The Evolution of Content Marketing and Digital Strategies in Healthcare

by | Sep 12, 2018 | Content Strategy

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 health care:

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, VP, Strat­e­gy and 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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