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Redesigning marketing in the age of healthcare consumerism

Kyra Hagan, Senior Vice President General Manager Marketing Communications Influence Health

Written by: Kyra Hagan

The age of ‘Healthcare Consumerism,’ wherein individuals have a more active role in making healthcare decisions, is here. Like a consumer booking a hotel online, Americans now research personal physicians, compare hospitals, ask for peer recommendations, and make decisions based on a more retail-like value proposition that includes convenience, cost, and quality.

Indeed, healthcare consumers desire the same timely, personalized and omni-channel experience they’ve grown accustomed to via the retail and hospitality industries, but are often left disappointed. This presents both new opportunities and challenges for healthcare marketers, suddenly under tremendous top-down pressure to “close the gap” between lackluster consumer experience capabilities and the demands of digitally-savvy consumers.

Organizations that commit to becoming truly consumer-centric and invest in the tools required to tailor their marketing towards individuals’ unique health needs, interests and preferences will have the opportunity to leverage exceptional consumer experience as a competitive weapon. Those who continue a nascent, wait-and-see approach will increasingly struggle to gain the attention of busy online consumers and will steadily lose market share to competitors who deliver.

Healthcare Consumers Now Control the Wallet Share
Let’s face it – today’s healthcare marketers are still operating off flat old-school marketing budgets. A majority of dollars are spent with agencies on wide net branding efforts like billboards, radio and television spots and even paid digital “awareness campaigns that offer no clear path to conversion or ROI. These ‘spray and pray’ efforts are flashy, expensive, and do not mirror the digital consumer behavior patterns that are driving today’s healthcare economy. For example, according to BlueLineMedia, the average billboard costs between $1,500 – $30,000 for a four-week period. Now, imagine the waste if a health system has a dozen billboards running, with limited to no ability to track inbound appointments, procedures or revenue stemming from that investment.

While this traditional method might have worked in the age of fee-for-service and referral-based growth, the control has fundamentally shifted to digitally-savvy consumers. Today, nearly 80 percent of healthcare patients utilize search engines to discover health related information, and weigh their options all before starting to make a healthcare decision.

Unfortunately, in 2015, only 14 percent of healthcare marketing budgets went to digital efforts. By comparison, industries like retail consistently increase digital spend by double-digits annually. As a result, hospitals are losing out on new patient acquisition. For example, more than 7 out of 10 patients report that they lose trust in healthcare brands that present incorrect information in search engine listings, yet 90 percent of healthcare search listings remain incomplete, outdated, or simply inaccurate.

The Path to Success
At the end of the day, hospital executives should hold their marketing departments accountable for measuring campaign performance and demonstrating a positive ROI. In this paradigm, performance data becomes the weapon marketing teams need to overcome continued cultural resistance, such as organizational reluctance to let go of “feel good” branding initiatives and long-standing physician-focused marketing efforts.

So how do marketers ensure their digital investments translate to ROI? By unifying their consumer data, mining it for insights, and conducting in-market research. This intelligence empowers marketers to understand local consumer preferences, design the ideal consumer journey for key service lines and conditions, and draw inspiration from other thriving industries like retail.

For example, Starbucks launched a mobile app that incorporated mobile payments nearly eight years ago. This initiative not only played directly to the behaviors of its on-the-go consumer base, but proved to be extremely successful, generating 26 million transactions in the first two years alone. Even the insurance industry, which has traditionally been behind the times, has moved to more of a digital focus. A few years ago, State Farm’s former head of digital marketing partnered with publishers like Gawker and BuzzFeed to create content tied to what the audience was passionate about, such as advice for picking a fantasy baseball team, in order to get insurance on the top of Millennial consumers’ minds.

Driving a Revamp of the Healthcare Marketing Departments
As the industry comes to term with the degree to which healthcare consumers control the wallet share, leaders are redesigning their marketing departments. Some are even putting them in the hands of marketers with significant consumer knowledge and success from outside healthcare. In doing so, they’re also making investments in additional marketing technology and allocating more of their current budget to digital initiatives like SEO, web presence management and social media. By utilizing these digital campaigns, providers realize that they’re finally able to track a patient’s journey all the way from initial engagement – form fills, calls, signups, etc. – to an appointment or other billable outcome for the first time and are equipped with concrete metrics that actually prove ROI.

For example, two years ago, a pediatric teaching hospital in Norfolk, Virginia, began using a digital marketing approach to increase awareness and discover right-fit candidates for one of its pioneering procedures. Within those 24 months, the hospital successfully surpassed its original goal for booking procedures through the campaign by 275 percent – achieving a 4:1 ROI on its marketing investment.

Ultimately, there has never been a better time for healthcare executives to shine through and spearhead the internal changes necessary to achieve these real, successful, outcomes for their facilities. As a result, they have two choices: empower their marketing teams to eliminate efforts that do not successfully engage healthcare consumers nor produce a measurable ROI – or lose the patient acquisition game to competitors. The choice is up to them, but the time to choose is now.

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