When you think of industries with a marketing advantage, healthcare might not jump to mind. But healthcare providers have a clear marketing data lead over many others:
- More data about their customers;
- Data reveals opportunities to interact with patients in meaningful ways;
- And when it comes to value, healthcare marketing data can deliver the highest value of all – better health!
Healthcare marketers might be the first to doubt this. How can anyone say healthcare marketing has advantages over, for example, retail? That industry isn’t highly regulated, and it doesn’t have to deal with insurance providers. Plus, healthcare is a very old industry and wasn’t built around consumer insights or technology — it can be harder to change than start from scratch.
Even with those advantages, healthcare lags behind others in customer experience. One reason might be who healthcare looks at as a model.
“One of the amazing opportunities for healthcare is to look outside of healthcare, and take inspiration,” said Heather Geisler, Chief Marketing Officer at Henry Ford Health System on the Hello Healthcare podcast. “Consumer expectations, consumer wants, what surprises and delights a consumer, those expectations, in particular in the digital space, are not being set by other healthcare companies. You don’t have a separate computer to book your doctor’s appointment than you do to buy your plane ticket or to shop on Amazon.”
What does that mean? Instead of comparing one healthcare system to another, think of comparing the experience of your patient, aka the healthcare customer, to the rest of the world they live in. Their experiences, from booking a vacation to buying shoes to shopping for cookie sheets, are all integrated. What they see and hear — and are asked to do — is one universe for them. If Disney can delight them, and Zappos can simplify returns, and Amazon recommends what kitchen gadget to buy next, why can’t their healthcare provider do more?
Data in Healthcare: Driving Better Relationships?
If data is one of the keys to a better relationship with customers, what are some of the uses of marketing data in healthcare that can create those great experiences?
One use of data Actium clients can vouch for: texting patients with reminders for life-changing appointments, like mammograms or screenings. It’s the ultimate combination of showing you (as a business) understand the customer and making it easy for them to take action (setting up an appointment from a text). Yes, an online retailer can recommend what you might like to buy next, but that can’t compare with a timely reminder about a life-saving action.
One example: In 2020, Virtua Health saw a widening gap in who should be coming in for preventive care, such as cancer screenings. Going back to the data advantage, they were able to use their data to figure out they needed to start with breast cancer. Partnering with Actium, they launched an AI-driven campaign targeted to women at high-risk for breast cancer, with the goal of getting them in for a mammogram. The end result was more than 11,000 appointments and nearly 1,400 diagnoses.
For many healthcare organizations, using AI to gather that kind of data from their EMR, let alone texting patients, would be something new. Embracing the new is hard. But as Heather put it: “I think there’s an opportunity potentially to be nimbler. That is something that a healthcare organization should lean into and embrace, that more agile approach to both developing experiences and then optimizing them.”
Lessons Outside of Healthcare
One example of leaning into optimizing experiences is gathering data at multiple points, not just from the health records. How is healthcare thinking about building emotional connections with patients?
Have you seen the smiley face polls? Usually on a stand, easy to see, a sign asks a question, like “how was your experience in line?” or “was this bathroom clean?” and underneath is a series of smiley faces from sad to happy. You press one, and the organization gets instant data on your experience.
Can healthcare do something similar? Simple surveys on the TV screen in hospital rooms? Or a smiley poll in the reception area of a clinic? Data like that can help leaders know where to make changes at the operational level. There’s also a benefit to being seen asking: “Are you doing okay? Did we do a good job?” Then, as with all data, your organization needs to take that data and actually do something with it.
Does Healthcare Have a Brand Advantage?
It’s rare to talk about marketing without talking about brand. If healthcare has a marketing advantage, what role does brand play?
As Heather points out, brand is not a logo or a tagline; it’s how you connect in a meaningful, emotional way to an organization, a product, a cause, or a value. It’s about building that deeper, sustained connection that feels highly personal.
“When I was at Hyatt [in a marketing leadership role], we would talk about [being] willing to drive farther to stay at a Hyatt Hotel. Even though there was a Sheridan or a Marriott right down the street,” said Heather. “That’s brand loyalty.”
How do healthcare leaders think about that? Can brand loyalty keep you connected to customers, and even attract more? Typically that value association comes with tertiary and quaternary care, meaning, we expect patients will go out of their way for the best care of that type. Is it possible to build those loyalties and relationships that “turn your patients and team members into evangelists, that are almost indescribable in words” for primary care?
The power of brand complements and reinforces the outcomes you deliver in your clinical care settings. Think of it like a flywheel for growth: one pushes the other, which in turn pushes the other. Working together, a brand that shows it knows its customers and values them and an experience that delivers value, can translate the healthcare marketing advantage from only residing in its data, to its overall delivery.
To hear more about how we should be approaching the consumer journey, who owns the experience to retain our patients, and how to make sure outreach aligns with an experience that keeps people loyal to our health system, Actium invited Heather Geisler, chief marketing and consumer experience officer and executive vice president of the Henry Ford Health System, to talk about those issues and more on a recent episode of Hello Healthcare.
Heather’s been in marketing for MSNBC and Hyatt as well, so brings a fresh perspective and energy to building on the advantages healthcare has to leapfrog the rest of the other industries in terms of the experience. Within two years, she’s launched a rebranding initiative and introduced amazing thinking around the consumer journey. You can hear the full interview here.