Ever wonder what makes you buy one brand of ketchup, toilet paper, or television instead of another? What about why you'd see one cancer specialist over his competitor or trust one hospital organization as opposed to another?

It may be all about wording.

The 2017 Southwest Healthcare Marketing Report: “Consumer Perceptions & Attitudes" asked 500 consumers in six southwestern states how they feel about healthcare advertising and marketing. The report published in Becker's Hospital Review found some notable takeaways about word choice and messaging in healthcare ads.

Cutting Through the Noise

Seems the words "knowledgeable," "trustworthy," and "cost-effective" were tops in inspiring customer loyalty. To the opposite end, "expert," "helpful," and "innovative" ranked much lower. The takeaway? Language nuance play a large role.

“Slight verbiage swaps can make the difference in driving action for consumers, health providers, whomever your audience," says Suzanne Woodward, communications director at UNC Center for Maternal & Infant Health in Chapel Hill. "It's interesting to see the top health advertising words vs. top general ad words — what we see in both worlds: the word 'YOU' rules."

Woodward says other winning words are “sincere," “authentic," and “safe." She also says “new" has replaced “innovative" due to overuse.

As for effective phrasing, the marketing report lauded “We will treat the problem, not just the symptoms" over the simplistic "We have the best treatment."

The main challenge, as with all marketing, is to stand out against the competition. If you could swap the logo on one of your ads for a competitor's logo and not be confused by its pairing with your messaging, you see the problem. Healthcare advertising may have more nuanced rules and regulations, but the main hurdle of cutting through the noise is the same no matter what industry you're in.

Who's your Audience?

A vital part of creating a successful healthcare ad is understanding your core audience. Who are they? What are they doing? How do you get their attention? Are they ready to listen and engage? How can you reach them? Finally, how do you organically become part of the conversation? For instance, the marketing report noted that the healthiest consumers weren't influenced by messaging that emphasized their current healthcare needs. This is where creating personas, based on consumer data, can help optimize your efforts.

Digital technology has changed the game. And access to valuable content has changed consumer behavior. The anonymity to and accessibility of healthcare information via digital channels presents the greatest opportunity to connect to an audience. But unlike ketchup and televisions, healthcare is almost by definition, personal.

The basis for more effective ads is in speaking directly to your audience. Visuals and language must reflect that audience. Does your call to action offer something of value to your consumer? What's more, consider how that audience consumes media. Is it email, or social media? Is it on mobile? For ROI, one would then measure open rates, click rates, views, and likes, depending on the medium. Your strategy has to include understanding your target audience and their media consumption and behavioral eccentricities if you're going to engage them effectively.

The relationship between your healthcare organization and your base is crucial. It must be built on an intrinsic understanding of what you should offer as a brand in order to make an authentic connection. Authenticity builds trust, and with something as personal as healthcare, that trust can make all the difference in a consumer's decision making.

Metrics Matter

As with any campaign, success metrics need to be identified along with a deep dive into the audience and environment. Use your unique strategic insights to create campaigns that stand out.

While this feels intuitive, it's not that common, which may be the reason for a great deal of generic marketing and little breakthrough work. Of course, this strategic insight should come from a truth residing in the brand's reason for being: its purpose. If that's missing, it's likely there is a whole branding exercise that needs to take place before spending valuable marketing dollars.

Running and comparing ads side by side can be a telling way to understand what drives your specific audience. Using metrics and social listening tools, you can create content that better resonates with your target community and drives engagement. “It's not enough to simply test run ads and report metrics," says Woodward.

It Takes a Team

Healthcare marketing ROI is more complex than measuring if an ad for purses resulted in more purses sold. Each campaign may have a different path to downstream revenue. Are you measuring awareness via impressions? Seminar signups or HRA completions? New appointments? Downstream revenues? To be the most effective, you need to be measuring, and connecting, it all, which takes a team.

Your team needs to understand your audience in order to continually update your strategy and ensure you reach them in the best ways possible. The team must understand how to gather the data and use it in a way to tell a story — your brand's story.

Beyond the great product or service story, healthcare ads should strive to reinforce the brand's values. Research shows harnessing emotional qualities and avoiding the pressure to purely sell a product or service is key. You have to continually strive for relevance with your audience, no matter which channel you deploy your message on. A cohesive, audience-focused strategy will help you be more effective in the long-run.

Want more insight on creating ads that win? Read our other posts on image selection for Facebook ads, using video to engage, and A/B testing to optimize your efforts.