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.
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.
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.
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 lessons from Wonder Woman’s success is a process, but it involves only two basic steps.
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.
This is where things can get tricky, but fortunately there are precedents to consider.
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.