The Essential Guide to Digital Healthcare Marketing in 2021

by | Mar 19, 2021 | Digital Strategy | 0 comments

In today’s increasingly complex and competitive environment, healthcare organizations that embrace these evolutions in digital healthcare marketing will thrive.

In his best-sell­ing book Quan­tum Mar­ket­ing, Raja Raja­man­nar pre­dicts the next few years will see unprece­dent­ed change for marketers:

“The last five years have seen more change in mar­ket­ing than the pre­vi­ous 50. And the next five years will out­pace all of them put together.”

As the chief mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions offi­cer and pres­i­dent for the health­care busi­ness divi­sion of Mas­ter­card, Raja has a unique van­tage point and for­ward-think­ing per­spec­tive to which mar­ket­ing pros should pay attention.

His view is that dig­i­tal inno­va­tion will con­tin­ue dri­ving mar­ket­ing trans­for­ma­tion, as the adop­tion of strat­e­gy and tools to engage the “always on” con­sumer accel­er­ate at a quan­tum — or “unmea­sur­able jump in speed or vol­ume” — pace.

illustration showing patient engagement through a variety of channels

These trends have cer­tain­ly not been lost on health­care orga­ni­za­tions. The shift to a dig­i­tal-first approach to mar­ket­ing is gain­ing trac­tion as illus­trat­ed by recent studies:

  • The Soci­ety for Health Care Strat­e­gy & Mar­ket Development’s 2020 By the Num­bers Spe­cial Edi­tion found that spend­ing and activ­i­ty for dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing — includ­ing social media, video, paid search and email — increased more than any oth­er ini­tia­tives in 2020.
  • The 2020 Health­care Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing Trends sur­vey of 150 provider orga­ni­za­tions found respon­dents plan to increase dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing spend­ing by 39% and boost non-staff invest­ment in dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing (includ­ing paid, social and search) by 15%—the most among all categories.
  • The 2020 State of Health­care Con­tent Mar­ket­ing study found the most-used con­tent for­mats are dig­i­tal, with the top five used by health­care mar­keters as fol­lows: social media con­tent (100%), website/blog arti­cles (85%), videos (81%) and e‑newsletters (76%). Dig­i­tal con­tent also tops the list of for­mats used by health­care mar­keters to build brand and audi­ence engage­ment (social media con­tent), gen­er­ate leads (social media con­tent) and engage physi­cians (e‑newsletters).

Digital Healthcare Marketing Trends and Cheat Codes

To get ahead of the curve and gain a com­pet­i­tive advan­tage in 2021, there are key trends that health­care mar­ket­ing lead­ers should con­sid­er when devel­op­ing engage­ment and growth strategies.

The trend: Patient acquisition is paramount

The 2020 Health­care Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing Trends ref­er­enced ear­li­er found patient acqui­si­tion was the num­ber one goal for health­care dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing activ­i­ties — and by a large mar­gin. This shift to growth-focused ini­tia­tives is designed to dri­ve recov­ery from the 56% drop in medi­an hos­pi­tal oper­at­ing mar­gins in 2020. Dri­ving vol­ume and rev­enue is espe­cial­ly crit­i­cal for hos­pi­tals and health sys­tems as the cur­rent finan­cial tra­jec­to­ry is unsus­tain­able. Deloitte esti­mates that by 2030, rev­enue from inpa­tient ser­vices and demand for inpa­tient beds will decline 35% and 44%, respectively.

The cheat code: Prioritize digital healthcare marketing initiatives that move the revenue needle

Rebound­ing from the finan­cial deficit will be more of a marathon than a sprint, so focus on growth or redou­ble your efforts to lay the ground­work for long-term suc­cess. Start by align­ing your dig­i­tal con­tent with each stage of the patient jour­ney and opti­miz­ing for con­ver­sion to the next step. Also, look at your web­site, social media and oth­er dig­i­tal chan­nels through the lens of lead gen­er­a­tion. Final­ly, and per­haps most impor­tant­ly: Make sure your ser­vice line mar­ket­ing strate­gies are evolv­ing to meet con­sumers where they are in this post-pan­dem­ic environment.

How we do it: Service Line Growth

Get more insights: New Strategies for Hospital Service Line Marketing

cover of white paper

The trend: Competition for healthcare services is increasing exponentially

With vir­tu­al care broad­en­ing access for patients across near­ly all ser­vice lines, mar­keters sud­den­ly face a wave of new com­peti­tors. From on-demand tele­health com­pa­nies and low-cost retail clin­ics to glob­al brands like Ama­zon gain­ing trac­tion through scal­able tech­nol­o­gy, health­care orga­ni­za­tions have their work cut out to find, engage and con­vert high-val­ue patients.

The cheat code: Outsmart vs. outspend

When you’re fac­ing com­pe­ti­tion with larg­er teams or bud­gets, a more strate­gic mind­set can iden­ti­fy gaps in their plan and oppor­tu­ni­ties to gain an advan­tage. An area where smart health­care mar­keters are achiev­ing dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion is paid search. While many dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing pros and agen­cies still use broad match tar­get­ing, this approach often casts too wide a net and reach­es audi­ences beyond your patients and prospects. In health­care specif­i­cal­ly, broad match tar­get­ing can dri­ve up impres­sions and cost, dri­ve down click-through rate (CTR) and con­ver­sion rate (CVR), and add lit­tle val­ue to your cam­paign. To avoid this sce­nario, smart search mar­keters use phrase match or exact match key­words along with neg­a­tive key­word match­ing to ensure ads aren’t served in response to irrel­e­vant search queries. This allows you to max­i­mize effi­cien­cy by mas­ter­ing the terms that add the most value.

Get more insights: Read the Guide to Effective Paid Search in Healthcare

True North Guide to Paid Search in Healthcare

The trend: Zero-click search is a challenge and opportunity for marketers

The only con­stant in dig­i­tal health­care mar­ket­ing is change, and per­haps that’s best reflect­ed in Google’s fre­quent algo­rithm updates. While great for con­sumers seek­ing the most rel­e­vant answers as quick­ly as pos­si­ble, this cre­ates chal­lenges for mar­keters as it requires con­stant opti­miza­tion of dig­i­tal con­tent to rank on page one—and even then, there are no guar­an­tees that Google will send traf­fic to your site. In fact, over half of search­es now result in zero clicks, par­tic­u­lar­ly those on mobile devices.

The cheat code: Optimize digital content for Google featured snippets

Align­ing your con­tent with the pre­ferred for­mat for Google snip­pets has sev­er­al advan­tages. It gen­er­ates pos­i­tive impres­sions as your con­tent earns the top spot on search engine results pages, while also posi­tion­ing your brand as most like­ly to be served up via per­son­al assis­tants. More than 7 in 10 voice search­es serve up the snip­pet, not the first organ­ic result. To opti­mize con­tent for snip­pets, focus on ques­tion-based search­es that have a sim­ple answer. Think about ques­tions that start with “how, why, what, when, who” and more.

How we do it: SEO and Web Content

Get more insights: How to Get Your Content Seen with Google Featured Snippets

The trend: Consumers demand more digital health content than ever

Two years ago, Google report­ed that 1 in 14 dai­ly search­es — total­ing more than 1 bil­lion ques­tions each day — were for health-relat­ed infor­ma­tion. That demand has grown expo­nen­tial­ly with the need for COVID-19-relat­ed updates. In a recent Med­scape sur­vey of more than 8,000 physi­cians, near­ly two-thirds report­ed a sig­nif­i­cant increase in the con­sump­tion of online med­ical con­tent since the pan­dem­ic began, and about a quar­ter pre­dict that this demand will be permanent.

The cheat code: Creative a consumer-centric content strategy that engages more leads and optimizes the path to conversions

Today, it’s crit­i­cal that health­care web­sites do more than high­light ser­vices, pro­ce­dures, facil­i­ties and providers. Con­sumers search for health­care ser­vices by con­di­tion or symp­tom, look­ing first for answers to their ques­tions that can help them under­stand the best next action in their health­care jour­ney. The brands win­ning in this envi­ron­ment have struc­tured their web­site con­tent to edu­cate con­sumers on health­care con­cerns, help them under­stand their treat­ment and sup­port options, and cre­ate a seam­less path toward con­ver­sion. Fur­ther, con­sumers are look­ing to health­care brands now more than ever before to be a part­ner in health. This requires health­care mar­keters to cre­ate dig­i­tal con­tent that dri­ves engage­ment at the top of the fun­nel. Data-dri­ven blog strate­gies are build­ing brand rela­tion­ships and dri­ving con­sid­er­a­tion for health­care ser­vices in a way that direct­ly sup­ports rev­enue growth pri­or­i­ties, too. The health­care orga­ni­za­tions win­ning in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing per­for­mance are cap­i­tal­iz­ing on this oppor­tu­ni­ty well.

How we do it: Blog & Social Content

Get more insights: How COVID-19 Is Driving the Evolution of Healthcare Content Strategy

True North Guide to the Evolution of Healthcare Content Strategy

The trend: Telehealth has reached the tipping point

With near­ly 9 in 10 Amer­i­cans plan­ning to use tele­health after the pan­dem­ic , it’s clear: We’re past the point of no return for vir­tu­al care. This rapid adop­tion of tele­health and pres­sure to dri­ve vol­ume is caus­ing many health­care mar­keters to pro­mote vir­tu­al care as a dis­crete ser­vice line through paid ads, blog con­tent and oth­er chan­nels.

The cheat code: Guide the patient journey through horizontally integrated campaigns

The patient jour­ney is not a lin­ear path, and it’s impor­tant to rec­og­nize why con­sumers choose one access point over anoth­er. When it comes to front-line ser­vices like telemed­i­cine, emer­gency and urgent care, and pri­ma­ry care, the aver­age con­sumer often doesn’t under­stand the dif­fer­ences and when one is more appro­pri­ate than the oth­ers. Rather than pro­mote the deliv­ery chan­nel, mar­ket lead­ers meet con­sumers at their moment of need and con­nect them with appro­pri­ate care where and when they need it, and with as lit­tle fric­tion as possible.

Get more insights: Tips for Marketing Telehealth and Other Front-Line Health Services

True North Guide to Marketing Front-Line Health Services

The trend: Marketers are investing in too many digital channels

Whether com­pelled by lead­er­ship or nov­el­ty, mar­keters are spread­ing them­selves thin by invest­ing time and resources into nascent plat­forms that promise engage­ment with younger demo­graph­ics. In the State of Health­care Con­tent Mar­ket­ing study ref­er­enced ear­li­er, near­ly 1 in 10 respon­dents are using Tik­Tok and almost 1 in 20 are using Snapchat.

In the words of Con­tent Mar­ket­ing Insti­tute founder Joe Pulizzi, “The prob­lem is every business—including health­care— thinks they have to be on Twit­ter, have a blog, launch a pod­cast, start a Tik­Tok and every­thing else. What hap­pens is they become mediocre, at best, in every one of those chan­nels. We have to focus on being great at one or two chan­nels first.”

The cheat code: Focus on social channels that connect to volume growth

Plat­forms like Face­book and Insta­gram are often key pieces of the con­ver­sion path for pri­or­i­ty ser­vices. With lim­it­ed band­width and bud­get, avoid chas­ing shiny objects and focus on build­ing your com­mu­ni­ty on those chan­nels that make a finan­cial impact. By engag­ing fol­low­ers with organ­ic con­tent and tar­get­ed ads that guide each step on the patient jour­ney, your brand will serve as a trust­ed resource when the time comes for care.

Get more insights: 7 Ways You Should Be Using Social Media Marketing in Healthcare

More Expert Advice on Digital Healthcare Marketing

Along with these insights from our dig­i­tal health­care mar­ket­ing agency experts, here are high­lights from recent con­ver­sa­tions for our Health­care Insight for Mar­keters podcast.

Use digital content to differentiate your brand

LCMC Health Chief Marketing & Experience Officer Christine Albert“An exam­ple of how we’re bring­ing the brand strat­e­gy into the busi­ness world is the way we’re start­ing to human­ize all of our physi­cian bios. This approach cre­ates a con­nec­tion as you’re look­ing for a provider you trust. A lot of our bios have the infor­ma­tion you would expect on med­ical school and boards but we’re also includ­ing short videos where, for exam­ple, pedi­a­tri­cians might share their favorite school sup­ply, ice cream fla­vor or hob­by (like this physi­cian who is a self-pro­claimed “Dis­ney fanat­ic”). That feels fun and it’s an exten­sion of our brand strat­e­gy, but it’s also hav­ing an impact: We’re see­ing a 50% increase in organ­ic views, a 23% in con­ver­sions to appointments—and all of that trans­lates to revenue.”

— Chris­tine Albert, Chief Mar­ket­ing and Expe­ri­ence Offi­cer at LCMC Health (get the full inter­view)

Invest in the right tools to target and track digital healthcare marketing initiatives

Emory Healthcare Director of Marketing Amy Comeau“You absolute­ly need to have CRM and data-dri­ven tools; oth­er­wise, you’re going to keep chas­ing after the same patients or try­ing to one-up each oth­er in the mar­ket and spend­ing a lot of mon­ey, which none of us can afford to keep doing.”

— Amy Comeau, Vice Pres­i­dent of Mar­ket­ing at Emory Health­care (get the full inter­view)

Let data drive digital healthcare marketing decisions

Amanda Todorovich

“We want to know what patients are ask­ing, along with track­ing what peo­ple are doing on our web­site and search­ing for on Google to find out where can we fill a gap. We log and track every­thing we do, look back at sea­son­al trends, such as what hap­pened last year at this time. Then, we deter­mine what we should repeat and what we should do differently.”

—Aman­da Todor­ovich, senior direc­tor of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing and health con­tent at Cleve­land Clin­ic (get the full inter­view)

A digital front door strategy is essential—and building it is a team sport

Chris Pace of Banner Health

“Any busi­ness has to have a dig­i­tal front door. The key point for us was includ­ing clin­i­cal, oper­a­tional and mar­ket­ing as the engine that presents it out to con­sumers and tells the sto­ry. Hav­ing all of those teams involved and a “with us, not just for us” men­tal­i­ty is how we were able to be suc­cess­ful. Had we not had that orga­ni­za­tion­al struc­ture and oper­a­tional effi­cien­cy mind­set, this would have crum­bled from day one—and it’s prob­a­bly why a lot of sys­tems strug­gle with these initiatives.”

—Chris Pace, Senior Direc­tor of Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing at Ban­ner Health (get the full inter­view)

Email is a not-so-secret weapon

Content Marketing Institute Founder Joe Pulizzi

“Peo­ple are final­ly real­iz­ing that social media chan­nels are rent­ed land—we don’t con­trol our con­nec­tions, our fol­low­ers or our data on those chan­nels. If you’ve built an audi­ence on a social media chan­nel like Insta­gram, you have to have a rent-to-own men­tal­i­ty where you can move that audi­ence over to some­thing that gets you an email address.”

—Joe Pulizzi, founder of Con­tent Mar­ket­ing Insti­tute (get the full inter­view)

Digital ads deserve more attention

Meghan Keaney Anderson headshot

“We often think of ads as these very dis­tinct things from the rest of our con­tent strat­e­gy, but just because you put mon­ey behind some­thing doesn’t mean it’s a dif­fer­ent piece of con­tent. In fact, ads should be at the same lev­el of qual­i­ty or high­er because you’re putting mon­ey behind it.”

—Meghan Keaney Ander­son, for­mer VP of Mar­ket­ing at Hub­spot (get the full inter­view)

We are moving into the era of “Context Marketing”

Mathew Sweezey podcast interview

“Think about how the media envi­ron­ment oper­ates. We can all go to Google and ask the exact same ques­tion. And each one of us is going to get a dif­fer­ent set of answers based on our per­son­al con­text. Humans can’t man­age that by them­selves. There’s a lay­er between us and the answer, which is Arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI), com­plete­ly attuned to the con­text of the moment. We must under­stand what that person’s prob­lem is at that key moment of truth and then solve that prob­lem. That approach cre­ates the best returns from a mar­ket­ing standpoint.”

—Math­ew Sweezey, Direc­tor of Mar­ket Strat­e­gy at Sales­force (get the full inter­view)

Fore more insights to inspire your strategy and stay current on digital trends, check out our favorite digital marketing certifications and courses in 2021!

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