The annual State of Healthcare Content Marketing study illuminates the role that content plays in driving engagement and volume for hospitals, health systems and other healthcare organizations.
The 2020 State of Healthcare Content Marketing report was generated by a survey of 200+ healthcare executives who manage the marketing and communications functions for more than 350 hospitals nationwide, along with ancillary medical clinics, specialty care centers and other affiliates. Respondents guide content strategy for many of the nation’s leading healthcare brands, including HCA, Cleveland Clinic and more.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and heightened importance of diversity, equity and inclusion, survey questions were expanded to reflect the impact of those issues on healthcare content marketing strategies.
On behalf of True North and our partners at the Forum for Healthcare Strategists, we hope these insights, trends and takeaways will serve to inspire, inform and optimize your content strategy.
The Use of Content Marketing
Q: Does your organization use content marketing?
The trend: The nearly 90% of healthcare marketers currently using content represents a 13% increase over 2019 and a 20% increase since the first State of Healthcare Content Marketing survey was conducted in 2017.
What it means for healthcare marketers: With 97% of respondents using content or planning to leverage content to engage consumers and drive growth, differentiating your approach is more critical than ever. This requires marketers to design all aspects of content strategy—from planning and content creation to distribution, measurement and optimization—around the target audience.
The Shift in Content Strategy
Q: How is your content strategy shifting in light of COVID-19?
What it means for healthcare marketers: Consumers expect immediate, accurate and actionable answers to their healthcare questions, and marketers are responding with educational content that aligns with these needs. By engaging consumers early in the healthcare journey, marketers can guide them on the path to better health and achieve preference and long-term affinity for their brands.
Content Marketing Budgets
Q: How has your content marketing budget shifted due to the impact of COVID-19?
Q: How do you expect your organization’s budget allocation for content marketing to change in your next budget cycle?
The trend: Typical of a downturn, most organizations follow the bell curve that has the majority maintaining status quo (59% did not change their content budgets) while others look to conserve costs (21% decreased their content budget) or capitalize on the opportunity to gain share while competitors scale back (9% increased their content budget).
Looking ahead, more than 8 in 10 (84%) expect their content marketing spend to increase or stay the same. Last year, 99% of marketers surveyed expected their content marketing budgets to increase or stay the same.
What it means for healthcare marketers: The financial impact of COVID-19 is being felt across all departments, as U.S. hospitals lost an estimated $200 billion in revenue between March and June 30 according to the American Hospital Association. This means marketing investments are being scrutinized even more than usual, and those proven to drive engagement and revenue growth—like content marketing—will continue to receive funding. The key is building a business case based on data illustrating the opportunity (e.g. potential audience based on search/ website traffic) and/or current value to the organization (e.g. impact on patient volume).
Promoting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Q: On a scale of 1 (not important) to 5 (very important), how important has content that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion been in your organization’s content strategies?
Average rating: 3.7
Q: Using the same scale, how important will content that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion be for your organization’s content strategy moving forward?
Average rating: 4.0
What it means for healthcare marketers: Hospitals are often among the largest employers in the area, and their impact often has a halo effect on virtually every household in the community. This reach often comes with a responsibility to address key issues like diversity and inclusion. Many healthcare organizations are embracing the role to guide their communities and advocate for all their constituents. The key is making sure your tone and message match your brand values and organizational culture.
Content Marketing Goals
Q: Select the top content marketing goals for your organization:
The trend: The year-over-year trend in healthcare content marketing goals reflects the importance of building a strong brand while ramping up efforts to generate, engage and convert leads:
- #1: Consumer Engagement = up from #2 last year
- #2: Brand Awareness = down from #1 last year
- #3: Lead Generation = same rank as last year
- #4: Patient Loyalty = same rank as last year
- #5: Physician Engagement = unranked last year
What it means for healthcare marketers: While consumer engagement and brand building remains key drivers behind content marketing initiatives again this year, healthcare organizations increasingly leverage content to drive patient volume and revenue growth with half citing lead generation as the primary goal. And while healthcare consumers are more empowered than ever, the importance of engaging physicians to drive referrals and reputation is reinforced by the survey data.
Content Marketing Effectiveness
Q: Overall, how effective is your organization at content marketing?
The trend: The 92% of healthcare marketers who consider their content strategies effective reflects a 7% decrease from 2019.
What it means for healthcare marketers: As the healthcare marketing discipline continues to mature, measurement and optimization are emerging as critical pieces of the puzzle. Greater accountability for performance and emphasis on growth requires marketers to take a more strategic approach to content strategy and ensure program objectives connect to the organization’s business goals.
Strategic Approach to Content Marketing
Q: Does your organization have an overarching content strategy in place?
The trend: Nearly every respondent (98%) has a documented content strategy or is planning to develop one within the next 12 months, which reflects an 11% increase over 2019.
What it means for healthcare marketers: Marketers continue elevating their approach to content, which starts with mapping out a comprehensive (and iterative) plan that guides their efforts. Competing in this era of forced evolution and heightened accountability requires content strategies to be precisely aligned with organization goals and audience preferences to be effective.
How Content Fits into Marketing Priorities
Q: Thinking of all the marketing strategies you employ in your organization, how high a priority is content marketing on a scale of 1 (not a priority) to 5 (high priority)?
Average rating: 3.8
The trend: Since the survey was first conducted in 2017, the percentage of healthcare marketers who place a medium (3) to high (4–5) priority on content has grown from 85% to 89%.
What it means for healthcare marketers: Even before the pandemic, marcom teams were juggling competing priorities and dividing time between myriad disciplines. In the latest By the Numbers report from the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development, at least 50% of marketers surveyed were responsible for 19 disparate job functions—ranging from media/public relations and brand strategy to market research and community education.
As time and resources are constrained, it will be increasingly critical for marketers to avoid catering to squeaky wheels and chasing bright, shiny objects. By building a business case for proven engagement and growth initiatives like those associated with content strategy, marketers can focus on those priorities that deliver maximum impact.
Measuring the ROI of Content Marketing
Q: How successful is your organization at tracking the ROI of its content marketing efforts?
The trend: Marketers have come a long way since the survey was first conducted four years ago. The 65% of respondents who said their organizations are successful at tracking the ROI of content marketing represents a 21% increase since 2017.
What it means for healthcare marketers: With nearly 9 in 10 marketers tracking ROI and the large majority considering their efforts successful, standing out from the crowd requires a data-driven approach. By analyzing search trends, competitor traffic and other variables, your content will be fine tuned to audience interests and organizational priorities—and generate optimal ROI.
How Content Marketing Success Is Measured
Q: What metrics does your organization use to assess content marketing success?
The trend: The top three key performance indicators—website traffic, called/lead volume and qualitative feedback, respectively—have remained unchanged since 2017. The most significant shift is social engagement/following moving into the top five KPIs (featured above), which were followed by awareness/recall and SEO performance at 53%, and direct volume attribution with 30% of those surveyed basing the success of their content strategy on the number of appointments generated through content marketing.
What it means for healthcare marketers: A growth-focused approach will continue to emerge as the most important metric of content marketing success, especially in an environment where financial recovery is paramount—and marketing is charged with leading this effort. This even applies to channels like websites and social media that have traditionally been considered brand builders.
Getting ahead of the curve now will position your organization for the future and ensure you continue investing in content as a revenue driver.
Content Marketing Channels and Tactics
Q: Please select the content marketing tactics used by your organization.
The trend: The most-used content marketing tactics are virtually identical to last year, with the exception of print magazines/newsletters gaining a spot over in-person events to round out the top seven.
What it means for healthcare marketers: A digital-first approach to healthcare content marketing will remain the standard for engaging the modern consumer conditioned by the likes of Amazon. However, marketers neglect print at their peril with customers experiencing more digital noise than signal and the organic reach of web and social content decreasing. With double-digit growth in using print as part of an overall content strategy, marketers are following in the footsteps of Facebook, AirBNB and other global brands in leveraging these lean-back, longer-form touch points that add value to the customer experience.
Content Marketing Tactics to Build Brand and Engagement
Q: What are the most effective content marketing tactics used by your organization to generate brand awareness and consumer engagement?
What it means for healthcare marketers: The modern, digital-first approach to marketing is clearly demonstrated in the primary channels used to generate awareness and shape perception. This also reflects the importance of an integrated strategy that includes paid, owned and earned media to build and nurture relationships with consumers in early stages of the decision cycle.
Content Marketing Tactics to Generate Leads
Q: What are the most effective content marketing tactics used by your organization to generate leads for high-value services?
What it means for healthcare marketers: The top three channels illustrate the importance of a content strategy that comprises both lead generation and nurturing initiatives. The large majority of followers on your social channels (#1) and visitors to your website or content hub (#3 and #5) are not ready to schedule an appointment, which makes email (#2)—often featuring video (#4)—critical to stay connected and advance consumers toward a goal conversion.
For campaigns specifically designed to generate leads, gating content assets can be effective way to fill the pipeline for priority service lines.
Content Marketing Tactics to Engage Physicians
Q: What are the most effective content marketing tactics used by your organization to engage physicians?
What it means for healthcare marketers: Email is the preferred means of communication for physicians by a large margin, and marketers are meeting this need by delivering relevant, engaging information to their inboxes. For best results, provide content that enables effective utilization of telehealth and other new advancements by arming physicians with messaging on policy changes, frequently asked questions and other resources they need to effectively connect with patients.
Social Media Platforms Used to Promote/Distribute Content
Q: What social media platforms does your organization use to distribute content?
The trend: Facebook has been the #1 social platform used by healthcare marketers since the survey began in 2017. The other platforms in the top five have traded spots while commanding the majority of marketing time and resources compared to other social platforms like Pinterest (16%) and more nascent channels TikTok (9%) and SnapChat (4%).
- #1:Facebook = same as last year
- #2: Instagram = up from #2 last year (tied with YouTube)
- #3: LinkedIn = same as last year
- #4: Twitter = down from #1 last year (tied with Facebook)
- #5: YouTube = down from #2 last year (tied with Instagram)
What it means for healthcare marketers: As we’re social distancing, social media is filling the gaps for connecting with the people and brands we value—and Facebook is the #1 social platform consumers turn to for timely, accessible and actionable information. Whether actively followed or shared by a friend or loved one, a hospital’s Facebook content is often a first step in a healthcare decision cycle that could last weeks, months or even years depending on the condition. Make this path as clear as possible by posting organic content and targeted ads that align with each step on the journey.