10 Tips for Marketing Healthcare to Women

This article originally appeared on Medium.com for the American Marketing Association.

There are many misconceptions around how to best market hospitals and healthcare services to women: Use pink or don’t? Do gendered messages have stronger appeal? Is it okay to skip focus-group testing? Here are 10 tips for crafting more effective healthcare messaging for women.

5 Things to Know

1. Women make about 80 percent of healthcare decisions.

It doesn’t matter if a hospital is promoting cardiac care or orthopedics; even though half the population is male, the consumers making the decisions about what care to receive and where to get it are overwhelmingly female.

2. Female consumers are savvy.

Women are more aware of gendered messaging than ever, which means it’s easier than ever to misstep. It’s now critically important to test your healthcare messaging with focus groups, so you can root out any unintentional stereotyping  —  like only portraying women in their homes, as moms or doing yoga.

3. Target by gender, but be aware that gendered messaging is often unappreciated.

According to a study by market research firm Fluent, 74 percent of women surveyed said they prefer gender-neutral marketing messages. When marketing women’s health service lines, some gender-specific language obviously must be included. But keep in mind that those services still treat the human first and the woman second. Everyone wants to stay well; men and women just live in different bodies, so they follow different paths to get there.

4. Pink has been found to be counterproductive for breast cancer awareness campaigns.

Women associate the color pink in breast cancer ads with the threat that they could die of breast cancer, so they tune out messaging with lots of pink. While research in this area is still advancing, it’s a strong caution for healthcare marketers that tying messaging about conditions to gender cues in general is a risky practice.

5. Women don’t like being portrayed as passive because they aren’t.

Women carry huge responsibilities in multiple aspects of their lives, from employment to family care, which gives them ample opportunity to be role models. Connect with them by using your healthcare messaging to appeal to their very human and very active desire to be the best versions of themselves for those they love.

5 Things to Start Doing

1. Include women on marketing teams.

It won’t just give messages a well-rounded perspective; McKinsey research has shown that greater company diversity equates to above-average financial success.

2. Show women actively engaged in decision-making.

Making choices means having power, whether a woman is writing a project proposal at work, deciding which extracurricular activities her child has time to commit to or picking a cardiologist for herself or a family member. When a health system creates an ad that portrays a woman actively choosing that system for her care during a moment of need, the female audience will feel an emotional connection because they understand those pressures and stresses.

3. Reflect diversity in marketing messages (and imagery).

Not all women are moms, and some women aren’t just moms  —  they’re CEOs, sports enthusiasts, artists and everything else. America’s demographics are changing, and the future looks much more diverse than the past. The definition of family is also shifting. Per the CDC, about 40 percent of births are to unwed mothers. There’s no longer even a typical family structure, so creating ads that only feature traditional family relationships is a misstep.

4. Use digital campaigns.

Digital campaigns are a great way to complement other efforts like TV, radio and out of home that primarily exist to disseminate information. The vast majority of women use social media, so hospitals can use traditional messaging platforms to point consumers to social media profiles where they can get questions answered or find more information about services advertised. With the targeting opportunities inherent in social marketing, these platforms can be a great place to provide information that women might find relevant to their specific needs.

5. Like all humans, women want to be communicated with, not communicated at.

Digital marketing, and particularly social media, is a perfect opportunity to do this. Women trust word-of-mouth and recommendations from their friends, which means campaigns featuring patient testimonials will resonate strongly with them.

By focusing on women’s needs and strengths without generalizing the entire gender group, and with strategic use of digital tactics to complement traditional mediums, hospitals and health systems can connect with women in ways that will make them feel truly heard and valued.

Kathy Selker
I’m Kathy Selker. My work as CEO of Northlich, a Cincinnati-based healthcare marketing agency, has taught me a great deal about how hospitals and health systems can best connect with women to make the most positive impact in their lives.
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