The Evolution of Digital Advertising

In a recent episode of the Touch Point podcast, True North Digital Senior Marketing Specialist Michael Robideau advises hospitals and healthcare systems on ways to optimize their digital advertising during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Michael Robideau, Senior Digital Marketing SpecialistWith more than 10 years expe­ri­ence in digital/search mar­ket­ing, includ­ing stints with e‑commerce and retail brands as well as serv­ing as dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing spe­cial­ist for Fairview Health Ser­vices, Michael under­stands the dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing land­scape in health care as well as anyone.

He recent­ly appeared on the Touch Point pod­cast to share expert per­spec­tive on how health­care mar­keters can fos­ter brand loy­al­ty and build a pipeline for high-val­ue ser­vice lines dur­ing the crisis.

Lis­ten to the full episode and get the high­lights from Michael’s inter­view below.

On Digital Marketing Shifts during COVID

Some mar­keters have this idea that they don’t want to offend peo­ple by adver­tis­ing online, but there are oth­er ways health­care orga­ni­za­tions can engage con­sumers and help them through the cri­sis. The health sys­tems we’re work­ing with are indus­try lead­ers because they real­ize every­one is des­per­ate for real, accu­rate infor­ma­tion right now—and we’re help­ing them meet that demand.

If you look at search and social data, every­body wants to know about the coro­n­avirus and they need con­tent that helps them under­stand what’s real­ly going on. Most impor­tant­ly, they’re ask­ing the ques­tion: “How can I help take care of myself?” Hos­pi­tal and health sys­tems are the most trust­ed sources of that information.

For a while, Google was block­ing legit­i­mate com­pa­nies try­ing to put out valu­able infor­ma­tion or try­ing to get peo­ple to make a shift and go to online health­care plat­forms. You can’t search any­thing relat­ed to COVID-19 or coro­n­avirus with­out Google basi­cal­ly own­ing those top spots in search rank­ings as they rewrote their plat­form strict­ly for this pan­dem­ic. They’ve tak­en con­trol over search results so it becomes even more impor­tant to find dif­fer­ent ways to get your con­tent out there.

Dur­ing this cri­sis, we have to adjust our think­ing on dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing and ask our­selves: What is a con­ver­sion right now? A con­ver­sion is not a new patient while access is lim­it­ed, but it might be look­ing at how much con­tent are they con­sum­ing. How much are they view­ing or down­load­ing? How much are they respond­ing? We’re build­ing a pool for when this turns back on. There’s going to be a flood­gate and we have to be ready to open it.

These are chal­leng­ing times, with Google claim­ing the major­i­ty of search traf­fic and delays in launch­ing cam­paigns on Face­book as their employ­ees are work­ing home like every­one else. How­ev­er, that does­n’t mean we can’t start fill­ing the fun­nel while the costs are down.

It’s a down mar­ket, so we can take the approach of look­ing at dif­fer­ent goals and dif­fer­ent tac­tics, where the con­ver­sion might be cap­tur­ing search vol­ume for phras­es like, “Do you offer this ser­vice?” or “What type of doc­tors do you offer?” We’re look­ing at that high­er lev­el, top-of-the-fun­nel con­ver­sion now.

On Brand Strategies during COVID

You have to ask your­self: Is dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing stop­ping? Is my com­peti­tor stop­ping? No, they’re not. Are they able to gain patients like you? No, but they’re not stop­ping adver­tis­ing. They’re not stop­ping build­ing their brand and that’s the most impor­tant thing. By putting that top-of-the-fun­nel infor­ma­tion out there, it’s almost like a piv­ot to the new par­a­digm of patient acqui­si­tion. We’re build­ing pos­i­tive impres­sions and get­ting them to remem­ber us so that when the cri­sis is over, they choose us for their care.

Once our cam­paigns are live and we review the data, it’s clear that con­sumers are engag­ing with health­care con­tent. You’re see­ing impres­sions go up much high­er than they typ­i­cal­ly would because there’s so much demand. We, as health­care mar­keters, have a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to start build­ing more brand loy­al­ty dur­ing this crisis.

Most peo­ple don’t know their pri­ma­ry care doc­tor anymore—if they even have a pri­ma­ry care doc­tor (they might have a facil­i­ty or a clin­ic they turn to when seek­ing care). That’s where we can start build­ing trust and dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing our health­care brands.

On Building a Pipeline for Priority Services

A per­son­al sto­ry: My wife is home and it’s been a clean­ing-the-house type of moment for both of us. So we said, let’s look at get­ting some­one out to price get­ting some trees tak­en down. Let’s get peo­ple out to look at replac­ing the garage door. Like us, peo­ple have more time than ever to be plan­ning and prepar­ing to make pur­chas­es for things they need.

At some point soon, we’re going to get back to nor­mal and there’s going to be a flood­gate of health­care orga­ni­za­tions look­ing to refill their fun­nel. Every­one of us will be re-invest­ing imme­di­ate­ly when we can, so you’re going to see a sharp increase in costs for those who haven’t been con­sis­tent. Google and Face­book like those adver­tis­ers that have stayed true to them. When you have a cam­paign that runs con­sis­tent­ly, it builds cred­i­bil­i­ty and gives you a com­pet­i­tive advantage.

So even in these dark times, if we’re tak­ing those cam­paigns and just kind of shift­ing what we’re doing with them and keep run­ning, Google loves us. It gives us that abil­i­ty to stay ahead of the curve.

On Effective Content

I’m see­ing a lot of neg­a­tiv­i­ty in the news and online, but there are many ways that we can actu­al­ly start to find joy in this cri­sis. There are so many incred­i­ble sto­ries with­in health care and we can start adver­tis­ing around that. This could sim­ply be inform­ing the com­mu­ni­ty of what’s going on and how to stay safe. It’s about expand­ing focus from sole­ly bot­tom-of-the-fun­nel con­ver­sions to build­ing brand aware­ness and affin­i­ty at the top-of-the-fun­nel. In some ways, we’re hit­ting the reset but­ton on adver­tis­ing right now. There are so many new oppor­tu­ni­ties to edu­cate, inform and teach our audi­ences who are hun­gry for information.

For exam­ple, elec­tive surg­eries are post­poned in many areas—but just because we can’t do it does­n’t mean peo­ple aren’t search­ing for it. I’ve been walk­ing on a dai­ly basis with my fam­i­ly and my knee is start­ing to kill me. Am I going to be able to get my knee tak­en care of right away? No, but that does­n’t mean I’m not try­ing to fig­ure out, in two months, where I am going to go and what I am going to do.

You’re see­ing these shifts in dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing. Instead of talk­ing about com­ing in for an appoint­ment, your mes­sag­ing can answer ques­tions like, “How do I take care of myself until I’m ready to come in?” It’s crit­i­cal to build that brand knowl­edge now so you’re the best choice for treat­ment when the time is right.

On the Future of Digital Advertising in Health Care

I think one of the biggest shifts is the idea of tele­health and dig­i­tal health care. The vir­tu­al care mar­ket has been grow­ing slow­ly for a long time—and now it’s explod­ing. There were a lot of ques­tions around how it works. While in-per­son vis­its have been pre­ferred, every­body’s now being forced to use tele­health. I think you’re going to find that once peo­ple get a taste for it and find out how sim­ple it is, that’s going to become the new norm.

For health­care orga­ni­za­tions, pro­vid­ing that edu­ca­tion is crit­i­cal. It’s a new way to build rela­tion­ships with our brands and fill the fun­nels for pri­or­i­ty ser­vice lines.

Have Digital Marketing Questions?

Let’s con­nect around your dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy and how we can help.

A Unique View on Healthcare Digital Marketing

Having guided the digital marketing strategy for healthcare systems, our digital team leads can relate to the highs and lows that come with the territory. Here’s how that translates into their roles at True North Custom, along with their take on trends with the greatest potential impact on healthcare digital marketing.

Ashley Dufrene, Senior Digital Marketing SpecialistMichael Robideau, Senior Digital Marketing Specialist

Ash­ley Dufrene and Michael Robideau, senior dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing spe­cial­ists at True North, have both walked a mile in the shoes of health sys­tem mar­keters, hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly served at Hal­i­fax Health (Flori­da) and Fairview Health Ser­vices (Min­neso­ta), respec­tive­ly. Here’s how they’re lever­ag­ing that expe­ri­ence, their dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing exper­tise and healthy dos­es of empa­thy to help health­care clients nav­i­gate a path to success.

Why did you decide to shift to the strategic partner side of the marketing relationship? 

Ash­ley: Whether I am work­ing at a health sys­tem or on the agency side, being a strate­gic part­ner is ingrained in me. I want­ed to work for True North because the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be a strate­gic part­ner for many health sys­tems, instead of just one, was very appeal­ing. [Watch Ash­ley share addi­tion­al per­spec­tive on why she joined True North in this video.]

Health care, and the under­stand­ing of health care and what you have access to in your com­mu­ni­ty, is very impor­tant in this coun­try. I feel peo­ple still hear “health care” and think of it as this com­pli­cat­ed beast and try to avoid it at all cost. To me that is not a fair assess­ment, and com­mu­ni­ties need to under­stand what access they have to care.

Michael: The great thing about dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, and why I love the indus­try so much, is the fact that what you do today could com­plete­ly change tomor­row. Now that I’m on the strate­gic part­ner side of the equa­tion, I am able to push my lim­its more and build off my skill sets to con­tin­ue help­ing clients grow and succeed.

How does your previous experience working for health systems inform your work at True North?

Ash­ley: I know there is more to the sto­ry. Some peo­ple see a hos­pi­tal build­ing, and that’s often all they see: a build­ing. Most do not real­ize what tru­ly goes on inside of that build­ing and the access to amaz­ing care.

That access car­ries through to all health­care sys­tems or hospitals­—each has many dif­fer­ent attrib­ut­es that make it the best. Know­ing how to make the com­mu­ni­ty aware of those attrib­ut­es is a game chang­er. My goal is to help fos­ter the rela­tion­ship between com­mu­ni­ties and their health­care providers so they’re clos­er than ever before.

Michael: I come from a unique sit­u­a­tion in that, when I start­ed my pre­vi­ous job, I was work­ing with three of the largest health­care providers in the state of Min­neso­ta, all at the same time. I helped lead the new brand­ing efforts when they all merged and have expe­ri­ence with numer­ous aspects of health care.

I have worked in every­thing from pri­ma­ry care to most forms of spe­cial­ty care to edu­ca­tion­al med­i­cine. There is lit­tle that can be thrown at me in terms of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing for health­care orga­ni­za­tions that I haven’t already seen, test­ed and cre­at­ed a strate­gic plan for.

What are some of the greatest challenges health systems face when it comes to digital marketing? How do you help clients overcome those challenges?

Ash­ley: Even though dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing is not a new con­cept, it’s still an emerg­ing con­cept in health care. A pri­ma­ry rea­son for that is HIPAA. Many sys­tems avoid­ed using online mar­ket­ing because of patient pri­va­cy information.

Now that those estab­lished rules about HIPAA com­pli­ance are in place, the health indus­try is more open to using dig­i­tal. But where do you start? That is where we come in. We know the rules, we know what you can and can­not do when it comes to health­care dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, and we bring that knowl­edge to our clients every day to ensure they remain com­plaint while get­ting the results they’re look­ing for.

Michael: Hon­est­ly, when we talk about dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, one of the biggest areas that needs work is just the effort. There is often this idea of, “Every­one needs health care, why adver­tise?” But that is the fur­thest thing from the truth. Con­sumers today are very savvy and con­scious of their deci­sions, and with all the tech­nol­o­gy at their fin­ger­tips, it’s more impor­tant than ever to place your brand mes­sage out there.

On top of that, the health­care indus­try is chang­ing by the minute. How brands adver­tise to con­sumers has become a chal­leng­ing puz­zle as providers start to look at how they com­pete, not only with your stan­dard health­care providers, but also with new providers in the mar­ket such as Ama­zon and Wal­mart. These brands def­i­nite­ly have the abil­i­ty to change the way health care oper­ates, and the oppor­tu­ni­ty to work in the area is exciting.

What are some digital marketing trends you anticipate having the most impact on health systems in 2020 and beyond?

Ash­ley: Three words: Trim the fat. Now that there have been sev­er­al years of data to show­case what works and what doesn’t in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing for health care, many orga­ni­za­tions will start trim­ming the fat—focusing on niche tar­get­ing efforts to ensure they are get­ting the right mes­sage in front of their con­sumers at the right time to achieve the goal conversion.

Since health care was late in the game get­ting into dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, we have seen orga­ni­za­tions over­spend on dig­i­tal efforts just to not get the results they were told could be achieved (because they didn’t know bet­ter). But now the knowl­edge has caught up. We are see­ing a shift in health sys­tems: They’re con­sol­i­dat­ing ven­dors and try­ing to find strate­gic part­ners that can align on all fronts of mar­ket­ing, not just one aspect of it.

Michael: Right now, look­ing at how Wal­mart and Ama­zon will poten­tial­ly change the way health care oper­ates is crazy to me. Today, you can slip, fall and break your arm, and while wait­ing for your X‑ray results (which you got at Wal­mart), you can shop and pre­pare for your day. Wal­mart has already start­ed rolling out clin­ics with­in their stores—and not just minute clin­ics, but ful­ly oper­a­tional offices.

Or, imag­ine being able to ask Alexa to con­tact your doc­tor for a pre­scrip­tion refill, or even have a face-to-face con­ver­sa­tion with a doc­tor, all with your infor­ma­tion and vitals being tak­en from your Alexa device. This is the future of health care, and the change that it will bring is incred­i­bly exciting.

Let’s Talk Timing (and More)

Our health­care mar­ket­ing experts are ready to tai­lor a strat­e­gy that ensures your con­tent reach­es con­sumers, physi­cians and oth­er audi­ences at the per­fect time.

Weight-Loss Campaign Generates 250+ Leads in 4 Months

Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center’s ongoing campaign for its weight-loss surgery program is generating outstanding results.

In late sum­mer 2019, Clax­ton-Hep­burn Med­ical Cen­ter approached True North Cus­tom with a chal­lenge: The Ogdens­burg, New York, med­ical cen­ter had part­nered with bariatric sur­geons to launch a weight-loss surgery pro­gram, and the first patient sem­i­nar was already sched­uled for Sept. 17. The hospital’s mar­ket­ing depart­ment had no mate­ri­als to sup­port the program.

Clax­ton-Hep­burn, a True North client for 17 years, need­ed a cam­paign that would inform poten­tial patients about the exis­tence of the pro­gram, encour­age those inter­est­ed to attend an infor­ma­tion ses­sion and then pro­vide poten­tial patients with addi­tion­al mate­ri­als to help them make a deci­sion about the surgery.

“Our team was up to the chal­lenge,” says Jason Skin­ner, chief mar­ket­ing offi­cer at True North. “With­in days, our team had devel­oped a strate­gic approach for a mul­ti-pronged cam­paign that met the client’s needs.”

Nurturing Patients Along the Way

The cen­ter of Claxton-Hepburn’s cam­paign was a weight-loss surg­erland­ing page that pro­vid­ed sem­i­nar infor­ma­tion, intro­duced the sur­geons and served as a sem­i­nar reg­is­tra­tion por­tal. A direct mail cam­paign, along with dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing through Face­book and paid search, direct­ed poten­tial patients to the land­ing page to learn more about the pro­gram and reg­is­ter to attend an infor­ma­tion ses­sion. Once reg­is­tered, patients began receiv­ing the com­po­nents of a five-part email drip cam­paign that guid­ed them along the deci­sion-mak­ing process. 

“Before they attend­ed the infor­ma­tion ses­sion, the poten­tial patients received an email thank­ing them for reg­is­ter­ing, and two emails were deployed a few days before the infor­ma­tion ses­sion remind­ing them of the date and time of the pro­gram,” Jason says. “After they attend­ed the sem­i­nar, they received sup­ple­men­tary infor­ma­tion to help them learn more, includ­ing a four-page down­load­able guide, an info­graph­ic and a video—all cus­tom con­tent cre­at­ed by the True North team.”

Generating Outstanding Results

In the first four months, cam­paigns pro­mot­ing the weight-loss sem­i­nars have deliv­ered out­stand­ing results:

Leads Generated

(can­di­dates inter­est­ed in attend­ing the seminars)

Attended Seminar

with 51 atten­dees sign­ing up to be for­mal­ly eval­u­at­ed for the program


average open rate

The email nur­tur­ing cam­paign has proven to be a valu­able asset for the campaign

“With­in two days of launch­ing this cam­paign, we saw poten­tial patients reg­is­ter for the infor­ma­tion ses­sion, and con­tin­ued to have mul­ti­ple peo­ple reg­is­ter every week,” Jason says. “This is an exam­ple of how a well-designed cam­paign can attract the right patients, encour­age them to take action and then nur­ture them along the deci­sion-mak­ing process.” 

Let’s Grow Your Bariatric Surgery Volumes

Ready to engage bariatric surgery can­di­dates and guide them through the deci­sion journey?

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