, I attended the Moth StorySlam event titled LOVE HURTS. Audience members told short stories about love, described this way – “a love that made you go OUCH. The agony of deferred love! The misery of good love, gone bad! The anguish of one-way love! Stories of your heart, kicked to the curb by the people you love…or used to love.”

 Sometimes, I get up the nerve to tell a story of my own. Since I went to the LOVE HURTS event with my wife of 36 years, I didn’t tell a story this time. Discretion is the better part of valor.

 Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication. In stories we connect emotionally through shared values, ideas and lived experiences. A well-told story allows the audience to internalize, understand and create personal meaning.

Healthcare marketers know that powerful stories stimulate reader interest and are better remembered than facts. Consumers exposed to a positive story describe the brand in much more positive terms and were willing to pay more for the product.1

Therefore, it’s up to you as the marketing expert to tell stories that help consumers understand how the patient care, mission, culture and vision make your organization unique and exceptional. Rather than buying your product, they buy the emotion you make them feel. When they make an emotional connection, they are more likely to become a patient, or a consumer of your brand.

Compelling stories are engaging, real, dramatic and motivating. Here are some tips on how to tell a great story, courtesy of The Moth Story Slam in Madison co-producer Jen Rubin.

The Five Beats to Storytelling

All good stories follow this format –

  1. Introduction
  2. Inciting Incident
  3. Raising the Stakes
  4. Main Event
  5. Resolution

It’s easy to see how the five beats relate to the typical patient success story. You introduce your subject, identify the medical diagnosis, describe its impact physically and emotionally, convey how medical intervention was applied, and finally, show the lasting impact of those interventions.

Common Elements to a Good Story

  1. The Problem

A good story centers around a problem to be solved and conveys risk. Practically every patient that walks through your doors has a story that fits this scenario.

  1. Story Arc

Good stories have a beginning, a middle and end. The arc is “the moment of change”. That’s the moment the story has been building to. It can be the cure, acceptance of chronic illness, death and grieving, or even ongoing advocacy on behalf of others with the same condition.

  1. Specific and Universal

The story should be specific to the subject, but also universal to all. Only a few readers may have that particular disease, but most every reader has been ill, sought treatment and has hoped for the most positive of outcomes. Focus on the universal truths in your story.

  1. Vulnerability

Failure and loss are inherent to risk. Treatments that don’t work, setbacks in recovery and the impact of chronic illness on family members speak to the universal fears we all have. Don’t leave these critical elements out of the story.

  1. What is the Story About?

A good story isn’t a re-telling of an incident or anecdote. Find the meaning and message, the hows, the whys, the lessons learned and the emotional impact within.

  1. Color

Details make it a more readable and believable story. Be sure to set the scene by describing the subject’s hair color, infectious smile, nickname, background, hobbies or anything else that helps to inform the narrative. Make your subject interesting.

  1. Resolution

The best stories have some resolution. Describe how the patient is better off in some way – physically, emotionally – or both. Identify calls to action and how others can benefit by knowing the story. The story subject and the readers should be better off in the end.

  1. Start off Strong and Stick the Landing

Get the reader’s attention from the first sentence and have the final sentence in mind before you start writing. It’s always good to know where you are going.

Good Stories Save Lives

Storytelling works well in every channel, including email, video, social media and print. Told the right way, a good story can convince someone to stop ignoring a lump or constant discomfort and seek medical advice. Successful storytelling campaigns can get prospective patients in the door to see a provider.

As we all know, early detections saves lives. So too, can a well-told story.


1. The Impact of Storytelling on the Consumer Brand Experience: The Case of a Firm-Originated Story, Journal of Brand Management 20, 283-297 (February/March 2013) –https://link.springer.com/article/10.1057%2Fbm.2012.15