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Aug 11, 2017

It’s not easy to get a breakthrough marketing strategy off the ground; it’s even more difficult to kick start a new idea in a highly regulated industry. This roadblock didn’t stop Manny Rodriguez, CMO of UCHealth, from developing an eye-opening campaign. Through patient-centric storytelling, he managed to help the university hospital network invigorate its message. This tender approach isn’t just business for Rodriguez. He is a leukemia survivor who underwent many of the types of treatments his team now promotes.

Rodruguez’s healthcare marketing philosophy goes against the grain. Hospitals and clinics often showcase their technologies and services in advertisements, much to Rodriguez’s chagrin. “I just believe healthcare marketers in general have lost sight of what matters,” he says. “We’ve gotten away from the fact that what we do is about the patient.” Instead of explaining how great UCHealth’s treatments are, Rodriguez set out to reach patients on a more personal level.

Rodriguez wanted his UCHealth’s advertisements to focus on clients and their experiences. Being a leukemia survivor, he understands the pain patients have to deal with. Rodriguez says, “Most health care brands look at themselves as the hero. We believe that our patients are the heroes.” UCHealth decided to let its heroes tell their stories from their own perspectives. The result was a series of heartfelt video testimonies given by actual UCHealth patients.

You can’t help but cry during these 90-second flashes of affection. As Rodriguez notes, “You really feel, hear, and sense the heartache and the emotion and the feeling in the story.” Although the scripts are written internally, the patients themselves deliver the lines. Who else could?

One of the biggest challenges Rodriguez has faced is advertising services that have such a negative connotation. “Nobody wants what I have,” Rodriguez says. “Nobody is sitting there going, ‘I can’t wait to have my liver removed or my heart surgery!’” The UCHealth marketing team remedies this problem by delivering what Rodriguez calls a “lifestyle brand.” The CMO continues, “I want to provide you [with] content and resources, and talk to you in a way that prevents you from being broken more than selling you a service when you’re broken.” Warmth is at the heart of the strategy, giving patients hope and comfort in UCHealth’s message.

Enhancing patient experience plays a big part in the brand’s marketing strategy. When someone goes to a hospital, obviously the biggest goal is to leave healthy. For Rodriguez, the peripherals of a hospital visit also matter greatly. Elements like staff friendliness, parking accessibility, and cafeteria food quality make a difference in the patient’s experience. “It’s the softer side of healthcare that I think we’re looking at as an organization—How do you build the softer side?” Rodriguez wonders. UCHealth answers this question by staffing itself with sympathetic employees. While health remains the top priority, patient experience is still important.

It’s been a bumpy ride for Rodriguez, as his own encounter with terminal illness has driven him to help other patients in need. He says, “Being a survivor of ultimately a disease that takes many lives is a motivator for everything I do.” Rodriguez recalls the personal experiences he’s had with medical professionals—some great, and some not so great. Ultimately, those instances have given him the drive to connect with patients through heartfelt passion and understanding. (These show notes were prepared by Jay Tellini.)