Your Comprehensive Guide to Healthcare Marketing Strategy in 2021

Learn how to plan and implement a modern healthcare marketing strategy that delivers improved financial performance and elevates your role within the organization.

Prior to the pandemic, the pace of change in healthcare marketing was glacial. The regulatory climate, provider/payor relationships, lack of access to customer data, long decision cycles, internal politics and other nuances made for a challenging marketing environment.

The new era of healthcare marketing is here.

Thanks to COVID-19, a slew of new competitors and innovation inspired by consumer demand, the rate of progress now reflects a steady current as market forces converge.

These trends, which should be factored into any post-pandemic healthcare marketing plan, include:

  • Healthcare consumers continuing to delay screenings and treatments due to fear and misinformation, while expecting a frictionless experience when seeking medical care—and ready to switch providers if expectations aren't met
  • Physicians and other healthcare providers struggling to seamlessly integrate telehealth and other digital tools for care delivery
  • Executive leadership holding marketing increasingly accountable for revenue growth and return on investment
  • Pent-up demand and consumerism fueling a renewed focus on patient acquisition, especially for sports medicine, total joint replacement and other elective procedures

As a result of these accelerants, there’s never been a more exciting time to be a healthcare marketer.

With our consumers seeking clarity and our organizations rallying around caregivers, marketers are rising to the occasion and improving the health of our brands and communities.

Whether you are a veteran or new to the industry, this comprehensive guide to healthcare marketing strategy will inspire your engagement and growth initiatives in 2021.

You'll get insights on these critical elements that impact the success or failure of a healthcare marketing plan:

  • Goals
  • Key performance indicators
  • Audiences
  • Trends and tactics
  • Resources for professional development

The Why: Healthcare Marketing Goals

The objectives that healthcare marketers are trying to achieve are as varied as the organizations they represent. However, the common thread woven throughout most hospitals, health systems and other organizations is the mandate for growth.

This translates into a healthcare marketing strategy designed to increase brand preference and loyalty, as well as directly drive patient volumes.

With limited resources, competing priorities and increased competition, it’s important to establish clear goals that line up with leadership expectations and market opportunities. Here are a few desired outcomes you’ll find outlined in the most effective strategic plans.

Engage healthcare consumers. The sentiment that “they would have come anyway” is finally nearing extinction in healthcare, with marketers earning credibility as the nexus of organizational, market, and, most importantly, customer insights.

By understanding the needs, motivations and intent of consumers — whether working moms, your Medicare audience or the healthcare-averse 26-44 demographic — and guiding them on the journey to better outcomes, healthcare marketers are becoming agents of change in an industry where that remains the only constant.

Engage physicians and other healthcare providers. While consumers are gaining control over their medical choices, physicians still have considerable influence over healthcare decisions. Understanding how they prefer to receive information and positioning your organization as a trusted partner is the most effective way to build long-term relationships with referral sources.

Grow priority service lines. Now more than ever, healthcare marketers are charged with driving revenue for their organizations. This requires a significant shift in healthcare marketing strategy and sophistication for many organizations lacking the talent and tools required to target the ideal customer, generate demand and nurture leads through to a goal conversion.

Whether promoting front-line services like urgent care and diagnostic imaging or driving volume for diabetes care, bariatric surgery and orthopedics, an effective service line marketing strategy creates a frictionless path to the customer’s best next step on the healthcare journey.

Increase patient engagement. With people delaying critical care during the pandemic, healthcare providers need to focus on patient engagement in your existing customer base— and marketing is uniquely qualified to influence behavior. This is especially critical for those living with chronic conditions and those who need routine medical care.

The Who: Healthcare Marketing Audiences

There’s no one-size-fits-all healthcare marketing strategy, and understanding your audience is fundamental to delivering effective outcomes. Your patients, prospects and even non-consumer audiences are at various stages of the healthcare journey, and they’re seeking information for different reasons, at different times and in different ways.

While tuning your message to segments like Generation X can generate awareness and create affinity for your brand, market leaders think beyond typical demographics when designing a healthcare marketing strategy that moves the needle on patient volume and revenue.

No longer a cost center for most healthcare organizations, marketing is now a primary driver of service line volume and patient revenue. This elevated role is driven by the shift from seasonal campaigns to horizontally integrated strategies targeting candidates for high-value services.

Top healthcare marketers are leveraging digital healthcare marketing channels and tactics that advance consumers from awareness to action—accelerating the health journey and driving patient volume/revenue for priority services.

Here are just a few of the most common audiences to consider when planning a healthcare marketing strategy that drives growth:

Women and Baby

Women often make OB/GYN decisions based on convenience, access and comfort of providers and facilities, along with amenities like modern birthing suites. Building relationships when women are actively seeking pregnancy information and positioning your brand as a compassionate guide on the journey is key to an effective healthcare marketing strategy. Engaging pregnant women and new moms typically extends to the family, translating into additional growth in pediatrics, urgent care, ongoing OB/GYN care and a variety of other healthcare services.

Candidates for Joint Replacement and Other Orthopedic Procedures

Elective specialty care has a longer decision cycle, requiring a significant investment of time and money for consumers seeking surgical interventions for pain relief. An effective healthcare marketing strategy targeting these audiences should illustrate how your services will help them achieve a higher quality of life following their experience. This approach will engage consumers early in their journey and accelerate the timeline from awareness to action.

New Movers

More than 1 in 10 Americans move every year, and there’s a good chance your local community is now home to households who are actively seeking trusted resources like healthcare providers. Beating your competition to a new mover’s mailbox, inbox and social media feed is critical to building their trust as studies show about 70% of brands selected for purchase come from the initial consideration set.

The How: Healthcare Marketing Trends and Tactics

While growth is the goal for most hospitals and healthcare systems, the path to get there is varied based on market dynamics, brand perception and other factors unique to each organization. However, there are several healthcare marketing trends and tactics that when applied strategically can guide consumers and generate exponential returns relative to the investment.

Here are the most effective tactics employed by healthcare market leaders in 2021:

Build community and create a conversion path on social media.

A digital healthcare marketing strategy is a must-have in today's always-on environment, and social media, in particular, has emerged as one of the most effective channels to reach consumers. Specifically, Facebook is often the first step on the patient journey as friends and family members share COVID-related updates, provider recommendations and reviews of their healthcare experiences.

By posting organic content and targeted ads that align with each step on the journey, healthcare marketers can make sure they’re contributing to the conversation and making it easy to connect when the time is right.

Create and promote content that your audience cares about.

With people spending more time online and brands like Amazon and Netflix raising the bar for digital experience, content is emerging as the crux of a modern healthcare marketing strategy. Whether featured on a website, landing page, social media or in your consumer publication, content is an essential part of the patient experience and healthcare marketers must be highly intentional about the focus, format and financial impact of content developed for their patients and prospects.

Optimize content for search.

While 1 in 20 searches is related to healthcare and organic search drives nearly 3x as many visitors to hospital sites, the harsh reality is that most web content is not optimized for search—and therefore receives zero organic traffic. Another painful truth is the trend toward zero-click searches: As of 2020, Google now claims the majority of organic traffic through featured snippets and other elements that can satisfy the search without a single click. The good news is that zero clicks doesn’t mean zero views.

For healthcare marketers, these shifts mean that when developing your website and other components of a digital healthcare marketing strategy, each piece of content must be created with both the audience and algorithms in mind.

Meet consumers at the moment of need through paid search.

Google defines the Zero Moment of Truth as the exact window of time when consumers are conducting online research prior to purchase. This is a pivotal point in the patient journey and to capitalize on the opportunity, healthcare marketers should deliver relevant, conversion-focused ads that offer both the information consumers need and an opportunity to connect.

Engage, nurture and convert leads with email marketing.

Email is having a resurgence as a key driving of marketing performance. By delivering meaningful content to the right consumers when it’s most relevant, email can be an incredibly low-cost way to drive action. Further, as you drive top-of-funnel engagement through tools like HRAs and downloadable guides, you can nurture those leads through a drip email sequence over the following 4-6 weeks to inspire them to take the next step.

What's Next: Resources to Ensure Your Healthcare Marketing Strategy Stays Relevant

In this fluid environment, keeping up with industry trends is table stakes. The tactics and trends that help gain competitive advantage today could be obsolete this time next year (e.g. Google makes thousands of updates to its algorithm each year).

As a healthcare marketing agency, we’ve compiled a few resources to help keep your finger on the pulse of an evolving industry.

Healthcare marketing podcasts — Along with our Healthcare Insight for Marketers series featuring experts from Cleveland Clinic, HCA Healthcare and other leading brands, here are a few of our favorites:

Healthcare marketing blogs and publications — Check out these leading industry resources — and if you’re not already receiving our Healthcare Insight magazine, be sure to sign up for a free subscription:

Healthcare marketing conferences — Until in-person conferences are back in full swing, healthcare marketers should embrace virtual events.

Healthcare marketing associations — Here are a few of the leading groups for industry news and trends, peer networking and professional development: