Wonder Woman's success provides a lesson in risk-taking for healthcare content marketers.
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What Wonder Woman’s History-Making Success Can Teach Health Care Content Marketing

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The health care content marketing community can learn a lot from the comic book genre, and one recent release is offering some guidance we can’t afford to miss.

It might sound like a stretch, but health care content creators have a delicate balance to strike. We deal with grounded, highly personal topics and can only innovate so much before we make our readers uncomfortable or risk not being taken seriously. A reliable way to strike a balance between novelty and alienation is to focus on the familiar, and a recent superhero movie provides a layered lesson in exactly how to pull it all off.

Wonder Woman set records across the board and around the world, launching a wave of content examining precisely what was responsible for its success. A lot of theories have emerged: a woman director? Great storytelling? Chris Pine?

There are arguments for all of them, but I think the answer is much simpler and offers a critical lesson in connecting with audiences through creative thinking and strategic risk-taking.

The Power of the Familiar

If there’s one thing people love more than something new, it’s something familiar.

That little bit of truth is so pervasive that it has its own name and has even earned discussion by psychologists. It’s called the Familiarity Principle of Attraction and is used to explain why, for example, we instinctively gravitate toward to people like our parents. Psychology Today reports, “Studies have shown that we are all attracted to what is familiar to us . . . This is a subconscious process that we’re not even aware of or have any awareness of making such a choice.”

So what’s that got to do with Wonder Woman, much less health care? The answer’s tied to the inner workings of another, related comic book titan with whom she shares a universe: Superman.

For the same reason health care content can be so challenging, telling the Superman story is no small feat. You’re working with something personal and familiar—something people don’t want to take too many many risks with.

Movie popcorn in classic cardboard container

Superman is deeply ingrained in American mythology, not only through 75 years of graphic novels, cartoons, and TV appearances, but also through the widely-loved movie series directed by Richard Donner that spawned a decade of sequels stretching into the late 80s. These films became the reference point for how movie audiences understand not only the character but superheroes overall; telling his (or any other hero’s) story requires presenting something new while still respecting decades-old expectations and emotional attachments. Look closely at that challenge, and you’ll see the exact problem that keeps health care marketers up at night. How do you present something fresh and attention-grabbing without violating your audience’s investment and connections?

In 2013, director Zach Snyder premiered his take on the character in the film Man of Steel but was left a bit baffled by people’s reactions to his deliberate departure from Donner’s version. He specifically remarked on audiences’ emotional attachment to the Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman: “The thing I was surprised about in response to Superman, was how everyone clings to the Christopher Reeve version of Superman, you know? How tightly they cling to those ideas . . .”

Long-held ideas and expectations matter, especially when they’re connected to something as personal as health care. Audiences want something fresh, surprising, and innovative, but only if it’s grounded in the familiar.

The Content Balancing Lesson of Wonder Woman

Apparently, that lesson was well learned by the creators of Wonder Woman because they made intentional efforts to leverage the familiar and give audiences a taste of Donner’s take on what a superhero should be. There were fresh twists on her origin story, new powers, and an uncharacteristically gritty mood. All that was anchored by tone, humor, and on-the-nose nods to the trusted and familiar Superman films.

The lesson here is that creative risk-taking can pay off if you understand where your audience wants to remain grounded. To see how this can play out in health care content, take a look at some boundary pushing from health insurance provider BUPA, who released Ten Glorious Seconds, a short film on Alzheimer’s disease.

Video of any kind is relatively rare in the world of health care content marketing, so a full-on film might be an unimaginable risk, especially tackling such a difficult and painful subject. The makers of Ten Glorious Seconds are careful to keep the tone respectful, the actors realistic, and the settings familiar.

Another example of risk-taking in health care content front comes from Banner Health and their use of the typically business-oriented infographic. Their infographic balances cartoonish germs and bold icons with cold hard facts to do the work of communicating well-worn but critical information about the flu and flu prevention.

Applying the Lesson in Your Organization

Applying the lessons from Wonder Woman’s success is a process, but it involves only two basic steps.

  • Focus on your industry’s biggest familiar touch points to establish the foundation of your content.
  • Choose the right inspiration to decide where you want to push your boundaries.

Finding Familiarity

This is the relatively simple part since the “norms” are easy to identify in both health care and content marketing overall. It’s also the most important because many leaders in health care organizations tend to prefer more conservative content. Starting with the familiar won’t just help you connect with your audience, it can also encourage leadership buy-in.

Make an effort to ground your content in at least one familiar point.

  • Industry- or Sector-Accepted Content Forms: Every sector of health care is different. While something like Facebook contests might be welcome in children’s health, it might not resonate in hospice care. Pay attention to your competitors and community members to see what types of content are most commonly produced and shared. This information will help to shape a picture of your content boundaries.
  • Pressing Topics or Challenges: Health care is a world of problem-solving, so leading with a problem (a disease, public health, or informational challenge) is typical. Ground your content in overt problem-solving and you’ll immediately connect with something the entire industry recognizes as familiar.
  • The People You Want to Connect With: Health care rules the roost when it comes to centering on patients and people. Keep your content human-centered (by featuring images or stories of patients) and your audience will better understand where you’re coming from and where you can provide value.

Pushing Boundaries

This is where things can get tricky, but fortunately there are precedents to consider.

  • Industry “Rogues”: Sometimes, boundary-pushing pays off (see: the award-winning Cervix Dude campaign). There are brands and organizations taking risks in health care content every day, so watch their actions and reception for some guidance on where your organization might want to push boundaries. (Keep an eye on health care marketing circles to find the most successful rogues.)
  • Adjacent Verticals: Your patients are also somebody else’s customers, so while they might be reserved when interacting with you, they aren’t completely unfamiliar with more forward-leaning content. Examine other verticals and how they’re innovating (e.g. retail’s use of mobile marketing) to help inspire your own content.
  • Conference Quirks: From cash cubes to free ice cream, health care conferences are a place where people can let loose and push limits to attract attention and encourage visits. Conferences are a great place to find where the real wiggle room is in some typically stuffy corners of the industry.

The movie example may seem specific, but this concept scales well and can be used for anything from social media posts to white papers, and even in your overall content marketing strategy.

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I'm a freelance business writer with 10 years' experience in healthcare (hospital consulting), over a decade's work in online content creation, and an MBA. I create engaging, informative content on general B2B topics, healthcare B2B, mobile healthcare, dental, and freelancing as a career. I have created content for clients including Samsung, Cintas, and Business Solutions Magazine. While I specialize in healthcare, my education and experience also give me the ability to create interesting and effective content on almost any business topic. I create thought leadership articles, blogs, news stories, case studies, and website content for emerging and established B2B healthcare brands. I have a unique mix of style, industry experience, and education that brings a signature tone and competence to my work. I believe B2B content in healthcare will benefit from a shift in tone...a shift to one that is rooted in the seriousness and formality of the industry, but that still understands the need for humanity and a more editorial feel.

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