Healthcare marketing: online trends in 2020

Healthcare marketers have the tools they need. We’re neck deep in tools. 2020 is not the year of more tools.

It’s the year of finally using tools the right way and connecting them to the bigger goal – not just taking them out for a spin and running test campaigns divorced from what our organizations are trying to accomplish.

We see five areas where digital healthcare marketing needs to look at this year. As the year goes on, we’ll dig in and focus on specific tactics and best practices for each.

Telling the (big) story

We can’t afford to just spend a bunch of time creating one-off, disjointed pieces of content that satisfy an individual’s or group’s desire for promotion but don’t connect to the bigger picture. We’ve got to have a narrative that weaves its way through the messaging that we’re putting out as an organization. People would much rather listen to a story than be told about a service or product. Think about it: It’s the difference between giving a kid a toy light saber and saying, “Here’s a toy sword that lights up” versus saying, “We’re going to watch this movie called Star Wars,” and then giving them the toy. No contest between which will be more meaningful.

Not just precision, micro-precision

We’ve known for a while that organic reach is dead. Now we’re starting to see decreased returns on paid media. So we’re going to have to become even more granular in our targeting. While we hope to reach a larger and larger total audience, we can do that most effectively by reaching narrower and narrower groups through specific stories and content developed for them. The need to go small to have a bigger impact will be seen in micro-targeting ads, influencer outreach and even the way content is created for audiences. Campaigns, while they might have an overarching theme, will have to look for micro messages throughout the run.

We’re also going to have to get a little more intentional about understanding who’s on what platform and what to use each platform for. For example, if we’re trying to reach people in a professional context – like our peers or physicians – it’s more like a B2B conversation that’ll be appropriate on LinkedIn. A consumer play to reach patients? Facebook or Instagram. Even those are broad buckets, but the idea is that we can’t put the same content everywhere and expect to get all the right people.

Finding what really matters

We can’t say it enough: We healthcare marketers have to get better at defining what a win looks like going into a campaign, and then picking the right metrics that will allow us to track those outcomes. Instagram just dumped likes, and we’ll probably see more dominoes fall. Gone are the days that anyone cares about volume (fans, followers, likes). Brands will have to be more strategic in goal setting. And, of course, we’ll have to educate our organizations about what those important metrics are. Likes are an easy way to track basic trends over time, sure. But we’ll all be better off if we’re tracking operational and business-related metrics that we can measure regardless of the platform. Social platforms can (and do) change their algorithms, so we shouldn’t rely on them to tell us what’s happening.

Actively managing reputation

Hospitals can no longer rely on the natural goodwill and trust that’s been afforded to them in the past. Reputations must be cultivated, not passively maintained. Right now, we’re on our heels a bit having to take into account what online review sites say about us and understanding what consumers want to find when they search. So, we need to better deploy advocacy-based solutions to get people talking about us and build a true picture of our organization online. There’s certainly a role for digital tools in that effort. There’s also the need to recruit brand ambassadors, people who are trained and motivated to help advocate for the organization and fuel its standing in the community.

Focus on community

Just because you work in marketing doesn’t mean you only focus on advertising. Look at why people use the platforms they do. I am constantly amazed at what people are willing to ask via Facebook messages not knowing who they are actually talking to. According to recent research, 42 percent of consumers expect an answer to a social post within just 60 minutes. The reasons for and frequency of patients and consumers reaching out to hospitals online is only going to increase. We have to plan and staff for this. This far expands outside of marketing and communications.

Being able to answer questions in real time will be an expectation sooner than later. Artificial intelligence isn’t something from the movies anymore. Hospitals that are leading the pack will use AI to anticipate what patients expect and what they value. The consumer expectation will be to receive information and help, not having to search for it.

Reed Smith