Today, more brands and companies are expanding their communication strategies to connect with our multicultural and intersectional society. However, the current tools and methods used to create these campaigns lack the framework to ensure cultural relevance and resonance particularly for shifting healthcare behaviors. Just as UX and UI are critical for driving user engagement and action, Identity Experience (IX) is essential for successful digital marketing.

In a recent MM+M sponsored podcast, editor-at-large Marc Iskowitz sat down with Kianta Key, SVP of digital at GCI Health, to discuss how healthcare brands can embrace and implement a more nuanced approach, leading with identity, to create digital campaigns that are fully dimensional and more effective at connecting with the audiences they intend to reach.

Messaging with identity at the center

Key kicked off the discussion by sharing that her own “lived experience of the disease state journey from a caregiver perspective” for her diabetic grandparents made her realize that “as healthcare practitioners, we have to look at everyone’s lived experience.” That means examining patients “not only from a disease state epidemiology perspective,” she said, but also having a better understanding of their use of “digital channels to access health information” and “how health communications messages impact the audience we’re trying to reach.”

“Health disparities in this country have always been little cracks here and there, and COVID-19 really made them craters,” she added. “Aside from the state of our healthcare system, it is a communications issue.”

Key said one company she feels understands how to communicate to diverse audiences through IX is Pixar. “It does an exceptional job of taking a universal story,” she explained, “and telling it in a way that centers on identity.” For example, the films Coco and Encanto both “fit within the Hispanic-Latino lived experience,” one Mexican and the other Colombian, she said. “It’s not only reflected in the music,” but also in “how the people look and the traditions that are infused into a story that everyone can relate to,” she added. That is “the magic” and “where we all want to get to.”

Like Pixar, pharma marketers can learn to seek out “universal truths that we can elevate” and “apply to everyone,” Key said. At the same time, we need to recognize that everyone does not “look the same because we are very diverse,” she added. This type of storytelling touches “people’s hearts” and can help “drive people not just to watch a movie but to invest in healthcare” because “it’s personal” and oriented towards the community it’s trying to reach.

Capturing the realities of intersectional lives

The bedrock of IX is “having the intersectional data to understand who we’re reaching,” Key explained. By way of example, grouping “Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders into the overall Asian category” made  “mortality rates look fine within that community” during COVID-19. However, “when you pulled Pacific Islanders and Hawaiians out, the rates were high.” Without that information, “we don’t know that we should target messaging to them,” she explained.

It’s critical “to commit to data integrity,” Key pointed out. “We have to make sure we are pulling all that diversity into the data and that will help inform messaging.” To do that, “social listening and machine learning” can help determine “the volume of conversation,” she said. However, “we are missing who’s talking” and “what specific questions they have,” which results in “a lot of guesswork.”

“Innovation is wonderful but getting back to people’s hearts means we have to talk to them — going to focus groups or working with local churches,” Key continued. “If we’re not doing that, we’re going to keep missing the mark and making assumptions.” It’s important to “bring back that analog communication to make our digital communications better,” she said.

Improving digital health communication strategies

Key credited Kimberlé Crenshaw with coining “intersectionality,” meaning “that we all have overlapping social identities” and “different societal barriers of racism, homophobia, ageism, etc. impact how we move in the world and our lived experiences.”

Applying IX to healthcare “helps us identify cultural distinctions in health,” Key said. For example, “if the Mexican culture thinks differently about death,” communications “about sharing more moments with family” could be more effective than ones focused on “mortality rates.”

As Key explained, if health marketers “understand what people across identities value,” they can “get deeper into segmentation” and then “create a messaging and a visual journey that will drive audiences across touchpoints.”  For example, Snapchat “worked with Black creatives to come up with” the Hey, You Good? campaign to raise mental health awareness among Black communities. That “speaks to what IX can be,” she said. “That when you do something with intention, you’ll see the reward not only in engagement but also in someone going to therapy.”

A starting place for marketers is to “remove our assumptions about groups of people and really dig deeper,” Key added. Move away “from this monolithic approach to everyone” and look at “what we don’t know” and who can be a “guide to how we should be showing up.”

The truth is “we don’t get to health equity without it,” Key concluded. “We want to speak to people’s hearts and we can’t speak if we’re giving them a generic vanilla message.” By “bringing intentionality back to the fore,” we are “widening the aperture, we’re building new pathways with IX by being able to reach people in a way that they haven’t even been spoken to before.”