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For healthcare marketers seeking ideas and inspiration in this new consumer-driven world, Novant Health is a great place to start.

Since joining the health system in 2013, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Communications Officer David Duvall has led the transformation of the Novant Health marketing and communications function into a proactive and strategic growth and revenue driver for its 15 hospitals and over 400 clinics across four states.

David Duvall

Prior to joining Novant Health, Duvall served in executive leadership roles at WPP and Publicis, two of the world’s largest agency networks. He brought the best practices and data-driven marketing experience to the system, where he immediately got to work supporting an ambitious vision for the future and retooling the marketing and communications function to facilitate system-wide growth.

Q: In 2013, you helped launch the new Novant Health brand—quite a feat considering the system had previously encompassed 350 separate brands. What were some of your keys to success as well as lessons learned throughout that process?

Duvall: First, it was a huge team effort. There was a fair amount of skepticism. At the same time, you have to remember that not a lot has changed in medicine for 40 years, so many people—and physicians in particular—were holding on to old assumptions about the role of marketing. One of the keys to our success involved using real examples of iconic brands that capture the hearts and minds of consumers in an authentic way. For example, we inspired physicians and other stakeholders by saying, “Look, when you walk into a Starbucks anywhere in the world, the master brand is Starbucks and there’s a reason for that. They have thousands of locations all over the world yet there is a consistent image and customer experience that creates affinity for the brand.” You have to break it down into simple, smaller, believable bits for your teams.

Another lesson learned: It’s about change management. Think about the number of people you want to change, take the square root, and that’s roughly how many advocates you need to get on board and foster change. One key is to identify early adopters and get in a room with them for in-depth and candid discussions about the brand and its meaning. Beliefs drive behavior, so you must quickly understand their frame of reference and beliefs. 

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Now, the people who were the most skeptical are among our strongest brand ambassadors. I’ll give you an example of how creating an advocate works: When I came to Novant Health as a new leader talking about consumer marketing, people were skeptical saying medicine is different. I’ll never forget a 6 am meeting that included a room full of physicians, all sitting there with arms crossed. Before I could even introduce myself, an influential surgeon slapped his hand on the table and said, “You all have to listen to this guy. We’re facing an existential threat. We need to be doing the type of sophisticated consumer marketing that Walgreens is doing, and that’s what David is bringing to this organization.” He even told a story about a daughter's friend being targeted by retailers with coupons based on her purchasing habits. That kind of advocacy is powerful. 

You also have to take a really intentional approach with whatever change you’re leading. Get skepticism out on the table and create a forum for honest dialogue. Once we created a tipping point, the organization started to appreciate the new possibilities.

Q: You went against the grain in that while most organizations are working to “do more with less,” you focused on doing less by honing in on the higher-order activities with greater measurable impact. How did that process work and how did you get buy in from leadership?

 Duvall: We were very intentional to check in and let people know where we were in the journey. This was accomplished through quarterly Marketing Transformation meetings with our top 1,000 managers through a series of webinars and email communications. Of course, not everyone could participate in the webinars but around 25% would attend and at least some would hear what we’re doing, like redirecting over 1,500 tactics that were catalogued as part of our reorganization. We were careful to send the message that, “We don’t want you to hear ‘no’ from marketing, we want you to hear that we’re also creating a best-in-breed, self-service brand hub with more than 70 templates that will allow everyone to work more efficiently.”

Another key to our success: We started identifying common priorities among our markets and working with our strategic planning partners to develop and share best practices. For example, we conduct business reviews with each market and service line and then identify 3-5 growth opportunities. We then study the business cases that are being made and determine how marketing and communications can make the best impact.

It’s also critical to enlist your executive team. Early on, we sat down with our CEO, chief consumer officer, and other members of the leadership team and said, “Here are the new rules of the road we’re proposing. This day will be the day that we told the organization that we’re doing marketing in a different way, and we need to memorialize this moment.”

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It wasn’t negative but we had some strong language built in around what people could do and couldn’t do and how it was going to look and feel different — and most importantly, it was all designed to protect the brand and grow revenue by bringing people into our clinics and hospitals. It was put in a very positive context.

While these initiatives have to be bottoms up you have to have support from the CEO. Anything you’re trying to do that the CEO isn’t aware of or in full support of...good luck. You need that public support from your leadership team. The bottom line is: I’m doing what I was brought in to do and a new level of expertise is being ushered in — but, we can’t do it alone. You have to have the confidence to talk straight and with a consistent message.

Q: You’ve talked about the extensive consumer segmentation study conducted to tailor the marketing team’s focus and learn more about the communities served by Novant Health. Were there any “Eureka” moments during the process?

Duvall: One key realization was that no matter where patients are on their wellness journey, they have a higher level of vulnerability than we ever appreciated — even if just for a wellness visit. Our novel psychographic research revealed this!

Going to the doctor is not something that people inherently want to do, meaning we have to go even farther than we ever imagined to engage in a compassionate way with a vulnerable population. Realizing the level of anxiety patients experience would be one of the biggest “aha moments,” and we’re doing a lot of consumer-centric work around that insight that is used to educate physicians and enhance the patient experience.

Along with insights borne from the research, what really stood out was how much that research and analysis fostered confidence in what we were doing since it was backed by new data.

Q: How did you measure success of these initiatives?

Duvall: We didn’t have real strong measurement capabilities at first, and I knew we would need to quickly build those tools. For others in a similar situation, don’t look to do it all overnight. Look for quick wins. Test and learn with a particular campaign. For example, we just completed a New Neighbors/Movers campaign that was one of the first to run through our CRM platform and we’re able to show real consumers (by IP address) who responded, made appointments, and the associated net revenue.

Show your stakeholders concrete examples of what you are able to measure now and how it’s impacting one small area of the organization. We went on to build attribution (hospital cases and clinic encounters) models, and it took a long time, but now the data are rather widely accepted and appreciated.

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