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, MayoClinic.com, 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 (http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_82.htm) 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.

What’s your stack gap?

I recently heard a presentation from Salesforce.com about the future of CRM and marketing automation where a statistic was quoted that gave me pause:

By 2017, the Chief Marketing Officer will spend more money on IT then the Chief Information Officer”

After some research, I discovered that this is not a new prediction. Laura McLellan from Gartner stated this way back in 2012. At the time, she referenced a few general industry trends to support her prediction:

  • Marketing budgets (in B2B and B2C companies alike) had been growing at a faster rate than IT budgets

  • Marketing investments in technical solutions (websites, CRMs, SEO, etc.) had been growing at a much faster rate than non-technical marketing investments

  • At the time of the prediction, nearly one third of marketing technical solutions were funded directly from marketing budgets (instead of being shared with IT)

Of course, these are business-wide predictions and not necessarily reflective of the healthcare industry, let alone hospital and healthcare systems. With that said, despite a tightening of marketing budgets overall, I have noticed significant increase in investment for marketing technologies in our space. 

Certainly, overall investments in EMRs, patient access tools, and other non-marketing-specific technology investments are much more significant, if just by sheer size of budget invested into these operational technologies.  But within marketing communications departments, budgets have shifted considerably to investments in marketing technology solutions. While hospital marketing lags behind other industries, hospital marketers are increasingly becoming marketing technologists.

Now is the time for healthcare marketers to start understanding and prioritizing their “marketing stack.”

The scoop on the stack

To many of us, the term “marketing stack” may not seem familiar. At first glance, it sounds a bit techie - some term coined by an IT guy referring to a stack of marketing technology equipment (and you would be, in part, right). While there is no standard definition for “marketing stack”, we can loosely define it as the marketing platforms/technologies used to track customers, provide actionable insight into their behaviors and preferences, and ultimately provide the ability to communicate with them in targeted, personalized, and effective ways.

Some of these systems we’ve been using for years. Others are new and we’re only now starting to use them for marketing efforts. Each of these technologies or platforms may be considered separately. But to truly grasp their power, we must understand how they work together. That’s the “stack.” For starters it’s important to think of the potential components of your marketing stack in three categories:

Operational systems.

This category contains systems in which marketing data about consumers (which in our space can include patients, potential patients, customers, donors), is stored. These technologies house the core/true data of consumers and can also save additional information that is supplied by other systems in the stack. This category includes customer relationship management databases (CRM), electronic medical record systems (EMR), and electronic data warehouses (EDW).

As the name suggests, the operational system level is the foundation of the overall stack. Having a single source of customer data is important – it allows marketers to track all activity against a single database, and provides the ability to report out on not only short-term but also long-term marketing success. This is critical data that serves as the center of all marketing communication activity. Having one a single source also helps prevent redundancies or missed opportunities that can flow from having multiple sources of data. Of course, given the reliance on EMRs in our industry, most hospitals and health systems have to manage at least two systems at this level: the EMR and the CRM. The trick then is making sure they are interoperable.

Execution systems.

This category includes tools that allow marketers to execute on their marketing programs by delivering marketing messaging and tracking customer interactions (tracking back into the operational systems of record). The tools in this category allow for marketers to begin connecting personalized preferences back to individual records (in the operational systems) – an important step towards personalization. Examples include marketing automation platforms (MAP), social media management (SMM) platforms, and even robust content management systems (CMS).

Layered on top of and deeply integrated with the operational systems, execution systems pass data to and from the foundational systems, using their knowledge of customers to personalize and optimize messages. In addition, execution systems manage the cadence of messaging and traffic the messages over digital systems.

Engagement systems.

The last category refers to technology programs and methods used to leverage a specific digital marketing channel and optimize these channels for best performance.  These platforms provide an understanding of how consumers act and interact within various digital channels, as well as provide insights into the channel’s effectiveness overall. For example, search engine optimization (SEO) tools (provided either by the CMS or a third-party source like SEOmoz) can help enable better search results; online advertising systems (such as Google Adwords) not only place online ads but help to optimize those ads for effective performance. Other examples of Engagement Systems include email marketing programs (EMP), and social media publishing (SMP) tools (like HootSuite or Sprinklr). In some ways, a CMS can also be considered an engagement system.

Almost exclusively, customers interact with the engagement systems layer of the marketing stack (rarely interacting with the other two levels). This is why this layer is considered at the top of the marketing stack.

All three stacks have a unique relationship with one another, and it’s critical to ensure all three are optimized and integrated for maximum performance. Of course, there are challenges inherent in optimizing your stack, and for hospitals and health systems, those challenges are often greater than in other industries.

How does your stack stack up?

Currently, the majority of hospitals and health systems are currently using some elements of a marketing stack, but in very limited ways.

Almost 60 percent of U.S. hospitals reported using a CRM, with many of these being managed and maintained by the marketing team. The two other operational systems – EMR and EDW – are not typically considered important data sources to support marketing.  This despite the fact that more than ¾ hospitals are using a basic EMR systems .   This leaves today’s hospital marketers with a limited set of core data: only that information that can be gathered directly by the CRM.

While creating a walled garden between marketing and the EMR or EDW is understandable, is it justified? Make no mistake: preserving patient health information (PHI) is important and we need to be sensitive to how the use of PHI is perceived publicly. However, as marketing continues to evolve and intermingle with patient education and population health efforts, the need to improve marketing to be more aligned with a patient’s care is critical. Arguably, being able to promote nutrition classes to people recently diagnosed with diabetes is good clinical practice and good marketing practice.

On the top end of the stack, the majority of hospitals and health systems are using digital systems regularly. From email marketing to PPC to SEO efforts, virtually every marketing team throughout the country is either using or learning how to use these tools effectively to support their marketing efforts. In addition, many health systems are partnering with specialized firms to assist them with keyword optimization techniques, online advertising buys (through search engines or social media), and are using social media publishing. In fact, many hospital marketing teams are actively retooling their organizations to become “digital first” – knowing that engagement systems are not just critical to the future of their marketing efforts, but should be the centerpiece of those efforts.

What’s glaringly missing across health systems in the country is a strong middle layer of the stack: execution systems. Sure, many hospitals are testing out marketing automation for smaller efforts (normally to support one or few service line marketing programs). But typically these efforts are very narrowly implemented and are stilled considered tests or protoypes. That’s probably because implementing marketing automation across multiple marketing activities to measure the overall patient experience can be extremely difficult (and not for the feint of heart).

Separating the stack from the chaff

To close the gaps that are so often found in hospital marketing stacks, many of the operational systems or engagement systems that are created for the healthcare industry are introducing extensions or add-ons to their core technology, and passing them off as pseudo-execution systems. While these bolt-ons may be useful (and allow hospital marketers to dip their toe into marketing automation waters), they often fall far short of what full-scale execution systems can actually provide.

We all know hospital and health systems have lagged years behind other industries in their marketing (and marketing technology investments). The time has come to change this reality. The very reason we often give to move more slowly – we’re dealing with people’s health and care – is the very reason why we need to move faster in filling out our marketing stack.

The tools and technologies are here – the stack is robust enough to handle complex customer pathways (those that patients use in seeking our care). Health system marketers need to spend time ensuring that every layer of their marketing stack is fulfilled and leveraging best-in-class options. That the systems and platforms are optimized to work together seamlessly. It’s time for us to address our stack-gap – or we may fall even more behind.

If you would like to learn more about how to begin adopting the right tools for your marketing stack, please download our free whitepaper on Personalized Marketing or contact me to learn how ReviveHealth can help you begin selecting or optimizing the right tools in your marketing stack.

Hospital marketing isn't working

Heads up, hospital marketers; we've been doing it all wrong. For years, we've tried promoting "5-star" rated services and persuading patients to lead healthier lifestyles--without being able to show these tactics work. That's because we've been measuring the wrong things.

That is, until now. These days, access to highly effective marketing and communications tools are at our fingertips.

I'm referring to using CRM, marketing automation, social media, websites, and search engines to create dynamic, measurable ways to engage your community and drive bottom-line results. In short, use digital marketing because everything online is absolutely measurable. 

Are we measuring the right things?
Traditional marketing communications have been notoriously difficult to measure. Sure, we're able to measure response rates to direct mail or TV/print ads. We're also able to count how many people sign up for health events or lectures. By using a customer relationship management (CRM) database, we can measure downstream revenue.

Over the years, we've taken credit for influencing outcomes by tying together these loosely connected measurements. But sometimes these results took months, if not years, to calculate. And were we really measuring success?

Health care reform, which is forcing us to radically re-think what hospitals provide, also puts pressure on hospital marketers to measure patient engagement and bottom-line revenue. Daunting? Yes, but you're in luck because everything online is measurable.

Social media is about engagement
With the growing popularity of online social networks, hospitals realize that social media can help build an engaged audience. To do this, hospital marketers must change how we use these tools to communicate. This requires shifting from promotion ("us" marketing) to sharing health information on topics and conditions relevant to customers ("we" marketing).

After making this fundamental shift in social media communications strategy, my hospital (Inova Health System) increased social media followers by more than 400 percent in under a year. More importantly, we were able to measure engagement by using Facebook Insights and Klout.

Engagement leads to action
Increased engagement with your hospital brand, via social media means you can begin offering ways for customers to learn from and engage more directly:

  • Ask them sign up for an eNewsletter where you communicate regularly on topics of their interest. Then, measure their engagement through open-rates and click-through rates.

  • Create links to your website so customers can download health information or other content. Services such as http://bit.ly allow you to track how many times people click on your links and when they get to you website, as well as how long they stay there.

  • Promote a health event or seminar and use online registration forms. Collecting names and other relevant information makes it possible to compare that data with your CRM database and cross-promote other ways to sustain engagement.

Putting it all together
Connecting social media efforts with your website and eNewsletter metrics provides a comprehensive way to measure online marketing efforts. By implementing marketing automation platforms, you can also begin to learn their preferences and nuture users through the patient lifecycle to educate, guide and support them when they need it. Remember to compare your online marketing activities to records in your CRM database so you can develop a 360 degree view of how your interactions are helping. 

Tying efforts back to bottom-line results helps quantify efforts. Used and measured correctly, social media, your website, and other online tools will give you all the information you need to continue building engagement and results.

Now, we can finally start measuring the right things.