The truth about moments of truth in marketing

How brands can help solve the trust crisis, one expert -- or amateur -- voice at a time

I found myself deep in a rabbit hole of anxiety one recent night, with a headache and a clicking sound that both felt like they were getting more intense by the second. Oh, what, you thought I was describing my symptoms? Nope, just describing my experience searching for medical advice online. (The clicking sound was the mouse, get it? … Alright, so I’ve been told that if you have to explain a joke it’s not a good one, so let me get into the blog post instead.)

What happened next in my journey to figure out if I really needed to get my head checked probably won’t surprise you:

  • I found a slideshow that slowly radicalized me from “I get headaches” to “I need a CAT scan ASAP”
  • I found complicated clinical advice for dealing with hemicrania continua intracranial pressure 
  • A wellness guru suggested I just breathe deeply (Thanks, I’m cured!)
  • And then I found stock photos of people who have presumably recovered from hemicrania continua and were smiling and happily eating salads. (How can I become one of these people, I thought?)

Instead of headache relief I was finding new reasons to have one.

This is just a light dip into the “healthscare” attention economy — the term we use to describe how media companies often monetize health-related anxiety, healthcare companies clinicalize it, wellness gurus minimize it, and, for some reason, many organizations sanitize it. (Have you ever smiled during a colonoscopy? Of course you haven’t, so why do so many stock photos show people smiling in their hospital gowns? But I digress …)

If you’ve been alive in the era of search engines, you’ve undoubtedly Googled something related to health and undoubtedly run into one of the above outcomes. It leads to a big question: With more health-related content available than ever before, why is it still so hard to find truth in your darkest moments of concern?

Building trust is essential for marketers – especially marketers at healthcare systems

This was the exact question that was asked of us a handful of years ago when we were challenged with creating a consumer health-and-wellness resource for one of the country’s largest healthcare systems. “We want to have a relationship with our community before, during and after the healthcare event,” the CMO told us. “We don’t just want to market our services; we want to build trust that leads to a lifelong relationship.”

No short order. And it’s not like we’re marketing smart-home technology. We’re talking about health. It gets heavy. It can quite literally be the difference between life and death.

So, we studied the audience we were looking to serve. We looked at the sorts of things they were searching for and found a lot of the same pitfalls mentioned above.

  • We studied their media diets:
    • Who were they going to in moments of need?
    • Who was influencing their thoughts and actions?
    • What were they talking about in the wee hours of the night on Reddit? 
  • We looked at their paint points:
    • What were people saying in review sites?
    • What common problems and barriers existed?
    • What would search histories teach us?

What we found essentially boiled down to one idea, which we built our entire content marketing strategy around: Our culture is undergoing a crisis of trust. Amid misinformation (at worst) and manipulative messaging (at best), expertise has never been needed more. Especially in the world of health and wellness. 

Here’s how we brought that to life:

We focused on making expertise more accessible through content marketing

Instead of telling our audience that we have the best and the brightest subject-matter experts in a given field, we created content formats that showed their expertise in context for the audience. Some of brainstorming prompts that led to big ideas:

  • What if we took questions from the community and paired them with answers from our experts? We tried this through an advice column ghostwritten by professional journalists on behalf of our legions of subject-matter experts, who packed their insights in a consumer-friendly, tried-and-true format.


  • What if we could take people behind the scenes with an expert who provides care to people like them? We did this through photo essays which chronicled the steps our care providers take from sunup to sundown, showing – not telling of – their devotion and commitment to care.


  • What if we could allow our experts to speak directly to our audience? We did this through 1st-person explainers, where subject-matter experts answered the prompt: What do you wish your patients knew before they walked through your door?


We amplified patient voices — and let them tell their full stories, not just the happy outcomes

Instead of producing slick patient testimonials that focused exclusively on the before-and-after, we also told stories of the messy-and-often-glossed-over “during” part of the process.

  • What if we gave patients a forum to narrate their healthcare journeys? We did this through 1st-person diary-entry-meets-Instagram story pieces, where people could hear from other people just like them, who had the same fears and anxieties in the face of a challenge to their health and well-being. For instance, what is it really like to get a colonoscopy, or a mammogram, or surgery, or go through menopause – in the words of a real person who is really experiencing it.


  • What if we gave an open mic to people and amplified it? We did this through open letters, a from-the-community-for-the-community series of essays that allowed people to directly address the challenges they faced 

In moments of truth, it’s not about marketing. It’s about meeting people where they are, and telling the truth well.

People just want their problems solved. If you meet them in the moment and offer the next step out of it, you’re well on your way to building better relationships with your audience. The truth can be told with empathy, even in someone’s darkest moments. And there’s no better way to earn trust and start a relationship than in helping someone see the light. R

If you’re trying to figure out how your brand can be more relevant to your audience in their moments of truth, let us know and we’ll set up some time to talk.


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