Digital Innovation

A New Focus for Health Care Marketers Starts Now

December 8, 2022  |  Shweta Ponnappa

Health care marketers have often had an existential crisis about their value. Traditional thought says “when people are sick, they’ll show up” – so what’s the value of marketing?

Marketing done right can help evolve its identity from a cost center to a growth engine for the business. No longer a function of just the ‘brand’, marketing must be seen as a growth engine that can fuel both the long-term success of a health system and the long-term health of the communities we serve.

In today’s environment where there is more choice, more competition from non-traditional providers, and more options for how to connect with providers – marketing is paramount to every business discussion. The more intimately we know people, the better we can proactively connect them with experiences that help them stay healthy – and the easier we make those processes, the healthier our communities become.

This blended consumer and business orientation unleashes a new identity for healthcare marketers. Going from being good to great at healthcare marketing requires us to flourish at the intersection of brand, marketing, data, product, technology, UX, creative and storytelling. And stitching all of this together to create a superlative customer experience.

It starts with being your organization’s ‘voice of customer.’

In an industry that is becoming increasingly cash-pay, consumer strategy is increasingly critical to building a successful business strategy. Marketers must be vocal champions of consumers – gathering data, contributing insights, and creating a shared understanding that can shape overall strategy from the highest level.  We are charged with shaping the customer experience, so we must advocate for them.

That means building a way of truly knowing people. Today, so much of our ‘customer data’ is solely focused on clinical encounters and locked inside the EMR.  We need an identity-centric solution that can help us connect the behaviors of people to understand them more deeply and personalize journeys for them.

That understanding also helps fuel thinking beyond transactions or clinical encounters. Marketers must bring meaningful insights geared towards building lifetime value (LTV) – not just through clinical encounters, but through a long-term relationship with a health system. How are they shopping for health care in light of looming layoff uncertainty that may impact their health care insurance? How are they finding and consuming health care content, and from whom? Who are trusted sources – from a consumer perspective (vs. who we may believe they should be)? With increased focus on wearables, how do people even define ‘health care’ today?

This type of consumer-driven insight can fuel flywheel opportunities as well as new business opportunities to meet people where they are, deliver new services matched to unmet needs, and ultimately fuel the growth of consumer relationships and the organization.

It requires shifting our focus to the experience, not just the expression.

Health care marketing doesn’t just apply to advertising or the ‘promotion’ part of the traditional “4P’s.”  In fact, today healthcare marketers must start by thinking about the experience first. We must think about the ends of the value chain – and innovate and ideate to work both ends, not just one. And we must do it all through an omni-channel lens.

Consider this. If a retailer you loved kept advertising a product you wanted, but the product was out of stock or discontinued, it would ultimately create friction and annoyance – yes? And, as a marketer you’d wonder, why spend money on something people can’t get? Yet in health care, you often find dollars misaligned to promoting services and offerings where there is no actual access to those services.

To combat that situation here at Providence, we operationalized and automated how we use our ad spend – focusing on ‘live demand.’ Through proprietary algorithms built in-house, our data science turns ads on and off based on our capacity. In short, we’re not wasting time on advertising services when we have no appointments available. While operationally efficient, it’s also meaningful to consumers. With this approach, we’re able to more appropriately serve their needs and connect them with the resources they need when they need them in a self-serve way.

The truth is, there are many ‘digital front doors’ – not just one. Consumers can enter from payor sites, marketplaces like ZocDoc, our own website, Google, and many others. In fact, no matter how much money you spend in the digital space, Google is ultimately the arbitrator of healthcare demand.

Ninety percent of consumers will change their minds about a referral because of poor reviews. Given that, we’ve invested in managing provider reputations first and foremost.  We’ve created tools to help people find providers that ‘fit them.’ This cross-functional collaboration with clinic operations solicited responder views, has improved views by 350% and driven 9x more traffic.

We must focus on building personalized experiences that serve up the ‘next best action’ to manage their health. That could mean serving up content, it could be helping them find a provider that meets their unique needs, navigating them towards the best venue for care or yes – even booking an appointment. At the end of the day, our efforts have to be triggered by consumer need, not the needs of the health system.

At Providence, that approach is anchored in our mission of ‘know me, care for me, ease my way.’ Our guiding north star is to bring this to life through personalized, empathetic, and frictionless experiences.

Ultimately, we need strong internal relationships with other business functions.

Building deep relationships with other business functions is imperative – particularly finance, operations, and IT. But even more paramount is building a deep understanding of their functions, responsibilities, pain points and motivations.  Think of them as internal ‘customers’ and work to understand them as such. IT determines and drives tech stack decisions that should play an increasingly important role in marketing efforts. Finance can be a vital partner in helping tell the story of marketing’s value and impact on growth for the organization. Operations control many of the experiences we are driving people towards and often we are enabling offline experiences with online marketing efforts.

Having those relationships and understanding requires more significant financial and operational literacy ourselves. With that understanding, we can connect our consumer insights to the growth of the business. We can understand the value of our impacts, and where we can help increase revenue through consumer-inspired thinking or decrease costs. Our team has invested time in working with our finance partners to develop a model that helps us determine ROMI (return-on-marketing-investment) and RODI (return-on-digital-investment). It’s those models that allow us to have a greater voice in early strategy discussions to continue and shape the role of marketing in the future. Our focus is on being a growth engine for the business. We need a repeatable framework to scale our growth efforts and being closely aligned with Finance helps us do just that.

Ultimately, marketing is about outcomes. Outcomes that drive growth for a health system, yes, but as a means to drive stronger health outcomes for our communities and the people we serve.