Developing Effective Marketing Plans from Start to Finish ft. David Marlowe


Season 2, Episode 13
Healthcare marketers put considerable effort into driving strategies that meet organizational and community demands. With endless requests coming their way, how can marketers pivot to proactively execute impactful strategies?

Join David Marlowe from Strategic Marketing Concepts, and host Chris Hemphill, as they discuss how to drive successful marketing plans, from start to finish, that align to organizational goals.

Video Chapters
4:59 What IS an Effective Strategic Marketing Plan in Healthcare?
7:33 When Other Leaders Don’t Understand Marketing
10:00 When Marketing Planning Works (Health System Examples)
14:24 The Metrics to Avoid When Reporting on Your Impact
17:20 Will Leadership Always Believe Your Impact? No, but…
19:16 How To Know You’ve Done A Good Job With Planning

This conversation is brought to you by Actium Health in partnership with the Forum for Healthcare Strategists.

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Chris Hemphill

VP, Applied AI & Growth
Actium Health


David Marlowe

Strategic Marketing Concepts

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David Marlowe (00:00):
The industry has gotten so reactive that it’s moved away from putting together marketing plans. It’s almost as if people, there’s no time. We just have to react. And the problem, of course, is when you always live in a reactive mode, you never do carve out the time to put together a marketing plan and you never get proactive. You’re always reacting to somebody running in the room saying, “I have this crisis, I have this, I need this, I need that,” and you essentially become order takers.

Chris Hemphill (00:37):
Hello, Healthcare. We are excited about being at HMPS 2021, being able to have conversations live and in person, and really seeing the connections and concepts that this conference is about this year. So, we’re really excited to bring in, to help us with that, David Marlowe, who heads up strategic marketing concepts. And I think it’s an off opportunity for us to take a step back. We’re running on autopilot a lot, running as many campaigns as possible, doing advertising and things like that. But what David Marlowe’s session this morning covered was, let’s get strategic. Let’s take a step back and think about what our plan is, and ultimately whether or not we’re covering the overall strategic goals and helping to meet the mission of the organization.

Chris Hemphill (01:25):
So, David has been doing this for over 20 years now. He’s been worked with over 250 different health systems, seeing a large variety. And David, I’m really excited to get into your perspective. Could you just give us a little bit of background on that journey, working with all these different health systems and what you were hoping people would get out of your session?

David Marlowe (01:45):
Okay. I’ve actually been at this for over 40 years. But I’m sorry, I couldn’t let it go. But the session was really focusing on what is the process of putting together a marketing plan. And I’ve talking about it for a long time. The industry has gotten so reactive that it’s moved away from putting together marketing plans. It’s almost as if people, there’s no time. We just have to react. And the problem, of course, is when you always live in a reactive mode, you never do carve out the time to put together a marketing plan and you never get proactive. You’re always reacting to somebody running in the room saying, “I have this crisis, I have this, I need this, I need that,” and you essentially become order takers, and a good marketing function shouldn’t be. It’s not a restaurant, you shouldn’t be taking orders.

David Marlowe (02:37):
What you should be doing is saying, “Okay, what’s the opportunity? What’s the problem.” We’re bringing on two new surgeons that are going to give us a capacity we didn’t have before, that’s a great opportunity. What do we need to do to communicate that or to set up the marketing for that to take advantage of that expectation? And I’m led to that, that one of the things I work with, a lot of places I really emphasized, is that I said the word communication a minute ago, but marketing’s a lot broader than communications. In healthcare, it tends to be the typical hospital health system. It tends to be very communications oriented. That’s the way it’s evolved. That’s a lot of who’ve taken in those positions, and that’s fine. That probably is 75% of what has to be done, but there’s a lot more to marketing than that, even if it doesn’t fall under the marketing department.

David Marlowe (03:29):
So, for example, access. Are these new doctors located someplace I can find them? How do I make an appointment? Can I even get an appointment? Do they take my insurance? These are all issues that come into play. What’s the experience like? I’ll use an example there of hospital based diagnostic imaging up against free standing diagnostic imaging. To get a diagnostic, get an x-ray at a typical hospital, you got to park two zip codes over, find your way through the building, register, get to wherever. Or you can go to the free standing diagnostic imagery center where you can park 25 feet from the door, register online, get it done and get out. Which one are you going to go to? So, that’s a marketing issue. Sometimes price is a marketing issue. So, all I emphasize to people is, I know you as the marketing director certainly control the price, but you need to recognize if that’s a problem, build it into the marketing planning process so that it’s addressed.

Chris Hemphill (04:31):
So, that’s huge to me, because what you highlighted opens up a scenario where a lot of people might believe that they have effective plans in place, but oh, like this thing is working against me or the price is working against me, but my planning is pristine. But when in reality, you need to be open to what are the realities that we’re dealing with and how do we adjust that plan accordingly? So, it leads me to… I want to take a step back and get really basic. What do you consider to be a strategic marketing plan, or at least an effective? At the very baseline, what is a good marketing plan?

David Marlowe (05:07):
Good marketing plan? A good marketing plan basically connects what’s going on in the environment that the organization deals with. And I don’t care if the organization’s a hospital or a medical group or an urgent care center or home health, whatever it is, what’s going on? What do people want? Is the population increasing or decreasing? What’s the payer mix? Who are you competing with? What are the regulatory- whatever. Whatever’s going on, connects that to where the organization wants to be positioned, and sometimes that position is real. Sometimes it’s aspirational. What marketing strategies are you going to put in place, two, three, four, five, whatever’s reasonable, to achieve that position? And it might be communications, and it might be media relations, and it might be digital access or whatever it may be. Then it leads to, what are our quantifiable objectives? And that’s, by the way, a big problem with a lot of marketing work, a lot of marketing plans, is we don’t measure what we’re doing.

David Marlowe (06:08):
So, what are our objectives? And then what are the specific actions we’re going to take in the next year to get there? And you pull that all together, figure out the resources to do those 20 actions, 30 actions, and there’s your marketing budget. And the marketing budget was tied all through all that whole plan. That’s really what a good marketing plan does. And what I try to teach people is, here’s the process, but whatever you’re going to include in your hospital plan, it’s going to be very different than that medical group’s plan. There’s not one size fits all. You have to reflect what’s happening in the environment. You also have to reflect what’s the marketing function. If it’s a one person marketing department, that’s going to be a very different marketing plan than if it’s a 35 person academic medical center. Just reality.

Chris Hemphill (06:59):
So, like we were discussing earlier then, the plan is the sequence of steps and actions that we take, but informed by our actual scenario, some goals aspirational, but informed by what the realities are. That leads to a point. Earlier, you had said that the role of the marketer shouldn’t be as an order taker. And I feel like, having an effective plan, the strategy that you laid out is a great defense against that. But I wonder about when other parts of leadership that might not understand the function of marketing or the role, or might not understand the plan, what can the marketer do to prevent that kind of steam rolling that might happen from other areas of the organization or even people that might be higher ranking? How can we defend our marketing plans here?

David Marlowe (07:55):
Well, part of that is education, is getting people to understand what the role of marketing is. I think that’s gotten better. When I came into the field in 1980, nobody had a clue what to do, what marketing was. So, it’s gotten better. I think more people understand it, but clearly, it’s educational. It’s also involvement. In other words, the marketing people can’t go into a closet somewhere, come up with a plan, and low here it is. If I have to put together a marketing plan for the diagnostic imaging area, I need to involve you. If you are the director of diagnostic imaging, I need to know what’s happening, what are your challenges, what are you trying to accomplish? So, it has to be us putting the plan together. It’s not this, I go off into this amorphous wilderness and I create a plan and come back and hand it to you.

David Marlowe (08:48):
And that’s true. I’m thinking about, a good human resources department works with its managers. A good finance department involves its leaders in budgeting, and they don’t just go make a budget in a closet somewhere and come back. And well, maybe some CFOs do, but no, I’m saying that it’s involvement. So, marketing becomes part of the organization’s culture, not this one-off specialty that we only see once in a while.

Chris Hemphill (09:14):
So, you’re telling me that when a marketing plan is not like a brilliant Mozart sitting in a room somewhere and conducting, creating the symphony all alone, but it’s a conductor role? You’re working with these other parts of the-

David Marlowe (09:29):
Sure. Well, I mean, if you think about it, if the problem is access. You’ve brought in two wonderful specialists, but I can’t get an appointment with them, well, I as the marketing department can recognize that. I can get the feedback to see that’s a problem. I can’t fix it. You as the head of that department, you have to fix it. I can bring that to your attention. So, my job is to bring that to your attention and I’ll do whatever I can to help you. But unless you’re going to give responsibility for running the cardiac surgery department, I can’t fix that.

Chris Hemphill (10:01):
So, in this history, in developing this strategy around planning, I feel like that you might have seen some examples where marketing is starting to bridge those gaps with other areas of other people that they need to work with to make these plans effective. Do you have any stories around that, anything that you’ve seen where, hey, there was like dissonance and miscommunication between, and the marketer reached out and grew that relationship to be able to make that plan?

David Marlowe (10:32):
Let me give you a couple that are non-communications. And again, communication’s a big part of what a good marketing department does. But I think the people who are getting this understand the communications components. So, let give you a couple that are not. One of them was a hospital that was getting feedback. Let me back up. It’s a market that there’s a high level of consumer price shopping. There’s a lot of high deductible plans. People are responsible for the first three or $4,000 out of pocket. So, when the doctor says, “Go get a cat scan,” until they meet that deductible, they’re paying for it. And all of a sudden, they’re price sensitive to whether the cat scan’s $300, 500, plus you’re paying out of your pocket. So, they got a lot of feedback that the system owned diagnostic imaging, the doctors were having a hard time getting people to go to it, because it was a lot more expensive than the free standing.

David Marlowe (11:27):
And what they did is they all sat down as a group, marketing brought that to the forefront, said, “What can we do?” Finance adjusted some of the prices of some of the most commonly shopped services, the top 10, if you will. And then marketing was able to put a campaign together to get that information back out to all the doctors. They didn’t advertise it to the public, because it’s not the kind of thing you run ads into the public, but they got the doctors, the doctors and the doctors say they’ve adjusted the prices, I’d really like you to get it here. And it’s now competitive. So, there’s an example of bringing the whole group together.

David Marlowe (12:02):
Another quick one is a specialty surgical hospital I worked with not too long ago. It’s a doctor owned hospital. There’s no emergency room, there’s no public, you can’t walk in, but it’s for orthopedic surgery and spinal surgery. I know they’re specialized. And the job of the marketing department was to bring in new surgeons. That’s where the revenue came from. The problem was, is there was no operating room time available because a cadre of the existing surgeons were always late. So, marketing was able to demonstrate and put data together to show what was happening, that it came down to about 10 doctors that accounted for almost all the lateness.

David Marlowe (12:43):
And they started working with ways to get those doctors transported from their other hospital, where they were working, get there on time. It is a lot of detail, but again, it wasn’t a communication solution. It was, how do we open up hours of operating room time so I can now go out and recruit another surgeon to bring in more revenue? It’s a very broad perspective on marketing. But what marketing did was able to look at a variety of data and say, here’s the problem.

Chris Hemphill (13:12):
And the really interesting thing about that, I like the fact that you’re bringing up issues that are not specific to communication campaigns, because it seats marketing in that… Marketing, the concept of going to market, it seats marketing in a position, in an intersection between what’s the experience that consumers are having when they’re interacting with us.

David Marlowe (13:34):
And don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of communication. It comes down also understanding the service. If you have urgent care centers, you have to constantly promote them, because urgent care is the kind of thing that you don’t really think about it until the moment you cut your hand and now you got to get it taken care of. And there’s eight urgent care centers around there, so I need to keep mine top of mind for you and easy to find, because now you’re in a I got to get this taken care of now mode. You’re not going to just go sit there and start doing a lot of Google searching. So, I want to keep… But it’s episodic and it’s I got to keep. So, there are communications, but it comes down to the marketing director understanding the nature of how urgent care works.

Chris Hemphill (14:22):
So, a lot of what we were talking about as well, you’d brought this up earlier, was the point of measure. And we were talking broadly at some of the shortcomings when it comes to how measurement has been incorporated into plans and things like that. Being from a data science background and on all that, I’m very curious on what the perspective is on measurement. How should we be looking at measurement, incorporating that? And even deeper than that, I know that a lot of metrics that might get shared get debunked by other departments once they see them. So, how do we work with our other teams to build trustable metrics?

David Marlowe (15:06):
Well, the metrics have gotten a lot better over the years, mostly because the information systems have gotten much better. I mean, when I started 40 years ago, there was no such thing as an EHR. So, clearly, things have gotten considerably better, but the way to summarize this, I think is there are really three categories of marketing metrics. There’s what I would call production metrics. How many videos did you produce? How many events did you hold? How many brochures, if we still do those, did you make? It’s just physical labor. And a lot of marketing departments focus on those metrics. The problem is nobody really cares about them outside of the marketing department.

David Marlowe (15:45):
Then there’s what I call marketing outcomes. So, if you had 10 events, how many people showed up? If you created so many websites, how much usage was there? How many phone calls did you get? So, those are more important, but even then, that’s still just an outcome of what you did. The third category is really the important one, strategic outcomes, volume, market share, new patients, new enrollment, return enrollment, whatever it is you’re trying to achieve. And that’s where the concept of ROI, return on investment comes into play. We’re doing a better job, I think in recent years of moving towards more of those strategic outcomes. But what I try to encourage my clients is you need to focus on the marketing and strategic outcomes and keep the production outcomes metrics within your department. At the end of the day, the board really probably doesn’t care how many videos you produced, they do care that we picked up 500 new patients we didn’t have before. And you’ve got to find a way to make that connection.

Chris Hemphill (16:59):
So, that becomes a really hard point too. Now, first of all, you brought up a really important data storytelling element, which is you don’t want to inundate people with everything in your spreadsheet, everything in your chart, you want to get focus to what’s going to matter. And you focus on those strategic outcomes metrics that do matter. So, a little bit deeper question is, what if leadership doesn’t trust that the impact that you had actually did result in that strategic outcome? I’m curious about that layer of friction.

David Marlowe (17:32):
Well, that can certainly happen. Ideally, if you’ve shown a really well thought out methodology that you can show, this is what we did, here’s how many inquiries we got via the website or via the app. Here’s how many of those inquiries converted into usage, and 70% of those were people we’ve never seen before. And here’s the revenue that was generated and actually collected. The whole process, if you can have that level of discipline, of diligence, it goes along way. Now, I’ll be direct about it, politics are politics. I’ve told people before, if you worked for an organization that you’ve done a good job and you really have created a good marketing function that’s on top of what’s going on and is showing value, and at the end of the day, you’re getting poo-pooed all over of the place.

David Marlowe (18:30):
I hate to say it, it may be a time to think about working somewhere else. I know that sounds flipped, but sometimes you can only hit your head against a wall so many times. Hopefully, you’ve got a leadership that says, “Hey, that’s okay. I see where you’re going with that.” But every once in a while, the reality is we work for places where they’re just never going to get it.

Chris Hemphill (18:54):
No doubt. I try to have a upbeat attitude, but one of the things that can make me sad is good work that goes unrecognized and unnoticed, unappreciated, and the organization doesn’t strategically try to get more of that good work.

David Marlowe (19:07):

Chris Hemphill (19:08):
So, overall, just with regards to you’ve developed this plan, you’ve run it through leadership, what are some checks that organizations or marketers should start thinking about to make sure and maintain, like we’ve done a good job on this plan? How does a marketer know that they’ve done a good job with the planning?

David Marlowe (19:28):
Well, I think, are you achieving? Are you helping the organization get to where it’s trying to go with its broad marketing, with its broad strategies? If the organization wants to establish a market position as being seen as the best place to go for health care in that particular marketplace, has the needle moved in that direction? If the organization wants to become the top heart organization as measured by admissions and visits and everything else, has that happened? If early on, people just didn’t know much about us and now awareness and understanding and familiarity has really increased, have you accomplished that?

David Marlowe (20:15):
The metrics have to measure where the organization wants to go. And for some organizations, the bottom line is financial and then we can argue how right or wrong that is, but sometimes that’s the reality. Have you contributed to the finances? And if so, to what degree? It all really comes down to, to what degree is what you have done contributed to where the organization wants to go? If your focusing is marketing, if you’re focusing on public image, but the leadership is focused on financial bottom line…

Chris Hemphill (20:54):
Yeah, that’s a great way to get kicked out of that seat at the table.

David Marlowe (20:57):
Well, you’re not giving them what they consider to be valuable. Now, it’s possible what they consider to be valuable is not realistic, but at the end of the day, that’s the guy that writes the checks. Again, I’m not trying to be flip about it, but that’s the reality of working for an organization.

Chris Hemphill (21:14):
Well, I really appreciate the perspective that you’ve brought. I hope that for anybody watching it gives some good material and good things to think about in terms of how to better relate to an executive team, how to get on that similar strategic level, and then of course, measure the impact against what matters for the organization.

David Marlowe (21:34):
Fair enough.

Chris Hemphill (21:35):
For other folks that want to have that conversation and have the same pleasure that I had talking to you, what’s the best way they can get in touch.

David Marlowe (21:41):
Probably just give me a call. Emails, you get 150 a day and you see them fast enough. Just call my office line. It’s (410) 997-8033. If I’m not there, just leave me a voicemail. I’m pretty good about getting back to people quickly. And I’m happy to talk to people. Obviously, I’m a consultant, but if it’s just a short, quick question as a colleague to colleague, I’m happy to talk to people about that.

Chris Hemphill (22:11):
Well, again, David, we really appreciate this conversation and your openness in talking to people about these concepts. And for anybody watching, we hope that you’ve enjoyed this slice of HMPS 2021. If you want more of the latest from healthcare’s thought leaders, subscribe using the button below, or you can visit to get updates directly in your email.

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