How Empathetic Content Took Cleveland Clinic from Zero to 60 Million Sessions in 6 Years

We have all been there. A new pain develops in our abdomen, and we start searching the Internet to see what it could be. A good content marketing campaign answers our questions. A great content marketing campaign understands the emotions behind our search while providing answers.

Perhaps there is no better example of a great content marketing program than that of Cleveland Clinic’s Senior Director of Content Amanda Todorovich. Her team took what was initially an internal video, released it to the public. The video went viral and is part of the story behind the launch of the award-winning website Health Essentials, one of the best content marketing examples you will ever find.

Quick Takeaways:

  • It’s essential to base your content marketing strategy on your customers’ needs and your commitment to fulfilling them.
  • Think of topics that interest a wider audience and yet aren’t talked about much, or need clarification.
  • Empathy is the secret of connecting with your content consumers.

Putting Patients First

Amanda had prior positive experiences with Cleveland Clinic as a patient before being hired onto their marketing team. The worldwide clinic had been a patient-focused facility for some time with their commitment to putting patients first, calling their employees “caregivers.”

When Amanda first arrived, the leadership wanted to take their commitment to patients a step further and encourage its 40,000+ employees to utilize the power of empathy.

The Patient Experience Office and in-house media production team created a video called “Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care.”

The premise of the video was simple: “If you could stand in someone else’s shoes, would you treat them differently?”

The video captures experiences many, if not all of us, have experienced:

  • A man who waited too long to be checked
  • A woman whose son 19-year-old son is on life support
  • A patient who has been waiting for a transplant
  • A man whose wife’s surgery has gone well
  • A woman who doesn’t understand the diagnosis a doctor is giving
  • A man who has waited for three hours in the waiting room
  • A mother and son visiting the father who is terminally ill

Each scene demonstrates that if you stand in someone else’s shoes, you will treat them differently. The video harnessed the power of Cleveland Clinic’s brand: We have empathy. We treat each patient as they should be treated.

And this is the same ethos they used to create their content marketing strategy. It’s also why Amanda is one of the heroes of my new book, Mean People Suck. Because she understands the power of empathy to build both growth in the business and meaning and impact in people’s lives.

Just the Beginning

Amanda realized that the reason for the video’s success is that it resonated with patients. She took her experience and began to revolutionize the clinic’s consumer blog, Health Essentials. The website aims to develop hyper-relevant content to address the concerns of more than six million people who visit it each month.

Topics range from diet to heart disease. Some of the more memorable articles include an entire article about what the color of your urine says about your health, whether bacon can be healthy (please say “yes!”), and whether or not suffering from a broken heart is a real syndrome. The website confirms this is an actual condition with a video:

Amanda and her team did not select these topics haphazardly. Each article was selected based on the data they had collected.

In fact, in the “What The Color of Your Urine Says About You?” infographic, they took a hard look to decide whether to use the word “pee” or “urine” on the actual image.

Their data analysis revealed that “urine” worked in the article title, but “pee” resonated more with the average person in the image.

When she began the process in 2012, the website was launching. Six years later, their traffic has gone from zero to 67 million sessions and is now the most visited hospital blog in the nation.

Creating Relevant Content Consistently

Cleveland Clinic’s success did not happen by accident. Amanda and her team built it by producing the right content for the right audience while being useful, helpful, and relevant to people.

Instead of focusing on results at the beginning, they asked why their content is important. The editorial team puts the patient at the center of what they do and uses it to reach more and more lives every day.

It pays off. While the team only publishes three to five articles a day, they have articles with as many as 65,000 social shares. Additionally, the website has dozens of other articles with tens of thousands of shares.

In 2015, Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials traffic was so high that Todorovich decided to monetize the site. Since then, the ads have generated enough revenue to cover the cost of their content operation and become the profit center for the organization.

The Secret to Content Marketing Success

Why has Cleveland Clinic’s content strategy worked? It’s because Amanda’s team successfully builds on producing the right content, putting it in front of the right audience, and being useful, helpful, and relevant to people in a way that’s unique to Cleveland Clinic.

Its editorial team publishes only three to five articles a day, but they have articles with as many as 65,000 social shares. Your entire website might not get 65,000 social shares. That’s well above the average, and Amanda’s team has dozens more articles with tens of thousands of shares.

The key to being successful is knowing your audience and what your audience needs―whether that’s how to treat their diabetes, lose weight, or manage their pain. Another lesson learned? You can’t start with the results desired. Rather, you have to start with why it’s important. Cleveland Clinic’s editorial team puts the patient at the center of what they do and uses its content to reach more and more lives every day. This approach delivers more ROI than any ad ever could!

What Cleveland Clinic’s amazing story teaches us is that empathy is the counterintuitive secret to success. Cleveland Clinic could have hired an agency and spent lots of money on creative ads that talked about how awesome it is.

But at the end of the day, Cleveland Clinic has created (and continues to create) content that is empathetic. After all, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. That’s what’s behind every story Amanda’s team tells.

What Can You Do?

Every day, we help clients create the kind of success they can only imagine. We follow Amanda’s lead and help our clients create 2-4 customer-focused articles every week. For less than the price of a single event sponsorship, you can start to grow your traffic, leads, and sales just like Amanda did. So if you are interested in our Content Builder Service, setup a call today!

(This story was excerpted from my new book, Mean People Suck, on sale October 25, 2019.)

Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.

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