March 9, 2018

12 Things to Know if You’re New to Health Care Marketing

Welcome to health care marketing. You’ve had a marketing career in other categories but may have recently brought your expertise to  health care. Thank you. Our industry is going through massive change, and we need massive talent to see our way through this challenging times.

But I won’t lie. Your transition won’t be easy. Health care is a culture unto itself. If you’ve read Franklin Street’s other blogs and resources, you know we’re straight shooters. So consider this post our own on-boarding into the world of health care marketing and branding. I can’t tell you everything you’ll need to know in one post, but this should serve as a good primer.

Here goes.

Get used to consensus-building.

Health care is consensus-driven. Maybe it’s because it’s also a risk-adverse category. (Go figure: people want to tread lightly when dealing with life and death.) So the amount of meetings you’ll have on a daily basis will quadruple. So will the number of emails in your in box. You’ll spend as much time letting stakeholders know what you’re up to as you do the things you want everyone to know about and support you in doing. Do your best to preserve your calendar but know now you’ll need to multi-task as you run from one meeting to the next.

Get the jargon down.

Health care folks love their acronyms. Start carrying around a cheat sheet of health care jargon like ACA, ACO, PHO, CIN, STARK, and HIPAA. Soon these strings of oblique letters will roll off your tongue. But not without memorization and practice, practice, practice.

Set boundaries with decision-makers.

Going back to the consensus-driven culture in health care, you’ll want to bring stakeholders along with your marketing plans, but not give any individual or group too much power to dictate your direction — because they will take over if you’re not careful. In every business category you’ll find people who are not marketing-trained but think they can do marketing. But this is especially true in health care, where marketing is often considered the last rung of the proverbial food chain. As a consequence, nurses, volunteers, rad techs and board members will all have their ideas on what ads you should run, or how to combat the competition’s newest brand campaign. But, it’s with the doctors you’ll want to set the most boundaries. Which leads me to the next point.

Doctors may know their patients, but you know consumers.

You’ll want your physicians to be on board with your marketing, but give them an inch and they’ll end up re-writing every ad and TV spot you share with them. We like to host Discovery Sessions with key physician stakeholders at the start of new campaigns. These are opportunities to build consensus and set boundaries for key decisions. Give your physicians a sounding board to share ideas and concerns, and give them a narrow platform to make decisions — whether it be choosing a campaign direction after you’ve honed in on several approaches you like, or simply reviewing the copy deck only for technical inaccuracies.

Knowing the difference between doing mission work and doing the work to keep the mission going.

Ultimately, your job is to increase new patient acquisition so your hospital can continue its mission of serving the health care needs of the communities it serves. You do this by targeting those prospective patients who have choice in the marketplace where they go for health care, and are profitable for your organization’s bottom line. This is true of both for-profit and non-profit organizations. A health care marketer’s job is to focus on the outliers — the small percentage of hospital admissions that keep a hospital in the black, as the majority will show up to your emergency room, doctor’s office or inpatient bed through traditional patient flow patterns: physician referrals, etc. By focusing on the outliers — that small but mighty percentage of patients who have choice, along with physicians who serve as gatekeepers into your health care organization — you can help your organization continue its mission.

Not all key service lines are ready for marketing.

Don’t be surprised when you’re asked (told) to market services that aren’t ready to be marketed. Too often in health care, marketers are looked at as the ones to put lipstick on pigs. Your job is to change that attitude within your organization. This could mean surveying patient satisfaction within service lines and identifying the customer service changes that need to be made. It can also mean working with service line directors to identify “brand experience” opportunities — those often small but memorable moments that help to make patients feel like they made the right choice in selecting your brand. Understandably, if you wait until a service line is “perfect,” you may never have any services to market. But you get to begin changing the attitudes within your organization to see marketing as integral to the operations of key service lines, and that a patient’s experience plays as much of a role in driving market share than any world class “ad campaign” you might be asked to develop.

Demand data.

It’s remarkable to us at Franklin Street how many hospitals don’t know where they make their money. You might be marveling at the same thing in your new health care organization. At a minimum, you should expect to have the research that shows where you’re gaining patients, where you’re losing patients, and what the average patient brings to your organization from a revenue perspective. Though long-term brand equity transcends year to year return on investment numbers, you’d never want to spend a million dollars to attract only a half a million in new net patient revenue. It may take longer than you’d like (or it should), but get the data you need to make intelligent marketing decisions on behalf of your health care organization.

Realign job responsibilities.

Health care reform is changing the role of the health care marketer, as is with social media and the  digitally connected patient. Chances are, your department’s current org chart is a little out-of-date. Take this time to realign the skill sets of your current reports with the skills needed to compete in the modern era of health care marketing. This will mean more strengths in data analysis, digital marketing, physician marketing, content development, and social media. Depending on your FTE and PTE numbers, you may require your reports to wear several hats. But overall, look for staff members who can think strategically about their role in the organization and see how their unique contributions are aligned with the overarching strategies you put into place in the marketing department.

Set expectations on the number of key service lines to market in a given year.

Most hospitals can’t say no to service lines. This puts the health care marketer in a tough spot of not having enough budget to market service lines effectively. In our experience, the average hospital only has enough funding to properly market two to three key service lines in a given year, with the balance of resources going to market other, smaller service lines with low cost tactics.

Get your core marketing platforms in place within the first 90 days.

You know the old phrase, “Don’t run before you learn how to walk”? You may be asked to develop complex marketing strategies before the core platforms are put into place to help your marketing campaigns succeed.

What are those platforms? For us at Franklin Street, we like to see the following in place for any health care provider, regardless of size or stature in the market:

  • A call center that can connect prospective patients to physicians for referrals and for departments for scheduling procedures
  • An email marketing database to nurture prospective patients and over time convert them into patients
  • A website with capabilities to create landing pages that drive new patient acquisition from search and display marketing campaigns (along with the analytics to track activity)
  • An established brand positioning that is simple, unique, and compelling to prospective patients.

Your website is the marketer’s first line of opportunity.

As a marketer, there are many things you aren’t able to control in establishing a positive first encounter among your prospective patients. But you should have control over your website. And your website is the number one tool for attracting and converting patients. In addition to responsive design so mobile and tablet users have an optimum experience, (over 50 percent of your site’s users will come from one of those devices), you’ll want to reinforce your brand positioning on the site, and provide Calls to Action to encourage prospective patients to “opt-in” to learn more, find a physician, attend an event, etc.

Brand is reinforced in all you do.

You may or may not have funding to develop stand-alone branding campaigns, but your brand should be clearly defined and reinforced in everything you do. Your brand positioning sets the tone for your messages, the voice and attitude of your communications, and in general, personifies your organization. Whether or not you have the option of executing brand campaigns, every campaign you do execute should reinforce your organization’s brand.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but we hope you find it a good starting point for your new health care marketing journey. We work with seasoned health care marketing professionals, and professionals new to our industry, every day. If we can be a resource, please contact us. In the meantime, best of luck.