When asked what the purpose of marketing is, most healthcare executives will say something like “to drive sales.” While that’s certainly correct, it’s an increasingly simplistic, and even shortsighted, approach to marketing in the modern era of healthcare. Brand reputation is more important than ever. Meaningful engagement has significant value, even beyond a sale. Data derived from marketing initiatives can be deployed in meaningful ways and used to inform activities across programs. These are just a few examples of the impact of effective communications. Conversion-focused marketing will always have a place in healthcare, but the industry is at a major inflection point, which requires more nuanced and highly integrated marketing programs in order to reach all the right stakeholders, with the right messages, at the right time, across the right channels.
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Oct. '19 Healthcare & Medical PR Magazine.|
In December of 2018, key provider and payer organizations issued the “Transformation Progress Report,” which tied nearly 50 percent of their business to value. That number is forecasted to grow as high as 75 percent by 2020 and will very likely reach 100 percent in the not too distant future. Put simply, this means that reimbursement will be tied to quality, outcomes and cost efficiency, as compared to competitors and or industry benchmarks. This is in complete opposition to the traditional fee-for-service models healthcare has relied on for decades, where a service is provided, and as long as it is covered by insurers, it will be reimbursed regardless of the outcome or necessity of it. While these changes have the most immediate and direct impact on payers, providers and patients, the ramifications are far reaching and will drive behavior and operational changes across the entire continuum of care.
As brands continue to adapt to new models, it’s clear that marketing is less of a luxury and more of a necessity. In 2020, expect to see healthcare brands reexamining how they market to an increasingly complex and always evolving set of stakeholders, while also navigating shifting financial and regulatory models. The patient has a bigger voice than ever and is an increasingly discerning consumer of care. Even B2B brands that have traditionally not paid much attention to patients are starting to take notice and refocus messaging on how their product or service actually impacts the patient. Whether prioritizing patients, physicians or pharmacists, truly integrated marketing and public relations programs that address priority stakeholders and decision makers with the right messages, at the right times across the right channels will be more important than ever for modern healthcare brands and marketing departments. The question for many has become: where to start?
The answer is at the beginning. Even if you’re years into an established marketing program, 2020 constitutes an ideal moment in time to revisit core strategy, goals and efficacy. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to healthcare marketing, and even an established program must evolve over time. Earlier stage healthcare companies may be looking to increase brand awareness and will generally prioritize activities that bolster the top of their marketing funnel, such as PR (media, speaking, awards, etc.). On the other hand, more established brands may want to prioritize lead generation and sales-focused activities, such as email marketing or social advertising. While there will generally be a way to prioritize marketing activities, most organizations will benefit from a healthy mix of tactics. The key is finding the right balance and mapping each tactic or campaign back to higher level business objectives to ensure the right muscle and resources are put behind the right activities. To move the needle, you just need to know what the needle should be measuring.
Knowing your audience
Once you understand business goals, the next step is to understand your audiences. The channels and messages used to reach prospective investors will inherently look very different from the channels and messages used to reach prospective customers. Even if you know that customer-centric marketing activities will be a priority in 2020, who are your customers and what does their journey or path to purchase look like? Healthcare marketers should have an in depth understanding of their priority personas. A young visionary chief medical officer may respond well to multimedia content deployed through less traditional social media channels. On the other hand, an established, more risk-averse hospital CFO will likely want to see more traditional white papers or case studies deployed through email marketing or more familiar channels. Will a patient be more likely to respond to a patient testimonial or a physician? These are the questions that should be asked early and often by healthcare marketing pros.
Understanding and prioritizing personas will be more important than ever for marketers moving forward. Not only will it inform your underlying brand strategy and messaging, it will also advise more tactical decisions and specific campaigns. Building and segmenting a database is something that’s never actually complete. Just like healthcare organizations focused on mining clinical and operational data for meaningful insights, healthcare marketers must continue to measure and analyze data related to customer behaviors and preferences in order to continuously sharpen their marketing strategy. What content performs best? What channel has the highest rate of engagement? Where are we losing people on the website and why? How can we reprioritize activities or reallocate resources based on the answers to these kinds of questions?
While targeting decision makers directly using digital marketing and automation will continue to play a key role in many brands’ marketing efforts moving forward, it’s important not to overlook the value of top of the funnel activities such as PR. It’s certainly not as easy to map a feature article in the Wall Street Journal directly to a conversion, however, there’s inherent value in general brand awareness and validation that comes with things like earned media, speaking slots and awards. These things have value on their own and can go a long way toward getting people into the top of your funnel, but the marketing teams’ job doesn’t stop when the article publishes or the award is announced.
Putting it all together
This is where truly integrated marketing programs shine, as they ensure that every message or opportunity is multiplied and deployed across channels to have the greatest possible impact. Integrated PR and marketing teams will be able to “squeeze all the juice” out of every piece of coverage or award or speaking opportunity, by promoting on social, including in email campaigns, publishing on the website, arming sales, etc. By doing this, you’re able to borrow the validation that comes with earned media or exposure, and deploy it in a targeted way to your decision makers, regardless of whether they attended the presentation or happened to read the article. Doing this will again require keen understanding of your personas, integration across the marketing team and the ability to effectively repurpose and redeploy content across channels.
The year of value-based marketing
As healthcare brands look to 2020, they’ll see significant change and challenges on the horizon, but also a moment to examine and re-examine their brand and overall strategy. It’s important to think through the ways that the shifting regulatory and competitive landscape may impact a business and or its customers. Decision makers or influencers may have changed, or their perception of your product or service may have changed. Bands must ask and re-ask: how will that impact your communications with them?
Once you understand your priority personas, taking a truly integrated approach to reaching them is the difference between marketing that checks the boxes and marketing that delivers true value. Ensure that messages are being deployed strategically across channels, and that you’re getting the most from every piece of content. Focus on continuous analysis and measurement to ensure visibility into behavior change and the impact of communications efforts across all marketing functions.
Based in Boston, Ryan Lilly leads the healthcare practice at Matter Communications.