The state of healthcare marketing, from cupcakes to storytelling and digital engagement

The state of healthcare marketing, from cupcakes to storytelling and digital engagement



When I arrived in Seattle for this year’s Society for Healthcare Strategy & Marketing Development conference (SHSMD), I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Of course, I had done my homework. I caught up on my trade press reading and highlighted key sessions to attend. I also researched new work done by healthcare-specific marketing agencies for their clients. And my vision of the conference began to take shape.

But my perceptions changed as soon as Johnny Cupcakes, the infamous t-shirt designer, took the stage. For those who have never heard of Johnny Cupcakes, he created a unique retail experience. You head into what appears to be a cupcake store in Boston, and it’s actually a retail space selling limited edition t-shirts. He goes so far as to make his retail shop smell like actual frosting. Talk about commitment! Far from a bait-and-switch tactic, it’s the foundation of an offline and online experience that people just can’t get enough of.

This was just the beginning of the terrific speakers SHSMD had lined up to inspire us to understand what’s possible in healthcare customer experience.

Health happens everywhere

The next speaker, Indu Subaiya, talked to us about how experimentation fuels growth. The emphasis should be on experiences that build a brand story that is interesting and different. She went on to discuss how health happens everywhere and that technology is driving that trend. Of the over 1,100 healthcare mergers totaling over $20 billion this year, the two biggest deals, Roche/Flatiron and Amazon/PillPack, bring together non-traditional players.

While the healthcare industry is growing by leaps and bounds, healthcare systems are still not delivering everything they could to consumers. It was cited in many of the sessions that too often healthcare brands don’t know enough about their consumers and find it hard to stay on top of the ongoing change characterizing healthcare today. For example, today many healthcare brands are trying to figure out how they take their solutions outside the hospital walls. Tele-medicine and health are going to continue to grow and become massive markets. Indu shared her Health 2.0 framework, which is a blueprint for healthcare systems that emphasizes aiding customers to make intelligent decisions. This framework extends into some really interesting advances and new apps that extend well beyond today’s run-of-the-mill WebMD searches.

The fact is, data is the new currency of the world and technology fuels the new economy. As hospital systems begin to use their consumer data to build better interfaces and scalable solutions, fundamental change in healthcare customer experience will follow.

Content needs to be seen and heard

We also heard from a vice president at The Arnold Palmer Orlando Healthcare System, Michael Schmidt, who spoke about the Thank You Project in the context of being able to envision, produce—and importantly, distribute—compelling content. Successful content distribution plans include earned, owned and social media, and can be directly tied to directly tied to bottom-line goals.

Michael relayed how a mom whose little girl who survived a car wreck ten years after receiving lifesaving treatment had reached out to his hospital. The mom wanted to say thank you and share her child’s growth and success story with those people who had healed her 10 years ago. They captured and shared the emotional story of the impact the doctors, nurses and surgeons had on this little girl, a decade later. It became a feature story broadcast during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV. (Not bad!) This story has been reused across communication channels and shows how best-in-class healthcare brands are extending their messaging outside the walls of the hospital and into mainstream media.

What Amazon and Google taught us about improving digital engagement

We heard about effective strategies for improving and re-launching a healthcare website. Amber Welsh of Ochsner Health said that her hospital system sought to build a new healthcare website that would deliver on three core objectives:

  1. Simplify search
  2. Personalize the site for the user
  3. Lead with mobile

These may sound like no-brainers, but it is shocking how many healthcare systems websites start with too many objectives and initiatives. Ochsner focused on these magic three and that ensured their success. Too often a site may be beautiful on desktop, but clumsy to navigate on a smartphone. Again, it’s about putting the consumer experience first.

So, you want to be a CEO?
In a subsequent session at SHSMD 2018, three different senior healthcare marketers and a moderator addressed career development for those trying to one day attain a senior leadership position. These panels said the best path to promotion is to “seek responsibility over title.” The main takeaways:

  1. Look for ways to serve society rather than focus on your own career advancement
  2. Examine ways to make an impact in your organization and your community
  3. Listening and teambuilding are the crucial soft skills needed for success
  4. Look for team members to whom you can “say it and forget” or “email and forget it” because you know it’s going to be done, and in quality way
  5. Prioritize responsibility over title

The first two points are simple enough to understand. The next three points are a little more complex. Learning how to listen and building teams are vital to creating a high-functioning workplace. And combining those skills with the drive to go from a failure directly another project without losing any drive or enthusiasm is a powerful driver of organizational victories.

Hiring team members to whom you can “say it and forget it” knowing the work will get done expands the capacity of an organization. When you don’t need to follow up with them or worry they may not be able to handle the task gives you the luxury of laser focus on your own day-to-day responsibilities.

Overall, the conference was tremendously helpful. I came away impressed by the depth of knowledge shared by industry thought leaders and how advanced healthcare marketing is becoming. Can’t wait for 2019!

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