Johnny Smith is Disrupting B2B Healthcare Marketing Strategy at Encompass Health

With a track record of success in building national healthcare brands, Johnny Smith was recruited as a change agent for Encompass Health—the largest post-acute care provider in the country. As vice president of marketing services, he’s challenging the status quo of business-to-business (B2B) healthcare marketing to empower his team, enhance the digital experience and drive growth for the organization.

Johnny Smith of Encompass HealthJohn­ny joined Encom­pass Health in 2020 to unite three dis­parate func­tions as one cohe­sive mar­ket­ing team. In this con­ver­sa­tion for our Health­care Insight pod­cast, he talks about redesign­ing the orga­ni­za­tion’s B2B health­care mar­ket­ing dis­ci­pline, cast­ing a vision and fos­ter­ing a cul­ture that val­ues strate­gic think­ing and accountability.

His approach to lead­er­ship by “keep­ing your mouth shut and lis­ten­ing” is counter-intuitive—and high­ly effec­tive. The first thing you have to do as a leader when you’re walk­ing through the door is to just be qui­et and lis­ten. Lis­ten to your team’s goals, their strate­gies and more impor­tant­ly, the chal­lenges they’re going through. Learn the com­pa­ny and its cul­ture. Every orga­ni­za­tion and com­mu­ni­ty has its own cul­ture, and it’s impor­tant that you under­stand that and you don’t just jump right in. A lot of times lead­ers come in with our grand scheme and want to throw it out there. It’s impor­tant that you first sit back and learn.

In an unprece­dent­ed envi­ron­ment, vision is the north star. As head of mar­ket­ing, I’m here to cast the vision and get out of the way so the team can thrive. As a leader, it’s impor­tant that you cast a vision and put guid­ing prin­ci­ples in place that ensure peo­ple not only under­stand them but also live them out. Every­one knows the role they play, and can answer the ques­tion: Where are we try­ing to go and what role do I play in help­ing us get there?

At Encom­pass Health, we’re demon­strat­ing a dif­fer­ent lev­el of mar­ket­ing val­ue based on cus­tomer and mar­ket intel­li­gence, brand equi­ty and cre­at­ing and enhanc­ing the dig­i­tal expe­ri­ence. Our approach has noth­ing to do with a press release, or a com­mu­ni­ca­tion email or a piece of col­lat­er­al. This is strate­gic mar­ket­ing and what I would advo­cate for your lis­ten­ers: Under­stand your busi­ness and find the val­ue that mar­ket­ing deliv­ers out­side of a tac­ti­cal solution.

As a leader, your peo­ple are the pri­or­i­ty. I use this acronym to illus­trate pri­or­i­ties for lead­er­ship: PVP, which stands for peo­ple, vision, process. The peo­ple come first because you’re not suc­cess­ful with­out your team, which requires a con­stant invest­ment in them. It’s impor­tant that we sit down one-by-one with team mem­bers and iden­ti­fy where they want to go in their careers. Once we’ve iden­ti­fied the devel­op­ment areas to focus on, we ask what addi­tion­al resources and sup­port can we pro­vide to achieve those goals. That’s been my focus despite all the changes and being in the mid­dle of a pandemic—and COVID has brought the team togeth­er in ways that I couldn’t have imagined.

Account­abil­i­ty involves man­ag­ing the three Ws: who does what by when. This involves account­abil­i­ty between the indi­vid­ual teams, between each oth­er and—more importantly—to the part­ners we’re serv­ing through­out the orga­ni­za­tion. I want them to under­stand that I’m not suc­cess­ful, and the company’s not suc­cess­ful, unless the mar­ket­ing ser­vices team is suc­cess­ful in posi­tion­ing and build­ing this brand.

He’s bor­row­ing a page from the Lou Holtz lead­er­ship play­book. As they say in Notre Dame foot­ball, you have to focus on what’s impor­tant now (W.I.N.) and what’s impor­tant lat­er. For Encom­pass Health, this means address­ing COVID-19 while con­tin­u­ing to focus on our strate­gic direc­tion and rede­fine our­selves in how we look for the future.

Let data be your guide. One major dis­ci­pline we’re focused on is cus­tomer and mar­ket intel­li­gence. This involves bring­ing in peo­ple who don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly drink the mar­ket­ing Kool-Aid, indi­vid­u­als with a back­ground in data ana­lyt­ics who can give a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive and chal­lenge old-school, tra­di­tion­al mar­ket­ing think­ing. By under­stand­ing the data on our cus­tomer seg­ments and our refer­ral sources, we can see how they think and act, which allows us to tar­get them more effec­tive­ly. It’s a per­son­al­ized, high-touch and sur­gi­cal approach to engag­ing key refer­ral sources.

Where Johnny Smith Finds Inspiration and Stays Informed

Here are a few of Johnny’s favorite resources for stay­ing cur­rent on B2B health­care mar­ket­ing trends, lead­er­ship insights and oth­er crit­i­cal top­ics of interest:

Listen to the full episode below!

Want More Expert Perspective?

Get more insights like these to inspire your health­care mar­ket­ing plans and and career path.

Your Complete Guide to Healthcare Marketing Conferences

Here’s a comprehensive list of healthcare marketing conferences for networking and professional development.

Wel­come to your guide to health­care mar­ket­ing con­fer­ences. Our team is fre­quent­ly select­ed to present and to part­ner with lead­ing health­care mar­ket­ing con­fer­ences, so we’ve devel­oped this defin­i­tive list—along with a few use­ful tips for atten­dees and speakers—to help you decide which events fit your strat­e­gy and budget.

Events are list­ed in chrono­log­i­cal order, and dates are sub­ject to can­cel­la­tion, resched­ul­ing or shift to a dig­i­tal for­mat due to COVID-19.

This post is updat­ed every 30–60 days for fresh­ness. Check back for updates as con­fer­ence orga­niz­ers release details through­out the year.

Q1: January — March

Beck­er’s Patient Expe­ri­ence and Mar­ket­ing Vir­tu­al Forum

Feb­ru­ary 1, 2021

Mayo Clin­ic Social Media Residency

2021 infor­ma­tion not yet available

ACHE Con­gress on Health­care Leadership

March 22–25 (vir­tu­al)

Revive­Health Joe Pub­lic Retreat

March 29–31, 2021 in Nashville, TN

The Con­tact Expe­ri­ence Vir­tu­al Conference

March 30, 2021

Speak­er appli­ca­tions due 12/28/21 (sub­mit pro­pos­al)

Q2: April — June

World Health Care Congress

April 11–14 in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Michi­gan Soci­ety for Health­care Plan­ning and Mar­ket­ing State Conference

April 14, 2021 in Lans­ing, Michigan

PRSA Health Acad­e­my Conference

April 19–23, 2021

Mid-Atlantic Soci­ety for Health­care Strat­e­gy and Mar­ket Development

May 5–7, 2021 at the MGM Nation­al Har­bor in Oxon Hill, MD

Patient Expe­ri­ence Dig­i­tal Sum­mit (a Cleve­land Clin­ic + HIMSS event)

May 12–13

Health­care Trans­for­ma­tion Sum­mit, host­ed by Mod­ern Healthcare

May 18–19

Health­care Mar­ket­ing Nation­al — Spring (Orlan­do)

Typ­i­cal­ly held in May; 2021 infor­ma­tion not yet available

New Eng­land Soci­ety for Health­care Communicators

2021 infor­ma­tion not yet available

Q3: July — September

AHA Lead­er­ship Sum­mit and Vir­tu­al Conference

July 22–24 in Nashville, TN

Speak­er appli­ca­tion due 1/8/21 (sub­mit pro­pos­al)

Women Lead­ers in Health­care Con­fer­ence, host­ed by Mod­ern Healthcare

July 22–23 (vir­tu­al)

HIMSS Glob­al Health Con­fer­ence and Exhibition

August 9–13, 2021 in Las Vegas

CDC Nation­al Con­fer­ence on Health Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Mar­ket­ing & Media

Typ­i­cal­ly held in Octo­ber; 2021 infor­ma­tion not yet available

Con­tent­Tech Summit

2021 infor­ma­tion not yet available

SHSMD Annu­al Conference

Sept. 19–22, 2021 in San Anto­nio, TX

Speak­er appli­ca­tion due 2/10/21 (sub­mit pro­pos­al)

Hos­pi­tal Mar­ket­ing and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Summit

2021 infor­ma­tion not yet available

Con­tent Mar­ket­ing World

Sept. 28 — Oct. 1, 2021 in Cleveland

Call for speak­ers opens 2/8/21

Con­tent Mar­ket­ing World Cleve­land Clin­ic Vir­tu­al Health Summit

Typ­i­cal­ly held on last day of Con­tent Mar­ket­ing World; 2021 infor­ma­tion not yet available

Q4: October — December

Health­care Mar­ket­ing and Physi­cian Strate­gies Summit

Oct. 6–8 in Aven­tu­ra, FL

Speak­er appli­ca­tion due 3/12/21 (sub­mit pro­pos­al)

Wis­con­sin Health­care Pub­lic Rela­tions and Mar­ket­ing Soci­ety Conference

Octo­ber 6–8, 2021 in Milwaukee

Illi­nois Soci­ety for Health­care Mar­ket­ing and Pub­lic Relations

Typ­i­cal­ly held in Octo­ber; 2021 infor­ma­tion not yet available

Health­care Mar­ket­ing Nation­al — Fall 

2021 infor­ma­tion not yet available

Health Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Media and Mar­ket­ing Forum

2021 infor­ma­tion not yet available

HLTH (pro­nounced “health”)

Oct. 17–20, 2021 in Boston

Health­care Inter­net Conference

Nov. 2–4, 2021 in Las Vegas

Speak­er appli­ca­tion due 2/19/21 (sub­mit pro­pos­al)

Mod­ern Health­care Strate­gic Mar­ket­ing Conference

2021 infor­ma­tion not yet available

Health­care Com­mu­ni­ca­tors North­west Vir­tu­al Conference

2021 infor­ma­tion not yet available

Health IT Mar­ket­ing Con­fer­ence (Vir­tu­al HITMC — Part Deux)

Nov. 4 / Nov. 19 / Dec. 2 / Dec. 17 — half-day events from 12:00 — 3:00 pm ET each day

U.S. News & World Report Best Hos­pi­tals Presents: Hos­pi­tals of Tomorrow

2021 infor­ma­tion not yet available

Car­oli­nas Health­care Pub­lic Rela­tions & Mar­ket­ing Society

Dec. 2–3, 2020 — Vir­tu­al event

Getting the Most Out of Your Conference Experience

As a health­care mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­al, build­ing your knowl­edge and per­son­al brand are crit­i­cal to a long, ful­fill­ing career. When approached with the same strate­gic mind­set as oth­er mar­ket­ing ini­tia­tives, indus­try events can solve for both outcomes.

Whether your goals involve soak­ing up infor­ma­tion or shar­ing insights with peers, here are a few help­ful resources to make the most of conferences.

Before the Event: Plan Your Calendar/Presentation

How to Decide Which Con­fer­ences Are Worth Your Time

4 Mis­takes Young Pro­fes­sion­als Make When Attend­ing Net­work­ing Events 

Don’t Just Mem­o­rize Your Presentation—Know It Cold

Dur­ing the Event: Max­i­mize Your Time as an Attendee/Speaker

How to Get the Most Out of a Conference

How to Nail the Q&A After Your Presentation

How Intro­verts Can Make the Most of Conferences

After the Event: Extend the Benefits

Four Ways to Make Your Con­fer­ence Expe­ri­ence ‘Stick’

How to Fol­low Up with Peo­ple After a Conference

Did we miss your favorite healthcare marketing conference?

Please con­tact True North CMO Jason Skin­ner at if there are oth­er events you’d like to include.

Want More Industry News?

Sub­scribe to find out where we’ll be and what we’re learn­ing at con­fer­ences this year!

Subscribe to our blog

How to Outsmart vs. Outspend the Competition with Your Healthcare Marketing Strategy

Gain a competitive advantage while conserving costs in the COVID-19 era with an effective healthcare marketing strategy.

It’s time to take a more cere­bral approach to health­care marketing.

Whether your health­care brand is a new entrant, a chal­lenger or the clear leader, the mar­ket has become more com­pet­i­tive. On top of that, expec­ta­tions from your board, lead­er­ship team and oth­er stake­hold­ers aren’t get­ting any low­er. Addi­tion­al­ly, resources are increas­ing­ly lim­it­ed as hos­pi­tal and health sys­tem rev­enues declined sharply due to COVID-19.

How should your health­care mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy adjust to meet con­sumer needs and lead­er­ship expectations?

Doing more with less” has always been a health­care marketer’s mantra. This mind­set is now mis­sion-crit­i­cal as you work to engage con­sumers, grow rev­enue and gain a com­pet­i­tive advan­tage dur­ing a glob­al pan­dem­ic that is impact­ing vir­tu­al­ly every aspect of health care.

Healthcare Marketing Strategy into 2021

A num­ber of indus­try reports illus­trate the impact of COVID-19 on health­care mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy and budgets:

  • COVID-19 accel­er­at­ed the shift from a bud­get-based cul­ture to a per­for­mance-based cul­ture that is marked by improv­ing per­for­mance every day (COVID-19 Bull­dozed Bud­gets and Now Hos­pi­tals Are Shift­ing from a Bud­get-Based to a Per­for­mance-Based Cul­ture in Becker’s Hos­pi­tal Review).
  • Nine­ty per­cent of mar­keters expect their over­all depart­ment bud­get to decrease or stay the same next year. Near­ly 40%, how­ev­er, are grow­ing their dig­i­tal invest­ment (Health­care Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing Trends report from Geonet­ric and eHealth­care Strat­e­gy & Trends).
  • Dur­ing COVID-19, top mar­ket­ing pri­or­i­ties have focused on social media (48%), cri­sis com­mu­ni­ca­tion (34%) and con­tent mar­ket­ing (33%). The three areas of bud­get cuts include media spend­ing (39%), con­trac­tors (37%) and team mem­bers (36%) (How COVID-19 is Shift­ing Pri­or­i­ties for Health­care Mar­keters from Bina­ry Foun­tain).
  • Brand dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion is even more para­mount dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, as “com­pas­sion confusion”—caused by a steady feed of mes­sages relat­ed to healthcare—makes it chal­leng­ing for hos­pi­tal cam­paigns to stand out. (7 Ideas for Smart Hos­pi­tal Mar­ket­ing Cam­paigns Right Now in Becker’s Hos­pi­tal Review).
  • Eighty per­cent of con­tent mar­ket­ing bud­gets decreased or stayed flat due to COVID-19. Eighty-four per­cent, how­ev­er, expect to spend the same or more on con­tent mar­ket­ing in the next bud­get cycle (State of Health­care Con­tent Mar­ket­ing from True North Cus­tom).

The com­mon threads in these and oth­er reports make it clear that health­care mar­ket lead­ers are invest­ing in strate­gies designed to define their brands, demon­strate unique val­ue and dri­ve growth. What isn’t obvi­ous is how to com­pete with con­strained resources in a crowd­ed dig­i­tal landscape.

We’re Here to Help

Here’s how you can out­think your com­pe­ti­tion in the areas where health­care mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy deci­sions and invest­ments are most impactful.

Brand Development

Brand devel­op­ment is an ongo­ing process of refin­ing brand stan­dards and style guides based on evolv­ing trends and con­sumer pref­er­ences. Ensure your brand strat­e­gy is con­sis­tent and con­nects with con­sumers as indi­vid­u­als and influ­ences both the per­cep­tion of your brand and the suc­cess of every dig­i­tal and tra­di­tion­al cam­paign component.

The pan­dem­ic has forced health­care orga­ni­za­tions to reeval­u­ate brand strate­gies. The most effec­tive cam­paigns are inte­grat­ed to engage con­sumers online and through com­ple­men­tary offline chan­nels to dri­ve behav­ior change and ser­vice line revenue.

For exam­ple, a mod­ern brand strat­e­gy includes blogs and social media to gen­er­ate aware­ness and engage­ment, as well as paid search and social ads to dri­ve lead vol­ume. Each of those chan­nels are com­ple­ment­ed with direct mail pieces, dis­play and native adver­tis­ing, stream­ing ser­vice pro­mo­tion, and more.

How to Outsmart Your Competition

Get clos­er to your cus­tomers by research­ing the peo­ple you’re reach­ing to inform design and mes­sag­ing deci­sions. Ask for reg­u­lar feed­back about your brand and the expe­ri­ence con­sumers have with you online, through tra­di­tion­al chan­nels and when they step through your doors.

Com­mu­ni­cate with a con­sis­tent tone, voice, theme, design style and more across all chan­nels and cam­paign com­po­nents. This means using tra­di­tion­al media, stream­ing ser­vice pro­mo­tion, direct mail and oth­er out­lets in a way that com­ple­ments high­ly tar­get­ed search and social media adver­tis­ing.

Avoid invest­ing in large-scale research projects that are often expen­sive and time-con­sum­ing. Instead, con­sid­er the Milk Test. In the words of Sales­force Direc­tor of Mar­ket Strat­e­gy Math­ew Sweezey, “You don’t need to take 100 sips of milk to know it’s bad.” He points out that a small, rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple set—even as few as six peo­ple who reflect your tar­get audience—can offer insights that inform your brand priorities.

Digital Marketing

Dur­ing COVID-19, an effec­tive approach to dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing cen­ters around build­ing inte­grat­ed cam­paigns that lever­age the appro­pri­ate dig­i­tal and tra­di­tion­al chan­nels to meet cam­paign goals. This includes think­ing first about the tar­get con­ver­sion and over­all per­for­mance goal, the bud­get avail­able to achieve those goals, and what indi­vid­u­als will be the most valu­able tar­gets. From there, you can deter­mine the chan­nels and mes­sag­ing that will be most effi­cient and effective.

Dig­i­tal strat­e­gy should be hor­i­zon­tal­ly inte­grat­ed with tra­di­tion­al media, and brand efforts should be well aligned with ser­vice-line growth. This requires a more strate­gic approach to cam­paign plan­ning and mov­ing away from one-off ser­vice line efforts that occur spo­rad­i­cal­ly through­out the year. Instead, focus on inte­grat­ed cam­paign strate­gies that build brand aware­ness and affin­i­ty and dri­ve the right patient volumes.

How to Outsmart Your Competition

Stop chas­ing shiny new objects and throw­ing more bud­get at new chal­lenges. Instead, think cre­ative­ly to opti­mize your dig­i­tal approach. Often­times, new tools and chan­nels are used with­out think­ing about how the con­sumer will inter­act with your brand and what mes­sage will res­onate. These efforts may draw unnec­es­sar­i­ly from your budget.

Focus paid search tar­get­ing on terms that sig­nal a consumer’s readi­ness to con­vert. This ensures your bud­get is spent on the high­est qual­i­fied leads and avoids unnec­es­sar­i­ly dri­ving up the cost per click and sub­se­quent total cost per lead and bud­get by bid­ding on over­ly expen­sive key­words and terms. Fur­ther, use brand­ed search strate­gi­cal­ly. If no com­peti­tors are bid­ding on your brand, you may leave your own brand out of your ad tar­get­ing as well, rely­ing on organ­ic search. If you’re focused on a ser­vice line or mar­ket with big names like Cleve­land Clin­ic or Mayo Clin­ic, be inten­tion­al about how you try to com­pete for that traf­fic, and work to opti­mize SEO to bal­ance your budget.

Make sure your paid social media strate­gies are deliv­er­ing the right mes­sages to the right consumers—and use the right chan­nels. Face­book is get­ting old­er (and nois­i­er), so for ser­vice lines like urgent care or women and chil­dren, include Insta­gram in your ad strat­e­gy as well.

Exper­i­ment with high­ly engag­ing chan­nels with a broad nation­al audi­ence like Pan­do­ra, Hulu, YouTube and more to reach your tar­get com­mu­ni­ties and build brand aware­ness.

Deliv­er a fric­tion­less path to request­ing or sched­ul­ing an appoint­ment. Use online sched­ul­ing options, call cen­ters that pro­vide excel­lent cus­tomer ser­vice or, if all else fails, a con­ver­sion-opti­mized cam­paign land­ing page where con­sumers can request (and receive) a call back to sched­ule an appointment.

Use tools like down­load­able treat­ment guides to gen­er­ate qual­i­fied leads. This allows you to cap­ture a consumer’s email when they down­load the asset, then send them a series of nur­tur­ing emails to fur­ther the rela­tion­ship and dri­ve down­stream encounters.

To engage with cur­rent patients and grow share of wal­let, devel­op email mar­ket­ing inclu­sive of nur­tur­ing jour­neys that con­tin­ue to build rela­tion­ships and dri­ve consideration.

Content Marketing

By using con­tent mar­ket­ing to spark inter­est and dri­ve behav­ior change, mar­keters are out­smart­ing the com­pe­ti­tion by effec­tive­ly build­ing brand rela­tion­ships, enter­ing con­sumers into the mar­ket­ing fun­nel and nur­tur­ing them toward a rev­enue-gen­er­at­ing call to action.

Cre­ative strat­e­gy and effec­tive con­tent are crit­i­cal to opti­miz­ing results across dig­i­tal media and max­i­miz­ing invest­ments in new mar­ket­ing tools. Con­nect­ing with a tar­get con­sumer with the right mes­sage, at the right time and through the right chan­nel is crit­i­cal in an envi­ron­ment where con­sumer atten­tion is increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to earn.

It’s impor­tant to note that con­tent mar­ket­ing should nei­ther be all about what you as a health­care brand want to talk about nor should it be sole­ly about what peo­ple in your mar­kets are active­ly search­ing for. The key is think­ing first about your goal con­ver­sions and high pri­or­i­ty ser­vices and then using SEO research to solid­i­fy how to cre­ate con­tent that will solve spe­cif­ic prob­lems for your tar­get audience.

This approach ensures con­tent will have strong organ­ic per­for­mance while also sup­port­ing ser­vice-line growth pri­or­i­ties and the var­i­ous cam­paigns that you exe­cute via social media.

How to Outsmart Your Competition

Let data dri­ve deci­sions around top­ics, angles and calls to action. Include an analy­sis of cur­rent and past per­for­mance, com­peti­tor per­for­mance trends, and local search trends to iden­ti­fy gaps in con­tent and oppor­tu­ni­ties for improved organ­ic results in your con­tent strat­e­gy and plan­ning activity.

Not all con­tent needs to be cre­at­ed from scratch, nor should it be. As you plan con­tent each month, make sure you’re updat­ed and repost­ing old con­tent to ensure you’re nei­ther rein­vent­ing the wheel unnec­es­sar­i­ly and to ensure you’re not adding dupli­cat­ing con­tent and cre­at­ing a sce­nario where mul­ti­ple pages com­pete for the same key­word traffic.

Ensure your social media cam­paigns and con­tent mar­ket­ing strate­gies are close­ly aligned. Blog con­tent should be lever­aged in social cam­paign strate­gies as con­tent aligns with ser­vice line goals to cre­ate syn­er­gies between growth efforts, SEO strate­gies and brand-build­ing priorities.

Use calls to action and con­tent that align with where a con­sumer is on their deci­sion-mak­ing jour­ney, and align your con­tent with SEO best prac­tices to ensure high organ­ic performance.

Lever­age the capa­bil­i­ties of your CMS plat­form. These tools allow you to per­son­al­ize the expe­ri­ence for web­site vis­i­tors and under­stand their behav­ior on your site, enabling you to con­tin­u­ous­ly opti­mize con­tent and move con­sumers through your site.

We’re Here to Help You Outsmart Your Competition

With these insights as a guide, your 2021 health­care mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy and bud­get can deliv­er long-term val­ue to your orga­ni­za­tion and community.

Building the Playbook for a Pandemic at Rush University Medical Center

At Rush University Medical Center, our battle cry as COVID-19 hit Chicago was “we’re built for this.” While true about the physical facility, this principle especially applies to our workforce. Our people continue to be our greatest resource. They are truly built for this.

Ryan Nagdeman,  Associate Vice President, Marketing & Communications at  Rush University Medical Center shares his playbook for the COVID pandemic

Ryan Nagde­man, Asso­ciate Vice Pres­i­dent of Mar­ket­ing & Com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Rush Uni­ver­si­ty Med­ical Center

A foun­da­tion of our approach to cri­sis man­age­ment start­ed with 9/11. As a result, Rush Uni­ver­si­ty Med­ical Cen­ter was pre­pared for this type of new cri­sis. In a mat­ter of weeks, the hos­pi­tal was flipped from reg­u­lar busi­ness to COVID-19 patient care. Lob­bies had inner work­ings for IT and air­flows to become new units—and it was all by design.

We’re a cul­ture built around excel­lence, focused on qual­i­ty out­comes, team­work and trans­paren­cy. Our tagline is “excel­lence is just the begin­ning.” That authen­tic aspi­ra­tion fuels all our mar­ket­ing and communications.

Creating the Playbook

Ear­ly in the cri­sis, I could hear the CEO say­ing “there is no play­book for this.” So it’s no sur­prise that some­one sug­gest­ed we cap­ture the steps tak­en to man­age the sit­u­a­tion. Our team worked with oper­a­tional lead­ers to pack­age a com­pre­hen­sive cri­sis man­age­ment resource. It was titled: “Excel­lence Leads the Way: A play­book for nav­i­gat­ing the clin­i­cal and oper­a­tional chal­lenges of a glob­al health crisis.”

We devel­oped a sim­i­lar play­book for the uni­ver­si­ty response, too. The uni­ver­si­ty went vir­tu­al overnight. We had the tools, as pri­or to COVID-19, our nurs­ing school was ranked No. 1 online by U.S. News and World Report. We had worked so hard on pre­pared­ness that doc­u­men­ta­tion was a way to cap­ture the how-to moments. The response from oth­er orga­ni­za­tions and social media was inspir­ing. We put our sto­ry out there as many of our peers need­ed ideas for how to man­age COVID-19 with­in their own orga­ni­za­tions. This lat­er trans­formed into a new method to serve the com­mu­ni­ty as a “busi­ness solu­tions” resource and con­sul­ta­tion service.

Shifting Priorities

In light of COVID-19, we reduced our spend­ing for TV and radio and paused patient acqui­si­tion chan­nels. This was dark for about 6–7 weeks until ear­ly May, when we could start again with elec­tives on May 13.

Our social media and earned media place­ments were incred­i­ble. We had lead­ers, experts and providers fea­tured on local, region­al, nation­al and inter­na­tion­al out­lets. Dur­ing this time, we saw over 40,000 non-COVID-19 emer­gent cas­es. We start­ed gath­er­ing those sto­ries so they could be told late April to May and we could say “it’s safe to come back” in our marketing.

We did some quick research to help plan our piv­ot, but we also knew how con­sumers felt. They were anx­ious and need­ing infor­ma­tion. Engage­ment on email and social media was incred­i­ble. Email open rates sky­rock­et­ed to 60% for con­sumers and 40% for refer­ral audi­ences. Our social media reach and engage­ment were com­pet­ing with nation­al lead­ers. Inter­nal sig­nage and out-of-home (OOH) adver­tis­ing were moti­va­tion­al for staff. This includ­ed a big “wash your hands” sign on the side of our hos­pi­tal over­look­ing a major high­way in Chica­go. We added radio back into the mix—including an ad we planned, wrote, pro­duced and aired in a week. Peo­ple noticed it all.

Keeping the Team Engaged

To mir­ror the front­line mind­set dur­ing the cri­sis, we moved to shift work in mar­ket­ing. Every day, we hud­dled with the uni­ver­si­ty at 8 am, the hos­pi­tal com­mand at 9 am, and the rest of the mar­ket­ing team at 11 am. The after­noon became work time or oppor­tu­ni­ties for col­lab­o­ra­tion. It all fun­neled back in around 4 pm for the dai­ly com­mu­ni­ca­tions updates for Rush Uni­ver­si­ty Med­ical Cen­ter staff, stu­dents and mes­sag­ing for patients.

Assign­ments and pri­or­i­ties were incred­i­bly clear dur­ing the ear­ly days of COVID-19. The focus helped so much for the busi­ness of the day. We had peo­ple on dai­ly assign­ments or “not on call” that day, so our rota­tion offers the chance for a breather or to look at recov­ery busi­ness (which we hoped was coming).

Finding Inspiration

Going back to the play­book, we told our­selves, “We need to come up with the answers, who else could give us ideas?” This was our first pan­dem­ic. We relied on each oth­er and talked through deci­sions. Anoth­er piece of our brand is that team com­po­nent. We’re at our best in a crisis.

As we have moved into the recov­ery phase, I saw some old habits return­ing where lead­ers were bench­mark­ing our mar­ket­ing to oth­ers. I remind folks that some­times being orig­i­nal is the way to stand out. I am proud of the work Rush Uni­ver­si­ty Med­ical Cen­ter has accom­plished and am hon­ored to be part of the sto­ry­telling. Some­times, we need a reminder of our role as a leader.

Looking Ahead

When I think about how to keep the momen­tum of the past few months going for health­care mar­keters, I believe we need to retain the nim­ble­ness we’ve achieved as we move for­ward. Not every­thing needs to be the big, slow-mov­ing ice­berg. For exam­ple, we are some­times film­ing videos with our phones. We have embraced the vir­tu­al meet­ing rooms. Some of us have to be here to lead in cat­e­gories for oper­a­tions, but many mem­bers of the team are at home.

The deliv­ery of vir­tu­al care will also be a main­stay. We were doing this a year before COVID-19. Ini­tial­ly, we had great next-day access and con­sult appoint­ments. We’re now push­ing dig­i­tal front door ini­tia­tives with video or vir­tu­al vis­its and encour­ag­ing con­sumers to come to us for a sec­ond opin­ion. Many of these entry points lead to patients real­iz­ing they need it or com­ing in for care.

Final­ly, I would advise peers to get com­fort­able ask­ing ques­tions. Lessons learned dur­ing the mas­sive dig­i­tal meet­ing era will help us with our dig­i­tal eti­quette for how we col­lab­o­rate and act. I think peo­ple will be more engaged. If not, oth­ers will notice!

About the Author: Ryan Nagde­man is asso­ciate vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Rush Uni­ver­si­ty Med­ical Cen­ter. He recent­ly joined the advi­so­ry board of our Health­care Insight mag­a­zine. He leads mar­ket­ing teams for all Rush hos­pi­tal, aca­d­e­m­ic and research adver­tis­ing cam­paigns, tar­get­ed mar­ket­ing, mar­ket­ing admin­is­tra­tion, and dig­i­tal prop­er­ties, includ­ing the web and social assets.

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Marketing Healthcare Services to Generation X

Connecting with Generation X could make or break your healthcare marketing strategy.

They entered adult­hood when flan­nel was the fash­ion and grunge rock ruled the radio waves. While many of them may have reluc­tant­ly wad­ed into the con­ven­tions of respon­si­bil­i­ty, Gen­er­a­tion X (Gen X) is now in the thick of the grown-up stage of life.

Rais­ing fam­i­lies, tak­ing care of aging par­ents and becom­ing well-acquaint­ed with how the body changes through the years, adults born between 1965 and 1980 rep­re­sent an impor­tant seg­ment of health­care con­sumers. How­ev­er, this gen­er­a­tion tends to be over­looked by mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als, accord­ing to Alan Shoe­bridge, direc­tor of mar­ket­ing for Sali­nas Val­ley Memo­r­i­al Health­care Sys­tem and board mem­ber for the Soci­ety for Health Care Strat­e­gy and Mar­ket Devel­op­ment.

“About 10 years ago, those of us in health­care mar­ket­ing were becom­ing much more strate­gic with who we were focus­ing on as the best tar­gets for mar­ket­ing out­reach,” Shoe­bridge says. “What I found frus­trat­ing was that so many of those con­ver­sa­tions focused on what Mil­len­ni­als and Baby Boomers were doing, and very lit­tle atten­tion was being paid to Gen X. To me, it was clear that Mil­len­ni­als were not ready for deep rela­tion­ships with health­care providers, and most Boomers already had very estab­lished rela­tion­ships that would be hard to break. In my mind, the real sweet spot was peo­ple who were 35 to 50.”

Specif­i­cal­ly, Shoe­bridge notes that because they are man­ag­ing health­care for them­selves, their chil­dren and pos­si­bly their par­ents, Gen Xers are cur­rent­ly the most rel­e­vant tar­get audi­ence for health­care mar­keters to address and will be for the next decade.

“In short, they are poised to make deci­sions and act,” Shoe­bridge says. “That will change grad­u­al­ly as more Mil­len­ni­als enter these life stages, but right now, we can­not afford to ignore Gen X.”

Who is Generation X?

Here’s a snap­shot of what some are call­ing The For­got­ten Gen­er­a­tion:

  • Size: 65 mil­lion individuals
  • Edu­ca­tion: 35% have col­lege degrees (the high­est of the three generations)
  • Media habits: 165 hours of TV each month, 7 hours of Face­book each week, blog enthusiasts
  • How they bank: fans of one-on-one rela­tion­ships, dri­ven to man­age debt
  • How they shop: brand loy­al, read peer reviews
  • Influ­en­tial events: The end of the Cold War, the begin­ning of the per­son­al com­put­ing age, ten­den­cy to feel obscured by the Baby Boomers and Millennials

The Value of Messaging

Though the pop­u­la­tion of Gen X is small­er than that of Boomers or Mil­len­ni­als, this group out­spends the oth­er gen­er­a­tions, invest­ing in them­selves as well as their loved ones.

“Tar­get­ing Gen X at their cur­rent life stage is essen­tial for mar­ket­ing many health ser­vices,” says Dean Brow­ell, PhD, prin­ci­pal with Feed­back, a com­pa­ny that spe­cial­izes in dig­i­tal ethnog­ra­phy to help mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als under­stand their cus­tomers in a way that goes beyond data. “Con­sid­er that this is the gen­er­a­tion that will be care­givers for the mas­sive, aging Baby Boomer generation.”

To suc­cess­ful­ly con­nect with the Gen X cohort, Brow­ell and Shoebridge—who have com­piled their insights in a book apt­ly titled “Don’t You For­get About Gen X”—rec­om­mend keep­ing these impor­tant rules of thumb in mind.

“This is a gen­er­a­tion that does not just buy what an expert sells them,” Brow­ell says. “They want to see that oth­er peers have val­i­dat­ed the services.”

Because this gen­er­a­tion val­ues the expe­ri­ences of their peers, get­ting it right as often as pos­si­ble through mean­ing­ful actions instead of fluffy words is important.

“If an expe­ri­ence is not pos­i­tive, I do not think you will get a sec­ond chance to land them as cus­tomers or patients,” Shoe­bridge says. “If mar­ket­ing promis­es do not match the actu­al expe­ri­ence, you will have a major dis­con­nect. Your mes­sag­ing can­not afford to over-promise and under-deliv­er with this group.”

Winning Strategies

Hos­pi­tals who are get­ting it right for Gen X, par­tic­u­lar­ly choosy par­ents and the old­er Mil­len­ni­als who fol­low them, accord­ing to Brow­ell, include:

Arkansas Chil­dren’s—Invest­ing in con­tent and cre­ative social media cam­paigns like the #100DeadliestDays.

Joe DiMag­gio Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal—Reach­ing Gen X through use­ful resources like the Healthy Par­ent­ing Pod­cast.

UNC Rex Health­care in North Car­oli­na—Deliv­ers use­ful health infor­ma­tion through con­sumer-cen­tric chan­nels like the Health Talk con­tent hub.

“These facil­i­ties have tak­en the crit­i­cal steps to real­ly stop and lis­ten, ana­lyze, and take to heart what Gen Xers and old­er Mil­len­ni­als are say­ing,” Brow­ell says. “They have dis­tinct­ly dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions but have a sim­i­lar issue in common—low-information and expe­ri­enced par­ents with loy­al­ties that are not cement­ed yet. They form deci­sions based on the con­sen­sus of peers, look­ing to reviews and dis­cus­sions on demo­graph­ic and con­di­tion-spe­cif­ic groups and mes­sage boards. And guess who is most pro­lif­ic in those—who has been mod­el­ing behav­ior for years? Gen X.”

Now serv­ing as deci­sion-mak­ers for their fam­i­lies and lead­ers of suc­cess­ful orga­ni­za­tions, Gen X is one not to for­get or dis­count as you build your next mar­ket­ing campaign.

“Gen X is serv­ing as an impor­tant bridge between the Boomers and the Mil­len­ni­als and will pro­vide orga­ni­za­tion­al con­ti­nu­ity dur­ing the next 10 to 20 years,” Shoe­bridge says. “If you are not think­ing about them, you are miss­ing out.”

Expert Perspective on Earning the Trust of Gen X

“There is a myth of cyn­i­cism that is per­haps bet­ter described as skep­ti­cism. Gen X has wit­nessed the debut, promis­es and fail­ures of so much—technology, pol­i­tics, finances, etc. This leads them to always look for a sec­ond opin­ion, not trust­ing any brand until it proves itself to them. They also pos­sess a desire to be incred­i­bly well-informed. Once they make that deci­sion, they will be very loy­al to and hon­est with your brand.”

—Dean Brow­ell, PhD, Prin­ci­pal with Feedback

NOTE: This arti­cle was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in July 2019. It has been updat­ed for freshness.

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McKinsey Experts Share Health System Marketing Strategies to Drive Growth Transformation

We recently hosted a discussion with McKinsey & Company experts on how health system marketing strategies can empower growth transformation. Here’s what you need to know to develop your patient engagement and acquisition plans.

We spoke with McK­in­sey & Com­pa­ny Health­care Prac­tice Part­ners Rupal B. Malani, MD, and Jen­ny Cor­di­na to share insights and rec­om­men­da­tions from the firm’s new report: “Prepar­ing for the next nor­mal now: How health sys­tems can adopt a growth trans­for­ma­tion in the COVID-19 world.”

Here are high­lights from the report and our dis­cus­sion on health sys­tem mar­ket­ing in the COVID-19 era.

Start planning your growth strategy now.

Dr. Malani points out that a proac­tive approach to plan­ning and imple­ment­ing growth strate­gies is a com­mon thread among com­pa­nies that emerge stronger from a downturn. 

When McK­in­sey exam­ined 2,000 com­pa­nies that were at the aver­age point of their indus­try sec­tors in 2007 and came out ahead fol­low­ing the reces­sion, they all had a mul­ti-lever approach to mar­gin enhance­ment with a sig­nif­i­cant empha­sis on growth. 

Though major dif­fer­ences exist between the cur­rent cri­sis and the 2008-09 finan­cial cri­sis, name­ly includ­ing the human­i­tar­i­an toll and sources of finan­cial stress and con­sumer demand declines, the research indi­cates the out­per­form­ers not only mod­u­lat­ed spend­ing in the midst of cri­sis, but also act­ed to thought­ful­ly pre­pare for the future. 

Dr. Malani says such a through-cycle growth men­tal­i­ty can be espe­cial­ly effec­tive in health­care, as demon­strat­ed by mul­ti­ple health sys­tems across the coun­try that have pub­licly announced mea­sures to dri­ve mar­gin growth. 

“Even in the midst of a cri­sis, [mar­ket lead­ers] are think­ing about, plan­ning for and exe­cut­ing against ini­tia­tives to dri­ve rev­enue and mar­gin growth after the cri­sis sub­sides,” she says. “When we apply that to health sys­tems, it means now is a very impor­tant time to think about a com­pre­hen­sive growth plan.”

Embrace the changes rushing up at health systems.

The way that health sys­tems think about mar­gin enhance­ment will be fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent in a post-COVID-19 envi­ron­ment, says Dr. Malani. 

In some ways, the future state is clear: The dig­i­tal chan­nel, for exam­ple, has been pushed open as a mech­a­nism to dri­ve growth and access. In oth­er ways, the future is less cer­tain. Con­sumers glob­al­ly avoid­ed acute care chan­nels in the midst of case surges, and it remains to be seen whether this will lead to a longer-term pref­er­ence for out­pa­tient care settings. 

Over­all, how­ev­er, com­pe­ti­tion is expect­ed to increase in every mar­ket, requir­ing providers to rethink their growth strate­gies. As they do so, they can learn lessons from the past. McKinsey’s recent sur­vey of health sys­tem exec­u­tives reveals that health sys­tems have his­tor­i­cal­ly focused on cost-focused ini­tia­tives rather than growth trans­for­ma­tions, despite the lat­ter hav­ing a greater pos­i­tive impact on margin. 

More­over, the more levers includ­ed in the growth trans­for­ma­tion, the greater the sub­se­quent impact on margin. 

Challenge assumptions on how well you’re communicating.

Despite the amount of con­tent being pro­duced by health sys­tems in response to COVID-19, McK­in­sey data shows the large major­i­ty of con­sumers feel they are not get­ting the infor­ma­tion they need from their providers to make informed health choices.

“We still have not reached 15% of con­sumers who say they have heard from their health­care provider,” Cor­di­na says. “There’s a sig­nif­i­cant gap between the amount of com­mu­ni­ca­tion being cre­at­ed ver­sus the per­ceived receipt of that information.”

She rec­om­mends tak­ing a step back and remem­ber­ing the fun­da­men­tals of audi­ence seg­men­ta­tion and per­son­al­iza­tion. For exam­ple, when a COVID-19 vac­cine is avail­able and health­care enti­ties seek to inform con­sumers of their options, we should be mind­ful that, for exam­ple, younger peo­ple do not rely on physi­cian advice as much as senior adults.  Mes­sages must be tai­lored in a way that mat­ters to them and come from those they most trust.

“There’s so much mes­sag­ing out there cre­at­ing fatigue and com­pla­cen­cy that it’s crit­i­cal to iden­ti­fy trust­ed mes­sen­gers, and share infor­ma­tion in the chan­nels and for­mats that speak to the con­sumer on a rel­e­vant, per­son­al lev­el,” Cor­di­na says. 

“Get­ting that com­mu­ni­ca­tion right becomes extreme­ly impor­tant in this world where peo­ple are over­whelmed with information.”

Watch the full discussion with McKinsey experts.

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Our team of health­care con­tent mar­ket­ing experts can devel­op lead gen­er­a­tion cam­paigns that grow patient vol­ume and revenue.

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