// By Lindsay R. Resnick //
The new year is just around the corner and with it comes many challenges, along with many opportunities, for health care marketers.
If what we’ve seen over the past year is any indication, 2017 won’t be for the faint of heart. Combine the dynamics of socioeconomic-political tensions with the massive transformation happening across health care’s ecosystem—regulatory, technology, competition, innovation, finance, clinical—and you get an environment ripe for disruption—and opportunity, too. At the same time, marketing is undergoing its own revolution—personalization, omnichannel, ad blocking, live streaming, mCommerce, IoT, which equals another environment ripe for disruption—and opportunity.
Following are the top 10 health care marketing trends to watch in 2017. Use them to inform strategic vision and design tactical actions.
1. Market transformation drives brand transformation. Call it a refresh or repositioning, health care brands must adapt to the rapidly changing landscape they operate in. Whether clinical innovation, shifting payment responsibility, new sites of care, or price/quality transparency, the go-forward challenge is to seed renewed brand messaging across the customer lifecycle. For many, this means reengineering brand architecture to accommodate different customer value expectations. If what your customers perceive and know about your brand corresponds with their priorities, you will see preference and market share grow, followed by improved loyalty, and ultimately, an ability to secure dominative pricing.
INSIGHT: A health care company’s brand promise is a key company asset and needs to be aggressively managed to bring a sustainable competitive advantage. Conduct a brand audit to confirm marketplace adaptability and “future test” against changing stakeholder priorities.
2. Big data goes small with personalization. Data, along with the intelligence it produces, are a health care marketer’s most important currency. As connected health delivery platforms draw on mobile, wearable, social, and artificial intelligence, the goal is to unite fragmented health systems and expedite how health information is accessed and shared. The “dataization” of health care is here. By translating real-time information into actionable insights, marketing can create predictable, meaningful customer interactions. Data has value only when you can do something useful with it. It’s why CMOs and CIOs are joined at the hip creating an integrated data management strategy.
INSIGHT: A purpose-driven approach to data personalization able to drill into micro-segments to inform marketing has huge payoff.Create an enterprise-wide approach to data management to collect, analyze, and disseminate customer insights.
3. Storytelling is the new selling. The ability to structure a unified vision, define a differentiated value proposition, and broadcast it in a consistent narrative drives awareness, advances reputation, and influences key audiences. The art of brand and digital storytelling is to tell it, don’t sell it: use multiple formats (text, images, audio, video), insert those formats into multiple vehicles (blogs, FAQs, white papers, emails), and drive those vehicles into multiple destinations (social media, websites, blogs, events). A unique story helps health care companies stand out in crowded markets, rise above monotonous messaging and imagery, and most of all, evoke emotion around your brand for your customers and employees to see and hear.
INSIGHT: Everyone, and every business, has a story to tell; how you make yours more compelling than the next guy’s is the challenge. Establish a “listen & learn” agenda to understand and test with key audiences (e.g., social listening, in-market research).
4. Skin in the game aims to drive value. While the hype is bigger than the movement right now, payers and providers of care are moving (or being forced) from volume-driven to value-based reimbursement schemes. Pay-for-performance risk sharing from Accountable Care Organizations to episodes of care and bundled payments are taking health care toward outcomes-based financing—incentives and disincentives based on quality of care delivered and patient clinical results. For health care marketers, the challenge is communication of these sea-change arrangements, internally and externally, to address “how it affects me and what’s in it for me”—whether it’s your physicians, patients, or board of directors.
INSIGHT: High-performance, consumer-centric health care is built on measurable clinical outcomes supported by new models of financing, care delivery, and patient engagement. Learn from accountable care and risk management successes (and failures), and stay grounded in the goal of “triple aim”—better care, better health, and lower costs.
5. To win my interest and loyalty, be relevant. Reaching always-on customers, B2B or B2C has to be on their terms and at their moments of need. It requires a seamless, omnichannel marketing experience to synchronize with today’s empowered prospects and customers. This approach also means creating and distributing relevant content to attract, acquire, and engage a target audience to drive meaningful, often immediate, action. A robust content management strategy is the only way to survive the new digital-mobile-social communication landscape where brand, product, and service responsiveness needs to happen across the cycle of demand.
INSIGHT: Empowered health care customers will demand more value from their health care dealings, resulting in better care and better outcomes. Communicate in ways that educate and attract interest, and tell customers, “This is a company that knows me and meets my needs.”
6. Bringing to life a relationship of trust. Health care markets have been commoditized and consumer trust is at an all-time low across sectors: payers on affordability, providers on accessibility, pharmaceutical companies on pricing, and government on bureaucracy. Health care has a Sisyphus-like effort in front of it to reverse the tide of negative perceptions. Trust is a result, and the following three simple rules go a long way toward getting there: (1) be honest about what you can and cannot help customers with; (2) be empathetic and fair in your interactions with customers and how they experience you; and (3) be informed as you champion issues such as healthier behavior, proactive prevention, and cost containment.
INSIGHT: A relationship of trust blends individual motivators with emotional and rational drivers that work to change behavior throughout your customer’s health care journey. Step back and ask the central question: How well does every touchpoint respect customers’ needs, drive engagement, and promote trust?
7. Entrepreneurial spirit triumphs over bureaucracy. The long arm of government is touching well over half of the health care marketplace—Medicare, Medicaid, ACA, and Tricare. On any given day, FDA, CMS, and state DOI are putting forth new rules (MACRA) or changing old ones (risk adjusters). Having government as your business partner needs to quickly become health care companies’ next core competency. Get out from under the weight of government rubrics by starting to think about your business in ways that look very different from today’s health care enterprise. This means calling into question legacy operating assumptions, challenging institutional bias, breaking down functional fiefdoms, and forcing debate around longstanding approaches to your markets.
INSIGHT: Sixty percent of companies say organizational silos are the greatest barrier to improving customer service. Ban the phrase “But we’ve always done it that way” in your workplace (and try it as a life lesson as well).
8. Embrace connected communities of health care consumerism. The consumerization of health care means the customer is in control. They are defining the path to purchase, as well as the path to loyalty. Customers have figured out how to discover preferred health care resources, and they’re reviewing, recommending, and referring them on their terms. Across providers of care, payers, and even health technology companies, engagement-based marketing strategies are shaping tomorrow’s activist consumer marketplace. And socialnomics in health care will continue to generate B2B business leads, establish more intimate customer service, and most important, facilitate patient-to-provider and patient-to-patient communication.
INSIGHT: Consumers have higher expectations from companies that actively try to engage them. Create an integrated communication stream across the health care continuum to produce a value exchange that strengthens customer engagement.
9. Customer experience finally gets real. Many health care companies treat customer experience, B2C or B2B, as a series of disconnected events and fragmented interactions. More times than not marketing is disengaged after the awareness and acquisition phases conclude. Future success will be defined by enabling a cross-functional, coordinated approach to customer touchpoints. By leveraging proven marketing and communication principles, companies can provide customers a reason to engage and stay loyal. Guide them through health care’s maze of choice and reward them with an experience built on respect and advocacy.
INSIGHT: Organize around what matters to your customer to deliver a holistic, superior user experience and you’ll see improved customer Lifetime Value. Map your customers’ journey by looking inside-out (Voice of Enterprise) & outside-in (Voice of Customer).
10. By changing nothing, nothing changes. Or said another way, 2016 elections aside, health care reform will be reformed. There’s no turning back. The percentage of uninsured Americans is the lowest in decades. There’s a move away from fee-for-service “more tests, more procedures, more money” to health care centered on better care, better quality and better health. And health information technology is changing the face of care delivery and physician-patient interactions. Let’s take the opportunity of a new presidency to put aside partisan pomposity on both sides of the aisle. ACA can be improved through bipartisan, public policy-driven, targeted, legislated modifications, whether risk adjustment, funding sources, or benefit design.
INSIGHT: As health care reform gets fixed, marketers will be at the center of positioning, communicating, and influencing change. Help consumers make value-based financial and clinical decisions—replace health care confusion with health care confidence.
For health care marketers, 2017’s political volatility, competitive rivalry, and mind-boggling technology advancements will surely bring disruption, as will those lurking “unknown unknowns.” Keep a watch list of trends that impact your value proposition, and stay even closer to your customers. Pressure-test products and services for relevance, and customer experience for responsiveness. Where there’s change, there’s opportunity. Be prepared. Be agile. Be successful!
Lindsay Resnick is Executive Vice President at ReviveHealth, a Weber Shandwick company. ReviveHealth is a health care marketing agency serving companies across the provider, payer, service, and technology health care ecosystem. He is a frequent blogger, author, and speaker on trends in health care, insurance, marketing, and business strategy. You can reach him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ResnickLR.