Bringing DEI To The Forefront Of Healthcare Marketing
TJ Martin is CEO of Cramer, a brand experience and content marketing agency with a division dedicated exclusively to healthcare.
On May 5, the World Health Organization officially ended Covid-19’s global emergency status, closing a significant chapter in the virus’s history. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 story is far from over.
The pandemic laid bare many uncomfortable truths about healthcare disparity throughout the world, including here in the United States. The virus’s disproportional impact on communities that have been marginalized—racial and ethnic minorities, low-income populations, and people with underlying health conditions—placed a very public spotlight on the systemic inequities contributing to unequal access to healthcare and health resources.
Addressing these complex and deep-seated problems will take time. However, with the commitment of everyone in the healthcare space—including those of us in healthcare marketing—we can address the issues more directly.
As the primary communicators to patient communities, marketers play a critical role in bringing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to the forefront of healthcare. By approaching our work through a DEI lens, we can help break down existing communication barriers that have exacerbated disparities in healthcare. Through the messaging strategies we employ, the words and images we use, the stories we tell and the voices we amplify, we can help improve the well-being of a wide range of patients.
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to making communications more inclusive. But there are plenty of areas of universal importance, which make for a good starting point.
Words matter. Inclusive language helps foster a sense of belonging, respect and trust among different patient populations, which increases the effectiveness of your message. It starts with taking the time to understand your audience. Does the community prefer person-based or identity-based language? Are there terms unique to the community? Specific words or phrases that are considered offensive or insensitive? Is there information available on their lived experiences? If not, can you do your own qualitative research or conduct interviews to better understand their experiences?
At Cramer, we start every project by doing our homework—including speaking directly to members of our target audience whenever possible—because it helps us learn about them while strengthening our messages.
There are a lot of nuances when it comes to inclusive language. If you’re unsure of where to start, I recommend taking a look at the CDC’s Guiding Principles for Inclusive Communication.
For healthcare marketing to be successful, patient communities must believe what you’re saying. Authentic imagery is critical to establishing that trust. Overly posed models or people wearing culturally specific clothing out of context feel forced and could negatively impact your marketing’s credibility. As with messaging, getting to know as much as you can about your audience is key.
If you typically rely on stock media for your marketing, you may also consider sites like pocstock or Nappy that specialize in high-quality photos, videos and illustrations featuring diverse people and backgrounds.
If your audience is the general public, try to showcase diversity at every opportunity. Representation is important and should extend beyond just race and gender. Consider featuring people who adhere to different beauty standards, people with mobility issues, people with intellectual disabilities, etc. Our country is made up of so many different types of people. We’ve found that showcasing and celebrating that diversity via imagery helps our campaigns resonate more with people and connect with them on a deeper level.
Optimizing For Accessibility
Healthcare marketing content should be accessible to any audience who needs it—including those with visual, auditory or other potential limitations. Consider how you can optimize your content (text, visuals, videos, etc.) as well as navigational elements to ensure broader accessibility.
A few things to keep in mind:
• Font size: Be sure the font size is large enough for any reader to easily view it.
• Color: Ensure there is enough color contrast, especially when it comes to text on a background, so that all audiences can read it. When in doubt, follow Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines for creating digital content.
• Clear calls to action: Make sure the next step you’re inviting users to take is clear. You don’t want to leave users confused about where they end up when they follow a link.
• Use a clear information hierarchy: The design and copy should work together to guide the reader through the flow of information, calling attention to the most important information. Consider using bullets or numbering content to make content scannable and easy to digest.
Focus On People
At Cramer, our motto is “Healthcare is human.” We pride ourselves on creating content and experiences that inspire, educate and motivate patients by connecting with them as people.
This means taking a human-centered approach in all that you do. Using the tenets of design thinking, always start with the end user. What do they need most from you? How can you deliver that in the most impactful way? Work backward from there, adjusting and readjusting your approach until your entire program perfectly aligns with both the direct needs of your audiences and the broader business goals of your company or your client.
Spending the extra time to ensure that your messaging and marketing are authentic, respectful and accessible adds an extra layer of humanity to your work. And I believe that humanity is what allows marketers to effectively communicate messages that build trust and enhance patient-centered care for everyone.