With the first month of 2017 almost behind us, the industry is living up to its hype of transformation – from the Trump Administration taking office and subsequent promise of ACA repeal, to the shut-down of the Aetna/Humana merger, to the funding of innovative start-ups, just to name a few.

Looking ahead, we can identify more than a fair share of changes like these coming – “known unknowns” – although we can foresee them, we don’t know their outcome. On top of these more apparent changes, there are an equal share of “unknown unknowns” – things we cannot foresee coming, nor have any idea how they will affect our industry. While the latter sounds more daunting, both require the same response: preparation, a solid communications strategy, and a positive orientation toward change.

To that end, over the past several weeks we’ve been talking with C-suites and healthcare industry leaders to discover and better understand the pain points their organizations are facing, and strategies to engage consumers on the road ahead. Throughout these conversations, three key learnings emerged:

  1. Brand relevance changes…in changing times. Unless you’re a healthcare “change denier” you can’t help but recognize that over the last two to three-years, disruptive innovation, shifting consumer demands, and new reimbursement and care delivery models have changed U.S. healthcare forever. Take a moment for introspection and ask yourself: has our company’s brand position and value proposition changed along with this new healthcare environment? Sooner rather than later, your challenge is to make this assessment, and whether you call it a refresh or repositioning, create and disseminate renewed brand messaging across your customer lifecycle. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
  1. Your obligation to be a consumer educator. Healthcare consumers in your market are confused. The discourse coming out of Washington around “repeal & replace”, Medicare privatization, and women’s health care is looming like a dark cloud in your communities. While none of this may happen overnight, your customers think it’s happening to them tomorrow…and they’re nervous. At a time when we ask consumers to take more personal responsibility for financial & clinical healthcare decisions, they need help navigating the “system” to make informed, personalized choices. Taking a proactive approach to educate your markets will go a long way toward replacing healthcare confusion with healthcare confidence. Become the go-to resource in the markets you serve, the payoff comes in customer engagement and loyalty.
  1. ‘Tell it, don’t sell it’ marketing is now a thing. Consumers are getting tired of being sold to by brands, they’re turning it off and tuning it out. Content-based storytelling has become the new selling, particularly in healthcare. Companies that are effectively presenting a unified enterprise vision and broadcasting it in a consistent narrative are improving brand awareness, advancing their reputation, and influencing customer decisions. Market leaders are using different formats (text, audio, video), inserting those formats into different vehicles (blogs, whitepapers, emails), and driving those vehicles to different destinations (social media, websites, events). Telling a unique story helps healthcare companies stand out in commoditized markets, and with their customers, it builds a relationship of respect and trust.

Dealing with 2017’s volatility while keeping an eye on competitive rivalry can challenge the best of marketers. The ability to connect with customer communities, on their terms – how and where they get information – is at the heart of successful healthcare communication. It’s not easy. It means questioning long-held business assumptions, breaking down internal silos and most of all, pressure-testing your approach to marketing, from brand to direct to content to public relations. By changing nothing, nothing changes.

January 26, 2017
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