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 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.
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.
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.