Check For A Heartbeat In Your Marketing Automation Platform

At a recent digital healthcare conference I attended, many speakers highlighted marketing automation as a wonder drug for effective digital marketing in healthcare, particularly in driving new patient acquisition. A technology-fueled approach can pull prospects into the marketing funnel, then optimize communications streams until the process yields an appointment. 

There’s logic fueling this perspective. Healthcare marketers in health systems are finally receiving budgets as marketing automation platforms provide useful data to prove marketing’s value in driving patient volumes. 

The healthcare industry still largely addresses consumers as “patients,” and this carries with it assumptions. If prospects are already “patients” in search of care or cure, marketing identifies them by their condition and directs them to a solution.  However, people don’t consider themselves “patients” until they’re in the care of a physician, hospital, etc. For most, those instances are few and far between. 



Here’s the disconnect: healthcare marketers are relying on marketing automation to efficiently convert prospects into patients for their service lines, demonstrating ROI, but only a small universe of people are candidates. Healthcare isn’t like car advertising, where marketing may inspire those not in the market for a new car to jump in. Absent an illness or injury, most people don’t schedule a doctor’s appointment. Achieving true ROI from marketing automation investments means engaging people before they believe they have a health problem.

1. Be a Knowledge Provider Before You’re a Purchase Option

For all that’s real about consumerism in healthcare, the shopping experience bears little resemblance to consumer products. Paul Matsen, the Cleveland Clinic’s CMO, cites that, on average, a person searches health topics 19 times before booking an appointment. People are online searching health-related topics, but not necessarily shopping for health treatments. If a marketing automation system targets searchers as prospects, the digital communications stream could mirror the typical retail approach. “Sheila’s searching ‘knee injuries’; serve her a display ad to book one of our orthopedic surgeons.” Sheila is retargeted for weeks, just as Anthropologie keeps retargeting me because I searched for my wife’s Christmas present. Sheila will likely clear her browser cookies well before her 19th search, and this effort will yield a low ROI in terms of new orthopedic bookings.  

Matsen recommends that health systems adopt a content marketing strategy where their role is health publishers, delivering content in owned and earned channels, spanning health, wellness, innovation, nutrition, fitness, and medical specialty areas. Brigham Health publishes broad and varied content to a health hub, and a marketing automation platform personalizes content delivery based on visitors’s behaviors and preferences. The more interaction, the more precise the system serves relevant content. Given the useful, personalized information, visitors develop positive brand associations with the brand, and many will become patients.

2. Help them navigate the system 

Healthcare differs from consumer products at the experience level, in terms of complexity of access, pricing, and navigating the system. A conference speaker observed that healthcare marketers must think beyond acquisition and retention, and use digital communications to help people make decisions. Our healthcare systems are labyrinthine, adding stress to an experience where people already feel vulnerable. Marketers must better map out the steps patients and families need to take, moving from consult, to procedure preparation, navigating the hospital, determining health plan coverage, discharge and follow-up. Marketing can leverage technology to deliver better patient experiences, such as “wayfinding” apps that solve the challenge of finding one’s way around a hospital.  

3. Remember that Heart Beats Head

Many people in healthcare view their jobs through a rational lens; they’re surrounded by logical thinkers, steeped in science, data, and discipline. It’s often difficult for them to identify with the emotions and anxiety people feel when experiencing illness. As marketers, we know there’s no more emotional category than health. Our communications and technology platforms should position our brands as helpful, respectful, empathetic, even entertaining, such as Cigna’s “TV Doctors” campaign which turned the tables on healthcare marketing’s “white coat” default setting. 

When it comes to “heart beats head,” Im inspired by Macy’s new holiday campaign. Its so thoughtful and unexpected, I nixed Anthropologie, and bought my wifes gift at Macy’s. That’s effective marketing.

The author served on the 2017 North American Health Effie Awards jury.

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