What Healthcare Marketers Can Learn From Hip Hop

Posted by Chris Jankoski from Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide — North America on May 17, 2018

Let’s get the elephant out of the room early: health and wellness brands’ adoption of social media as a means to engage audiences has been slow (some people may say at glacial speeds, but I’m no snitch). Compared to a lot of other industries, we’re playing catchup. And it’s not all due to a lack of preparedness. Healthcare marketers live in a highly regulated space where we are literally working with life-and-death products. Also, having a conversation about personal health in a semi-public forum like Twitter or Facebook has long been a taboo practice.


However, we are now on the precipice of digital communications where users are more empowered than ever, and these previously private conversations are now taking center-stage on our feeds. So, as the social media landscape becomes increasingly conducive for health and wellness brands to stake their claim, here are a few tips about how marketers can capitalize on this environment while using hip hop as a frame of reference.


Why hip hop, you ask? Because in my humble opinion, the music industry and hip hop specifically have been a prime example of how innovation and disruption can have major impacts on how these artists communicate. From the shift in medium (vinyl → cassette → CD → digital streaming) or the shift in delivery (long-awaited album releases → short-term project-based releases) the music industry’s adoption of message delivery is a fantastic analogy to the healthcare industry’s movement from traditional communications to more modern forms of health interactions and education found on social media and beyond.


Free content isn’t free (it isn’t invaluable either)


Every organization’s presence on social media platforms is rooted in being part of a community. Brands can’t just post advertisements and expect followers to flock to your page. Health and wellness brands in particular need to leverage their mission of helping healthcare consumers elevate their level of wellness and personal health through awareness-based and educational products/content. Building your brand’s profile as a trustworthy and value-producing entity is crucial to surviving in this social landscape.


On the face level, this type of investment to an online presence and “free” content is daunting to brands in our highly regulated industry. Building your place in the community takes commitment, patience and persistence in providing value for stakeholders. However, this “free” content can provide incredible insight and understanding about your audience. From a testable environment where brands can better understand how stakeholders will react and engage with specific messaging to using social listening tools to learn what topics your audience is most likely to engage with, the social media landscape is an opportunity to put this “free” content to work for you and elevate your demographic understanding.


Hip hop has seen many successful artists rise to stardom based on this “free” content model. Hip hop specifically had adopted this means of distributing content to develop social capital in the form of mixtapes. These are independent music projects released for free (often using a collection of artists and instrumentals). Many mixtapes are done to build buzz and awareness before larger (for-profit) album releases or tours. Chance the Rapper is one such artist who has built his brand around these “free” releases. Despite being an independent artist with no official album, his mixtape Acid Rap made it to #63 on the Billboard charts and his project, Coloring Book, won him a Grammy at this year’s award show without selling physical copies of his music. Understanding that an investment in this dynamic model may seem like giving away free work, it is the trust-building nature of community participation that builds audiences around your brand. Health and wellness players can pay particular attention to the development of social capital by actively investing in these online communities.


Don’t fear collaboration


As marketers, it is in our nature to be focused on “what’s in it for us.” And rightfully so, it’s putting our brand first that yields the best work and elevates our business as a whole. However, we cannot let this commitment to our team blind us to the power of collaborations. As we’ve already established, your presence on social media must be rooted in contributing to the community and adding value to other users. Social media is a place where brands can check their “status” at the door, put their pride aside, and work toward a common goal—getting the best possible content out there. The social landscape is so fluid and evolves so fast that organizations aren’t seen as traitors just because they utilize content from other organizations.


Of course, I’m not proposing you go all Milli Vanilli on Twitter and start ripping off your competition’s content one tweet at a time. But there is definitely power in respectfully engaging with other organizations’ content to elevate the community’s understanding. Social media is an environment in which collaboration is encouraged; as long as it aligns with your overall digital strategy, working together to elevate a health-centered conversation adds value to both organizations and the community as a whole.


“What’s better than one billionaire, two” – Jay-Z


Of course he was talking about his flawless wife, Beyoncé, but the same could be said about his partnering with hip hop/fashion/everything mogul Kanye West as part of the Watch the Throne collaboration. For those not familiar, Watch the Throne was an album and subsequent tour where two of the largest rappers, Jay-Z and Kanye West, came together as equals for a project that showcased both of their talents. Both rap icons put their desire to be the best individual artist aside for this legendary project, which “debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart” and “broke the U.S. iTunes Store's one-week sales record when it sold nearly 290,000 downloads.” And while the notion of collaborations isn’t a novel one, it is important to note that the social media landscape provides a platform for collaboration to flourish. So next time, if you (and your marketing team) can repeat it— retweet it. (Shout out to Jerrod Carmichael for that one.)