Kevin Burke, writing on mediapost.com (Botched Health Care Branding, December 16, 2013), claims “there's a big marketing and branding problem in the U.S.” – in what is most often called “alternative medicine … Natural Health, Integrative Health … Holistic Health”, etc. The very term alternative, Burke suggests, “points to the branding issue.”
He correctly identifies the problem as “one of marketing.” Consider the stronger, more invasive words we use to frame so-called Western medicine: doctors, nurses, surgeries, drugs, hospitals, emergency rooms, ambulances, MRIs, scalpels, etc. And the softer terms that frame more “natural” approaches, some of which have been around for thousands of years compared to less than 250 years for more “modern” techniques: traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, dietary interventions, meditation, herbs and vitamins, massage, acupuncture, reflexology and chiropractic treatment.
If brand is “experience writ large,” as I have suggested elsewhere, why hasn’t the part of medicine that focuses on the prevention of illness told a better story, the the story of medicine that treats the entire person rather than merely the part in immediate distress, the one that focuses primarily on causes rather than symptoms and that largely presents minimally-invasive, non-toxic and more “natural” health care choices to the patient?
I suggest that part of the reason is that Western medicine by its very nature is more dramatic. The drama inherent in fixing broken bodies (especially related to newsworthy trauma) is infinitely more compelling, say, than being given a homeopathic remedy. It’s hard to picture a TV drama featuring a homeopath – unless some regular point of conflict or romance is added, say between her and the M.D. down the hall.
Burke, in his article, does not try to “suggest that modern Western medicine should be pushed aside, or that alternative medicine is appropriate for all health issues," and I agree. "But it sure seems that when it comes to people's health choices in the U.S., the scales have tipped far in one direction, thanks to powerful marketing by the newcomer and poor marketing by the incumbent.” Of course, the media has come on board with the establishment in a big way and has so fixed “medical science” in the public mind that the majority of us can hardly contemplate seeking an acupuncture treatment to help ease the way for childbirth or asking a chiropractor to soothe our chronically aching backs, even though both techniques have consistently proven helpful to many people.
Like Burke, I can’t offer a solution to so deeply entrenched a marketing problem by suggesting a few incisive words – such as calling the age-old techniques “traditional medicine” and the practices dramatized on ER every week “non-traditional”. So alternative medicine is likely to remain an also-ran in the 21st century mind, relegated to a reputation as pseudoscience, or at best, considered a mere complement to “regular” medicine, principally because of the words that have been so carefully chosen to describe it over time -- by the opposition.
Takeaway: The words you use to describe who you are and what you represent should be strong and to the point, leaving no doubt that you offer the clear and compelling choice, now and in the future.
© Brian E. Faulkner 2013
Tags: health care, branding, Affordable Care Act, alternative health care, health choices, traditional medicine.