Why Marketers Left HLTH Feeling More Excited (and Nervous) Than Ever

We love a good event recap, but this isn’t one of them. It’s an honest appraisal of what the event really meant for healthcare marketers. As the Agency of Record for HLTH, and the marketing partner to many of its speaking and sponsoring organizations, we experienced the event from all angles.

HLTH presented both sides of the coin: exciting solutions and complex problems. For healthcare marketers, HLTH was both invigorating and challenging because of the major tension that permeated throughout: between the bullish determination to truly innovate and the limitations that are unique to the healthcare industry.

Discussions about innovative care delivery models were met with apprehensive reminders of archaic reimbursement models.

Talks exploring consolidation and vertical integration exposed new competitive threats and the need for different talent/skill sets.

Hope for breakthrough technologies like artificial intelligence, genetic sequencing, natural language processing, and blockchain were met with workforce limitations, workflow barriers, and HIPAA woes.

Many HLTH attendees could choose a side — either laser-focused on forward-thinking, or deeply entrenched in healthcare’s legacy structures. This flexibility already placed the event leaps and bounds ahead of other healthcare events that struggle with that balance.

Marketers had no such luxury at the event, or in the everyday. We are forced to walk the tightrope in these conversations, telling a compelling story that drives revenue today, while also priming healthcare brands for a five to ten-year horizon when limitations are not so prevalent.

Balancing innovative thinking and real-life limitations, marketers left HLTH feeling both excited and nervous as their future role expanded right in front of their eyes. We noticed three main areas where marketers will be stretched in the future of healthcare:

1) Expanded Definition of Health

Potentially the most prominent, and certainly the most debriefed theme of HLTH was an emphasis on social determinants of health, or non-clinical barriers to health. Sessions focused on everything from socio-economic predispositions, to sidewalk infrastructure, to geographic outlier zones that have astronomically higher longevity rates. As healthcare marketers ourselves, we were bursting at the seams with excitement during these sessions. The more we talk about patients as multifaceted people rather than sick vessels, the more our creative marketing ideas can run free. 

At the same time, industry business incentives simply aren’t aligned with a wellbeing-oriented care delivery system just yet. In this interim period, marketing relevance will still rely on the ability to innovate functionally — optimizing programs to lead and react to an expanding definition of health in the industry. 

2) Data

The use of consumer data in healthcare marketing isn’t new, and the use of patient data in population health management is barely newer. However, the future of consumer engagement requires understanding the person as both a consumer and a patient.

There is still a fair amount of ambiguity around how much freedom marketers have under HIPAA, but the primary barrier to fully data-informed healthcare marketing isn’t HIPAA—it’s data structure and systems stacks.

3) Consolidation

The industry is consolidating and integrating, and it doesn’t show any signs of stopping. As a result, organizations are getting bigger and more multifaceted, which will increasingly require marketers to update their competitive sets to include companies they never dreamed of competing with, like CVS as a health plan, Cigna as a pharmacy benefit manager, or Humana as a home health provider. Adjacency strategies and vertical integration change the makeup of businesses and the consumers they market to. 

This should be exciting to marketers, but also profoundly overwhelming. Changing competitive sets and buyers mean whole new strategic marketing plans and a more intimate understanding of healthcare industry intricacies than ever.

The future of healthcare marketing won’t work for those uncomfortable with change and innovation, but it’s also not going to work for people with their head in the clouds. We’re excited to help empower the healthcare marketers of the future the be an innovative voice of reason — incrementally leading the industry to better outcomes and efficiencies.

It was an honor to support the HLTH team as the event became a keystone annual healthcare gathering, seemingly overnight. We can’t wait for 2019, which promises to be even bigger.

May 25, 2018
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