How to Build a Healthcare Content Marketing Strategy: A 10-Step Guide

By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer

When done correctly, healthcare content can build trust and turn people into lifelong supporters of your brand. At the same time, creating superior health or wellness content can be challenging. It should always be engaging, informative, technically accurate, and compliant. The difficulty only increases when you want to produce amazing content regularly and within budget. 

To succeed, you’ll need a content marketing strategy. 

According to the Content Marketing Institute, most marketers do not have a documented strategy. This pretty much means they don’t have a plan. 

But without a documented strategy, the content you create will fail to relay your brand message, match your voice and tone, resonate with your audience, and grow your business. 

A solid, documented blueprint aligns your long-term goals and helps you create winning content.

In this guide, you’ll receive 10 tried-and-true steps on how to build and document your strategy. 

We’ve gathered over 20 years of experience and insight into one post and hope you can use this to bring your marketing team together on the same page and develop content that’s on brand and accomplishes your goals.

In this post:

    The Content Marketing Institute has the golden standard for the definition of content marketing. According to CMI, “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

    When it comes to health and wellness, content must achieve all of those goals above and adhere to strict guidelines unique to our industries. These include everything from HIPAA, compliance, and traditional advertising guidelines to Google’s rules for health brands

    Why Your Healthcare Brand Can’t Thrive Today Without It

    Digital Transformation Requires It

    While we once saw only pockets of digital transformation in the healthcare industry, the pandemic has accelerated innovations in digital communications across the board. As recently as five years ago, most MedTech companies spent less than 20 percent of their marketing budget on digital marketing. According to a recent study by McKinsey, this number is expected to double in the next few years.  Of course, content marketing will likely be a key component of your larger digital marketing budget.

    Patient Expectations Demand It 

    More importantly, Americans view the healthcare industry more positively after the pandemic. Patients are now more receptive to new ways of engaging with their providers. Telehealth services, for example, have increased by 38x since pre-pandemic levels. And while COVID catapulted telehealth, many choose it as a go-to resource to manage a wide variety of medical solutions and concerns. 

    Expectations for timely and targeted information are at an all-time high, so building content that helps address top-of-mind questions establishes you as their trusted advisor. Good content, like good medicine, comes down to experience and results. 

    To start, let’s cover why you need a strategy in the first place.

    4 Reasons You Need a Strategy   

    1)      It helps grow brand awareness. 

    A content marketing strategy elevates your brand. In the exercise of outlining your goals, your team must inevitably answer the question, what challenges, needs, or concerns are we trying to solve for our audience? By doing so, you begin the journey of outlining your position as a trusted market brand. 

    2)      It establishes thought leadership. 

    A solid plan helps your organization establish thought leadership. By setting your brand and professionals as subject matter experts on the topics your audience cares about, you can develop loyalty and trust as a valuable resource to them. 

    3)      It supports and drives digital marketing channels. 

    Documenting a healthcare content marketing strategy will allow you to consider all the channels available to your always-on audience market. This can include but is not limited to social media, press, influencers, and KOLs.

    4)      It aligns with organic search goals. 

    Content Marketing drives ongoing SEO and website traffic, but consistency is key. Search engines reward businesses that publish valuable, relevant content. Just like the tortoise and the hare, PPC and other advertising tactics have their place in the marketing mix, but a regular cadence of organic content can win the race. 

    Valuable insights and helpful content feed the insatiable Google gods and keep your brand at the top of SERPs. More importantly, it helps you rise above the “noise” and keeps your audience engaged, which is, after all, the name of the game.

    Three Reasons it Must be Documented to Matter

    Now that we can all agree good content is essential, why should we go through the trouble of documenting a strategy? 

    According to the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs content marketing research, marketers with a documented content strategy are more effective and far less challenged in every aspect. Plus, they can justify a higher percentage of the marketing budget spent on content marketing.

    Here are a few proven reasons why putting it down in writing can make all the difference between “checking the box” and building a purposeful and effective program.

    1)      It keeps the entire team on the same page. 

    Make sure the right stakeholders are involved upfront. By documenting your content plan, your internal and external (3rd party agencies, writers, etc.) team can better align to the goals and objectives. In other words, they will understand their role as it relates to the bigger picture. This will empower them to be more accountable and bring their best ideas to the table. 

    2)      It allows you to better manage and measure success. 

    You can’t manage what you can’t measure. With a healthcare content strategy, you can plan and schedule deliverables, monitor results, and measure against expectations. 

    3)      It improves resource and budget allocation. 

    Whether you’re trying to provide a business case for your budget or keep a handle on it, having a documented content strategy will help earmark resources to keep your budget intact. 

    Now that we’re clear on why it’s crucial to have a documented blueprint for creating stellar content, here is your step-by-step guide:

    10 Steps to Building a Healthcare Content Marketing Strategy 

    Perhaps the idea of building a content marketing strategy sounds intimidating and a lot of work. Consider the builder’s adage, “measure twice, cut once.” It’s more work upfront but entirely easier than what it takes to re-do a poorly constructed initiative. To begin the content strategy process, I’ve broken it down into three main phases and ten key steps: 

    Plan

    Assess the business objectives and audience:

    • Assess
    • Align 
    • Define

    Build

    Create messaging roadmap:

    • Messaging
    • Channels
    • Cadence
    • Process
    • Calendar

    Refine

    Optimize and monitor its effectiveness:

    • Publish 
    • Measure

    Phase I: Plan

    1)      Assess your current situation 

    What are the company’s larger goals? What are the challenges we are trying to solve? What is our desired outcome? How much of the healthcare marketing budget will be allocated to content? What will be the expected deliverables and cadence? Who are the stakeholders involved or that need to be in the know? There are many people your content strategy will affect even if they are not directly involved in the content development. Identify these folks and the roles they will play in the overall healthcare marketing content strategy.

    2)      Align on the “end game.”

    While it is difficult to identify the hard ROI of content marketing as a stand-alone program— [we will dive deeper into this subject on a separate blog]—it is essential to ask the following question when considering your plan. What are we hoping to accomplish with our content marketing initiatives? Are we trying to improve brand awareness, accelerate lead/pipeline conversion, increase the share of wallet, or mix these? 

    3)      Define your audience

    To build out the audience framework, you will want to identify your buyer’s journey. Who are our buyers, and how would we differentiate them? Will you segment them out by individual personas, or, in the case of B2B, firmographics? If by personas, would you determine each unique buyer by functional role, their role in the purchasing process (economic, technical, end-user, etc.), or some other criteria or use case? Are you marketing to B2B, B2D, B2C, or a mix? Who are the influencers in your ecosystem, for example, KOL, financial analysts, the FDA, other healthcare systems? What do they care about? What are their challenges or pain points? What unique value proposition do we provide?

    Phase II: Build

    4)      Create a content messaging roadmap

    Once you have established the healthcare content marketing goals, criteria for success, and buyer personas, you can then begin building content and messaging map based on the buyer’s journey. What is your message to each persona as they move through the sales funnel? What do you say, and what content should you show to someone who does not know your brand? What do you say, and what content do they want to see if they know your brand and compare you to other marketplace options? A content assessment will also allow you to create a content audit to help determine the content gaps and whether to keep, revise or archive existing content.

    5)      Determine the right channels

    So how do you choose where you are going to place and distribute your content? Consider where your audience is currently seeking information and how they “consume” this information. Is it in person, online, on billboards? What publications do they read, or what social platforms do they use? By understanding your buyer personas and behaviors, you are better equipped to determine and prioritize the best channels to leverage. 

    6)      Set your program’s cadence

    Break down your stakeholder’s objectives, audience, and channel. By plotting out a macro view of the business milestones, product launches, and seasonal events, you have your biggest priorities accounted for as you build foundational content to support major initiatives while leaving flexibility for sudden media events or topical, trending topics. 

    7)     Create a content creation process

    Building out a content process helps a team, no matter the size, align on roles and responsibilities. It is also the glue to help the team take ownership of their work and be accountable. A creative brief will help scope out and align on the deliverable and approval process at the pre-production stage, and brand and writing guidelines (AMA, NLM, etc.) can help enable 3rd party agencies to ramp up quickly. Countless templates and tools are available to help you build a process that works for you. 

    By mapping out the steps, you’ll be on your way to building out a well-oiled content marketing machine. 

    8)     Plot it out on a team calendar

    To maintain a steady publishing cadence, you’ll need an editorial calendar. An organized content calendar is key to sticking to a budget scope and deadlines. Design your publishing cadence at least one quarter out or as determined in your content process, and leave enough runway to build in time to brainstorm ideas. 

    Phase III: Refine

    9)      Publish and repurpose

    If the idea of creating a healthcare content marketing program sounds overwhelming, I have some good news. It’s not about making as much content as possible, but rather creating great content consistently and repurpose or syndicate. Can the latest podcast be transcribed or summarized for an article or blog? Can a report or survey’s key findings be illustrated in an infographic? Should it be translated or localized for another patient population? 

    Also, keep in mind, healthcare content marketing is not limited to your website. Leverage the digital channels, social platforms, and influencers your audiences subscribe to. 

    10)      Manage and measure 

    While we’ll dig deeper into the ROI of content marketing in a separate article, there are three basic components to measuring the effectiveness of your healthcare content marketing program: cost, utilization, and performance. 

    Costs: By taking inventory of the content you produced over time and the costs to produce each type of content, you can benchmark these costs and apply some averages. 

    Utilization: As I described above, the more you use a single asset, the higher the return on its investment.

    Performance: A common temptation for many marketers is to focus on the “vanity” metrics, for example, the number of page views, social shares, or click rates. When it comes to tying your healthcare content marketing strategy to the business’s goals, anyone can buy traffic. Measuring engagement is much harder but more relevant to measuring value. 

    Keep in mind: it’s not the destination, it’s the journey

    This is not a one-and-done strategy but rather a continuous process of refining and evolving to adapt to changes in the market and brand’s goals. The more you test your message and evaluate results, the better your chances for success. 

    We Can Help

    While Healthcare Success is a big advocate for content marketing, we don’t recommend it to all clients. Generally, content marketing requires an investment of time and effort by healthcare providers. It is not always a cost-effective tool for smaller hospitals, businesses or neighborhood medical practices.

    But it does make sense for our institutional clients (e.g., pharmaceuticals, device, health plans, hospital networks, and larger group medical practices). If you don’t have the time, resources, or focus to do it alone and want to explore how we can help with our content marketing services, CONTACT US to get started.

    Stewart Gandolf
    Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Success
    Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Success, one of the nation's leading healthcare and digital marketing agencies. Over the past 20 years, Stewart has marketed and consulted for over 1,000 healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to multi-billion dollar corporations. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. As an author and expert resource, Stewart has also written for many leading industry publications, including the 21,000 subscriber Healthcare Success Insight blog. Stewart also co-authored, "Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow & Perfect Your Cash-Pay Healthcare Business." Stewart began his career with leading advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, where he marketed Fortune 500 clients such as Wells Fargo and Bally's Total Fitness.

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