Content Marketing Tips and Trends for Healthcare Professionals, July 2020

As healthcare marketers continue to respond to the pandemic, growth strategies and 2021 planning are increasingly becoming the number one priority. Consumers are still, and likely will continue to be, hesitant to pursue often critical in-person care.

This trend, combined with a need to do more with less, are creating new challenges for marketers and an exciting opportunity to add value for the health system and consumer alike through the content and campaign strategies we decide to execute.

In this month’s “topics, tools, and trends” article, we're touching on a few strategies you can implement today to help your organization and marketing team succeed in the coming months. Learn about evolutions in Google My Business, trends for healthcare professionals that are gaining steam and an ad creation tool we’ve all been waiting for.

Our focus topic: Google My Business

Google is now offering certifications for Google My Business. While on one hand, it’s just another way for Google to monetize their offering, it does provide an opportunity for marketers to upgrade their profile for listings by becoming certified. As more organizations pursue certifications, it may soon become another factor that influences consumer trust in an albeit surface level way, but one to consider nonetheless.

You may notice that healthcare providers are not currently in the list of eligible businesses. We fully expect that in the coming weeks, healthcare organizations and even individual providers will be given access to the program, and encourage you to keep an eye on how the program evolves.

Our team took the time to think through a few pros and cons to consider for your organization:

Pros:

  • Increased visibility for certified listings—certified organizations will be listed first, which also decreases the confusion caused by out of date or rogue accounts
  • Certifications will likely build trust quickly in consumers searching for services
  • Proof of key business metrics like location, size, and more
  • It’s only $50 per month—a minimal cost when we consider how much the typical health system spends on buying Google Ads and maintaining listings to begin with

Cons:

  • When Google first toyed with this idea for local service ads, they planned to require background checks for ALL employees—it’s unclear if that will be the case for Google My Business certifications
  • The process (and time commitment) to become a certified health system isn’t completely clear yet
  • It’s implied—not promised or proven—that the program will lead to priority rankings

Our advice to clients is to hang tight for now to see how the program evolves from here. While the low entry cost and potential benefit seem like a no-brainer, there may be some hurdles to get through, and Google certainly needs to add healthcare organizations and providers to the list of eligible businesses. We want to see proof that the program leads to increased rankings before encouraging clients to pursue the certifications. That said, let us know if you have success with the program!

Our top new tool: AdParlour

Have you ever tried to review your paid search strategies with a non-marketer and struggled to get them to visualize what ad copy will look like? Us too. It’s challenging to read through ad copy in a spreadsheet format and provide thoughtful feedback. Many of us need to visualize the content in context of how it will be used.

AdParlour allows us to provide mock ups of search ads to review with the appropriate specifications for Facebook, Search, LinkedIn and more. It even includes versions of the mock ups for various device types. You probably won’t need it for every ad, but for those presentations to ask for more budget or review your performance, this FREE tool could be a life saver.

Our main trending topic: How to relieve patient fears

One of the biggest content trends for healthcare professionals that we’re seeing this summer is tied to a challenge marketers will have to overcome for the foreseeable future: consumers are hesitant to seek in-person care right now. Heart attacks and strokes aren’t happening less frequently, cancer incidence isn’t going down and certainly consumers still need primary care services. People are simply delaying screenings and shrugging off symptoms that typically wouldn’t—and shouldn’t—be ignored.

Arguably, the only way to drive behavior change is through content marketing. Only through content and storytelling can we make people in every demographic and socioeconomic segment of our population understand WHY they need to pursue care. Then, it’s the job of the provider to provide a frictionless pathway to the clinical resources their communities need.

With the beginning of the school year on the horizon, one topic that you should consider writing and deploying right away is why vaccines are critical for children. We had a hunch that people would delay routine care and annual well visits, but the search volume we’re seeing from worried parents wondering if it’s okay to skip vaccines for their children is surprising and concerning. Trying ranking for keywords like "natural immunity", "vaccine decisions," "concerns about clinics," "are clinics safe" and other related terms.

Here are a few of the questions being asked frequently across the country:

  • What happens if I don’t vaccinate my child?
  • Is it safer to get a vaccine or stay away from the clinic?
  • Isn’t natural immunity better than a vaccine?

There may be other key questions and search terms unique to your market, too. These tips and trends for healthcare professionals are meant to be adapted and tested. We’re happy to discuss how you might use content marketing to connect with consumers and drive behavior change around key local issues.

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“We Have to Modernize the Entire Patient Experience” — Kaitlyn Tuson on Developing an Effective Telehealth Marketing Plan

Weill Cornell Medicine is at the forefront of digital transformation in health care. Kaitlyn Tuson is at the center of this shift, and she shares learnings from her role in developing a telehealth marketing plan and reimagining the care experience for both patients and providers.

For more than 120 years, Weill Cornell Medicine (WCM) in New York, NY, has pioneered world-class clinical care and cutting-edge research. This forward-thinking culture—consisting of more than 22 clinical service lines and dozens of multidisciplinary centers and programs—is reflected throughout the organization.

During the height of COVID-19, their physician organization with more than 1,600 physicians across 40+ locations quickly shifted their care model to utilize telemedicine and went from just a few hundred Video Visits per week to thousands per day across all clinical services. Their telemedicine readiness allowed them to deliver both primary and specialty care services to their hundreds of thousands of patients across New York City and the surrounding areas during the height of the pandemic. WCM remains ahead of the curve in telemedicine and they have continued to extend their virtual patient care experience beyond just the delivery of care. 

That tradition of innovation continues with the organization’s commitment to digital transformation and improving the patient experience—and the WCM marketing team plays an essential role in this evolution.

We spoke with WCM Physician Organization Marketing Officer Kaitlyn Tuson about marketing’s role in developing the telehealth marketing plan, leveraging data to drive adoption among both consumers and providers and her advice for peers seeking to make the shift.

TRUE NORTH: WHERE DOES DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION AND THE SHIFT TO TELEMEDICINE RANK AMONG YOUR PRIORITIES?

Tuson: It has been on my priorities since I started at WCM as a consultant in 2018; however, internal adoption was a bit slow to catch on simply because it wasn’t nearly as essential as it was just a few months ago. Also, our physicians pride themselves on personalized, compassionate care, so while the platform was there, the adoption—both from physicians and patients—wasn’t necessary until the pandemic hit. I believe that COVID-19 forced us to be more creative about our care model and how we deliver our services. Thankfully, our innovative teams had already launched the technology, so the platform was there for our providers to leverage when we needed it.

Now, it's been adopted across the institution and remains a top priority for everyone. Usage of patient portals and what I refer to as digital health tools are also a top priority and actively tracked daily with a dynamic dashboard. That business intelligence allows us to be nimble from a marketing and communications standpoint. And we track more than just Video Visits and other methods of care delivery. It spans way beyond just the delivery of care. As marketers, we recognize that the patient experience extends well beyond the exam room, especially in today’s environment. We’re looking at every single touchpoint to identify gaps. We have to modernize the entire patient experience if we want to compete in a market that is quickly advancing.

TRUE NORTH: WHAT IS THE ROLE OF MARKETING IN ADVANCING THIS INITIATIVE?

Tuson: Our role is primarily about adoption, both internally and externally. We've watched as telehealth-related search trends spiked during the pandemic and continue to expand our digital marketing campaigns accordingly. Prior to the pandemic, there was a general lack of awareness around telehealth, particularly in certain audience segments. We've kept a pulse on the increased number of searches across the tri-state area (since New York City is such a commuter city) to help us identify where we should be targeting. Our patients extend into Connecticut and New Jersey, so we're definitely targeting some of that volume because telehealth allows us to offer initial consults virtually. This means we are able to leverage telehealth more as a patient acquisition tool, especially as we notice that patients are far more hesitant to come in for in-person visits. A year ago, this notion was met with resistance both from a patient and a physician perspective.

Leading up to all of this, I believed that it was our mission to educate patients about the benefits and use cases for telehealth. As any good marketer knows, motivating adoption (especially when marketing intangibles like technology and health services) relies heavily on ease of understanding and ease of use. Thankfully, we had done much of that initial planning and research work prior to COVID-19 so we felt relatively prepared (well, as much as one can be) for the rapid adoption of telemedicine. But, I think for those who haven't maybe had that sort of lead-time, there is so much more data out there today on consumer behavior than what we had when we began developing our marketing strategy. We are now going back and re-looking at the data and either validating or making tweaks with these new insights. 

Marketing plays such a critical role in the messaging and packaging of digital health services and tools. This extends beyond Video Visits to include our patient portal, our virtual check in and check out processes, remote prescription refills, our new patient acquisition strategies and leveraging telemedicine for initial consults. When I embarked on this more than a year ago, I saw that marketing's role was to package all of these intangible digital tools and services together so we could more easily communicate them in a comprehensive manner. This packaging exercise was also meant to create a whole new value prop for us. Our patients are loyal because of our care, but we weren’t known for being modern or easy to navigate. By creating a “Digital Health” messaging platform, we could start to change that perception. I’ve seen many organizations do the same—healthcare marketers need to find ways of simplifying telehealth to make it more consumable.

I think in healthcare we have the habit of making things more complex than they need to be. We forget that simplification is really what the consumer wants. This is especially true when it comes to developing assets. I was grateful to have experience in tech and I’ve executed repackaging exercises for brands like Oracle so I leaned into my tech marketing background. As healthcare marketers, we have advantages that many other industries don’t. Since we’re a bit behind the curve on digital transformation, we can look to other brands that have done it well and learn from them.

Given my background, I chose to look at some of the best practices that brands like Oracle and IBM leverage and I asked myself: "How does a tech company typically overcome these common adoption issues?" When you look at campaign landing pages for a tech company, you can see that they often have demo videos, white papers and FAQs. So the first thing I did was focus on instructional content that made these intangible digital health tools more tangible and digestible for the average patient. It’s important to keep in mind that many patients aren’t tech savvy so we looked at tailoring our content for all demographics and skill levels. 

Healthcare marketers are unique because our target demographics typically span a wide range, so its really important for us to ensure that our content is just as easily understood by millennials as is by the 60+ age brackets. By taking this approach, we saw that 30-40% of our telehealth users during the peak of COVID-19 were in the 60+ age bracket. We knew that if our content hadn’t been crafted with that demographic in mind prior to COVID-19, we would have likely seen a much different rate of adoption. We also saw an uptick in non-English speaking telehealth users and we quickly translated our materials into multiple different languages early on. 

As healthcare marketers, it's our duty to ensure that all of our patient demographics are considered. Take the time and really understand your different audiences, it always pays off. 

There is so much that healthcare marketers can do as we all embark on this rapid digital transformation, but first and foremost, it’s important to look beyond ourselves and seek insight from other brands and industries outside of healthcare. Yes, many industries are way ahead of us, and often times we find that frustrating, but it actually gives us some advantages. I think that as marketers, we offer significant value when we bring an outside viewpoint combined with a deep understanding of our patient audiences and consumer behaviors. In a nutshell, I believe those are some of the most impactful perspectives that we can bring to the table.

TRUE NORTH: HOW ARE YOU MEASURING SUCCESS OF YOUR TELEHEALTH MARKETING PLAN?

Tuson: We approach measurement from both qualitative and quantitative perspectives, using tools like Google Analytics to track our campaigns along with tracking our patients through to the point of conversion. 

To glean qualitative insights, I’m always a fan of running patient surveys to gauge satisfaction on the whole experience. Patient surveys are a great tool for the providers, staff and overall operations so I really think the cross-functional benefits warrant considering a well-constructed patient survey on all aspects of telemedicine. Historically, there were many hurdles and anecdotes regarding the quality of care being delivered through telemedicine services. That patient perspective—whether good, bad or indifferent—can offer a lot of decision-making insight. And I think we all recognize the level of importance that physician leaders place on data. Telemedicine at this scale is new to all of us, so the more information we can share on the patient experience, the more empowered we become as marketers and communicators.  

From a quantitative standpoint, we’re lucky to have a robust analytics department. We were able to leverage intelligence that allowed us to be nimble as marketers. For example, was a lot of sentiment that we needed to do a better job targeting the older demographics when promoting telemedicine. However, when we saw that one of our largest user groups was the 60+ age bracket, we knew our work had been successful. That allowed us to shift more effort towards some of the demographic groups that needed a bit more persuasiveness. I recognize that not every marketing team has access to dashboards, but there is a lot you can learn through Google Analytics. We use tracking codes on everything we do, especially our organic content. We rely on engagement metrics to help dictate our patient podcast and blog content. Those are simple metrics that any marketing team can deploy regardless of budget or tech stack.

TRUE NORTH: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE GREATEST OBSTACLES SO FAR AND HOW ARE THEY BEING ADDRESSED?

Tuson: A year ago I would have said internal adoption of telemedicine, but now I think this pandemic has made it far too obvious to ignore. Thankfully, we had the technical aspects in place pre-COVID-19. I know many of our competitors only had a few service lines ready for telemedicine deployment so that readiness was a blessing. It allowed us to focus on patient adoption at the start of the pandemic. What’s great is that telemedicine is here to stay. A silver lining to this pandemic has been the wide adoption and awareness of telemedicine at the consumer level. That adoption gives every healthcare organization an opportunity to create a better patient experience.

Frankly, I think we can all agree that our patients deserve a better experience. There’s been an expectation set by other industries for years, but now its finally at the top of everyone’s objectives. Patients don't understand why we can't follow suit and I don't blame them—we absolutely should!

Marketers and communicators have an obligation to keep patients top of mind as we forge ahead, knowing that in the end, they will have a better experience. Fighting a disease like cancer is hard enough. Telemedicine, patient portals, apps, remote health monitoring—these tools make managing care easier and allows our providers to extend themselves into a patient’s home, caring for them beyond the exam room. It's our job as healthcare marketers and communicators to make these tools accessible and easy to adopt.

I think we (as an industry) are finally making headway, which is really heartening.

TRUE NORTH: ANY ADVICE FOR COLLABORATING WITH INTERNAL STAKEHOLDERS WHILE DEVELOPING THE TELEHEALTH MARKETING PLAN?

Tuson: Breaking down silos is always a challenge, but throughout the pandemic there has been a genuine sense of togetherness and unity on so many levels. My word of advice: try to embrace that unity. Offer some vulnerability as you work to improve cross-functional collaboration. I am a huge proponent of cross-functional strategy and execution, but not all teams are built equal. So I think one of the biggest things you can do for yourself as a manager is to recognize which teams are more open to collaboration and focus there.

The other major piece of advice is to come prepared with supporting data if you plan to make a recommendation. We all know data works well in this industry. Metrics that demonstrate the value and impact of marketing are something I always have handy!

And finally, take the time to listen. Those that work in the clinical practices have a wealth of information—they have a pulse on the patient that we just don’t have—listening to those valuable nuggets of information offers a win-win for everyone.  

If you find yourself struggling on how to kick off a cross-functional team or project, take a moment to pause and ask questions. Getting to know everyone’s strengths and what each person brings to the table is a great place to start.

I'm always happy to work with someone who is excited about what we do. A really simple way to engage with folks who are interested in marketing is to host some sort of open forum or webinar. I started hosting “Marketing Office Hours” and we invite stakeholders from across the organization. This has really helped us build relationships and demonstrate the value of marketing. It also teaches some of the common tactics and the thinking behind the strategies that we deploy. Overtime, as you give people a peak behind the curtain, you’ll find that you’re spending a lot less time explaining yourself. 

I've also found that some functions don't realize marketing is responsible for growing the institution and the business. It's important to share those growth metrics and give credit to those who helped you launch that landing page or who helped you create that report so they can feel like they are equal contributors to the growth.

Once you do some great work together, you'll eventually get the attention of others who may have resisted initially. Ultimately, everyone wants to be part of a win. So my primary recommendation is to find those colleagues who are open-minded and focus your energy on doing good work together. Eventually, you'll create enough FOMO [fear of missing out].

TRUE NORTH: ARE YOU GETTING PATIENTS/CONSUMERS INVOLVED IN DESIGNING NEW SYSTEMS AND PROCESSES AND IF SO, HOW?

Tuson: I love a good focus group but unfortunately, the current environment is not very conducive to them. However, we have reviewed learnings from recent focus groups to see what insights we can gather from those now that we have a whole new lens and entirely new patient experience to consider. 

When designing new systems, I suggest marketers start by looking back. Prior consumer research studies are the best place to start since so much has changed in our world. Surveys are also a great tool that can help you gather patient perspectives and easier to deploy in this current environment. A lot of marketers believe that surveys are a huge undertaking but a small, thoughtfully curated set of questions can be created in-house. There are so many great survey platforms that smaller practices can take advantage of. The key to creating any good patient survey is to avoid leading the witness, a surprisingly common (and all too frequent) mistake made by marketers and non-marketers alike. 

You can also develop a board consisting of patient advocates. We've all been a patient at one point so finding participants who are willing to improve the patient experience isn't a huge undertaking. Most practices can find a handful of willing participants. Google My Business reviews, Healthgrades and other review aggregation tools can also be a good resource for gathering patient perspective with minimal resources. Every couple of weeks, I read patient reviews to see how we are doing across various service lines. 

Patients can offer some great perspectives and help you see things from the other side. We use every tool we have and I would encourage any healthcare marketer to do the same.

TRUE NORTH: ANY FINAL ADVICE FOR PEERS ON THE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION JOURNEY?

Tuson: 1) Don’t overcomplicate things! I cannot stress this enough.

For example, don't call patients “consumers” as most physicians don’t view patients as consumers, so steer clear of jargon. 

2) ALWAYS put on your patient hat. Find the lowest-hanging fruit in your marketing funnel that seems inconsistent with a positive patient experience and start there. If we all start putting ourselves into the patient's shoes, we can do a much better job at improving their experience—that is a goal that everyone can agree on.

3) Don't go after the biggest, hardest project first. There are many easy, small wins that can add up quickly and help you meet your overall objectives with a lot less resistance. Starting too big can ultimately lead to a lot of frustration and burnout. Plus, you can share metrics on your wins and after demonstrating success using data, your next few projects will likely be met with a bit less resistence. I think this is particularly true as we all undergo a digital transformation—there is so much to be done.

4) Don’t lose site of the bigger picture, but don’t let it distract you from what is right in front of you. I tend to look 20 miles down the road (which can be overwhelming at times) and I do like to start strategizing early. But I’ve found that by inching towards the end result while remaining focused on easier, more immediate projects, I feel accomplished along the way—especially when tackling some large projects that will take more time. That approach keeps me motivated.

A common mantra you’ll hear me say to my team is, "All we need to do is get five yards. In no time, we'll have a first down.” Setting some perspective and celebrating those milestones makes a big difference. 

5) Reporting, reporting, reporting. I like to report on milestones and wins throughout the process, especially when working on large projects. This gives everyone a feeling that we are making progress. When it comes to campaigns, be sure to share the good with the bad. It's from our failures that we learn the most, and those insights are worth sharing. Explain what you’ve learned and how you’re adjusting your strategy. And when it comes to reporting out on telemedicine and the digital transformation efforts, be sure to give credit where credit is due. Telemedicine is heavily reliant on cross-functional partnerships and internal stakeholders. Delivering care in this new way is dependent on all of us working together—and together we can all have a hand at transforming the patient care experience!

Learn More

Connect with Kaitlyn on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kaitlyn-tuson-nycmarketer/ 

Coming Soon! Kaitlyn is launching a healthcare marketing podcast in August called Market Health Pod. The show is designed to create a community where healthcare marketers can share best practices, lessons learned and more. Check https://mkthlth.com for updates and follow @MarketHealthPod on Twitter.

We’re Here to Help You Make the Digital Shift

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COVID-19 Communications: How to Balance Traditional and Evolving Healthcare Content Marketing Strategies

Learn how to adapt your COVID-19 communications to market and consumer demand with advice from marketing experts at two leading national health systems.

As we all work through unseen challenges and learn to navigate the “new normal,” our role as healthcare marketers demands that we focus on satisfying the needs of the community and learn how to focus our communications techniques with COVID-19 in mind.

To put it simply, the pandemic is shifting the way we view healthcare content marketing strategy as we move into the latter half of 2020. We know that people are overwhelmingly seeking informative and up-to-date information concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospitals that are taking a genuine, informative and newsworthy angle to their key communications have been embraced by their communities during the pandemic.

Ryan OwensTo find out how major health systems are pivoting their communications strategies to address this unprecedented crisis, we spoke to Megan Allen, Public Relations Manager at Navicent Health and Ryan Owens, Director of Public Relations at Methodist Health System. Find out how they are enhancing their content marketing to deliver essential information to their communities.

True North: When considering your team’s efforts during the crisis, what are you most proud of as a marketing leader?

Megan Allen: The COVID-19 pandemic presented our stakeholders with a lot of uncertainty. From the beginning, we knew it would be important for us to communicate information that was timely, accurate and useful to two key audiences–external consumers and internal teammates. In order to reach healthcare consumers, we expanded our digital strategy.

Working with True North, we began to send weekly e-blasts to our subscribers, and this decision proved to be a key win in our effort to provide Georgians with timely, accurate, relevant information. We realized we were meeting consumer needs when we reviewed the metrics. Click to open rates soared, and we added over 60 new subscribers within about a month. We were able to repurpose eblast content across Navicent Health’s social media channels to reach healthcare consumers outside of our subscriber list.

In addition, we began to rely heavily on FaceTime interviews with healthcare experts to create additional content for social media channels, and we hosted three news conferences via Facebook Live (which also allowed general viewers to join, as well as the news media). We continued to rely on our print strategy–including our printed magazine, elevate, newspaper advertising and submitted newspaper articles–in order to ensure we reached all demographics.

Ryan Owens: What I’m most proud of is that our entire department really rallied around switching our content so quickly. It became clear that all of the surgeries that we do, so many stories of all of the great services we offer, were going to come to a grinding halt for at least two months. Our PR department, like every other PR department in healthcare, switched away from trying to get people to come to the hospital when suddenly our goal was to keep them away from the hospital, to guide people to use telemedicine if they weren’t feeling well. That's an enormous pivot from what’s ingrained in all of us. We didn't hesitate to jump right in and start creating new content. Since COVID-19 is consuming all of our potential patients and their family’s lives, we had to think about what kind of content can we provide that will be of service to them.

Traffic to our Shine Online digital content hub has seen enormous jumps by hundreds of percentage points from before COVID-19. Some of the specific content I’m most proud of is unsurprisingly what’s gotten the most traffic. Specifically, we came out early on and wrote about what we’re seeing related to unusual COVID-19 symptoms such as loss of sense of smell, eye diseases, etc. I’m also proud of the hospital’s clinical trials in Remdesivir, a drug that has seen very strong results in getting people out of the hospital sooner. We used this content as a pitch to the media to inform the public about what we were doing and received coverage from local CBS, Fox and NBC affiliates. Rather than a press release, having a content hub where a reporter can go to see these posted stories allows them to easily craft a story about our progress at Methodist.

True North: What channel has been most effective for engaging consumers throughout the pandemic?

Allen: In my opinion, the addition of the e-blasts played a key role in reaching healthcare consumers. Besides reaching subscribers, we were able to leverage the content on our social media pages and other communication channels.

In order to reach healthcare providers, we worked closely with Navicent Health physician leaders to establish biweekly calls for providers, and these proved incredibly effective. Each call featured a panel of physician leaders including our president of hospitals and clinics, chief medical officers, and medical directors of infectious disease and laboratory services. Each call lasted approximately one hour and began with a presentation by the panelists, including the latest updates on the virus, its effect on the communities we serve, and Navicent Health’s response. The floor was then opened to questions, with answers provided in real time.

This was a wonderful opportunity for all physicians and advanced care providers across the enterprise to receive up to date information. Physicians were able to join by phone or through Microsoft Teams, and each session was recorded and distributed for later playback.

Owens: Our most successful channels are social media. We feared “COVID-19 fatigue” would cause eye-rolls among our readers as we continued to push content, but I could have not been more incorrect. At least right now, people are sitting at home, on their phones and looking for information about COVID-19.

Even if the content has nothing to do with COVID-19, it still needs to meet consumers where they are. We had a story about better sleep habits and acknowledged at the top that no one is sleeping well right now, that it’s a scary time for all kinds of reasons. Another example is that at Methodist Dallas (our flagship hospital), we have a Level 1 Trauma Center. So, we posted amazing stories about people who were in awful car wrecks or had been shot. Those stories had nothing to do with COVID, but we tried to put some language in there that said something to the effect of “traumas don’t stop during a pandemic. Our Level 1 Trauma Center is still open and serving people.” By doing so, the content feels fresh and relevant because we make it relevant.

True North: Which metrics are you focused on in your COVID-19 related communications strategies?

Allen: It’s important for us to engage with healthcare consumers as a calm and reassuring voice. As mentioned above, we want to ensure the content we are providing is relevant and useful. With that in mind, we’re closely monitoring social media engagement across multiple platforms (including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn) and tailoring our messaging towards those topics that seem to resonate.

For the digital products we have with True North (the weekly eblasts and monthly digital newsletter), we’re closely monitoring click-to-open rates. Two eblasts in particular had CTO rates that soared, and we examined that content closely to look for common denominators. For example, it appears that consumers are seeking information on proper mask use, which is in line with what we’ve seen on social media.

Owens: We’re focused on Google Analytics metrics, such as overall users on the site and site traffic, because we saw tremendous growth and spikes in those numbers. I was also very interested in time on page and how long people are spending on each piece of content, and it was remarkable. You could tell for some of these stories, people were really going through with a fine-toothed comb, spending 15 minutes on one story and then sharing it with their friends on social or emailing it out. Any kind of interaction like that on a particular article means that you’re doing something right.

One thing that happened right around the beginning of COVID was that our bounce rate dropped around 40 percent. I think that was a clear indication that people were coming to the site to read one COVID-19 story, then everything we had about COVID-19 (and hopefully some other content as well). I’m not sure how realistic it is for us to think our bounce rate will stay there, but it sure has been great while it lasted and we’re going to continue to try to capitalize on that while we can.

True North: How has your True North team helped you respond to the situation and plan your rebound and recovery strategies?

Allen: We were in the middle of completing the summer issue of our print magazine, elevate, when the virus made its way to the United States, and then to the Southeast. The initial draft of our summer issue included information on summer camps, swimming lessons, general summer safety, elective surgery options and tips for parents whose kids were out of school. As events were cancelled, elective cases were cancelled and schools closed early, we realized we were working on an issue that was no longer relevant.

Working closely with our True North team, we moved quickly to reformat the issue into what has become known as “The COVID Issue.” Our calendar of events was replaced by a COVID-19 family guide and four pages of content to assist parents with children of all ages. The article on surgical options was replaced with COVID-related content, while articles on eye safety, asthma management and stress relief were edited to include information specific to COVID-19. Our True North team moved quickly to make these changes, ensuring we stayed on our production schedule, and suggested ideas that made the transition very smooth.

Our account manager also suggested the weekly e-blasts that became a key part of our digital strategy. Because of the rapidly evolving situation, we didn’t always have a lot of lead time to prepare content. Typically, our Navicent Health team would draft the content and submit it to True North. True North would then design the e-blast, send the draft for our review, then distribute the eblast to our subscribers. The entire process usually took less than 48 hours, but on a few occasions, we completed and distributed the e-blast within one workday. Our team is incredibly appreciative of True North’s speed and flexibility!

Owens: The main thing has been True North’s flexibility, rolling with the punches and understanding that when you’re trying to respond to consumer interests in real time, you have to ditch the content calendar. You have to respond to what you're seeing. You have to have a vendor and a partner that will roll with the punches with you based on metrics and feedback. At a time like this, when so many people are on their phones and social media, you have to listen to them in real time. You have to have a partner that is willing to pivot with you. True North has been really great about that. You also sent us some content to fill in the blanks that we weren’t thinking about, such as a COVID-19 dictionary, most used terms that people may hear on the news but not know what they mean.

In terms of reintegrating “normal” content, we’re working to follow the updates in our health system to guide our content decisions. As we restart non-essential surgeries and reopen all of our procedures (with COVID-19 guidelines and caveats in place), we’ve begun covering stories about cancer screenings, heart surgeries, things that people could use us to access services for. Moving forward, we will be focusing on an integration of COVID content and more traditional, non-COVID content that appeals to general health topics.

True North: Looking ahead, what are your top priorities as you shift into rebound/recovery mode?

Allen: We want to ensure healthcare consumers continue to practice COVID-19 safety as our state reopens and people return to a more normal lifestyle. We’re continuing to emphasize the importance of masking, hand hygiene and social distancing. It’s also important for us to ensure consumers feel safe coming to our practices, clinics and hospitals. We began our “COVID Safe” marketing campaign in early June, emphasizing the steps Navicent Health is taking to protect consumers who rely on us for care, and reiterating what consumers can do to protect themselves. True North has already played a key role in helping us distribute “COVID Safe” content.

Owens: The key word here is balance. Let's continue to recognize what we are living with and dealing with, but let’s also remind people of the important services our hospitals and doctors provide every day. One thing that's scary are the reports and studies about people dying at home. They’re having heart attacks and strokes but are too afraid to go to the emergency room. It's not just about providing content about our services. It’s also making sure that people know it’s safe to access medical care and to get those underlying health conditions taken care of and feeling safe to do that.

In terms of the COVID-19 content that we will continue to produce, I think it’s really more about listening to what people are asking about, the things that they continue to be interested in. For example, a topic that came up among our team relates to our readers. We’re in Texas, it’s hot. People want to know; can they go in their pool? Does chlorine kill COVID-19? That’s a very timely issue that was actually sparked by conversations some of our neighbors were having. So I think it’s about addressing the lingering questions about the new normal that we can continue to answer, while at the same time providing the inspiring patient stories and the compelling surgeries and all of the other types of content that we want people to consume from Methodist Health System.

True North: Is there anything else you want to share related to the pandemic's impacts on healthcare marketing as a whole?

Allen: At the end of the day, our business is about people. We are here to serve Georgians with the highest quality care when they need it, but we would prefer they remain healthy and at home! While our overall goal hasn’t changed, a global pandemic clearly presents challenges to achieving that goal.

We’ve known for a long time that audiences are fractured, and we need a number of communication tools in our arsenal in order to reach our intended audiences. But now, the stakes are quite a bit higher. The content we distribute could have an immediate impact on an individual’s health. It will continue to be important for healthcare marketers to explore new modes of communication – new methods and new programs or platforms – to ensure we reach those we serve with timely, accurate and useful information.

Owens: As we move forward, what we're hoping to communicate is that our hospitals are a safe place to get the medical care and services that you need. We all know COVID-19 is out there and we’re all dealing with it, but we are here to keep you safe. We want to be a source of accurate information, but we also want to tell you about the other remarkable things we do here every day. I think the big message is about balance. Yes, we will be here treating COVID-19 patients. But we can also treat consumers safely during a scary time.

We need to remember who we serve: the people who will someday be patients and their families. It’s critical to adapt, especially when consumers are not responding to traditional marketing messages. Google Analytics is not just for entertainment. Technology gives us so many tools to listen to our consumers. One thing that differentiates us from other marketing teams is that almost everyone in our department is a former journalist. That informs many of the decisions we make. We are used to telling stories, and making those stories appeal to and be of interest to a general audience. With a typical newsroom culture, they are used to rolling with the punches, scraping ideas and doing something totally different. I think it helps explain our success.

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4 Common Fears About Seeking Care during the COVID-19 Era—and How Healthcare Content Can Help Alleviate Them

Healthcare marketers are facing dual threats due to COVID-19: consumers delaying care and shrinking patient revenue. Understanding your community’s most common fears is mission critical to overcoming both challenges. Here’s how content marketing can alleviate those concerns and instill confidence in seeking care.

Among the new norms for healthcare marketers due to the pandemic, there is an acute focus on accelerating revenue growth. While patient acquisition has always been important, it has vaulted to the pinnacle of COVID-19 plans across all categories—from small, rural hospitals to large, national health systems.

This mandate comes at a time when the ability to attract consumers is increasingly difficult. Hospitals and other providers are marketing to communities who are scared that seeking care will increase their risk of COVID-19 exposure. Many are experiencing other valid concerns keeping would-be patients from getting the screenings and treatments they need.

While these fears are creating a significant financial impact for healthcare providers, more troubling is the fact that people aren’t seeking care for potentially life-threatening conditions:

  • The CDC reported that in the 10 weeks following declaration of the COVID-19 national emergency, ED visits declined 23% for heart attack, 20% for stroke and 10% for hyperglycemic crisis.
  • According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in June, 52% of adults say they or someone in their family has skipped or delayed getting medical care because of coronavirus. More than a quarter of those who say they or a family member skipped or postponed care because of coronavirus say their condition or their family member’s condition worsened as a result.

For healthcare marketers, there is urgency to address these fears and improve the health of both their communities and organizations. This undertaking will be much more marathon than sprint, a reality that was reinforced in a recent SHSMD podcast featuring Jefferson Health Chief Strategy Officer Monica Doyle, who said, “... one of the things we really have to do now is to convince our patients that it's safe to seek healthcare, and that it's potentially more detrimental to them in the long term, if they avoid screenings, diagnostic procedures, and treatment. So that that’s really how we see the next six months moving forward.”

To reach their communities during this time of crisis, healthcare organizations are turning to the experts in consumer engagement: the marketing department. Around 70% of health system executives surveyed in June said their main concern is replacing lost patient volume and revenue, and a similar share reported their focus is on marketing, education and patient outreach to make it happen.

To guide your efforts to alleviate consumer fears and grow patient volume, here are a few of the most common concerns along with ways your content marketing strategy can address them.

Fear Factor: If I go to the hospital, I might get COVID-19—or I could be asymptomatic and infect others.

These are the primary causes of concern, with 70% of consumers saying they are very or somewhat concerned about getting infected if they go to facilities to receive care for non-COVID-19 issues. In fact, a recent study of 500+ consumers found nearly 20 percent would switch providers if another provider demonstrated better safety and cleaning procedures to protect them from coronavirus. These fears are amplified among those who are pregnant or at risk for specific health conditions, and market leaders are addressing these fears with messaging designed to build trust and bring patients back.

To address this fear, consider these content marketing tips:

  • Target search campaigns around keywords like “is it safe to return to the hospital” and link to landing pages that detail safety procedures and answer common questions.
  • Share stories of patients who were experiencing symptoms and overcame their fears to getting screened that illustrate the importance of early detection.
  • Feature your environmental services team and cleaning regimen in your blog and social content.
  • Contribute OpEd pieces to local news media with details about safety protocols.
  • Create a virtual tour on your website that illustrates how you’re modifying the environment to isolate COVID-19 patients and ensure physical/social distancing.
  • Feature your physicians in content focused on the value of wearing cloth face coverings in public and how wearing medical masks is being implemented in your care settings.
  • Feature caregivers from your Birth Center and other priority service areas on your blog and social pages, to reassure patients and let them know what to expect.
  • Promote urgent care in calls to action to encourage evaluation in the ER and help patients choose between in-person and virtual care.

Here are examples:

  • Adventist HealthCare created a Patient & Visitor Safety landing page featuring a video message from the President and CEO.
  • Beaumont Health features caregivers in their “Safe Care. Available Here.” campaign.
  • Geisinger created a landing page highlighting safety procedures and featuring a hotline for more information.
  • Holy Name Medical Center ensures first-time site visitors get the message: We are open. We are clean. We are ready.
  • Northfield Hospital + Clinics highlights precautions they’re taking to keep mom and baby safe.
  • Rockcastle Regional Rural Health Clinics posted a letter from physicians and staff on the website that details new safety procedures.
  • Tidelands Health launched a multi-channel “Safe in Our Care” campaign highlighting extra precautions to keep patients safe.

Fear Factor: I need care but can’t afford to pay for it.

Not being able to pay medical bills was a major concern before the pandemic, and this anxiety will likely continue as consistent employment becomes a challenge for many consumers.

In fact, a recent analyses found that almost half of families that lost work due to COVID-19 avoided healthcare.

For healthcare marketers, it’s critical to help consumers understand they can’t afford NOT to seek care, especially for life-threatening conditions like heart attack and stroke.

To address this fear, consider these content marketing tips:

  • Research search terms related to financing specific types of healthcare and point local traffic to a resources page with tips and FAQs.
  • Guide consumers on how to access affordable care with articles on your blog.
  • Contribute patient stories to local groups serving young families, older adults and other key demographics within your service area that highlight the importance of seeking care.

Here are some examples:

  • MD Anderson outlines sources of support available to cancer patients.
  • Methodist Health System helps patients estimate charges with contact information for financial counselors.
  • Nemours offers tips to find affordable care, including steps for enrolling children in public programs.

Fear Factor: I don’t know how to use virtual care.

While telemedicine is growing rapidly, there are segments of the population who are less likely to embrace virtual care due to lack of comfort with technology or fear of privacy issues. This is especially true of people ages 65 and older who have historically relied on personal, face-to-face visits when seeking care.

To address this fear, consider these content marketing tips:

  • Create a user-friendly virtual care page on your website featuring “how to” videos and FAQs.
  • Ensure articles about the ease and value of telemedicine have “forward to a friend” and social sharing features so family members can pass information to loved ones.
  • Develop scripts for clinical teams and call center operators to send a clear, consistent message about how to access telemedicine.

Here are some examples:

  • Beaufort Medical Center outlines costs, common ailments covered and other telemedicine details.
  • Novant Health created an animated video to guide consumers through the process of accessing virtual care.
  • Vanderbilt Health provides step-by-step instructions for accessing virtual care.

Fear Factor: I’m struggling with mental or emotional issues—but don’t want anyone to know that I need help.

Stress levels associated with the pandemic are well above pre-COVID-19 norms, with fear of infection, rising unemployment and social distancing translating into feelings of anxiety, isolation and depression that show no signs of fading. Unfortunately, those with mental health conditions often suffer in silence. Studies show it can take from six to eight years for those with mood disorders to seek treatment.

To address this fear, consider these content marketing tips:

  • Target paid campaigns with keywords associated with mental health and offer content that underscores the importance of seeking help along with opportunities to connect.
  • Feature content addressing mental health on your website, blog and social channels; consider easily shareable formats like infographics and downloadable guides.
  • Educate civic and community leaders on the importance of mental health through targeted campaigns and content.

Here are some examples:

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Content Marketing Tips and Trends for Healthcare Professionals, June 2020

Join us for a monthly series on social media trends, ideas to address hot topics and other content marketing tips for healthcare professionals. Each month, you'll find insights designed to guide hospitals and health systems in maximizing content investments and optimizing marketing outcomes.

True North Custom has always been passionate about sharing our key learnings with marketing leaders who are working to drive consumer engagement and patient acquisition priorities. There’s a shift happening in healthcare content marketing, making it a more effective and critical strategy than ever. To help hospitals and health system marketers maximize their efforts, we’ve decided to start a monthly content series focused on content marketing tips for healthcare professionals.

In this first installment, you’ll learn about an evolution in how content is promoted on social media, Alexa as a marketing research tool and this month’s hot button topic for blog and social engagement.

Social Engagement

Many healthcare lead generation campaigns executed on social media are purely lead generation strategies intended to capture attention and drive to a conversion landing page. COVID-19 putting a strain on healthcare budgets makes it more and more challenging to justify a hard-sell approach to healthcare lead generation. As a result, marketers are consolidating their content marketing efforts with their growth marketing efforts. What does this mean? Well, instead of using content to engage and entertain, it’s now also being used to convert. Topics are getting more specific and more actionable, and are designed to encourage behavior change and clinical interventions, while still being engaging and entertaining. Easy needle to thread, right?

Here’s a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Bites and rashes—what to watch out for and when to seek telemedicine advice, urgent care or head to the emergency center.
  • Surgical solutions for GERD? It’s not just heartburn and there really is relief!
  • Weight loss surgery options at 200, 400 and 600 pounds.
  • Hurricane preparedness—get comfortable with telemedicine, first aid basics and healthy non-perishable food choices.

Furthermore, more and more marketers are adopting Instagram as an advertising channel to tap into the growing audience and high volume of brand interactions per user. Proven effective strategies include using paid and organic strategies, a link in bio app that provides a good user experience and relying primarily on stories for content promotion. In paid Instagram strategies, the targeting and reporting available is just as robust as paid Facebook. You can even link the two platforms to be even more efficient.

Alexa

Amazon really does everything now, especially for advertisers! Alexa.com, an Amazon company, now provides an alternative to digital marketing tools like SEMrush and Spyfu. Alexa is now providing marketers with tools to help do competitive research, SEO analysis and even audience analysis.

Building off the data that Amazon has been collecting—while plugging into sources such as Google Analytics—Alexa is able to help compile and produce insights that can have immediate impacts on marketing strategy. The key is knowing how to connect this data to effective content planning and campaign strategies (or having partners like True North who can lead you in the right direction).

For most brands, the biggest win is simply in Alexa’s ability to help better understand your customers. Similarly to how Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter operate, Amazon has been collecting data on their consumers for years, building a database that will provide them with unique insights into individual users, and even large audience segments.

Top Trending Topic

We promise that this isn’t going to be a COVID-19 series. But, this month, steroids and coronavirus have been showing up in a big way in search trends across the country. Do steroids help treat COVID-19 symptoms? Do they actually have adverse effects on the patient? Depending on clinical trials happening at your organization, or the stance of clinicians leading the charge against COVID-19 for your teams, you have an opportunity to be a leading voice in your community. Consumers are turning to hospitals and health systems for health information now more than ever. Educating them on critical topics like this will position your brand as a trusted guide on their healthcare journey.

Here’s how you might structure your article:

  • Title: Breaking down steroids as a potential treatment for COVID-19 symptoms
  • Key questions to answer: Has prednisone been tested against COVID-19? Can a steroid shot help for a respiratory infection? Can prednisone mask an infection or a fever?
  • CTA: What to do if you’re experiencing symptoms of COVID-19

We hope you found this month's piece on content marketing tips for healthcare professionals useful. Look for more trends, tools and other insights next month! 

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How to Prioritize Your Healthcare Marketing Plan with Limited Resources

The demands on healthcare marketers have never been greater: differentiate the brand in an increasingly competitive market and guide consumers on their healthcare journey—all while driving volume and likely with limited budgets at their disposal. Here’s how to build a healthcare marketing plan that focuses on initiatives with the greatest impact.

The word “unprecedented” gets thrown around a lot these days, with the label given to everything from the demand for water to interest in cybercrime. The description is arguably most apt when applied to the financial pressures faced by hospitals and health systems—and those pressures are mounting in marketing and communications departments.

Even before the pandemic, marcom teams were juggling competing priorities and dividing time between myriad disciplines. In the latest By the Numbers report from the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development released in 2017, at least 50% of marketers surveyed were responsible for 19 disparate job functions ranging from media/public relations and brand strategy to market research and community education.

The New Normal for Healthcare Marketing

The global health crisis has only magnified these challenges, while simultaneously reshuffling priorities for the foreseeable future. A Greystone survey of hospital and healthcare system marketers conducted in early April found nearly 60% are marketing services related to COVID-19 only, and most feel it will be either “a few weeks” or “up to a month” after the crisis diminishes before hospital marketing activities largely return to normal.

Despite these headwinds, healthcare marketers are a linchpin to leveraging the heightened appreciation for healthcare providers and advancing rebound and recovery strategies for their organizations. Marketing has the clearest line of sight to brand priorities, market dynamics, consumer needs and competitive pressures; however, developing and deploying effective marketing strategies now requires a significant pivot from the plans in place before the pandemic.

If you’re struggling to decide which marketing initiatives to maintain, shift or shelve, here are a few critical questions to ask while re-evaluating your healthcare marketing plan in light of COVID-19. Taking an objective look through these three lenses can narrow your focus and guide your prioritization efforts.

Will this initiative deliver value to the organization?

The first step in re-evaluating plans and establishing priorities is to align with leadership on the definition of value—and for most in the C-suite, financial recovery is paramount.

While mission-minded initiatives that support community education and population health are important, the transformation of marketing from cost center to revenue driver—and ultimately finding customers—is essential for long-term success.

To achieve this goal, market leaders are shifting priorities from COVID-focused communications to building a pipeline of candidates for high-value services. By balancing patient education and engagement strategies with campaigns designed to capitalize on pent-up demand and drive revenue growth, marketers can have a lasting impact on the health of their communities and organizations.

To help you fill the funnel for high-value services, we hosted a webinar on What You Can Do Now to Drive Revenue Growth while operating during the COVID-19 era. Get highlights from the presentation and watch the recording here.

Will this initiative deliver value to the communities served?

Once marketing is aligned with leadership on goals and desired outcomes, the next step is pinpointing the ideal audience and solving their unique needs. Many consumers are experiencing “peak pandemic advertising” from the crush of COVID-focused messaging. A commitment to customer-centric marketing is essential for making an authentic connection that motivates action.

One of the primary needs driven by the pandemic is for timely, accurate healthcare content that guides decisions and allays fears in returning to care. To find clarity, consumers are looking to hospitals and health systems as trusted sources of information, with many considering local providers even more credible than the federal government and national news outlets.

This increased demand for healthcare content applies across all demographics, especially young adults. Nearly 8 in 10 (78%) of Millennial and Gen Z respondents in a survey titled “Youth in Pandemic” want to consume coronavirus-related content online and 50% said that updates on their social feeds “make them capable of getting through this.”

So how can marketers find, engage and convert the right communities to drive results?

In the words of Cleveland Clinic Senior Director of Content and Creative Services Amanda Todorovich, “Make your audience your universe.” That sentiment reflects the driving force behind the hospital’s content strategy—including the Health Essentials blog that generates more than 8 million sessions each month. Their success is predicated on featuring the type of content you’d find on a retail website, with topics like How to Work from Home and Still Be Productive and Cures for COVID-19 Cabin Fever.

As their approach illustrates, engaging today’s healthcare consumers requires a significant shift in content strategy. To guide your efforts, we’ve developed an eBook that identifies four pivotal areas that can make or break your healthcare marketing plan during the pandemic and beyond.

Can this initiative be more effective if we partner with experts?

Finally, when establishing priorities, it’s important to recognize the areas where your team is strong, and identify where guidance and support from strategic partners can amplify or accelerate marketing initiatives.

As noted above, moving the revenue needle is more important than ever. However, it’s also more difficult to find, engage and convert the ideal patients and prospects due to media fragmentation and the competitive landscape. Overcoming these hurdles requires expertise in modern marketing disciplines like website strategy and digital marketing, which were the areas where healthcare marketers gave themselves the lowest grades in the latest State of Digital Healthcare Marketing Report.

While the inclination might be to place these initiatives on the backburner, a better alternative is finding partners with proven expertise and a well-defined process. Identifying the right resources and involving them early will ensure your COVID-era healthcare marketing plan—and most importantly, your marketing performance—is successful.

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