The State of Healthcare Content Marketing: The Era of Forced Evolution

by | Sep 8, 2020 | Healthcare Industry Insights

The annual State of Healthcare Content Marketing study illuminates the role that content plays in driving engagement and volume for hospitals, health systems and other healthcare organizations.

The 2020 State of Health­care Con­tent Mar­ket­ing report was gen­er­at­ed by a sur­vey of 200+ health­care exec­u­tives who man­age the mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions func­tions for more than 350 hos­pi­tals nation­wide, along with ancil­lary med­ical clin­ics, spe­cial­ty care cen­ters and oth­er affil­i­ates. Respon­dents guide con­tent strat­e­gy for many of the nation’s lead­ing health­care brands, includ­ing HCA, Cleve­land Clin­ic and more.

In light of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic and height­ened impor­tance of diver­si­ty, equi­ty and inclu­sion, sur­vey ques­tions were expand­ed to reflect the impact of those issues on health­care con­tent mar­ket­ing strategies.

On behalf of True North and our part­ners at the Forum for Health­care Strate­gists, we hope these insights, trends and take­aways will serve to inspire, inform and opti­mize your con­tent strategy.

The Use of Content Marketing

Q: Does your orga­ni­za­tion use con­tent marketing?

Does your organization use content marketing answer


The trend: The near­ly 90% of health­care mar­keters cur­rent­ly using con­tent rep­re­sents a 13% increase over 2019 and a 20% increase since the first State of Health­care Con­tent Mar­ket­ing sur­vey was con­duct­ed in 2017.

What it means for health­care mar­keters: With 97% of respon­dents using con­tent or plan­ning to lever­age con­tent to engage con­sumers and dri­ve growth, dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing your approach is more crit­i­cal than ever. This requires mar­keters to design all aspects of con­tent strategy—from plan­ning and con­tent cre­ation to dis­tri­b­u­tion, mea­sure­ment and optimization—around the tar­get audience.

Get more insights: Read our blog post on effective healthcare content marketing in the zero-click search era.


The Shift in Content Strategy

Q: How is your con­tent strat­e­gy shift­ing in light of COVID-19?

 Q: How is your content strategy shifting in light of COVID-19?

What it means for health­care mar­keters: Con­sumers expect imme­di­ate, accu­rate and action­able answers to their health­care ques­tions, and mar­keters are respond­ing with edu­ca­tion­al con­tent that aligns with these needs. By engag­ing con­sumers ear­ly in the health­care jour­ney, mar­keters can guide them on the path to bet­ter health and achieve pref­er­ence and long-term affin­i­ty for their brands.

Get more insights: Check out our white paper on The Big Shift: How COVID-19 is Driving the Evolution of Healthcare Content Marketing.


Content Marketing Budgets

Q: How has your con­tent mar­ket­ing bud­get shift­ed due to the impact of COVID-19?


Q: How has your content marketing budget shifted due to the impact of COVID-19?


Q: How do you expect your organization’s bud­get allo­ca­tion for con­tent mar­ket­ing to change in your next bud­get cycle?


Q: How do you expect your organization’s budget allocation for content marketing to change in your next budget cycle?


The trend: Typ­i­cal of a down­turn, most orga­ni­za­tions fol­low the bell curve that has the major­i­ty main­tain­ing sta­tus quo (59% did not change their con­tent bud­gets) while oth­ers look to con­serve costs (21% decreased their con­tent bud­get) or cap­i­tal­ize on the oppor­tu­ni­ty to gain share while com­peti­tors scale back (9% increased their con­tent budget).

Look­ing ahead, more than 8 in 10 (84%) expect their con­tent mar­ket­ing spend to increase or stay the same. Last year, 99% of mar­keters sur­veyed expect­ed their con­tent mar­ket­ing bud­gets to increase or stay the same.

What it means for health­care mar­keters: The finan­cial impact of COVID-19 is being felt across all depart­ments, as U.S. hos­pi­tals lost an esti­mat­ed $200 bil­lion in rev­enue between March and June 30 accord­ing to the Amer­i­can Hos­pi­tal Asso­ci­a­tion. This means mar­ket­ing invest­ments are being scru­ti­nized even more than usu­al, and those proven to dri­ve engage­ment and rev­enue growth—like con­tent marketing—will con­tin­ue to receive fund­ing. The key is build­ing a busi­ness case based on data illus­trat­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty (e.g. poten­tial audi­ence based on search/ web­site traf­fic) and/or cur­rent val­ue to the orga­ni­za­tion (e.g. impact on patient volume).

Get more insights: Read our blog post on how to prioritize your marketing plan with limited resources.


Promoting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Q: On a scale of 1 (not impor­tant) to 5 (very impor­tant), how impor­tant has con­tent that pro­motes diver­si­ty, equi­ty and inclu­sion been in your organization’s con­tent strategies?

Aver­age rat­ing: 3.7


Q: Using the same scale, how impor­tant will con­tent that pro­motes diver­si­ty, equi­ty and inclu­sion be for your organization’s con­tent strat­e­gy mov­ing forward?


Aver­age rat­ing: 4.0

What it means for health­care mar­keters: Hos­pi­tals are often among the largest employ­ers in the area, and their impact often has a halo effect on vir­tu­al­ly every house­hold in the com­mu­ni­ty. This reach often comes with a respon­si­bil­i­ty to address key issues like diver­si­ty and inclu­sion. Many health­care orga­ni­za­tions are embrac­ing the role to guide their com­mu­ni­ties and advo­cate for all their con­stituents. The key is mak­ing sure your tone and mes­sage match your brand val­ues and orga­ni­za­tion­al culture.


Content Marketing Goals

Q: Select the top con­tent mar­ket­ing goals for your organization:


Q: Select the top content marketing goals for your organization?


The trend: The year-over-year trend in health­care con­tent mar­ket­ing goals reflects the impor­tance of build­ing a strong brand while ramp­ing up efforts to gen­er­ate, engage and con­vert leads:

  • #1: Con­sumer Engage­ment = up from #2 last year
  • #2: Brand Aware­ness = down from #1 last year
  • #3: Lead Gen­er­a­tion = same rank as last year
  • #4: Patient Loy­al­ty = same rank as last year
  • #5: Physi­cian Engage­ment = unranked last year

What it means for health­care mar­keters: While con­sumer engage­ment and brand build­ing remains key dri­vers behind con­tent mar­ket­ing ini­tia­tives again this year, health­care orga­ni­za­tions increas­ing­ly lever­age con­tent to dri­ve patient vol­ume and rev­enue growth with half cit­ing lead gen­er­a­tion as the pri­ma­ry goal. And while health­care con­sumers are more empow­ered than ever, the impor­tance of engag­ing physi­cians to dri­ve refer­rals and rep­u­ta­tion is rein­forced by the sur­vey data.

Get more insights: Find out how content marketing can support financial recovery in our whitepaper on The Big Shift: New Strategies for Service Line Growth.


Content Marketing Effectiveness

Q: Over­all, how effec­tive is your orga­ni­za­tion at con­tent marketing?


Q: Overall, how effective is your organization at content marketing?


The trend: The 92% of health­care mar­keters who con­sid­er their con­tent strate­gies effec­tive reflects a 7% decrease from 2019.

What it means for health­care mar­keters: As the health­care mar­ket­ing dis­ci­pline con­tin­ues to mature, mea­sure­ment and opti­miza­tion are emerg­ing as crit­i­cal pieces of the puz­zle. Greater account­abil­i­ty for per­for­mance and empha­sis on growth requires mar­keters to take a more strate­gic approach to con­tent strat­e­gy and ensure pro­gram objec­tives con­nect to the organization’s busi­ness goals.


Strategic Approach to Content Marketing

Q: Does your orga­ni­za­tion have an over­ar­ch­ing con­tent strat­e­gy in place?


Q: Overall, how effective is your organization at content marketing?


The trend: Near­ly every respon­dent (98%) has a doc­u­ment­ed con­tent strat­e­gy or is plan­ning to devel­op one with­in the next 12 months, which reflects an 11% increase over 2019.

What it means for health­care mar­keters: Mar­keters con­tin­ue ele­vat­ing their approach to con­tent, which starts with map­ping out a com­pre­hen­sive (and iter­a­tive) plan that guides their efforts. Com­pet­ing in this era of forced evo­lu­tion and height­ened account­abil­i­ty requires con­tent strate­gies to be pre­cise­ly aligned with orga­ni­za­tion goals and audi­ence pref­er­ences to be effective.

Get more insights: Read our blog post outlining a 5‑step content planning framework.


How Content Fits into Marketing Priorities

Q: Think­ing of all the mar­ket­ing strate­gies you employ in your orga­ni­za­tion, how high a pri­or­i­ty is con­tent mar­ket­ing on a scale of 1 (not a pri­or­i­ty) to 5 (high priority)?

Aver­age rat­ing: 3.8


The trend: Since the sur­vey was first con­duct­ed in 2017, the per­cent­age of health­care mar­keters who place a medi­um (3) to high (4–5) pri­or­i­ty on con­tent has grown from 85% to 89%.

What it means for health­care mar­keters: Even before the pan­dem­ic, mar­com teams were jug­gling com­pet­ing pri­or­i­ties and divid­ing time between myr­i­ad dis­ci­plines. In the lat­est By the Num­bers report from the Soci­ety for Health­care Strat­e­gy and Mar­ket Devel­op­ment, at least 50% of mar­keters sur­veyed were respon­si­ble for 19 dis­parate job functions—ranging from media/public rela­tions and brand strat­e­gy to mar­ket research and com­mu­ni­ty education.

As time and resources are con­strained, it will be increas­ing­ly crit­i­cal for mar­keters to avoid cater­ing to squeaky wheels and chas­ing bright, shiny objects. By build­ing a busi­ness case for proven engage­ment and growth ini­tia­tives like those asso­ci­at­ed with con­tent strat­e­gy, mar­keters can focus on those pri­or­i­ties that deliv­er max­i­mum impact.


Measuring the ROI of Content Marketing

Q: How suc­cess­ful is your orga­ni­za­tion at track­ing the ROI of its con­tent mar­ket­ing efforts?


Q: How successful is your organization at tracking the ROI of its content marketing efforts?


The trend: Mar­keters have come a long way since the sur­vey was first con­duct­ed four years ago. The 65% of respon­dents who said their orga­ni­za­tions are suc­cess­ful at track­ing the ROI of con­tent mar­ket­ing rep­re­sents a 21% increase since 2017.

What it means for health­care mar­keters: With near­ly 9 in 10 mar­keters track­ing ROI and the large major­i­ty con­sid­er­ing their efforts suc­cess­ful, stand­ing out from the crowd requires a data-dri­ven approach. By ana­lyz­ing search trends, com­peti­tor traf­fic and oth­er vari­ables, your con­tent will be fine tuned to audi­ence inter­ests and orga­ni­za­tion­al priorities—and gen­er­ate opti­mal ROI.

Get more insights: Read our blog post on incorporating research to drive content marketing ROI.


How Content Marketing Success Is Measured

Q: What met­rics does your orga­ni­za­tion use to assess con­tent mar­ket­ing success?


Q: How successful is your organization at tracking the ROI of its content marketing efforts?


The trend: The top three key per­for­mance indicators—website traf­fic, called/lead vol­ume and qual­i­ta­tive feed­back, respectively—have remained unchanged since 2017. The most sig­nif­i­cant shift is social engagement/following mov­ing into the top five KPIs (fea­tured above), which were fol­lowed by awareness/recall and SEO per­for­mance at 53%, and direct vol­ume attri­bu­tion with 30% of those sur­veyed bas­ing the suc­cess of their con­tent strat­e­gy on the num­ber of appoint­ments gen­er­at­ed through con­tent marketing.

What it means for health­care mar­keters: A growth-focused approach will con­tin­ue to emerge as the most impor­tant met­ric of con­tent mar­ket­ing suc­cess, espe­cial­ly in an envi­ron­ment where finan­cial recov­ery is paramount—and mar­ket­ing is charged with lead­ing this effort. This even applies to chan­nels like web­sites and social media that have tra­di­tion­al­ly been con­sid­ered brand builders.

Get­ting ahead of the curve now will posi­tion your orga­ni­za­tion for the future and ensure you con­tin­ue invest­ing in con­tent as a rev­enue driver.

Get more insights: Read our blog post on what you can do now to drive growth after COVID-19.


Content Marketing Channels and Tactics

Q: Please select the con­tent mar­ket­ing tac­tics used by your organization.


Q: How successful is your organization at tracking the ROI of its content marketing efforts?


The trend: The most-used con­tent mar­ket­ing tac­tics are vir­tu­al­ly iden­ti­cal to last year, with the excep­tion of print magazines/newsletters gain­ing a spot over in-per­son events to round out the top seven.

What it means for health­care mar­keters: A dig­i­tal-first approach to health­care con­tent mar­ket­ing will remain the stan­dard for engag­ing the mod­ern con­sumer con­di­tioned by the likes of Ama­zon. How­ev­er, mar­keters neglect print at their per­il with cus­tomers expe­ri­enc­ing more dig­i­tal noise than sig­nal and the organ­ic reach of web and social con­tent decreas­ing. With dou­ble-dig­it growth in using print as part of an over­all con­tent strat­e­gy, mar­keters are fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Face­book, AirBNB and oth­er glob­al brands in lever­ag­ing these lean-back, longer-form touch­points that add val­ue to the cus­tomer experience.

Get more insights: Read our blog post on 7 reasons print makes sense for healthcare marketers.


Content Marketing Tactics to Build Brand and Engagement

Q: What are the most effec­tive con­tent mar­ket­ing tac­tics used by your orga­ni­za­tion to gen­er­ate brand aware­ness and con­sumer engagement?


Q: What are the most effective content marketing tactics used by your organization to generate brand awareness and consumer engagement?


What it means for health­care mar­keters: The mod­ern, dig­i­tal-first approach to mar­ket­ing is clear­ly demon­strat­ed in the pri­ma­ry chan­nels used to gen­er­ate aware­ness and shape per­cep­tion. This also reflects the impor­tance of an inte­grat­ed strat­e­gy that includes paid, owned and earned media to build and nur­ture rela­tion­ships with con­sumers in ear­ly stages of the deci­sion cycle.

Get more insights: Learn how Methodist Health System engages consumers through an integrated content strategy.


Content Marketing Tactics to Generate Leads

Q: What are the most effec­tive con­tent mar­ket­ing tac­tics used by your orga­ni­za­tion to gen­er­ate leads for high-val­ue services?


Q: What are the most effective content marketing tactics used by your organization to generate leads for high-value services?


What it means for health­care mar­keters: The top three chan­nels illus­trate the impor­tance of a con­tent strat­e­gy that com­pris­es both lead gen­er­a­tion and nur­tur­ing ini­tia­tives. The large major­i­ty of fol­low­ers on your social chan­nels (#1) and vis­i­tors to your web­site or con­tent hub (#3 and #5) are not ready to sched­ule an appoint­ment, which makes email (#2)—often fea­tur­ing video (#4)—critical to stay con­nect­ed and advance con­sumers toward a goal conversion.

For cam­paigns specif­i­cal­ly designed to gen­er­ate leads, gat­ing con­tent assets can be effec­tive way to fill the pipeline for pri­or­i­ty ser­vice lines.

Get more insights: Read our blog post on top lead generation content types at every stage of the healthcare consumer journey.


Content Marketing Tactics to Engage Physicians

Q: What are the most effec­tive con­tent mar­ket­ing tac­tics used by your orga­ni­za­tion to engage physicians?


Q: What are the most effective content marketing tactics used by your organization to engage physicians?


What it means for health­care mar­keters: Email is the pre­ferred means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion for physi­cians by a large mar­gin, and mar­keters are meet­ing this need by deliv­er­ing rel­e­vant, engag­ing infor­ma­tion to their inbox­es. For best results, pro­vide con­tent that enables effec­tive uti­liza­tion of tele­health and oth­er new advance­ments by arm­ing physi­cians with mes­sag­ing on pol­i­cy changes, fre­quent­ly asked ques­tions and oth­er resources they need to effec­tive­ly con­nect with patients.

Get more insights: Read our blog post on best practices for marketing to physicians.


Social Media Platforms Used to Promote/Distribute Content

Q: What social media plat­forms does your orga­ni­za­tion use to dis­trib­ute content?


Q: What social media platforms does your organization use to distribute content?

The trend: Face­book has been the #1 social plat­form used by health­care mar­keters since the sur­vey began in 2017. The oth­er plat­forms in the top five have trad­ed spots while com­mand­ing the major­i­ty of mar­ket­ing time and resources com­pared to oth­er social plat­forms like Pin­ter­est (16%) and more nascent chan­nels Tik­Tok (9%) and SnapChat (4%).


  • #1:Facebook = same as last year
  • #2: Insta­gram = up from #2 last year (tied with YouTube)
  • #3: LinkedIn = same as last year
  • #4: Twit­ter = down from #1 last year (tied with Facebook)
  • #5: YouTube = down from #2 last year (tied with Instagram)


What it means for health­care mar­keters: As we’re social dis­tanc­ing, social media is fill­ing the gaps for con­nect­ing with the peo­ple and brands we value—and Face­book is the #1 social plat­form con­sumers turn to for time­ly, acces­si­ble and action­able infor­ma­tion. Whether active­ly fol­lowed or shared by a friend or loved one, a hospital’s Face­book con­tent is often a first step in a health­care deci­sion cycle that could last weeks, months or even years depend­ing on the con­di­tion. Make this path as clear as pos­si­ble by post­ing organ­ic con­tent and tar­get­ed ads that align with each step on the journey.


Get more insights: Read our blog post on 7 ways you should be using social media in healthcare.


NOTE: This con­tent is updat­ed each year based on find­ings from our annu­al State of Health­care Con­tent Mar­ket­ing survey.

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