Channel Agnostic Strategies for Healthcare Marketers

For years and years, hospitals and health systems have relied on mass advertising as their primary means of connecting with consumers. Early on, this was more understandable, given mass advertising was one of the only ways to deliver a message and build a brand. But as we’ve preached ad nauseum, “Joe Public Doesn’t Care About Your Hospital.” And thankfully, with the turn of the century new channels and strategies emerged – websites, digital marketing, search engine marketing, advancements in customer relationship management systems, social media, marketing automation, SMS. The list goes on and on. Healthcare marketers now have far more effective means of connecting with their audiences than ever before.

Yet, as an industry, we’ve been slow to move away from the old to embrace the new. There are many reasons for this, but one of the most powerful – and least discussed – is that many of the firms and agencies that support hospitals and health systems have yet to find a way to move on themselves. Their business models are anchored to the old ways, with a financial dependence on selling large-scale mass advertising campaigns. This becomes codified with health systems when they hold up “awareness,” or, heaven help us, “impressions,” as their ultimate marketing objective. 

Forget about how awareness is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sophisticated marketing. Or that impressions are not actually a measure of performance, but rather a measure of spend. If your goals are defined by driving awareness and impressions, what is the best way to meet those goals? Why more mass advertising, of course. In this way, those stuck in the old model hold their clients back by codifying measures of performance that support that old model. And until health systems move away from prioritizing their marketing strategies based on an old model, any progress will be slow and painful. 

So with new technologies, channels and platforms, we can move away from metrics that will handcuff us to one specific approach, right? Well, not necessarily. As the dependence on mass advertising starts to wane, will we see dependence grow in another area – the use of digital systems such as CRM, marketing automation, SEM? For starters, this would not be a horrible turn of events. These and other digital tools are far more effective at driving marketing results for hospitals and health systems than mass advertising. So if we’re going to move from one addiction to another, at least we’ll be moving to a far more effective addiction. Yet why become addicted at all? 

There is still danger in becoming myopic when it comes to marketing strategies and measures of success. There’s a potential for data-driven technology firms to take the place of the mass advertisers of old in terms of dictating marketing strategies based on their own business models. In the past, those who held the media relationships held the power. Moving forward, those who hold the data will hold the power. The blind pursuit of conversions, for example, could replace the blind pursuit of awareness or perception. If this were to happen, once again marketers would be allowing the medium to drive the strategy. And that’s the key – the medium should never drive the strategy. What is your marketing challenge? What are the best strategies for addressing that challenge? They may involve CRM, or marketing automation, or experiential marketing, or even mass advertising. But those approaches are there to serve you, not the other way around. Your goal should be to stand channel/approach/platform agnostic.

It’s hard enough navigating the new landscape without worrying about what – or whom – to trust. Don’t let a new boss take the place of the old boss. That’s a great lyric from the Who. What was the name of the song again? Oh yeah. “Won’t get fooled again.”

November 18, 2015
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