The challenge with most health care advertising, is health care advertising. If you take any campaign and do the old “swap the logo” trick, you quickly realize that the plethora of disingenuous, vacuous imagery and rhetoric is a sea of sameness.

What is fascinating to me is the somewhat separatist nature of health care marketing overall. The business of health care has and continues to change rapidly, but we seem to still be marketing in relatively traditional ways. The details, rules and restrictions are certainly unique and require a deep level of expertise to ensure all the I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed, but the process of delivering a message that shifts the needle for a brand remains the same whether it’s health care or automotive or fried chicken.

As with any campaign, success metrics need to be identified along with a deep dive on the audience and environment. From all that data – hard, soft, big and small – a unique strategic insight must be identified to enable a singularly focused idea to be created. While this feels like table stakes, it doesn’t appear to be happening very often. That may be the reason we see a great deal of generic marketing and little breakthrough work. Of course, this strategic insight should come from a truth residing in the brand’s reason for being; its purpose. If that’s missing, it’s likely there is a whole branding exercise that needs to take place before you start spending valuable marketing dollars.

The next most vital part of this exercise is understanding where the rubber needs to hit the road. Who are my priority audiences? What are they doing? How do I get their attention? Are they ready to listen to me and are they ready to engage? Now, how do I get to them? How do I organically become part of a conversation? A connection strategy is essential for determining how the message manifests where it matters most. That’s where the magic happens. Understanding our target audience’s media consumption and behavioral eccentricities is a must. Digital technology completely reset this and continues to do so. The anonymity to and accessibility of health care information via digital channels presents the greatest opportunity to connect to an audience. Unlike many categories, health care is almost by definition, personal. Digital channels allow you to be everything for someone, not something for everyone. Access to valuable content has changed even the most traditional of behaviors. We live in a world where expectant mothers are more likely to source information from the internet, before seeking their own mom’s advice.

Developing campaigns that position brands as trusted sources such as this takes time. Most businesses have immediate short term needs to deliver ROI and health care is quite likely the poster-child for that pressure. Relationships are a long-game and you need to have an intrinsic understanding of what you should offer as a brand in order to make the connection authentically. No authentic connection equals no reason to believe. And without that, particularly when it comes to something as personal as health, there is less likely to be a compelling reason to trust.

There is no fixed formula for determining what a successful health care ad looks like. MROI is not a one size fits all. Are we measuring awareness? New appointments? Sales? Click-throughs? Whatever the metric that is important to you, successful campaigns most definitely have a few shared characteristics. Beyond the great product or service story, the ad should strive to reinforce the brand’s values. It should harness emotional qualities and avoid the pressure to purely sell a product or service. And most importantly, it should be part of an ecosystem of messaging elements and touch-points, all laddering back to a tightly focused strategy and a singular idea. Like any other “category” ad, it should be timely, contextually appropriate, relevant and above all else, resonate with the intended audience.