How Do You Talk About Cancer?

June 9, 2012
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When We Talk About Cancer, What Can We Talk About?

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When We Talk About Cancer, What Can We Talk About?

Cancer. It’s a diagnosis – and even a word – no one wants to think about. As healthcare organizations and marketers, however, it’s our job not only to think about it, but also to talk about it in a way that makes cancer diagnoses and treatments less unspeakable for the patients and families we serve. It’s a tall order, but not an impossible one. So how do we talk about cancer?

 

Different Cancers, Different Campaigns

First, we need to remember to limit ourselves to talking about the types of cancer that are relevant to our organization, instead of cancer as one all-encompassing disease. If we’re launching a colon cancer awareness campaign, for example, we need to talk about colon cancer. If we’re sponsoring a breast cancer awareness walk, we need to talk about that. If we are a center that specializes in skin, lung, esophageal or any other type of cancer, we need to talk about how our work relates to that specific type of cancer, how we are specially trained and equipped to diagnose and treat that cancer, and how we are the caring, compassionate experts.

More than ever, healthcare consumers are seeking specialized treatment centers for their cancers. As they weigh their options and make their decisions, we need to let them know why we would be their best choice. What specific treatments do we offer? What medical backgrounds do our physicians have? What support groups and other services do we provide? Consumers will choose the cancer center that meets more of their needs – the cancer center that specializes in their particular cancer.

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Knowledge Is Power

It’s good advice for daily life and marketing: Before we talk, we need to know what we’re talking about. When we’re talking about cancer in a marketing capacity, it’s not enough to know everything about cancer. We also need to know as much as we can about marketing.

Before we market our cancer facility or services, we should find out the answers to the following questions: Who is our target audience? What do they know about us? What do they want to know? What kind of medium is most relevant to them? What kind of message?

If we don’t have these answers, we should do our homework (i.e., market research) and find out. But let’s dig deeper: Do our consumers prefer seeing cancer patients in ads, or cancer physicians? What, if anything, do our clinical affiliations, quality awards and rankings mean to them? What word choices are most appealing? How do we cut through the clutter to reach them?

Don’t Forget Families

Another thing to keep in mind is that very few cancer patients undertake a treatment plan on their own. Spouses, children, parents and siblings all have their own fears and hopes about their cancerstricken loved one. Remembering this family connection – and speaking to it in our marketing – is another way to distinguish our organizations as welcoming places in which to heal or visit.

Remember also that as baby boomers grow older and increasingly come to rely on our services, we will need to reach their children, who are spending more time and seeking answers online. Our campaigns must have a technological, web-based component to be credible with this tech- and healthcare-savvy generation. A robust, easily accessible website and dynamic social media presence are two great places to start.

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Talking about cancer, let alone marketing it, will never be easy. But with these tips, we can start the conversation with the people who most need to hear it.