Top of the Colander Marketing
“Top-of-the-funnel marketing” may be my least favorite buzz phrase of late—right up there with “net new,” “baked in,” and “out of pocket.” Sure, it’s a pretty good visual of the process of turning consumers into customers, but really, the healthcare marketing “funnel” is more like a colander – you know, the helpful cooking utensil for straining pasta.
If you pour liquid into a funnel, you expect everything to make it from the top to the bottom without issue. However, the healthcare marketing funnel has plenty of exits for relatively healthy people to cycle back to the top, and significant barriers to reaching the bottom, like access and physician referrals.
Accessing the patient
Semantics aside, the fundamental principle of top-of-the-funnel marketing, casting a wide net to capture the attention of a broad audience, is an important step in the healthcare marketing process that can’t be overlooked. Securing market share for top-of-the-funnel services relies on delivering a seamless experience—from scheduling an appointment to paying a bill, and everything in between. These access points are the deepest that many patients will travel in your funnel the vast majority of the time. As such, it’s crucial for health systems to maintain relationships with patients, and to find more accessible ways to make new relationships in order to realize their potential revenue.
Top-of-the-colander funnel entry points for patients include telemedicine, urgent care centers, primary care physicians, and the emergency room. As Reed Ableson of The New York Times acknowledged in a recent article titled, “Hospital Giants Vie for Patients in Effort to Fend Off New Rivals,” patients are “looking for places that are both less expensive and more convenient than a hospital emergency room or doctor’s office.” Ableson also pointed out that while “hospital executives see the continued decline of care being delivered within a hospital’s four walls . . . they want to make sure they still have a say over where patients go after a hospital stay or to get treatment for a chronic condition.” There have been a number of articles in multiple publications recently driving this point forward, and it’s become the key strategic imperative for health systems across the country.
As if increased competition for patient acquisition isn’t steep enough, The New York Times points to recent mergers of various health entities, including UnitedHealth Group/DaVita Medical Group, Dignity Health/Catholic Health Initiatives, and CVS/Aetna, as increasing pressure on the traditional health system model. It also reveals the imperative to master top-of-the-funnel services and capture patients.
Furthermore, over the last several years, systems have shifted their positioning from “sick care” to more preventive care and wellness services. This shift has been supported across many industries, as companies incentivize employees to participate in wellness programs to lower their insurance premiums. We’re all doing our best to stay out of hospitals, yet hospital marketers continue to pursue service-line campaigns that hyper-focus on a particular procedure or offering, essentially marketing “sick care” to bottom of the funnel consumers, also known as patients —who, by the way, are either already in your funnel or are unlikely to jump from a competitor’s funnel to yours because of some clever marketing they saw.
As Chris Bevolo, EVP at ReviveHealth, asserts in his newly released book, “Joe Public III: The End of Hospital Marketing,” “for those systems who see past this focus on clinical care, and instead see the value of serving consumers interested in health and wellness, the opportunity is obvious.” He goes on to say, “health systems [are] missing the opportunity to engage with millions of consumers by only promoting their clinical services, given the vast majority of consumers [are] not in need of clinical services the vast majority of the time.”
We know that challenging the status quo and pushing back on C-suite and physician leadership who want to see specialty care highlighted in the market is no small task. We also know that generating awareness and interest in your system as a whole at the most basic, primary/emergent care level has to be a priority. Aside from being the largest population in the funnel, top-of-the-funnel consumers are also the least expensive in terms of care delivery. By targeting “healthy” consumers with the right engagement campaigns, healthcare marketers can truly connect with consumers in a meaningful way and help shift away from focusing on low-volume, high-cost procedures that involve a very small percentage of the population.
So, what does marketing to the top-of-the-funnel look like?
In a nutshell, it’s content marketing, and real engagement. Become the wellness authority in your community by designing a creative and compelling engagement platform and bringing it to life through helpful, healthful information via blogs, listicles, infographics, podcasts, videos, etc. These vehicles must consistently deliver useful material without explicitly selling the recipient on your system or services. Sure, sales are an underlying goal, but the message needs to prioritize useful information first.