A Cutting-Edge Schematic for Healthcare Marketing

Marketers, take this advice: It’s ok to stop worrying so much about billboards and start running the show.

The old way of healthcare marketing is, well, old. But you didn’t really like it anyway, did you?

The problem with the old way was that, for many outside the MarCom department, “healthcare marketing” carried a limited meaning focused primarily on advertising, events, some content and putting things on the website. The full scope of what marketing can accomplish hadn’t been fully recognized across the organization. But that’s changing. We’ve entered an exciting moment where leading healthcare marketing teams are making their own case, redefining their role and driving their organizations forward.

A big step for anyone looking to do the same is to take ownership of the patient experience. Defining the experience and helping people feel comfortable when they interact with a provider is the best way to help those patients and stand out as an organization. And isn’t standing out as an organization the whole point of marketing?

“It’s been interesting to see the rise of communications and its partner, marketing, during this time,” said Jarrard Inc. Partner Kim Fox. “Traditional marketing is figuring out its place and how to be relevant going forward – because I don’t think it’s going to go back.”

Jarrard Inc. CEO David Jarrard echoed these sentiments. “Recently we’ve seen a consistent theme of communications officers celebrating the elevation of their work. They’ve found themselves at the table more often, more involved in senior leadership and board conversations as consistent communication was paramount to managing through the crisis.”

With that elevation of communications comes the opportunity to evaluate what, exactly, “marketing” means and what the marketing department does. We believe the perception of marketing can evolve from “the brand and image people,” to the owners of the customer/patient experience.

This conviction, which we explore in this volume of Art of Change, has been formed by our experience with hundreds of organizations and with insight from influencers in healthcare marketing and design.

Act small

Thinking big is fun, but it needs to connect with practical value creation. Otherwise, it’s distracting at best, a costly strategic misdirection at worst. Jarrard pointed out that marketing and communications teams need to build things in ways that support the financial infrastructure of the organization. “If marketers want to be sitting at the table when decisions are made, their work needs to have an ROI,” he said.

Here, we get into a chicken and egg situation. Marketing needs to come to the table with real value, not just another advertising campaign. But, to do that, marketing must also be part of the conversations so that they can understand and influence the strategic direction of the organization. It’s a mindset change on the part of leadership and MarCom.

One way to help make the change is by acting small. “Health systems aren’t generally up for huge projects right now,” said Jarrard. “They’re up for very practical, utilitarian steps that will drive a specific action or outcome. MarCom needs to think big but shape the work so that it’s imminently practical in the next, say, 90 days.”

But still think big

With marketing at the table for many operational and strategic decisions, provider executives should raise their expectations for what marketing can do.

“Marketing and communications leaders need to be coordinating more closely than ever with operations and clinical leaders to ensure the experience a patient has matches the words and images going out,” said Jarrard Inc. Partner Anne Hancock Toomey.

Part of raising expectations is having and training the right messenger. That’s “thinking big” because it requires a lot of preparation from marketing and trust in the messengers – ideally clinical staff.

There’s not historically been a strong relationship between marketing and clinical staff, which has led to a limited view of marketing, according to Hollie Adams, a Jarrard Inc. senior vice president. “There’s a difference between putting doctors on billboards and using them as messengers to help ease patient fears,” she said.  “That’s one way marketing starts to pivot.” Providing clinicians with good data and rooting marketing messages in strong data is another, but more on that in a moment.

Plug the holes

Providers should be mindful of some basics, particularly around the technology used to create and deliver messages. “Healthcare has been talking about access and convenience for 15 years, yet we still have providers who haven’t adopted online scheduling,” Adams said. “We’re light years ahead of where we were, but we’re still too far behind.”

Granted, tremendous ground has been made up through the pandemic crisis that forced the rapid expansion of healthcare digital tools. Now it’s time to push open that digital front door everyone is talking about.*

The storytelling-data combo

The pandemic has ushered in a renewed emphasis on people. “Traditionally we’ve been focused on things like the success rate of various procedures,” said Jarrard Inc. Partner Molly Cate. “Now, we’ve shifted towards stories that highlight people in two ways: Honoring the caregivers and helping patients feel safe by saying, ‘here are the faces of the people who will be serving you.”

While patients still respect data, the actual experiences they have when they show up must match the story told before they arrive. Marketing’s goal should be understanding – not assuming – what patients need and want. And then, designing an experience around what they want so they feel like they belong.

Data is the foundation backing up the positive stories, especially when it comes to safety. Meanwhile, outside of storytelling, marketers must use it to measure results, something they’ve not been rigidly held accountable for in the past. “That’s starting to change as so much care moves online and the conversations between providers and patients are happening online,” said Reed Smith, Jarrard Inc.’s vice president of digital.

Don’t look back

Finally, Marketers, know that today’s change is permanent. Getting through 2020 doesn’t mean life will drift back in 2021. Said Fox: “Don’t think of this as a holding pattern. ‘If I could just get through the next 90 days then I could go back to what I did before. There’s no new normal. It’s not going back.”

And that, frankly, is a good thing. Because the old way was a limited view of marketing. Not going back means finally changing an outdated definition. With a new definition comes a massive opportunity to lead the decision-making…not just put up another billboard.


*If you’re looking for a tool to help evaluate how your organization stacks up, we have a free Digital Maturity Survey to help you get started.

About the Author /

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As Jarrard Inc's Content Marketing Manager, David Shifrin specializes in curating ideas and making technical concepts accessible to broad audiences, helping thought leaders move past jargon to present core messages in a meaningful way. He received his PhD in Cell and Developmental Biology from Vanderbilt University.