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True North Custom

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Best Practices for Physician Marketing that Drives Engagement and Referrals

Whether your goals involve recruiting, generating referrals or strengthening clinical relationships, follow these best practices for physician marketing.

Marketing to doctors is fraught with challenges, as physicians are among the most time-constrained audiences and typically surrounded by gatekeepers protecting them from sales-related outreach.

However, there are tremendous opportunities for marketers who understand how to navigate the healthcare environment, help physicians improve patient care and advance their practice.

Content marketing addresses both of these dynamics, as it's designed to deliver useful information in a non-intrusive format. That's why content is emerging as one of the most utilized forms of physician marketing for hospitals and health systems.

Based on our experience in partnering with healthcare organizations to develop physician marketing strategies, here are best practices for engaging employed and referring providers around outcomes and innovation, continuing education opportunities, clinical trials and other critical topics of interest.

Engage physicians at each stage of the decision cycle

Like the patient journey, healthcare providers follow a defined pathway to referral relationships that begins with awareness and leads to interaction and ultimately action.

Here are recommendations for meeting physicians where they are in this decision cycle:

Awareness stage — Drive brand awareness at the top of the funnel around your organization's clinical excellence, outcomes and innovation, research and culture. This can be achieved through high quality content that is promoted through native advertising and social platforms like Doximity. Content will ideally feature provider expertise and share stories in a variety of formats including blogs, video interviews, podcasts and more.

Engagement stage — Move providers from awareness to engagement by providing more robust content resources like whitepapers and guides, webinars, 1:1 conversations and more targeted to their unique needs based on specialty. At this stage, content can be promoted through organic search, targeted digital ads and retargeting, high impact direct mail, Doximity, and email engagement with opted-in providers.

Action stage — Create a frictionless path for providers through clear, yet detailed, direction on how to make a referral and digital strategies for making the process easy. Focus on capturing high-intent volumes through paid search when appropriate, and use clear CTAs throughout middle-funnel content and content hub resources.

Email is the preferred means of ongoing communication

According to the HealthLink Dimensions’ 2020 HCP Communications Survey of physicians across multiple practice areas, email is the preferred channel by a large margin (see chart).

When compared to professional conferences, in-person visits, direct mail and other channels, email is the primary communication method for receiving industry news, product updates, announcements or research, and educational opportunities. The least preferred channels for receiving this information are SMS/text messages/phone (2%) and social media/fax (1%).

Pro Tip: When engaging physicians (or any audience) via email, it's important to measure the performance of each deployment and identify elements that can be optimized. We recommend A/B testing subject lines for the impact on open rate and article topics and calls to action for the impact on click rate. To illustrate the advantages of testing, True North Custom was able to help a children's hospital achieve an email open rate that blew industry averages out of the water by leveraging this data-driven approach.

Content should be educational

According to the HealthLink Dimensions survey, “medical professionals prefer marketers to act as information partners.” This includes content about innovative techniques and technology, continuing medical education opportunities, and other topics that offer value and help them effectively manage and grow their practices and medical careers.

Pro Tip: Physicians trust credible news sources (think JAMA, The New York Times), so find ways to align your content with timely, relevant topics featured within those information sources where they're already consuming content (aka newsjacking).

Content must be mobile-friendly

When thinking about best marketing strategies for physicians that really work related to content, it's simple: Physicians are constantly on their smartphones—with more than 75% reporting the use of mobile health in their practices on a weekly basis. Consider strategies that apply across all facility sizes, from a small medical practice to a large hospital system and even a medical clinic marketing plan.

Pro Tip: Consider using video as one of the most engaging and mobile-friendly formats, and feature peers rather than patients as physicians prefer a more clinical perspective when reading about new treatments and technology.

Speak their language

When healthcare marketing to doctors, it is critically important to understand their clinical or academic focus and target them using the terminology that matches their specific discipline. "Context is king," according to MediaPost.

Pro Tip: When working to engage physicians, segment the audience by specific practice areas like electrophysiology or interventional cardiology and plan content accordingly.

Always think, “What’s in it for them?”

Make sure your outreach includes a compelling offer or call to action, which could include downloading a free white paper, signing up for a relevant e-newsletter or another incentive that aligns with their professional interests.

Pro Tip: Subscribing to your physician-focused newsletter is an excellent call to action, as it allows doctors to stay current on relevant medical topics while keeping your organization top of mind to drive referral and reputation development. For example, a nationally ranked children's hospital leveraged targeted physician emails to increase reputation scores that helped boost U.S. News & World Report rankings.


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