Tell me what you want (what you really really want): The doctor version.
You might think that marketing to physicians gives you a pass to pile on the complex medical terms, go heavy on the passive voice and run on your sentences to your heart’s content.
After all, these are super-brainy physicians. They read the New England Medical Journal for fun; surely they would turn up their noses at anything but the densest, smartest-sounding content, right?
So, so wrong. Even prestigious medical journals like to use stories instead of hard data to illustrate some points (more on that in a bit).
Here are 5 tips to keep in mind when writing for a physician audience:
1. Make Physician Marketing Look Like Consumer Marketing
When we write for consumers, we don’t overload them. We give them the “must-knows” followed by the “nice-to-knows.” Think about it as a “bite, snack, meal.” The bite has everything they need. The snack has more tidbits of information. And the meal has all the details. The goal of our information is to help consumers:
• Find what they need
• Understand what they find
• Use what they find to decide how to move forward.
Well, guess what? That’s exactly what we should do when we market to physicians as well. Notice how medical journals often begin with an “abstract?” That abstract is the “snack”: It tells the physicians the important points they need to know. Or some articles may start with “key points.” Again, doling out the essential info so doctors can see what they need quickly.
If a physician is looking for information about the “effects of acupuncture for MS” or “new treatments for advanced stage GI tumors,” they don’t want to wade through the methodology right now. They want to know the main takeaways so they can help their patient. Later they can dive into the “meal” of the study. But they appreciate getting the main points quickly so they can read it and move on — so they can find what they need, understand what they find, and use what they find to make a decision.
Content: but make it the right size
When you are writing or marketing to doctors, use this same strategy:
• Bite: This may be the headline of your article or the subject line of your email. It should give physicians the main points at a glance. This way, they can decide in a second or two if it’s relevant for them and if they want to learn more.
• Snack: The body copy of your email or the intro paragraph of your article should summarize your topic in a few sentences. Don’t worry about “spoiler alerts”: physicians are busy and want to get to the point.
• Meal: Go ahead and dive in! If your doctors have gotten this far, they are interested in what you have to say about this topic. But keep sentences short and sweet and use an active voice as much as possible.
2. Medical Jargon: Just Don’t Do It!
Which brings us to the next topic: What’s the deal with medical jargon? Do doctors, after their years of medical education, really need (or want) plain language? Do they care about active vs. passive voice?
Yes, yes they do.
In one study about clear English, researchers showed lawyers some content.
1. If there is a continuation of this breach, my client will effect an immediate termination of this contract.
2. If this breach continues, my client will immediately terminate this contract.
And a whopping 80% preferred the second, simpler sentence over the first, more complex one. In fact, the more educated a person is, the more they prefer “clear English.”
Maybe because highly educated people, like doctors and lawyers, are constantly dealing with high-level words and complex concepts. They do a LOT of reading and writing. So they appreciate it when writers make content as straightforward as possible.
Here’s a medical example:
1. A colonoscope will be inserted into your rectum and the inside lining of your colon will be carefully inspected.
2. Your medical provider will use a flexible, lighted tube, called a colonoscope, to look at the inside lining of your colon.
Again, more than 80% preferred the second, active sentence over the passive sentence. Doctors — they’re just like us! They want clear, straightforward writing that they don’t have to muddle through.
A note about shared vocabulary
“Can I say hypertension?” Short answer: Yes. Physicians belong to a community that has a shared vocabulary. Just like the bird-watching community will have avian terms they understand perfectly, but nonbird-watchers don’t understand, medical professionals readily understand terms like “SVT” and “hypertension” without you explaining that it’s a “supraventricular tachycardia” or “high blood pressure.”
In this case, medical jargon isn’t a communication barrier. So go ahead and use the high-level “shared vocabulary.” But use them with clear English — short, active sentences.
3. Reduce Friction for Physicians
Everyone has a limited attention span. Anything that makes them slow down, reread, figure out what’s going on — no one has time for that. Even doctors. Especially doctors. Things move quickly, and they need to decide fast. We don’t want to slow them down with content that has long or complex sentences.
Design can also help you reduce friction. Physicians are typically coming to your website to:
• Refer a patient
• Access research
• Stay in touch if you are in a related field
So make it easy for them to do what they need to do. Don’t ask them to “select a region.” Don’t require them to fill in unnecessary fields (“What is your medical staff membership status?”). And if you want them to subscribe to your newsletter, don’t hide your “subscribe to our newsletter” button!
4. Tell Stories
Storytime? For physicians? Yes. Doctors’ brains, like all of ours, are primed for stories and narration. Stories are all over the place in medicine. They help with:
• Illustrating ideas
• Remembering details
• Sharpening ideas
• Differential diagnosis (“What are the reasons a patient might present like this?”)
• Affirmation (“This story makes sense with what I thought.”)
Even medical journals, like the New England Journal of Medicine, have used case histories (aka STORIES) instead of statistics and numbers. They understand that while statistics are essential, stories help capture the big picture of what’s happening. So use a patient story in your physician marketing materials to bring your content to life.
5. Use Data
Doctors LOVE data. If you can’t back up your ideas with hard data, fuggedaboudit. But do doctors a favor. Don’t just HAVE data. Use it well. Help physicians interpret it so they don’t have to do all the heavy lifting. Not every doctor has the time to interpret and understand a barrage of data and statistics.
We once again return to consumer-centric content. A good graphic tells a story in an instant. The same is true of data for physicians. Use:
• Graphics. And make them interesting and easy to understand.
• Comparisons: “The moon is one-quarter the size of the earth.”
• Positivity: “90% of patients will survive this cancer.”
• Opening with the takeaway: “82% of mothers said they have breastfed in public,” as an introduction to an article on barriers to breastfeeding.
Physician Marketing Strategies: The Takeaway
Physicians — or any subject matter expert — are like anyone else. They want content they can comprehend quickly. Just like we talk about not speaking “down” to consumers, don’t speak “up” to physicians. Don’t write long, complex, passive sentences because you think that sounds smart and will capture their attention. To engage with physicians:
• Give them the most important information first.
• Write clear, straightforward copy that doesn’t make them go, “Huh?”
• Reduce friction by making your pages clean and clear.
• Tell stories to illustrate your point memorably.
• Use data that illuminate, like graphics and comparisons.
For more on this topic, watch our webinar on physician marketing and jargon from June 2022. If you’re ready to take your physician marketing to the next level, we can help. Get in touch.