How (and why) to centralize your healthcare organization’s marketing operations

How (and why) to centralize your healthcare organization’s marketing operations



Over the last two decades, the healthcare industry has been in a state of rapid, acquisitions-fueled growth. This trend toward consolidation has been excellent for business, but it has resulted in highly decentralized and site-specific marketing operations. The impact is that many healthcare brands struggle to operate their marketing activities efficiently and as a result, the brand experience suffers.

Consider this scenario: A patient receives care at three different locations — a hospital, an outpatient clinic, and a specialist’s office — within the same healthcare system. Yet nothing about her individual experiences connects her to a single, unified brand. Over the course of her visits, she encounters three different office environments; three different billing systems; and three subtly different approaches to customer experience. With all that inconsistency, she may not realize she’s receiving all her care from the same hospital group. Our hypothetical healthcare system isn’t just leaving untapped brand loyalty on the table. By maintaining all of these brands, they are spending more time and energy on their marketing activities than they need to.

Today, many in the industry are pushing to correct these problems by centralizing their marketing operations at the corporate level. It’s a smart move—one that represents an opportunity to centralize and simplify processes and infrastructure, deliver a more cohesive customer experience, build brand equity, and increase cost and resource efficiency. Here’s how.

How to Seamlessly Centralize Your Healthcare Organization’s Marketing Operations

Centralizing your healthcare company’s marketing operations is no small task. But by taking the following steps, you can make the transition gracefully — and capture all the benefits of a centralized marketing function.

Map your current marketing operations infrastructure

The first step in centralizing your marketing operations is to get a handle on what’s happening right now across all of your different brands and marketing entities. To do this, you’ll need to:

  • Map roles and responsibilities.

    Who is involved in managing marketing activities at each of the individual sites within your healthcare system? Working location by location, document each person’s roles and responsibilities to get a holistic understanding of who is currently doing what. In addition, make note of any internal stakeholders and influencers. For example, the site CEO might be heavily involved in marketing at one regional hospital, whereas the physicians might have more sway at a nearby clinic.

  • Document each entity’s existing marketing activities.

    What does each of your local sites and facilities do to promote themselves, build awareness, and grow their patient base? Which channels, campaigns, and marketing activities do they engage in? For example, one entity might invest in community initiatives, while another might focus on promoting a handful of star practitioners.

  • Capture processes and workflows.

    In a decentralized marketing system, processes and workflows are bound to differ from location to location. For example, one system might use a number of advanced, automated processes, while another’s remains primarily manual. Look at how people are getting work done with an eye to identifying the most efficient and effective marketing technologies, systems, and processes that could be scaled to use across the system.

Put together a centralized marketing operations playbook

Now that you’ve done your due diligence to understand how marketing operations functions across your organization, what’s working and where there is opportunity for improvement, and how each entity differs in needs and approach – you are ready to create an operational playbook that captures how the centralized function needs to operate going forward.

Start by considering your marketing strategy for your overall healthcare system. Given your strategic goals and current resources, what should a centralized system ideally look like? How might it impact processes and workflows? How would roles and responsibilities need to shift to reflect these changes? When is the central marketing team held accountable and where do local marketing leads have autonomy?

From there, get very tactical and detailed about everything from which technology platforms should be used to communicate and share information, to which templates should be used for briefs and how system-wide initiatives get rolled out at the entity level.

As you craft your operational playbook, remember to strike a balance between system-wide corporate initiatives and entity-specific events and campaigns. Your local marketing teams should understand how and where they can tailor their marketing activities to meet their entity’s needs.

Focus on internal communication and change management

In order for your new marketing structure to work, you must get internal buy-in. Sometimes, that’s easier said than done. Organizations that move toward a more centralized marketing and brand model often encounter internal resistance along the way. It makes sense. Many employees are emotionally tied to the brands or sites they serve, and they don’t want to see them change. In addition, your internal teams may be anxious about what a new marketing structure means for them. They may resist having to learn new processes. And some may even be concerned that their job security is at stake.

To succeed, you’ll need to be patient and diligent in helping your staff understand the importance and relevance of moving towards a centralized marketing function. In doing so, be sure to frame it in terms of the ways your team will benefit. For example, centralizing your marketing operations will likely allow your team to:

  • Build economies of scale and identify cost-saving efficiencies

  • Leverage each other’s work in ways that make their jobs easier

  • Access new time-saving tools and templates

  • Create more innovative marketing campaigns and materials

  • Be a part of something bigger than just their local entity

Finally, tie your centralization plan to a larger purpose. Remind your team that making this shift will allow them to serve your patients better by offering a more cohesive and efficient experience.

Make a plan to guard your centralized marketing operations for the long haul

Shifting to a centralized marketing model is a major undertaking. The last thing you want is for it to slowly fall apart as your organization grows and evolves. This is especially important if you rely on inorganic growth and plan to acquire more entities moving forward.

Of course, you’ll want to clearly document all your new systems and processes. But don’t stop there. Guard your investment by crafting an M&A playbook. This document should clearly define how you will integrate a new acquisition into your existing system. This should include everything from how you evaluate an acquisition’s marketing function to a detailed integration plan. Do that, and you’ll “bulletproof” your marketing function for years to come.

The time to centralize your healthcare organization’s marketing activities is now. The benefits are clear. And with the right plan, you can carefully transition your marketing operations without a hitch.

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