PR for Poop: Targeting your IBS healthcare message to potential patients

Marnie Loomis, ND

A bumper sticker reading “The road to health is paved with good intestines” was stuck on the old door of the National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM) faculty office suite, in Portland, Oregon. It was an accurate tagline for naturopathic medicine and, in my case, was close to the message that described how I had been called to the profession. My personal version reflected the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) I had at the time, and it would have read “The road to a healthcare career is paved with troubled intestines for which there seems to be no answer.”

A life of discomfort and unpredictable bowels led to many interesting coping behaviors. I daydreamed about becoming an engineer and designing a line of odor-catching carbon filter panties. I learned to identify the most likely bathroom location of every building I entered. I positioned myself around countless unsuspecting dogs that could not defend themselves when they were blamed for an unfortunate case of gas. This perspective gave me a staggeringly accurate view of how 10% to 15% of Americans currently dealing with IBS need NDs to stand up and shout from the rooftops “I can help you with your pain!”

Because standing from rooftops is generally frowned upon by insurance companies, loved ones, and business partners, NDs need to optimize the many other mediums through which their message can be transmitted. Public speaking, support groups, articles for the public, articles for other healthcare practitioners, blog posts, Web sites, and YouTube are all fair game. Your potential patients have already placed themselves in all of these avenues, searching for options and answers, hoping to hear your message. Is it out there?

Moment of truth—when was the last time you published an article or gave a lecture? In a small profession, every effort counts, and as a group we need to do more. A common mistake, besides never communicating the message in the first place, is communicating it in a way that would make sense only to another ND. Talking about the vis, vital force, bowel flora, gut integrity, or leaky bowel will confuse or possibly scare most of your potential patients. How can we improve our message? There is no need to reinvent the wheel; the entire marketing profession is dedicated to this mission of reaching audiences and motivating them to act. As a profession, we can learn a lot by studying how professional marketers work.

During a recent NCNM “Lunch and Learn,” marketing director Shannon Watkins of Sokenbicha (http://www.sokenbicha.com) gave the audience just such an opportunity. Instead of talking about the product itself, she provided the audience with some perspective on how the marketing message was developed to introduce this new line of Japanese 5-element–style teas to the American public. Like naturopathic medical professionals, her challenge was simple: make the message relevant to the consumer.

She shared many practical tips, including the following:

  • Meet the consumers where they are and demystify the experience.
  • When your product involves an ancient history or practice, do not share too much information and overwhelm the consumer. Represent the history in some way (eg, the 5-element theory as 5 different colors), and allow the consumers to learn more at a comfortable pace.
  • Keep in mind that audiences appreciate knowing you are partnered with a reputable company or are accredited by an objective third party.
  • Remember that language matters. Initially, the 5-element system was described with words like “balancing” and “organs.” This generated confused calls from consumers. When the terminology was changed to focus on the “end benefit” of each tea, the audience got it. Also, instead of talking about roots or leaves, audiences responded best to the term plants.

The book Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences by Nancy Duarte (John Wiley & Sons) is another fantastic reference that illustrates how to communicate effectively with audiences. Although it is primarily written about oral and visual presentations, the lessons apply to any type of communication. The presenter is taught to view the audience as the hero and himself or herself as the mentor. The audience is Skywalker, and the presenter is Yoda, guiding the hero through the discovery of new information. Those who are visual learners will appreciate the graphics, photographs, and diagrams that demonstrate Ms Duarte’s points in a clear concise manner. It is a quick read and is full of practical lessons for presenters at every skill level.

Applying these principles to the naturopathic profession, we can craft a message that will be heard by those for whom it is intended. Here are some examples you are welcome to use. Go shout them from the (metaphoric) rooftops!

  • Every day without stomach pain—sound impossible? We can help you find a solution.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome is not a life sentence. Change your health, improve your life.
  • Tummy troubles? We can help so you never need a room deodorizer again.
  • You know where the bathroom is in every store. You plan your day around access to restrooms. You need naturopathic medicine. Let us help you heal your IBS.
  • Naturopathic medicine is so effective for IBS it can even improve your relationship with your pets. Your tummy will feel so good you won’t have to blame the dog for anything!

loomis picMarnie Loomis, ND is the director of professional formation and career services and an adjunct faculty member at the National College of Natural Medicine, Portland, Oregon. She enjoys writing and is a popular public speaker who appears on local TV news programs and in front of professional and public audiences throughout the country. Before joining NCNM, Dr Loomis had a private naturopathic medical practice in Aloha, Oregon, and was the managing editor of Naturopathic Doctor News & Review.

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