How Marketing can help healthcare systems regain their financial footing

How Marketing can help healthcare systems regain their financial footing



How can healthcare marketers help their organizations regain their financial footing following the first stage of the pandemic and beyond?

A series of insights and novel approaches to this question emerged during a recent hour-long webinar featuring Suzanne Sawyer, SVP and CMO of Johns Hopkins Medicine; David Perry, Senior Advisor, Stanford Health Care; and Jean Hitchcock, President of Hitchcock Communications and former head of Marketing and Corporate affairs at MedStar Health. Philip Guiliano, my colleague at BrandActive, led this session fielded in partnership with The Forum for Healthcare Strategists.

This panel of marketing executives discussed how COVID has resulted in a new mindset and the emergence of new capabilities among marketers at healthcare systems, including:

  • The rise of innovation and agility
  • Opportunities stemming from the surge in positive sentiment towards healthcare systems
  • Ways for healthcare marketing teams to find the money to continue to move their systems forward despite tight financial resources

Here are some of the top takeaways.

Innovation and agility in action: The inside scoop on John Hopkins Coronavirus Map

Suzanne of John Hopkins shared the story of how the famous Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Map came to be. On a weekend early in the crisis, the President of Johns Hopkins University suggested launching a website to bring together the coronavirus tracking map produced by the engineering area with additional content produced by several other areas of Johns Hopkins. By that Tuesday, it went live, immediately becoming the go-to COVID resource for the public, healthcare professionals, and news media around the world.

It’s already apparent that benefits of being agile enough to provide exactly the kind of information people wanted to see, right when they needed to see it, benefited not just the public, but the Johns Hopkins brand. According to Suzanne: “And I would say that as a result, I think the Hopkins brand has never been stronger. We’ve also just recently received some new market research that shows that Hopkins is now showing as America’s number one top research university. And so the Johns Hopkins medicine brand itself, meaning the hospitals and health system, is seeing significant reputation growth and momentum.”

Communicating with local publics: What’s new, and what’s old is new again

According the webinar panelists, the pressure was enormous to reach patients who either were scheduled for treatment or might need emergency services during the initial COVID spike. Many healthcare systems in part turned to “old school” communication channels for this effort. Practitioners were asked to call their patients directly, often using the scripts provided by marketing and contact information from CRM/portal systems. Marketers were tasked with interfacing with physician liaisons to make sure the messages their organization were planning to send landed with their system’s physicians and made it into their communications with patients.

Communication is also the key to helping patients to feel comfortable entering the healthcare system again. A number of healthcare systems have turned to direct mail outreach and/or ramped up their use of video. Many institutions, including Stanford Heath Care, are reaching out to referring physicians via phone and other channels to equip them with information about the specifics of reopening so they can spread the work to their primary care patients. The goal is for referring physicians to be able to say to their patients, “Yes, Stanford has contacted me, and I feel very confident that you can go back.” According to David Perry, marketing efforts like these are producing results. Nationally, hospital revenues are beginning to rebound from their April lows.

The unprecedented need to achieve more but spend less- how to unlock the resources needed to fund marketing investments

Given the pressing need to communicate with patients, staff, and influencers to bring patients back to healthcare systems, Marketing is taking on an even more important role in driving results.  This increase in the strategic importance of marketing within the organization is an observation shared by webinar attendees and panelists alike. And it’s reflected in the attendee poll below.  (Note:160 people attended the live webinar).

Despite the critical role that Marketing is now playing,  budgets  are extraordinarily tight. So marketers urgently need to find the money for essential investments that position the organization for long-term growth and/or the realization of operating efficiencies,  while continuing to address the critical task of getting patients coming back through the door.

While there is funding available through operating budgets and some other traditional channels,  these sources are unlikely to be enough to enable Marketing executives to  fulfill the demands their departments are facing from across the organization. Marketers know they’re going to have to be able to do more with less. 30% of those polled listed the ability to operate more efficiently as the most important thing for  marketing departments to focus on the post-COVID.

Most marketers are well aware that they could be operating more efficiently and cost effectively. The challenge lies in assessing and quantifying the current state and assessing and modelling what the future state should be that would maximize the ROI of an organizations’ brand and marketing operations (something BrandActive refers to as BMO)

BrandActive helps healthcare marketers optimize their organization’s BMO. We evaluate the entire model, from agency and vendor strategies and management, through to the process and technologies employed. We provide a quantified assessment of opportunities to improve, together with a road map and if needed, the resources required to make the change happen. The outcome of our work is a simplified, agile and efficient operating model, that is built to achieve better outcomes while expending fewer resources. The result is a BMO that maximizes ROI and allocates resources and spend to activities that are of the greatest value to the organization.

To hear the full discussion, listen to the webinar here. To learn more about optimizing brand and marketing operations, email me at

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