Choosing the right words is vital for any type of marketing, and especially for healthcare marketing. Health and medical organizations that fail to use the right words in their marketing content and sales copy face a wide range of potential risks and consequences. We will review words to avoid in healthcare marketing as well as ones that will help improve your content.
Penalties of poor word choice in healthcare marketing
There are many risks to using the wrong words in your healthcare marketing, with a wide range of potential consequences to your organizations.
1. Poor search engine optimization (SEO)
When you use proper keywords and key phrases in your online marketing, it makes it easier for search engines like Google to find and index your content. In contrast, incorrect keyword use can hinder your SEO and make it less likely for users to find you.
Content demand is a major part of SEO. The wrong language can prevent your content from delivering what users are searching for. Make sure your word choice contributes to more positive user experience.
2. Legal consequences
As separate industries, healthcare and marketing both carry legal risks. Put the two together, however, and you have a very fine line to walk.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) exists to prevent deceptive and unfair acts or practices, which includes misleading consumers. Besides the FTC, medical licensing boards and state laws may also have requirements that affect the language of healthcare marketing. Without appropriate word use and data to back it up, healthcare practices risk deceiving customers and facing fines and other legal actions.
And, of course, proper word choice can help you avoid a HIPAA violation. Hospitals, clinics, and other practices may want to use patient information in their marketing, such as testimonials or case studies. If the patient does not sign off on the use of their information, the practice must ensure that its marketing cannot, in any way, be traceable back to a particular individual. This may require savvy word choice.
3. Damaged reputation
Even if a poorly worded marketing strategy does not land a practice in legal trouble, it can still inflict damage to its reputation. This may happen if the marketing and advertising use insensitive language, however unintentionally, that offends certain patient or population groups.
Medical practices and healthcare companies should strive to be not only knowledgeable and ethical but also known for being compassionate and approachable. Your marketing should always seek to use words to cultivate the reputation you want.
For example, the American Diabetes Association takes care not to use the word “diabetics,” as this may appear to define people by their condition. Instead, the organization uses phrases such as “people with diabetes.”
4. Unrealistic patient expectations
Besides legal issues, poor word choice in health marketing can create unreasonable expectations among patients.
Provide accurate success rates whenever possible, and avoid language that tries to minimize the significance of serious conditions. If you do use patient testimonials or examples, they should not promise, or even imply specific results. Disclaimers should be clear and noticeable. Avoid promising cures, or claiming to be superior over a competing product or practice.
5. Patient misunderstandings
Unclear marketing and advertising can also create confusion and misunderstandings among patients and clients. Even for physicians and researchers, it is best to keep language simple and straightforward. Not everyone in your audience may be a specialist, so it’s best to avoid using specialist language and medical jargon.
Marketing language should be appropriate to the region, specialty, and target audience. Avoid being too vague, too technical, or too formal.
Of course, not every individual is guaranteed to understand your content, even if you get every word “right.” That’s why it is important that you know your audience and tailor your content to them.
The Seven Health Marketing Words Not to Use
When it comes to marketing, healthcare, and other life-science marketing is under a lot of pressure. This not only comes from the everyday challenges of standing out from competitors and attracting new clients and increasing revenue but it also from federal or state laws and industry standards.
Proper word use is imperative for practices, providers, and medical companies that want to please both regulators and clients. Unfortunately, not every piece of marketing content achieves this.
Want to make your healthcare marketing more effective? Avoid using these particular words.
Often used to describe any new product or research, the overuse of “innovative” has rendered it nearly meaningless. It is an example of the importance of “Show, don’t tell.”
Rather than just saying a product or treatment is “innovative,” describe what makes it innovative. This also applies to the terms “breakthrough” and “advanced.”
As always, it is important to keep the audience in mind. What do they care about? How will this product improve their lives? Focus on emphasizing the answers to those questions.
The term “comprehensive healthcare” is usually meant to include every step of the care process, and every necessary specialty, from diagnosis to treatment to healing. However, patients and other consumers may not always recognize this meaning.
Instead, this term is most often used by health professionals and marketers who may not have considered whether it means the same thing for the audience. Again, the telling is meaningless without the showing.
Consider using alternative words like “inclusive,” but don’t be afraid to go the even simpler route and use “complete,” “whole,” or “thorough.” Explain, and even give examples of, what makes the healthcare practice comprehensive and thorough.
You may also consider including the risks of less comprehensive care. If you take this route, however, be careful not to imply that any particular outcome is inevitable.
You might wonder why the word “hope” should be avoided since we generally see hope as a good thing. In healthcare, however, using the word itself may not always be appropriate.
Avoid using the word “hope” if it could make experts sound uncertain, or may otherwise be misinterpreted. Whenever possible, use more concrete terms, and include supporting data when possible.
More personal, emotionally charged areas of healthcare are possible exceptions. This may include mental health, cancer treatments, and rare diseases. Again, keep your audience and context in mind.
Despite all our technological progress, guarantees remain practically impossible in health and medicine. The use of the word “guarantee” runs the risk of a damaged reputation, legal penalties, and dissatisfied patients.
Not only that, but using words like “guaranteed” could even trigger spam filters if you use them in emails.
Instead, provide honest data about the risks and success rates of your treatments. Inform consumers of the exact conditions under which the results have been achieved. Don’t forget about the classic disclaimers such as “results not typical” or “your results may vary.”
When talking about a struggle with diseases, such as depression or cancer, people may use the term “fighting” or “fighting off” the disease. Though often used in everyday conversation, it is best avoided in healthcare marketing.
Some people may not mind saying that they are fighting off a disease. They may imagine themselves as mighty warriors going to war against an enemy. However, other people may think of the term as victimizing, or as putting them on the defensive. Consider something less emotionally driven, such as “living with” or “diagnosed with.”
Many health practices, providers, and companies refer to a “health continuum,” but few of them take the time to define it. In general, the term refers to the process that takes a patient from being diagnosed to the cure or management of their condition. It is also used to refer to a scale of patient functioning, from low functioning to perfect health.
Since the word “continuum” can be used in a number of ways and is rarely used in everyday language, it is best avoided in medical marketing. The repeated use of this word, in various contexts, has made the definition less clear and often confusing.
As with any type of marketing, healthcare marketing should be targeted at the audience. If they do not regularly use a particular word, you may want to avoid it in your marketing content.
Many clinics and health systems boast “multidisciplinary” teams, meaning that they employ a variety of specialists to care for a range of patient needs. Health products and solutions may be marketed for “multidisciplinary” use, meaning they can benefit several different health specialties.
Often used by medical professionals and marketers, “multidisciplinary” carries much less meaning for general consumers. Plus, it has been used so often that it is at risk of becoming a meaningless buzzword. In marketing, every word matters. If the phrase doesn’t pack a punch, consider retiring it.
This is something that health and marketing professionals must keep in mind: words may mean different things to marketers and consumers. If there is a significant risk of the consumer interpreting a word differently than intended, then opt for a different word or phrase.
Health and medical marketing should not rely on terms that have been overused, or choose words that sound “good enough” for its purposes.
How to Choose the Right Words for Health Marketing
Having covered the risks of choosing the wrong words, and the words not to use, how do you choose the right words?
1. Maintain regulatory standards
The first step in finding the right words for your health marketing communications is to make sure you know and follow any applicable rules and regulations.
Although this may seem obvious, it bears repeating because it is vital for protecting your organization. Make sure you’re up-to-date on all necessary regulatory oversight when it comes to your marketing.
2. Know your audience
One common mistake among marketing professionals is writing sales copy and marketing content for their peers or executives, but not for their audience. If the language does not connect with your audience, it could cost you in engagement and revenue.
Who are you writing for? You should be able to describe your audience to understand how to speak to them. Who are they? What are they looking for? What problems are they trying to solve? Where are they in the sales decision-making process?
For example, if you’re writing for patients and caregivers, then use a friendly, compassionate tone with common, approachable language. Avoid jargon, and define any technical terms you may have to use.
When writing for professionals, you don’t have to be less friendly, but it’s important to be succinct and direct. Make sure they understand what they stand to gain from working with you or purchasing your products.
3. Know your keywords
Knowing how people find your website can help guide your marketing content. When you know what keywords people use to find your content, you can better incorporate them into your strategy.
SEO tools like Google Analytics can help you get a picture of how much organic (non-paid) traffic your site gets, and which keywords drive traffic to your website or specific pages. You can use Google Analytics to set up goals and track the right data to learn which keywords are driving traffic and conversions.
4. Follow good examples
Sometimes you simply need to learn from the best to improve your healthcare marketing word choice. You might check out a competitor’s language use in their marketing content, or study how a related company addresses their audience. Observe their use of language and keywords and brainstorm how you can imitate their success.
Look for industry guidelines for healthcare marketing language. For example, the CDC offers the “Everyday Words for Public Health Communication” guide for substituting common phrases for healthcare terms. Although targeted toward public-health professionals, other healthcare organizations and medical companies can incorporate many of these suggestions.
5. Read your copy out loud
When you read a piece of writing out loud, it can help you notice awkward phrasing or unsuitable word choice. This is especially important for ensuring that your marketing copy has a casual, conversational tone that most audiences favor.
By reading out loud, you are better able to hear whether the language is too formal or stilted. If you don’t think it sounds quite right, chances are your audience will feel the same way.
6. Get an outside opinion
Provided your content has no sensitive or private information, it can be helpful to get someone else to read or listen to it and offer their opinion.
If privacy is not an issue, consider asking someone who most closely resembles your audience. This might be a coworker of the target age or a current client. They may be better able to notice problems or make suggestions you might not have considered otherwise.
7. Keep it simple
Even if your audience includes professionals and subject-matter experts, you don’t necessarily have to use complex jargon and formal styles. If you’re marketing to busy professionals, simple language can help you get your point across faster and make it easier for them to consume your content. They will appreciate this!
8. Go for the senses
Your language should be accurate and truthful, but also evocative. Whenever possible, engage the senses to make your marketing language, your offer, and the benefits come alive in your audience’s mind.
Instead of listing all the great features your software includes, describe how it will make your audience’s lives easier. Rather than just providing a step-by-step process for a solution or treatments, describe the possible positive outcomes that may result.
9. Make every word count
Avoid getting too technical, flowery, or overly descriptive. More words don’t necessarily make you sound more knowledgeable or important; they just create more work for the audience. Trying to sound too formal may backfire, and can seem disingenuous or inexperienced.
Marketing language should capture attention and convey its ideas quickly and concisely. Read over your copy multiple times. Are there any words that are unnecessary or distracting? Trim away any excessive words, rephrase any confusing language, and keep your copy as streamlined and to-the-point as possible.
10. Stay positive
Health marketing should be encouraging, with a focus on value, results, and improvement for the target audience. Avoid negative language whenever possible, but don’t make false promises. Always keep in mind how your audience will benefit from your solution.
Get the Benefits of Appropriate Word Choice
Choosing the right words in healthcare and medical marketing can be a challenge, but making the right choice carries a variety of benefits. This includes positive reputation, high patient satisfaction, and increased revenue.
Take time and effort to understand your audience, respect patient privacy, keep learning, and revise your work, your content will shine.