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Marketing Front-Line Health Services

Creating Horizontally Integrated Campaigns to Gain Competitive Advantage

The Era of the Healthcare Consumer is Here

2020 was the tipping point for healthcare marketers.

Organizations not yet embracing a consumer-centric strategy were forced to do so virtually overnight as services like telemedicine and chatbots went from novel to normal. The urgency, time and resources invested in these and other digital systems reflect a paradigm shift from demand-side (provider) to supply-side (patient) strategies that are wholly designed around the consumer’s access, preferences, convenience and COVID-19 prevention.

The archetype of this shift is the rapid adoption of virtual care across systems of all sizes and types, as illustrated by these examples:

These scenarios would have been unimaginable a year ago, and experts predict there’s no turning back from a consumer-focused, digitally enabled patient experience.

The challenge for healthcare business leaders and marketers is balancing this shift with driving high-value revenue that is necessary to fuel an economic recovery.

Moving From Channel Myopia To Integrated Marketing

For healthcare marketers, this shift raises significant questions about how to engage consumers in the COVID-19 era. With limited resources and accountability for driving revenue, patient acquisition is paramount. Now, more than ever, the investments marketers make need to add value. However, there’s a vestige of pre-COVID-19, supply-side tactics gaining traction in the wake of the pandemic: marketing front-line services as discrete delivery channels.

Accelerated disruption makes it tempting for healthcare marketers to focus the majority of marketing content and campaigns on the most immediate and obvious challenges: COVID-19 vaccine communications, promoting telemedicine, building joint replacement volumes and other siloed campaign efforts. However, the patient journey is typically not a linear path, and for front line services like emergency room, urgent care, telemedicine and primary care, the average consumer often doesn’t understand when and why to choose one over the other.

Consumers choose between these access points for different needs and in different moments. They look for options in different ways. Rather than spotlight the delivery channel, what we know about the consumer journey should drive how health systems structure their marketing plans.

Like counterparts in other industries, the modern healthcare marketer’s charge is customer acquisition—an outcome best achieved by positioning the brand as a trusted guide throughout the decision cycle. Healthcare market leaders understand how to connect consumers to the care they need, when they need it, and with as little friction as possible.

Why it Pays to Think Like a Patient

While The Consumer-Centric Mindset Is A Competitive Advantage, It Can Be Challenging To Implement Without Being Intentional About The Plan And Building The Case For Leadership.

Here are guideposts for generating awareness and affinity for your brand and, by extension, driving volume to the most appropriate channel for care.

Address The Question, Then Promote The Delivery Channel 

The first question in a consumer’s mind when choosing where to receive care isn’t “Who has the best telehealth solution?” or similar queries.

Rather, their decision is typically driven first by an immediate need for a child with an ear infection, the onset of COVID-19 symptoms, a teenager struggling with depression, severe springtime allergies and other “top of funnel” health concerns.

From there, consumers are driven by trust in the provider who has most effectively demonstrated their expertise in that area and provided a seamless path to help.

A frictionless journey and clear direction around where and how to access care will be increasingly critical as new entrants—with a more digital-first business model—alter primary care and other traditional delivery systems.

At the core of addressing questions and problems that keep your audiences up at night is delivering clear and thoughtful content that answers questions, instills trust in your brand, portrays compassion and drives action. For conditions requiring immediate care like COVID-19 symptoms and adolescent depression, website content can address concerns and offer the appropriate connection points. For topics that are more perennial like ear infections and springtime allergies, your blog strategy will likely be the source of that content.

Ensure Paid Media Strategies Aren’t An Afterthought

While content is king, paid media strategies are equally royal. This is particularly true in markets rich with competition and for your most valuable services lines. Building your brand through social media and display campaigns, and capturing demand via paid search is critical to staying ahead in an era of rapid digital evolution and relatively low consumer loyalty.

Notably, healthcare marketers are challenged with which access point to promote for various searches. It’s easy when we consider searches like “urgent care near me,” but what about searches for “COVID-19 testing near me”? For these and other condition-specific queries, driving to a website page or blog that clearly outlines the symptoms and appropriate next steps for the consumer is critical, rather than driving consumers to a page promoting solely the access point like you would for the “urgent care near me” search. This can be a tricky strategy to sort through, but it is exactly why content strategy and paid media strategy need to be well integrated to create successful outcomes and to maximize your marketing efficiency.

When you consider your push marketing strategies—connecting with passive audiences through social media, email marketing and display—the key is delivering highly relevant and actionable content that builds brand authority and encourages a consumer to consider their potential healthcare needs. A blog strategy that’s driven by both search trends and organizational priorities is critical to finding success in this space, and approaching it with an agile and nimble mindset is key in this fluid environment.

Be Flexible To Evolve With Consumer Needs

Another advantage of a patient-first approach to marketing is the sustained relevance of your message. Consider the success of brands like Amazon that prioritize the consumer’s trust and long-term value over promoting the channels where individual transactions take place. By focusing on the patient and her needs, you’ll be well-positioned for long-term success rather than having to reinvent the wheel with every new delivery channel (or emerging crisis).

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