In an ever-changing digital world, businesses need to stay on top of their digital marketing strategy. And Saltwater is here to say: the healthcare industry is no outlier.
Everyone needs a hospital or healthcare partner at some point in their lives. The hospital market is a crowded one, presenting people with many options for their healthcare needs. It’s important that hospitals establish themselves in their community, because if they don’t, another hospital will be there to do just the same.
With years of experience working with hospitals and healthcare organizations under our belt, our team has learned a lot. We solicited key takeaways from 5 specialists in the following areas of healthcare marketing strategy:
- Challenges for Healthcare Marketers
- Content Marketing Strategy
- Brand Management
- Creative Concepts and Messaging
- Web Design
- PPC: Search vs. Social
- Remarketing Strategy
“The challenge every hospital faces is that healthcare needs can be so specific that it’s difficult to speak to all of them. Hospitals need to be able to present their services in a manner that gives any patient confidence that they have the solution to their needs.”
The dynamic between patients, doctors and services is complex, and this is where challenges for healthcare marketers arise. Patients want to get to know their doctor, their credentials, and their capabilities before trusting them, but are understandably often even more focused on their individual healthcare needs. Meanwhile, every patient's healthcare needs are so specific it's impossible to speak to all of them. At the end of the day, hospitals should present their services in ways that instill enough confidence to prompt patients to reach out and inquire.
Other challenges can arise when large regional hospitals acquire smaller hospitals or some regional groups consolidate ownership over a dozen or more healthcare specialists, creating structural complexity. While patients can see multiple specialists under one roof and get their information easily shared in-network, it also creates challenging questions for marketing strategy. Do you market yourself as one group? Or do you market your individual specialists separately?
Typically, as our Director of Client Strategy, Mike Carella, says, “We need to establish the parent organization’s brand, make people aware of all of the services that are available under them, and then make each individual market aware of the specialists available right up the street from them.”
We get these questions from our healthcare clients a lot, so we conduct research to help them make these decisions. While clients are often facing similar situations, the best solution for each organization is unique. Our research is aimed at understanding an individual client’s market, how their services stack up against the competition, and the needs of their audience. Only then can we make an educated recommendation.
“One of the biggest recommendations we can make is to be an authority online about their specialty because when people are doing research, they want to find a trusted resource. And in finding that trusted resource, they then want to engage. Developing those opportunities for engagement between an organization and the patient, or potential patient, is one of the best things hospitals can do.”
With an abundance of resources online, patients have a lot of information at their fingertips. Whether they are researching a new medicine, symptoms of an illness, or how to treat an injury, patients can access a ton of health-related content online. But is this content giving patients the answers they need to make well-informed decisions regarding their health journey? Hospitals and healthcare experts have an opportunity here to fill this need and build trust with their audience by publishing the content that patients are already looking for.
Hospitals and healthcare organizations should make themselves a trusted online resource by implementing a content marketing strategy for healthcare audiences. Having helpful content from your specialists available at the time potential patients are searching for answers is key in establishing yourself as a trusted leader in this space.
Examples of helpful content types are:
- Q&A videos with specialists
- Informational Blog Posts
- Patient Testimonials/Reviews
Once your specialists are online sharing their expertise, you also need to give users the opportunity to engage directly with your office. Whether that be through an email form, direct call number, or online chat feature, give patients a way to communicate with your organization that feels direct and personal. Connecting these dots is essential in developing a successful content marketing strategy.
“Brand is exceedingly important in healthcare. Brand is trust and when somebody says your hospital’s name, you want that to be with a great deal of confidence.”
Brand management is a fundamental pillar to any healthcare marketing strategy. In other industries, a brand may be able to take a hit to their reputation and bounce back faster than a healthcare brand would. In healthcare, confidence comes back much slower because it comes down to trust. Healthcare companies engage with their patients in high stakes situations revolving around their health, and in some cases, life or death scenarios. Making a mistake within a healthcare-and-patient relationship is more difficult to come back from than a company that does not deal with people’s health and wellbeing.
To effectively practice brand management, you must understand where your brand stands in the eyes of your community. This can be done by conducting brand studies and measuring how your brand stacks up compared to your competitors. Then, if your brand takes a hit, you can stabilize it and begin to rebuild the trust and relationships you have with your community through brand campaigns and community outreach. Manage your brand with passion and vigor to ensure your brand is seen positively by your audience, or confidence will dwindle, and your patients will simply hop to the next option to fill their healthcare needs.
“When you are dealing with a hospital, you are dealing with people’s wellbeing. That layer behind everything is kind of like your North Star. Whatever you’re doing, you have to be thinking about that at the end of the day. The subject matter is far more serious for healthcare than in other industries, so you have to be sensitive, literal and look at everything through a critical lens.”
After years of experience working with healthcare clients, we know that the creative concepting process is different in healthcare than it is in other industries. “There’s this level of gravity in the healthcare space because you are dealing with people’s lives. It is something that can cause anxiety, hesitation, confusion and a host of other challenging emotional states,” according to our VP of Creative Services, Mike “Sully” Sullivan. “As marketers, we need to quell fear a lot of the time. We need to communicate clearly. We need to get people past hesitations. And that starts with creative that stands out.”
Healthcare marketers may agree that most healthcare advertising looks the same. Though this doesn’t mean it isn’t well done, if the advertising you’re creating isn’t different, you will just be a part of the crowd. Sully adds, “The goal is always to stand out and be memorable. But when it comes to healthcare you can't do it in a sensationalized way. You have to be genuine in your messaging and your visuals.”
With a lot of the serious tones in the medical industry, we typically stay away from using humor as the backbone to our messaging. According to Senior Art Director, Kyle Mooers, “For us, humor and creativity go hand in hand so it’s tricky to do something that’s creative, but also serious.” Because the healthcare industry deals with emotional sensitivity, your messaging should have a balance of creativity and authenticity while in most cases maintaining a serious, compassionate, or aspirational tone.
The creative concepting process for healthcare organizations is complex because there is an inherent challenge in tackling everything you want to say in a way that is simple. Starting with distinct goals and an understanding of your audience is essential for success. You should identify a defined audience instead of aiming to reach everybody; it is vastly different appealing to an 18-year-old versus an 80-year-old. According to Sully, “Any definition you can get around parameters is always super helpful. Good, concrete information and clear goals is where the most effective creative comes from.”
With a large healthcare organization, there are many tiers of authority you may be communicating with when developing your campaign messaging and seeking concept approval. According to Sully, “You're going to get a lot of different feedback and opinions. An administrator is not going to see things the same way that a nurse or a doctor will. It’s important to always be open to that larger realm of feedback.”
“There are opportunities to be creative, but you have to be really selective when and where you do it. But if done the right way, it can make a big impact.”
When it comes to healthcare web design, it may be challenging to stand out from your competition. According to Sully, “It’s really challenging coming up with ways to stand out from the crowd, but to do so in an appropriate way that is going to achieve the desired results.” Understanding what is appropriate for the healthcare space is essential when developing your design guidelines. For example, some colors, fonts, or other design elements may come across as inappropriate for a healthcare client.
Your design guidelines also must align with the more serious tone of the healthcare industry, because that’s what your potential patients are expecting It may seem challenging to differentiate yourself from your competitors without a healthy dose of creativity, but striking this balance is important. For example, while we wouldn’t suggest bold graphical elements or animated flourishes as part of healthcare web design guidelines, we like to implement iconography to add a creative touch. According to Kyle, “It’s a nice element to bring in some visual personality into the branding because the healthcare space across the board can be pretty bland.” There are plenty of ways to use colors, imagery, messaging, and more, to stand out from the crowd without sacrificing your brand’s authority or authenticity.
In addition, we suggest having a balance of visuals with text so that your webpages are digestible for your viewers. “Any opportunity to use visualizations instead of having information in paragraph form is ideal. Whether it’s print or on the web, people usually skim,” says Kyle. Healthcare organizations should be focused on providing their audience with helpful information, and your design guidelines should help with that mission.
“Google Display Network and Facebook work off those behavioral and intent signals, and the search campaigns work off people who are the ‘hand-raisers’ who are actively searching for the services that a hospital provides.”
When developing your PPC strategy, it is important to understand the distinction between Search and Social and when to use each. Search, which targets users' search on Google and other search engines, proves beneficial when people are actively seeking out a service you offer. We suggest an always-on approach to search because there will always be people searching for healthcare-related services. For example, if someone falls ill or gets injured, and they search “Hospitals Near Me,” you want to be sure your ad shows up. Social, in contrast, serves as a powerful tool for brand and service awareness. Social, which leverages data gathered by social platforms like Facebook and Instagram, analyzes audiences to find people who are in-market for these services based on intent signals and behaviors.
The major distinction between Search and Social is that Search is based on active awareness, which helps reach the people who are “hand-raisers'' and actively seeking out services, while Social is beneficial to passive awareness, which presents relevant information to people when they aren’t outright searching for it.
We have found Search and Social to be successful in their own ways. According to Senior PPC Strategist, Adam Baer, “We’ve had a lot of success with our search campaigns. When you get your ads in front of people who are ready to take an action, keyword-based search campaigns are the most successful. From an awareness standpoint, social media has really worked.” Be sure to understand the difference between Search and Social and how each can help you reach your audience and, ultimately, your overall marketing goals.
“Remarketing is interesting when it comes to the healthcare field now, in that Google and Facebook are both sensitive to people’s privacy. You do have the ability to run remarketing campaigns as long as the system doesn't think you are targeting people on anything that may be too granular.”
Implementing healthcare remarketing can be a powerful tool to employ in your digital marketing efforts. Healthcare organizations can remarket ads to previous website visitors to reinforce awareness of their brand and services.
However, remarketing is particularly challenging for clients in the healthcare space because of Google and Facebook's sensitivity to privacy. Specifically, these networks will prohibit you from running ads that target people based on behaviors that may reveal information about that visitor's health.
For example, if you are running a remarketing campaign for cancer care, you may think targeting visitors of a specific treatment page would be highly relevant. Unfortunately, Google will likely prohibit you from retargeting visitors of that page because the pageview is potentially revealing details about that visitor’s health.
An alternative approach to remarketing for healthcare organizations is to base their remarketing lists on broader criteria, such as “all site visitors”, “locations” pages, or “top-level provider” pages. While your remarketing ads won’t be as targeted as they could be in other industries, the tactic can still fit into your overall digital strategy to drive awareness and re-engagement.
According to Adam, “With sensitive verticals like hospitals, you can target audiences that aren’t based on specific Google Analytics pageviews, and instead segment visitors more generally. You can also use the Google Ads remarketing tag, which unfortunately doesn’t capture as much information as you would get from a Google Analytics tag, but may be more compliant.”
Now that we’ve shared with you the insights we’ve learned after years of healthcare marketing, it’s time to take action. Here are some actionable steps you can use to leverage our takeaways into your marketing efforts right away:
- Establish yourself as a trusted online resource by publishing thoughtful and educational healthcare content.
- Practice brand management to ensure your brand is seen positively by your community.
- Implement authentic messaging into your creative concepts to establish yourself as a trusted healthcare brand.
- Ensure your design guidelines give your brand the authority and professionalism it needs while taking advantage of all the opportunities to add the creativity that makes your brand unique.
- Make sure your Search and Social campaigns are optimized for their appropriate audience and goals.