The path to becoming a National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated cancer center is a labyrinthine commitment to physician recruitment, research, and capital investment in the most effective equipment needed to provide optimal treatment. NCI designation is an exclusive status. And having worked in the space for years we understand the commitment required to earn this status.

Yet, the years of effort leading to NCI designation do little to win the hearts and minds of consumers, nor does it affect patient acquisition.

NCI designation might be a hard-earned fact but it does not engage prospective patients.

What we’ve learned through our branding work on behalf of the University of New Mexico’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, is that your commitment to recruiting the best clinicians, having the latest and greatest equipment, and conducting groundbreaking clinical research does not motivate consumers to select your institution over the myriad treatment options available locally, regionally and even nationally.

Patient acquisition is driven by patient stories.

When consumers are given a choice between rational messaging about either: a) physicians, equipment and numerical quantifications of success or b) emotional examples of patient treatment experiences, emotional story-telling wins hands down. Every time.

Our own research clearly demonstrates patient-centered story-telling emotionally connecting the treatment experience with the specialized care a NCI designated cancer center provides is the clearest pathway to increased consumer acceptance.

Such research led us to the development of a campaign we called “life stories” – a series of television and radio ads told in the voice of the patient that described their cancer journey in the context of the specialized treatment areas UNM wanted consumers to better understand.

And while physician recruitment, and research, and capital investment will carry the day in terms of patient care, these variables cannot compare with the power of a first-person narrative when your goal is patient acquisition.

Meet Judy, a woman with multiple malignancies who compellingly explains how UNM’s cancer center provided treatment allowing her to return to the activities and people she loved.


And meet Adam, a young man whose cancer story seemed destined to be short and tragic. But through a comprehensive team approach, UNM surgeons and oncologists have given Adam the opportunity to pursue his dreams in music. Adam’s journey was marked by fear and uncertainty, which you experience in this tv spot.



The campaign led to additional inquiries and boosted the cancer center’s favorability rating to a record high of 80%. Additionally, the campaign played a central role in the passage of an important referendum funding UNM Hospitals.

It’s simple; patient acquisition is about a human connection shared through a personal story.

Would your cancer center benefit from a narrative approach to marketing?

If so, let us know how we can help you increase your patient base by telling the story of your greatest advocates; your patients.