By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
Perhaps the only rock-solid prediction for 2018 is that hospital, medical group and healthcare marketing is the ever-present challenge to keep pace with change. Competition is tough, resources are precious, and performance expectations—delivering a solid return on investment—are always demanding.
To achieve a new level of success in the New Year, industry leaders and marketing professionals will adopt best-in-class methods, tactics and trends. And they will take full advantage of technology and insightful planning to deliver exactly the right message, at exactly the right time, to the specific individual in need.
Today, more than any time in the past, marketing is about engaging in a dialog, a conversation, and a relationship. Here are some of the most significant trends for 2018 healthcare marketing:
(1) Best-in-class customer service will be a top-down business priority for hospital and provider executives.
The healthcare delivery industry has professed a “patient first” perspective for several years. Although the concept is widely embraced, much of the traditional operations and functions of hospitals and medical practices are slow to change.
Often, meeting patient expectations is not expensive. Today’s consumers value convenience, appreciate the benefits of technology, and ask that the medical service process respect the value of their time (with prompt service and little waiting).
Studies tell us that 60 to 70 percent of patients would opt for health care services where the Internet is a connecting technology—and they’re willing to change providers to get it. These customers—Millennials in particular—want to communicate with their providers, pay bills, request services, see their health data, and make appointments…using the ease and convenience of technology. (Just as they do in retail product and service environments.)
Those institutions that have demonstrated the most progress owe their achievements to a top-down process. When the highest levels of leadership and management recognize and focus on patient experience, customer service, and consumer satisfaction, success follows.
What’s more, customer experience and satisfaction have an important financial impact through influential online reviews and ratings, and that positive performance is tied to reimbursement. Customer-first and the convenience of technology are often commonplace in the retail world. In the near term, technology integration will continue to embrace virtual visits, wearable devices, “care from anywhere” telehealth options, and other mobile apps and software.
(2) The digital experience in healthcare begins with mobile first—but not “mobile only.”
It’s nearly a universal fact of life in healthcare marketing that a mobile device will be present at the starting line. People demand the fast and convenient answers that are instantly available on their smartphone. The “how” is immediately at hand, regardless of the “when” or “where.”
Not only does marketing success launch with the small screen, the connectivity is sustained and enhanced by the social, local and personalized experience. By necessity, small screen sites drive focus to high-priority information, and they tend to load fast. Mobile devices are the nation’s “first screen.” Americans spend more time on their smartphones than in watching television (Average 147 minutes each day). [Marketing in a multiscreen world; MillwardBrown].
That said, each patient journey likely includes multiple devices. Consumers may initially tap into quick or social information via a mobile screen and then turn to a desktop or laptop for subsequent, deeper reviews and research. Digital healthcare marketing has the challenge of being prepared and present, compelling and engaging content via all screens.
(3) The online “User Experience” that you create for patients will make or break your website performance.
A hospital or provider website is healthcare’s new front door to service and satisfaction. Our commonplace use of retail websites has conditioned people to expect a seamless experience. Visitors’ performance expectations are packed into the first 30 seconds or less.
The alphabet-soup tech labels of UX, UI, UXD, UED mean your healthcare website needs to provide prospective and new patients with a trouble-free experience. Websites that are designed to satisfy the user experience first—to paraphrase Wikipedia—improve usability, enhance customer satisfaction, and inspire loyalty.
Extensive and continuing research by Klein & Partners regarding the state of healthcare marketing reveals that “11 percent of visitors to a hospital or health system say their website experience created new, negative feelings about that brand.”
According to principal Rob Klein, the two biggest pain points for patients are in paying bills and setting an appointment. Our target audience critically compares healthcare websites to the best retail sites such as Amazon, Zappos or OpenTable. Unfortunately, people quickly lose patience with poorly performing websites and say, “three clicks and I’m out.”
(4) Outdistancing the competition means constantly raising the bar.
Consumers—your patients and prospects—up the ante every day. They are informed, and now, demanding consumers with expectations that are higher than at any previous time. In today’s seamless search process Google envisions that sites will be optimized for multi-screen presentations including:
- The continued rise of voice requests; faster and easier than keyboard typing
- Local and personalized searches for “near-me,” “I-want-to-buy,” “best-reviews,” and others
- Near-instant responses, answers and info via fast-loading sites and landing pages
A new consumerism is characterized by online visitors who are increasingly curious, demanding, and impatient. The best marketing performance in 2018 and beyond demands a significantly higher standard of personalized, relevant and authoritative experience and content.
(5) Consolidation of healthcare marketing tools, strategies and tactics is the 2018-planning watchword.
The constant introduction of new digital and social marketing options has been an “attractive nuisance,” often reducing effectiveness. Marketing and administrative executives have been tempted to stretch their efforts across many options, even when those resources have been limited.
Recent surveys suggest that several influences will be in play during 2018. These include:
- Healthcare marketing budgets will remain lean
- Performance expectations will remain high
- Digital marketing tools and plans tend to be affordable and efficient
In short, digital marketing for the next 12 months will recognize–and consolidate around–the strengths of the proven promotional efforts that produced the best results in the past.
(6) Social media options engage target audiences…with the proper formula.
Although Facebook’s audience is growing, organic reach is down. For greater efficiency, future healthcare plans will focus on fewer, but proven, social platforms. And for greater productivity, plans will embrace a blend of both organic and paid social media.
Just a few of the well-established and popular social platforms dramatically outdistance dozens of others. Marketing professionals will adjust to media and algorithm changes and use their best-performing tools to extend their reach, strengthen patient/consumer relationships, and to extend online visibility and reputation.
(7) Live and streaming video are outdistancing “regular” video and text.
Not long ago, video took a popular lead from text in attention-getting and communications power. The new kid on the block is live video, a tool used by nearly 90 percent of brand marketers. A live option provides the marketing advantage of speaking to a consumer in real time—where immediacy and timeliness are important.
Video content has captured a larger share of the budget, in part, because live or near-real-time streaming has a strong audience appeal, and it has a 95 percent retention rate with viewers. In addition, video formats are more social and intimate than text or graphics.
(8) The standard for healthcare marketing will be personal, individual and location-based.
The old-school concept of “spray-and-pray” is seriously out-of-date and wasteful in the age of digital marketing. Typically, individuals routinely use several devices…most notably, the first option smartphone/computer in their pocket. Further, ubiquitous WiFi and high-speed Internet connectivity put everyone online—instantly and constantly.
Today’s sophisticated marketing systems have the ability to profile people, their personal tastes and preferences, as well as their location. The most effective relationship with the target audience is personal. It presents attention-getting individualized and relevant material or information that is close or convenient to access. The ideal marketing channel is one-to-one.
(9) Marketing Automation will be a practical option within the reach of a wider range of healthcare users.
As a software tool, the advantages of marketing automation appealed primarily to larger organizations and facilities—those holding a large database, and those with a sufficient budget. The software is complicated to use properly and expensive. And the objective is delivering the right message to the right person, at exactly the right time.
Going forward, however, software and service providers are bringing the cost and the suitable application within the reach of mid-size and growth-oriented healthcare organizations. To be clear, marketing automation software is helpful with repetitive tasks and calendars, but its use is sophisticated and detail oriented.
It is not a standalone substitute for experienced professionals. In fact, both components are required. In 2018, a broader range of hospitals and providers will benefit from streamlined efficiencies, personalized and precision-targeted tasks, and from the adoption of detailed plans.
The cost-effective benefits of marketing automation—a centralized database, engagement channels, and tracking and analytics—flow from thoughtful and detailed strategies and tactics.
(10) Closely monitor the changes in social media platforms and performance.
In addition to a refocus of marketing efforts (discussed above), seemingly familiar social media faces continue to evolve—some in good ways; while others, not so much. Change can happen quickly, so watch for:
- Expanded use of Instagram Stories for marketing via image and video sharing
- More live streaming content and viewers on Facebook, Facebook Spaces and others
- Street-smart organizations invest more budget and resources in online reputation management
- Twitter—once a social darling—is growth-impaired; watch for facelift or failure
- Virtual and augmented reality expand via social and iPhone and iPad apps
What significant healthcare marketing trends are you watching? What would you add to this list? What’s just over the horizon in your operation? Please join in our conversation.