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Integrative Medicine is a Story, Not an Advertisement

This post was written by Glenn Sabin

My longtime professional background is in media and marketing. My career started during the still-heady days of television, radio and magazines, with cable just making its way into the world. There was no Internet—or at least not a public one—or social networks. Professionals created content, and producers, program directors and editors were the arbiters of what the public saw and consumed.

Nor were holistic and integrative medicine as widely available in those days as they are today. As health interventions almost always disparaged by conventional medicine, the “promotion” of their benefits and of their providers grew through a single effective channel: word-of-mouth. In other words, through very personal stories.


When I was running my media company, if you wanted to reach those who consumed information from these channels, you had two choices: earned media coverage based on merit (or more precisely: based on what editorial gatekeepers determined was worthy or interesting to the audience they serve) or “rent” time: air or space in the form of an advertisement. Television, radio and magazine ads are “interruptive.” Ads are sold to companies and organizations to sell products or services or otherwise influence the public via methods of interruption or disruption. Traditional ads essentially have a “Stop, look at me, look at me!” objective, and are notably surrounded by content—content that is largely conceived, developed, owned and controlled by media companies.


The Internet and the plethora of television channels and social media have created a sea change in how people consume and share media. There are still enough traditional media-controlled choices to appeal to almost any fan of just about any niche hobby, sport or other interest. The continuous splintering of traditional media choices is a big deal, but it is still primarily a one-way delivery of content channel.
More profound is how blogging, micro-blogging (think Twitter) and other aspects of the digital sharing of information have transformed consumers into content creators and therefore into discrete arms of the media. Large numbers of celebrities and non-celebrities alike have significant followers, fans and subscribers for their social media-expressed brands. Many now control their media relations activities and general public messaging and announcements directly via their own media-making efforts. Importantly, more and more consumers now rely on peer reviews and feedback input via social media than they do advertisements and sources of traditional professional media during the decision-making process.


In contrast to interruptive forms of advertising, content development allows integrative healthcare providers the opportunity to create thoughtfully crafted stories. Done right and targeted, storytelling engages. It has the profound power to connect on an emotional level. Regardless of the media channel, including experiential, nothing else quite connects like a good story. And your clinic or center can control the storytelling process. Wondering what stories I am talking about? Well, the topics are endless, and when presented in appealing fashion can be incredibly valuable to health consumers. Topics can address wellness, prevention, diet, supplementation, contraindications, exercise, various conditions and the impact of integrative modalities, the latest science across the spectrum of integrative healthcare delivery, and so much more. Not sure where to start? Put a note and your website URL into the comments section below and I will provide you with five content ideas to get you started.


Traditional advertising and marketing have proven to be of only marginal benefit, at best, to those practicing integrative medicine. Targeted local and regional publications helped practitioners connect with the small if growing population of people interested in holistic and alternative therapeutic approaches. But the full value of integrative healthcare was simply hard to promote in such media, and it could never convey in billboards, print, radio and TV ads whose costs were far beyond the means of local clinics.

The integrative medicine experience lends itself to the creation of new kinds of health-related stories. They are patient-centric and invariably involve a strong patient-provider connection. It is well worth noting that those two attributes are now almost universally accepted as the foundation of the new more responsive era of patient engaged care we are said to be entering.

Integrative healthcare is a story that deserves and needs to be told effectively in order to sustainably grow brand identity and patient volume. The problem with traditional ad campaigns is that they are just that, campaigns. There’s a start date, and end date and an associated ad agency creation/development spend and the actual media spend. Traditional ad campaigns don’t work for integrative healthcare and they are not economically sustainable. Importantly, traditional ad campaigns not only interrupt and are expensive, but they also aren’t interactive—it’s simply one-way interruption (although some might still call that “communication”). Plus, they don’t produce sharable content. And, not least, it’s really hard to measure the impact of traditional marketing efforts.


There’s no getting around the fact that businesses of all types and shapes have become media creators and distributors of content. Companies are developing useful, relevant content and delivering it directly to consumers with continuity. They are effectively surrounding their “brand” with trusted information.

The healthcare delivery industry is way behind in this area. This has affected the integrative medicine programs within these medical systems, especially those operating within academic centers. It’s still rare today to see larger centers, hospitals and health systems that have anything other than static content on their site—content that simply doesn’t change other than, say, a new news release here and community program or class there. Maybe an announcement of a new physician or other internal happenings, but not valuable, original content that engages or drives Web traffic. This is now changing to some extent as some systems are starting to put social media tools to work.

The reliance of most clinic, center and hospital marketing and communications departments (which on the whole have been contracting during the recession) on traditional and Internet ads (banners, Google AdWords, etc.) and on the delivery of press releases is largely outmoded and unsustainable. This is especially true when compared to the power of storytelling through strategic content development and dissemination. Regardless of the size or type of your integrative medicine enterprise, storytelling via content creation has never been more important for building patient volume.


If you are using specific print, radio, broadcast or cable media outlets in your market to get your message out, and this is consistently and cost-effectively bringing new patient volume, by all means continue these relationships. Are you creating promotional collateral material for direct mail, for your waiting room, to leave behind at community education programs, or for when visiting nearby practitioners who you would like to refer patients? If so, this is important to continue, as are other core traditional marketing staples that effectively support your brand. The point is you must enter and test the digital waters and start creating original content to achieve a stronger marketing mix. But it can be augmented with what is still working for you. Over time the adoption of storytelling and the consistent provision of useful, relevant content, is guaranteed to grow your clinic or center.

How are you reaching new customers? Have you embraced digital marketing and content development? Please leave you comments below.

FON helps practitioners and centers establish thought leadership and engagement by developing strategic content creation and distribution programs aimed at professionals and consumers. Contact us today to learn more.

Check out these related posts on all things content (including experiential) and social media:
5 Reasons Why Content if King for Growing Integrative Medicine Services
Why Your Blog Strategy is So Important
Creating a Sustainable Blog Strategy for your Integrative Center
How to Maximize Readership of Your Blog Content
Community Outreach: Using Experiential Marketing to Grow Your Integrative Medicine Center
Leveraging the Science
Becoming an Integrative Medicine Thought Leader

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