One of my first big web writing assignments was at a huge academic medical center. I was writing a sinus surgery site with one of the more famous sinus surgeons on the planet.

Understandably, I was nervous. He walked in the room and without saying hello, sneered, “Who’s the web writer here?” I meekly raised my hand and he snapped, “I’m going to tell you how users use the web.”

Why didn’t I have the gumption to say, “Ok, and after this, we’ll go upstairs and I’ll operate on your sinuses?” Of course I didn’t, but I’ve learned since then to come to meetings like that one armed with data, research and proven best practices.

What is evidence-based marketing?

In the same way that evidence-based medicine relies on research, data and studies, evidence-based marketing needs to do the same thing. By testing our efforts, and studying our own tactics and strategies, we can move toward a better way of communicating with our primary stakeholders: doctors. They are scientists and use data to make decisions. It’s worked for medicine—it will work for marketing.

I can tell you that when I show clinicians keyword data to make the case for hypertension vs. high blood pressure, they get it immediately. And when we discuss navigation and IA with executives, explaining best practices and using competitors layouts can help make or break our case.

Here are two studies that move us towards evidence-based marketing:

  1. Testing Content for Retention
    At Johns Hopkins, we wanted to know if people could remember important facts that would influence their healthcare decisions. We tested a number of pages before we found a best practice that moved retention from 17% to 63%.See the presentation on Slideshare: Johns Hopkins and the Healthcare Content Conundrum.
  2. Testing Healthcare Zombie Marketing Words
    World-class. Complex. State-of-the-art. Multidisciplinary. These are words we’ve all used in copy and conversation. But do they work for patients? We looked at the top 50 cancer sites as ranked by U.S. News & World Report and examined the words they used on their websites. We then surveyed 200 people to find out what words would move them to choose one hospital over another for care.The results were surprising as you can see in this Slideshare: The Power of Empathy in Healthcare Content. (Results are toward the end of the presentation.)

One of the reasons, as healthcare marketers, we’re all so focused on ROI, is that we need data to make our case for why things are important. Don’t be afraid to test—the tests above were both under $200 and gave us tons of important information about how to create better content and user experiences.

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