No longer a buzzword, content marketing is here to stay—and especially relevant in healthcare, where life-changing stories happen every day.
Having just returned from the annual Cleveland Clinic Health Summit, the epicenter of content marketing in healthcare, it feels like the perfect occasion to reflect on the history and growth of our industry. The evolution of content marketing and digital strategies and the hospital systems dedicated to these concepts were celebrated in full force. The wealth of ideas discussed and innovation on display at the conference—from journey mapping and content monetization to AI-driven chatbots and smart speakers—is cause for collective celebration, especially considering the degree to which healthcare marketing is often denigrated for lagging behind peers in other industries.
So just how far have we come in adopting what Seth Godin called "the only marketing left" way back in 2008? Let's take a brief look back before reviewing the current and future state of healthcare content marketing.
A Quick Peek in the Rearview
While content marketing has fairly recently emerged as one of the most widely used and effective tactics in the healthcare marketer’s toolkit, the use of content to promote a brand or product has actually been around as long as the printed word. Some argue it started in the 15th century with the invention of the printing press and the subsequent ability to mass-distribute pamphlets and the ideas within.
Fast forward to the 1950s and 1960s, when the drive for consumer-centric marketing began to blur the lines between advertising and editorial. The earliest examples of healthcare content marketing that helped tear down the wall between church and state came a couple decades later and primarily involved hospitals distributing printed newsletters to patients and families as a way to keep the community informed about their facilities and care. At True North Custom, we fondly recall our first custom publication titled “Chicken Soup” (we claimed the name first!), which was launched in the late 1990s and developed in collaboration with a local Chattanooga hospital.
The Evolution of Content Marketing and Digital Content Development
Today, healthcare marketers across the spectrum have discovered the strategic use of storytelling to be an effective method for differentiating their organization's brand and services.
This once-siloed content is being spread across multiple channels as healthcare marketers move along the digital curve and leverage data-driven approaches to targeting and measurement. This is demonstrated by the proliferation of web and social content adding value to patients' lives by reminding them about routine health screenings, explaining health conditions in layman’s terms, and providing new treatment information in easily digestible formats.
“What’s exciting about digital media and the ability of the masses to consume it at all times is the fact that it has driven content marketing into the realms of blog posts, videos, podcasts, interactive quizzes, slideshows, and much more,” says Lisa Rodgers-Dark, content director at True North Custom. “Publications not only show up in our mailboxes, but the content they contain is also extended and disseminated online, with links to even more related resources.”
A number of recent industry reports reflect the content marketing evolution in healthcare:
- About 83% of organizations use content marketing, and an additional 14% plan to employ it this year. (2018 State of Healthcare Content Marketing, True North Custom)
- Nearly 7 in 10 healthcare marketers feel that content marketing is essential or very important to their organization, and 73% feel content marketing is effective at meeting goals. (2017 Healthcare Digital Marketing Survey, Greystone.net / Klein & Partners)
- Healthcare content is being deployed across channels, with the following ranked among the top content marketing tactics: video (80%), website articles (77%), email marketing (75%), in-person events (68%), and print magazines (53%). (2017 Digital Marketing Trends in Healthcare, Geonetric / eHealthcare Strategy & Trends)
The Content Marketing Evolution Continues
Along with the data illustrating the industry’s growth, here are three specific areas where healthcare content marketing has made significant leaps and will continue to evolve. The types of content needed in brand promotion are determined by each brand, while concepts related to how content marketing in SEO execution can succeed are as well.
Modern healthcare content marketing trends are mapped to the patient journey. Rather than assume every site visitor and social follower is “ready to buy,” today’s content marketing pros understand how to engage prospects based on their stage in the healthcare decision cycle and deliver relevant content that advances the user toward conversion. With more than 80% of consumers using search when selecting a provider, this often involves digital ads that point to a landing page or other lead source combined with a series of behavior-based nurturing messages to stay connected and deliver personalized messaging aligned with branded content trends.
Modern healthcare content marketing revolves around the audience. Articles on the latest technology and hospital awards are being replaced by audience-focused, accessible content that helps busy consumers and clinicians successfully navigate their personal and professional lives.
“We’re continuing an evolution to consumer-focused content,” says Jane Crosby, regional vice president of business development at True North Custom. “The key is to balance making the content valuable for the patient or potential patient, while at the same time incorporating a call to action that leads to revenue for the health system or hospital.”
Modern healthcare content marketing is enabled by technology. When looking ahead to the next generation of content strategies and associated tactics, marketers must become fluent in the tools that facilitate automation and personalized messaging. This includes customer relationship management (CRM), marketing automation, and other systems that ensure the right content is delivered to the right audience at the right time and in their desired format.
“Healthcare systems are realizing they need to invest more marketing efforts into optimizing their technology platforms,” Crosby says. “This can be driven by a focus on service line growth and a need to track results to determine what content via what marketing channel is resonating best with the target audiences.”
In this new era of content marketing, it becomes especially important to be able to stand out to your customer above all the others. There’s a lot of content out there, and messages can get lost.
“The good news is that marketers who learn to do content marketing right have a competitive advantage,” Crosby says. “And those marketers and businesses will stand out above the noise.”
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