Healthcare system marketers, beware and rejoice! Takeaways from SHSMD Connections 2022

Healthcare system marketers, beware and rejoice! Takeaways from SHSMD Connections 2022


Katie Gordon

Healthcare system marketers have a lot on their plates as they take the next step in strategic transformation: moving purposely from a patient-centric mindset to a customer-centric one. The challenges and benefits of making this change underpinned a few of our favorite sessions and keynotes at the SHSMD Connections Annual Conference in mid-September.

Here are a few of our highlights:

The joy and enhanced quality of in-person events

We’re giving this year’s SHSMD Annual Conference two thumbs up! Why? The pure quality of the event. Philip Guiliano, Partner at BrandActive, has been attending this conference for over a decade and said that he’s never heard attendees speak so highly of the session content as they did this year. As they grapple with industry disruption and change, healthcare marketers are eager to learn and they found the material to be exceptional.

We were also struck by how pleased people were to simply talk to other professionals, and we were pleased, too. SHSMD was our first in-person conference since 2020 and it was great to be back after two years of virtual conferences and webinars (including a joint SHSMD/BrandActive webinar last fall, “The New Wave of Healthcare of Technology & What it Means for your Brand,” summarized here). Conference attendees seemed more open than ever to conversing with healthcare system marketers from organizations of all sizes and with vendors of every ilk. These connections within the community felt especially warm and genuine this year.

Resources are in short supply for healthcare marketers. Here’s how to get what you need.

There’s no shortage of challenges facing healthcare marketers. The industry is facing both financial and operational stressors, and on top of this, marketers are expected to address newer initiatives and issues. These include necessary digital offerings such as telemedicine, consumer expectations for more sustainable operations – and transparent communication about them – and exploring new technology.

In the session, “By the Numbers: Marcom Where Is the Money Going?” Alan Shoebridge, Associate Vice President for National Communication, Providence, and John McKeever, Chief Growth Officer, Endeavor Management, pinpointed the issues and provided valuable advice for healthcare marketers on what they need to be ready for. Here is a sampling:

Fight for the resources you need.

Healthcare spending trends are not in the average marketer’s favor. SHSMD and Endeavor’s annual benchmark study examining healthcare marketing spending and practices shows that marketing budgets are down from .9% to .7% of the average healthcare system’s revenue. In light of this decline, John and Alan urge marketers to “treat the purse string holders” at your organization “as just another audience.” Alan said, “Marketers are bad at advocating for themselves but really good at being reactive,” but it’s time to break that cycle. Align marketing’s needs directly with key business goals, demonstrate the effectiveness of your initiatives, and when useful, share comparable data about other healthcare systems from the benchmarking study to make a case for what you need.

Do more with less.

With digital taking up increasing amounts of marketing budgets and good people hard to find and hire, it’s getting more difficult to keep marketing and brand initiatives humming along. Efficiency is becoming paramount. Start by looking at your processes (You’ll find expert tips from BrandActive about this here, “3 ways to optimize healthcare marketing and brand operations as industry pressures intensify”).  Then pair your efficiency strategy with smart spending decisions and you’ll be able to hit your goals even in these tight times.

Treating healthcare consumers like consumers

John and Alan touched on the need to make more personal connections through effective marketing. Jennifer Bollinger, SVP and Chief Consumer Officer, Oschner Health, and Sondra Brown, President & Founder, MDRG expanded on these themes in the session, “Forget about the Metaverse…Patient Experience IRL.”  They provided substantial guidance on how a healthcare organization can transition to consumer-centricity.

Marketers need to champion the actual customer journey.

With everyone buzzing about the promise of the metaverse, Jennifer and Sondra made it very clear that healthcare systems aren’t ready to capitalize on it yet. “Healthcare can’t think about the experience of the future until they’ve mastered the experience of the present.” And today, healthcare systems aren’t even close to supplying the seamless experiences consumers have come to expect from companies like Amazon, the master of convenience, or Walgreens, which has a well-loved loyalty program.

There are no shortcuts.

Don’t underestimate the level of work it takes to discover the necessary deep insights for driving a better customer journey. Namely, what factors make the experience challenging for consumers? For healthcare systems, that means examining customer experience through these phases: awareness, scheduling, registration, care, insurance billing, patient billing, and retention. Only then can you begin to figure out how to reduce the friction.

A key input into improving consumer experience at Ochsner Health, for example, is tapping the VOC – the voice of the customer. To get the design and evaluation right, Oschner has instituted 35+ agile research studies, 5+ usability testing road maps, and 15+ Advisory Boards for validation in a bid to ensure that the experience will meet consumer needs and expectations.

“Phygital” – Bringing together the real world and the digital.

Marketers are using the term “phygital” to describe incorporating physical and digital processes into one smooth experience. At Oschner Health, they’ve mapped out their physical and digital touchpoints and how they work together across the entire customer journey. Today, Oschner customers increasingly depend on “My Oschner,” an advanced platform that offers support for activities such as bi-directional texting with caregivers, facility wayfinding, proxy management, clinical trials, and much more.

That’s a wrap!

All in all, attending SHSMD Annual Connections Conference was a deeply valuable experience. We learned about new trends in healthcare marketing courtesy of excellent sessions and speakers, and we made meaningful connections with other attendees, some who we haven’t seen in over two years and others who we met for the first time. Even though SHSMD 2022 just ended, we’re already looking forward to SHSMD’s conference in 2023!

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