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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.
With 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.