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Applying the 4 Stages of Consumer Marketing Behaviors in Health Care (with Examples)

Healthcare consumers are bombarded with messaging and content on a daily basis. Here's how to stand out with information that can both educate your communities and influence their behavior.

A hallmark of effective healthcare marketing has always been meeting your audience where they are and tailoring your message to consumer behaviors. Reaching your communities with the right message, in the right channel, and at the right time is even more critical in 2021, as the pandemic has significantly impacted brand loyalty.

These recent studies reflect the fact that consumers are more open to switching healthcare brands:

  • Nearly half (45%) of consumers report that they have already changed their healthcare brand preference, and 62% expect their brand preferences to change once the pandemic has ended. (NRC Health, 2021 Healthcare Consumer Trends Report)
  • 64% of patients are likely to switch providers if they do not meet expectations handling COVID-19. (Accenture, Elevating the Patient Experience to Fuel Growth)

The NRC study also found more than one-third of consumers express no particular brand preference when it comes to healthcare providers. When asked why, nearly 1 in 4 said they simply do not know enough about local health systems to make an informed choice.

For healthcare marketers, this presents a tremendous opportunity to guide consumers while gaining market share. For example, helping families who are scrambling to find information, location and services during a medical emergency through search engine optimization can establish a life-long patient relationship.

To lay the foundation for a consistent presence in the lives of potential patients, it's critical to align your marketing strategy with the four stages of consumer behavior—awareness, active evaluation, decision-making, and post-purchase.

These stages comprise the typical patient experience. Understanding and engaging consumers at each stage builds trust and drives exponential returns on your marketing dollars.

With our deep experience in health care consumer trends and marketing, here are recommendations for moving your audience from awareness to action.

Stage 1: Awareness

While consumers at this stage are not actively looking for your services (yet), establishing even the most basic familiarity with a potential patient is a competitive advantage when she takes the first steps on her healthcare journey.

This is the point where broad, universally appealing content can capture an audience’s attention, establishing familiarity and building trust with your brand and service lines.

This top-of-the-funnel content is best delivered through a blog or content hub, social media or a targeted community publication or direct mail postcard that reaches the widest-possible audience of potential patients.

Stage 2: Active Evaluation

When someone determines they may need to visit a healthcare provider, they transition from the awareness stage to active evaluation.

In this stage, potential patients typically begin researching options. Out of all consumer marketing behaviors in healthcare, this one involves meeting a potential consumer directly at their interest level during the decision cycle.

To reach this consumer, focus on content that guides her on the path to better health. Whether on a blog post or landing page, make sure to include specific calls to action that help her move on to the appropriate next stage in the process. 

Stage 3: Decision-making

People at this stage have not only researched you, but also have expressed interest in your services. This is a crucial turning point in the process and a real test in marketing your healthcare services.

The key for this segment is to meet them at the Zero Moment of Truth. Deliver relevant ads or search-optimized content that offers the information they need and an opportunity to connect—or at minimum, enrolls them in email or direct mail nurturing campaigns for ongoing communication.

This allows you to send personalized content that ensures your brand is top of mind when they're ready to act.

Stage 4: Post-purchase

The relationship doesn't end with the patient encounter (live or virtual). Email can be an excellent tool for keeping this segment engaged and well informed on the healthcare journey.

Creating custom content that focuses on the patient’s areas of interest can ensure that they keep your facility in mind, not only for themselves, but for referrals as well.


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