Where Health Care Marketers Should Focus in 2021
// By Danny Fell //
Marketers can help their organizations thrive in an increasingly competitive environment by introducing creative “outside the box” approaches that will help accelerate change.
Coming off an incredibly challenging 2020, health care marketers face a potentially rocky start to the new year. Positive factors, like revolutionary new COVID-19 vaccines, are coming up against the ongoing reality of a pandemic that is still very much with us across many parts of the country. The former offers a unique opportunity to engage consumers in the community and bring the pandemic closer to an end. But the latter will still threaten to prolong hospitals’ efforts to restore normal operations and convince concerned patients to return to in-person care settings.
Despite a likely unpredictable first half of 2021, strategists and marketing professionals can continue to help organizations survive and prepare for better days ahead. Here are six strategies you should think about now to make the most of the year ahead.
1. Leverage the vaccine rollout as part of a larger community health positioning.
Despite organizations putting more emphasis on population health and community wellness in recent years, research shows many still view health systems as a place for treatment, rather than prevention and support. One silver lining of the pandemic may be the role hospitals and health systems secured in the community as both providers and champions for community health. For many people, the pandemic has reminded them of the vital role health systems play in public health — and brands that leverage this fact will benefit from the halo effect.
In addition to proactive efforts around COVID-19 education and community-wide testing and treatment programs, hospitals should position themselves as leaders in community vaccination efforts. Continuing to build on brand equity will reinforce the public’s view of health systems as stewards of community health and wellness. Likewise, it would be wise to find new ways to expand this perception moving forward, reframing your brand as more encompassing than ever before.
2. Differentiate on brand and consumer experience.
Unsurprisingly, recent research shows consumer attitudes and behaviors toward brands are being shaped by the pandemic. For example, our latest Optum Consumer Pulse Survey suggests 39 percent of consumers may switch providers based on their telemedicine offerings, and 43 percent may switch based on their online scheduling capabilities. While both are important, these are just two examples of many regarding how strategy and marketing professionals can help organizations redesign the consumer experience.
Thirty-nine percent of consumers may switch providers based on their telemedicine offerings, and 43 percent may switch based on their online scheduling capabilities.
According to the recent State of Marketing report from Salesforce, 82 percent of marketers now view customer experience as the key to differentiation. Industry inflection points like these often create greater disruption in brand loyalty and buying behaviors. And organizations that capitalize on these moments to enhance consumer experience can grow volumes and move market share more effectively.
3. Rebuild volumes and restore financial margins.
Given the significant losses health systems experienced from canceled procedures and care avoidance, rebuilding volumes and revenue remains a top priority for marketers. Jason Brown, marketing veteran and CEO of BPD Advertising in Boca Raton, Florida, believes driving short- and long-term revenue for organizations should be priority one for marketers in 2021.
“Marketers have to demonstrate they can effectively drive revenue now more than ever,” says Brown. “And the only way to demonstrate that is to more accurately measure and report ROI across your marketing program.”
Brown’s call to action for marketers — part of an eHealthcare Strategy and Trends webinar this past fall — illustrates the urgency many marketers feel to avoid marketing budget cuts in 2021. And perhaps more important is how marketers feel the need to justify additional dollars to overcome the challenges health systems face in the ongoing environment.
4. Rethink and redefine marketing’s value proposition to the health system.
If the past 12 months could be summarized in a few words, terms like communications (both internal and external), trust, and customer moments would surely top the charts for marketers. Take advantage of this new equity where it exists within the organization and use it to bring awareness to what marketing can do for health systems. This has less to do with touting marketing’s accomplishments and everything to do with finding ways for marketing to help further the organization’s mission.
Health care marketers can, and should, be seeking to play a more influential role in strategic partnerships, product development, customer experience, and pricing.
Health care marketers can, and should, be seeking to play a more influential role in strategic partnerships, product development, customer experience, and pricing. These are areas that consumer marketers have long held sway over, and health care marketers need to advance to better compete in today’s consumer-driven health care marketplace.
5. Invest in better data and analytics to drive more effective marketing.
In a world where data is the new currency of business, marketers should leverage internal and third-party data to help their organizations build and deploy data-driven marketing solutions. In fact, marketing software leader Salesforce expects marketers to use 50 percent more data sources this year, compared to the number of sources used in 2019.
Three core areas for health care marketers to focus on include:
- Better consumer data
- Better physician data
- Better patient data
Further, health care marketers should bring this data together in an integrated, seamless way to help address growth, customer experience, and network strength. While marketers don’t have to own or control all of these areas, they should proactively influence how each area leverages this data for better decision-making and operational effectiveness. Marketers can help bring deeper insights and intelligence to strategy and operations by promoting real-time data, data governance, data “command centers,” and data-centric decision-making.
While now may not seem like the ideal time to try new things, history suggests that when companies are faced with adversity, those that focus on creativity and innovation come out ahead.
6. Develop a creative strategic plan that shapes the roadmap ahead.
While “creative” and “strategy” aren’t often used together to describe business planning initiatives, many organizations are finding success by incorporating more creative disciplines in their strategic and long-range growth plans. Strategies like agile planning and design thinking are not only increasingly being applied to innovation and new-product development, but also to overall strategy and business planning.
Marketers can help their organizations thrive in an increasingly competitive environment by introducing creative “outside the box” approaches that will help accelerate change. While now may not seem like the ideal time to try new things, history suggests that when companies are faced with adversity, those that focus on creativity and innovation come out ahead. Marketers can capitalize on this by introducing more creativity into the organization’s 2021 planning efforts, driving more substantive changes long-term.
Daniel Fell is a senior strategist with Optum’s innovation team and a former marketing and advertising agency executive.
- NRC Consumer Healthcare Trends Report
- Optum Consumer Pulse Survey
- Salesforce State of Marketing, Sixth Edition
- How to market in a downturn. Harvard Business Review, 2009
- Strategies from top marketers to preserve and grow marketing budgets and recapture customers in 2021, eHealthcare Strategy and Trends