5 ways to be a disruptive healthcare marketer

Sometimes it’s hard being a marketing professional in your organization. You have to drive interest for services that many people in the community don’t really want to think about (who really wants to go to a hospital?). Working in a highly regulated industry tends to skew our organization’s culture conservatively, which can be stifling for creative types. Your internal stakeholders are not only strong-willed, but often fancy themselves better marketers than you. And let’s not forget that budgets are tight and resources are stretched thin across competing initiatives and departments.

No wonder many experienced hospital marketing professionals suffer from a form of cognitive dissonance.

Time for us hospital to face these challenges head-on, to engage in “disruptive” marketing within our organizations.

We can’t continue doing things the same old same old ways. Broadcast marketing has lost its effectiveness (although we might ask if TV and radio advertising have ever been effective). Social media has effectively gone from free to paid. Marketing, communications, PR, sales are all colliding together. It’s time to stop dismissing effective marketing strategies and tactics from other industries as “not relevant to us.” Let’s stop feeling stressed and afraid, and be more confident in our abilities. Here’s how:

  1. Stop marketing from your organizational perspective – focus on the customer (patient). Only a few people really care about the latest robotic advancements in your surgical suite, or who you nominated as the new CFO. They expect your organization to be innovative and fiscally sound, anyway. Let’s find topics that are address their needs specific needs: “should I go to an ED or an urgent care or virtual care?” or “what’s the best way to prevent me from having to go to a cardiologist?”

  2. Use measurement, not assumptions, to drive your decisions. Marketers often make decisions based on anecdotal evidence, assumptions, or (even worse) what the C-suite feels to be true. Let’s leave “truthiness” to Steven Colbert and start practicing evidence-based marketing. Measure what you’re doing to see what works and discover what doesn’t. Don’t only measure the entire effort – start learning to course-correct in real-time, and optimize along the way.

  3. It’s not just “one-and-done.” After launching a new website or email marketing campaign, review how it’s doing and make improvements based on what you learn. Iterate, iterate, iterate. If you have an initiative that ends, debrief and keep track of lessons learned. Good marketing is not a 100-yard dash where you finish quickly and collapse at the end; it’s a marathon. Stay with it for the long haul.

  4. Put people in the right roles, regardless of job description. To positively impact and speed disruptive change, make sure that you’re working to your and your team’s strengths. Reach outside of your department, if you can, and enlist help from others. Know someone that is adept at social media? Let them help out. Is your finance contact also good at measuring? Put them in, coach. The better you are at building a flexible team responsive to the market’s needs - not just the org chart’s – the more success you will have.

  5. Always do the right thing. Even if it’s the hardest thing to do, doing the right thing is worth it. Converting your website to be patient-centric. Not letting a doctor dictate your media spend based on his assumptions. Whatever the “right thing” is, if you are using data to support it, you know it will yield the best return. Don’t let office politics and inflated egos prevent you from building the right marketing strategy to meet the business needs of your healthcare organization.

You might need to strengthen your resolve and practice never giving up, even when you feel like you want to. But once you master these five steps, you have become a disruptive marketer. 

One Bite at a Time

In complex organizations, many people are often required to make a single decision. We need to launch a new marketing campaign, but only after a dozen doctors and service line directors review and approve every word of the ad, the font types, the pay-per-click ads, the images on the landing page, etc. No wonder many of us complain about how sloooow everything seems to take. 

And let’s face it: our audiences (health seekers, consumers, patients) operate on a completely different timetable. They are used to getting information instantaneously. They can diagnosis complex problems within seconds by calling up Google on their smartphone, and surfing to “authoritative” sites (like WebMD,, Wikipedia, etc.). They are used to using apps to book air travel with a minimal amount of effort and want to access care with that same ease. They connect with friends and patients like them through social media and have the same expectations with doctors and nurses. 

How can we meet their needs? How can we quickly create and share relevant care to the right audiences, at the right time through the right medium…all the while, respecting our internal need for review and approvals? 

It’s not simple, but there are ways to get there. Consider these three tips before you begin your process to implement organizational, systematic change:

  1. You need to consider yourself more than a marketer – you need to become a change agent. What that means is you need to figure out how organizations embrace change, develop a team to help support your efforts and find ways to build consensus and alignment throughout your organization. Change is not for the faint of heart - but it’s also not too difficult to embrace. If you want to learn a great approach to change, get familiar with John Kotter’s 8-step process ( and use these techniques to influence others to embrace change.

  2. Next, it helps to understand the breadth and depth of your communications mediums and develop the expertise to optimize them for your efforts – digital or otherwise. It’s a delicate balance of having a deep knowledge of each tool and how they could be used effectively, while also understanding the over-arching strategy and how these two things can be combined into developing a unique experience for your audience and meeting their needs.

  3. Lastly, it’s important to develop an approach of thinking evolutionary, but acting revolutionary. Driving change in small chunks seems more attainable (and palpable to those adverse to change). But it’s important to first consider the long-term goals you are striving for, and align the work you are doing today so that it contributes to the end-goal of complete change.

Bit by bit, and bite by bite, by taking these tips into account, you will begin seeing change happen at a lightning pace inside your organization.