Healthcare marketing strategy: Building a playbook that works for your practice

Healthcare organizations—whether they are independent medical practices, large consolidated medical groups, or hospitals—are facing increasing pressure from consumers, payers, and regulators. To survive, they need to attract and maintain patients to ensure your practice’s wellbeing and revenue cycle. Marketing is an essential part of these efforts.

A strong digital marketing strategy can reinforce your practice’s reputation and expand your patient experience. But your medical training didn’t focus on the business of medicine, let alone the nuances of digital marketing.

In this article, our team explains how you can build a healthcare marketing strategy that helps you enhance your services, build healthcare literacy in your community, and drive more patients to your practice.

Healthcare marketing strategy is more than a collection of tactics

Many healthcare marketers and healthcare providers confuse strategy and tactics. In truth, these are different aspects of a robust marketing plan.

  • Strategy is your overarching plan to reach your goals.
  • Tactics are the steps you will take to effectuate your strategy.

Both are important, but without a strategic approach and a broad vision, your tactics will be scattershot, and your practice will waste money and resources.

Successful marketing campaigns are grounded in strategy

These campaigns have an identified audience, a clear message, and a definition of success from the very start. They complement your other marketing efforts, including your website, print ads, and email communications.

Suppose you want to attract more patients to a new family medicine practice. You decide to invest in programmatic display ads, the billboard-like ads you see on many websites. While these ads might help your practice boost brand awareness and nurture leads, they are not a strategy in themselves.

If you build your healthcare marketing campaigns in a vacuum, without considering your target market’s needs or your specific marketing goals, you will likely end up wasting time and money.

When you embrace strategy, there’s nothing haphazard about your marketing—and you’re more likely to see a better ROI (return on investment).

Ready to create a strong marketing plan?

In this article, you’re not going to find much tactical advice about healthcare marketing trends, advertising budgets, or social media marketing. Instead, we’re going to look at ways you can strengthen your marketing plan and adjust to the healthcare industry’s rapidly changing dynamics.

If you ready to dig into the details of your content marketing or advertising efforts, we can do that too. Contact the LaFleur team and we can audit your current efforts and suggest ways you can improve them. We’ll walk you through our CLEAR Framework™, which focuses on creating, launching, expanding, amplifying, and refining healthcare organization’s marketing efforts.

Step 1: Perform a SWOT analysis of your healthcare marketing

A successful healthcare marketing strategy depends on thorough planning. And the most important aspect of that planning begins at the outset with an honest SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. Some healthcare providers are hesitant to perform a SWOT analysis because it feels so overwhelming, but it’s an essential exercise that will help you diagnose your current efforts and implement sound strategies for consistent improvement.

First, you’ll want to separate the four elements of the analysis into distinct quadrants. Next, you’ll begin listing line items for each.

Strengths

What are the internal processes or tactics that are driving results and how can you leverage them to capitalize on your current success? Healthcare marketing strengths might include:

  • Your services and treatment options
  • Access to care, including the affordability of care
  • Patient experience
  • Community connections
  • Your diversity and inclusion efforts
  • A strong reputation with proven performance

Weaknesses

What are the internal processes or tactics that aren’t working or should be eliminated entirely? Where are your biggest needs for improvement and how should you prioritize them? Healthcare marketing weaknesses might include:

  • Poor or limited reputation
  • Lack of innovation or technology
  • Poor or inconsistent patient experience
  • Community barriers to care
  • Policy and service gaps
  • Staff changes or turnover

Opportunities

What are the external areas for improvement that would give your organization a boost? Healthcare marketing opportunities might include:

  • New technologies, innovation, or services
  • Weak or fading competitors
  • Changes in healthcare consumer needs
  • Policy or regulatory changes that improve access to care 

Threats

What are the external areas that constitute potential obstacles to your organization’s success and how can you minimize or overcome these challenges? Healthcare marketing threats might include:

  • Economic shifts
  • Competitor improvement or innovation
  • Increased compliance measures or regulations

A good SWOT analysis takes accountability and tracks your current state for future improvement. Be specific and deliberate with how you define each element and leverage the data wherever possible to remain objective. Carefully analyze your competition and involve stakeholders from across the organization to get the big picture.

Once you’ve completed your SWOT analysis and have a high-level view of your healthcare organization, you can begin planning strategies, tactics, campaigns, and content. And, if you need help assessing your brand, competitors, and missed healthcare marketing opportunities, our team of strategists can guide you through this analysis.

Step 2: See your prospective patients as healthcare consumers

Healthcare providers and industry experts have spent years predicting increased healthcare consumerism, and it might finally become a reality. Survey data suggests that, more than ever, people are researching their healthcare options before making a decision.

  • When picking a new primary care physician, more than 51% rely on online research. Roughly 24% of people just follow their providers’ recommendations.
  • 84% of people would not see a healthcare provider (even if they were a referral) who has less than a four-star rating or numerous negative reviews.
  • Other than quality care, customer service and communication are the top factors in patient loyalty.
  • Slow or inadequate response times are the top barrier to patient acquisition.
  • Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to have difficulties finding a doctor (compared to Baby Boomers).

Your practice can no longer rely on word of mouth and your referral network to maintain or boost your practice. Instead, you need a high-quality patient experience, exceptional reviews, and a commitment to service and transparency.

Tactically, this might involve content marketing, email automation, online appointment scheduling, and an easy-to-use patient portal. However, the focus should be on building credibility with healthcare consumers and making your care seamless and accessible.

If you do not have review nurturing and reputation management systems in place, now is the time to implement one. People crave social proof that confirms your organization’s reputation—and negative reviews can affect your patient acquisition and retention metrics.

Step 3: Identify your potential patients’ “jobs to be done”

Theodore Levitt famously noted that when consumers buy a ¼-inch drill bit, they really are purchasing a ¼-inch hole. Your prospective patients aren’t really looking for a hip replacement surgery or a virtual visit. Their “jobs to be done” are enjoying pain-free activities, improving their quality of life, or regaining time in their day. Your healthcare organization should speak to those needs.

This approach offers healthcare organizations clear benefits. Many of your patients are unsure of their options or are overwhelmed by the volume of health information on the internet. They are looking at you for guidance, empathy, and sense-making. And while you provide that in your one-on-one encounters with patients, you can also address their needs and concerns through your marketing efforts.

For example, suppose you’re an oncologist. Your patients are facing a wave of emotions, including fear, uncertainty, and information overload. Rather than providing sterile, clinical information about treatment options, you could consider their jobs to be done, which might include:

  • Extending their lives
  • Minimizing side effects from cancer treatments like chemotherapy and immunotherapy
  • Regaining a sense of control
  • Finding high-quality care that is close to home

If you address these needs first and then offer solutions, your marketing and healthcare education efforts might be more effective and empowering to prospective patients.

Tactically, you should weave your patients’ jobs to be done into your content marketing, paid advertising campaigns, social media marketing, and videos.

RELATED: Why your healthcare organization needs a blog

Step 4: Create content that meets patients where they are

Your healthcare marketing efforts shouldn’t focus solely on patient acquisition. Retention and brand ambassadorship are equally important. Again, surveys show that both existing and prospective patients prioritize responsiveness, open communication, and high-quality customer service (alongside exceptional care).

Furthermore, healthcare inertia is a significant problem for both providers and patients. According to the CDC, roughly 41% of patients delayed or avoided care due to COVID-19. Of this group, about 32% postponed or avoided routine care and another 12% did not get the emergency care they needed. It is essential that you reconnect with this population—and email automation, social media, and other lead nurturing tools can help you combat inertia and get past, present, and future patients into your office.

One size will not fit all when it comes to messaging

Segmented marketing, which targets a specific audience or demographic, will be an important part of your healthcare marketing strategy.

During your SWOT analysis, you might study your patients’ demographics and realize that you can break them into several broad groups:

  • Middle-aged professionals who delay care because they are “too busy,” but need to get in for routine, preventive care services (like mammograms, blood work, and flu vaccinations).
  • People who see health care as a “necessary evil,” but don’t take a lot of ownership in their care, which negatively affects their outcomes.
  • “Free thinking,” skeptical people who tend to research their health conditions online, are wary of traditional medicine, and avoid important services, like vaccinations.

To target the “busy professional,” you might create content and platforms that highlight time-saving technologies and services, like telehealth, online appointment scheduling, and concierge healthcare services. These solutions would likely be unappealing to your “young skeptics,” who might prefer healthcare information that focuses on more holistic services or breaks down research so they can make sense of it.

If you’re not sure how to break your patients into data and insight-driven archetypes or demographics, a healthcare marketing strategist can help. Then, you can build segmented, multi-platform campaigns that speak to each group’s specific needs, concerns, and interests.

Step 6: Demonstrate your value to the community

Healthcare organizations often give back to the communities they serve, and these engagements are becoming increasingly important. First, community service and outreach can advance your mission, boost public health, and combat health disinformation. Second, many consumers want to partner with organizations that contribute to society and share their values.

As you build your community outreach programs, we would encourage you to see them as part of your greater healthcare marketing strategy. After all, actions speak louder than words.

Our team is passionate about community service and its benefits. We’d encourage you to consider incorporating the following projects into your healthcare organization’s schedule.

  • Community outreach and events: In addition to health-related events (like vaccination clinics and car seat safety checks), consider offering tangential events and activities like a mobile food pantry, four-on-four basketball tournament, or a cleanup and picnic at a local park. 
  • Sponsorships: Set aside a quarterly budget to help promote local schools, non-profits, charities, athletics, and small businesses. Pledging your name, your logo, and your dollars to popular community organizations binds you to your neighborhoods and shows that you care about more than your bottom line. 
  • STEM and diversity: Representation in healthcare professions matters. Build programs that introduce underrepresented populations to your organization and career tracks. This might include job shadowing, internships, and partnerships with local high schools and community colleges. 
  • Volunteering: Let local schools and institutions know when you’re looking for volunteers to help coordinate fundraisers, visit with our sick children and senior populations, or donate blood or plasma.

RELATED ARTICLE: Client Testimonial: Canopy Health

LaFleur: We deliver human-centered healthcare marketing strategies

At LaFleur, we have helped healthcare organizations of all shapes and sizes connect with potential patients and create healthier communities. Whether you work for a local physician’s office or a nationwide healthcare network, we have we can help you plan, create, and execute a comprehensive healthcare marketing strategy that inspires trust, drives revenue, and boosts public health.

Please complete this brief form or call (888) 222-1512 today for a free consultation. We’d love to hear more about your current marketing strategy and begin a conversation on how we can help you improve.

References

Consumer Experience Trends in Healthcare 2021. (2021). Press Ganey. Retrieved from https://www.pressganey.com/sites/default/files/2021-11/Press%20Ganey%20Consumer%20Trends%20Report%202021.pdf

Czeisler MÉ, Marynak K, Clarke KE, et al. Delay or Avoidance of Medical Care Because of COVID-19–Related Concerns — United States, June 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1250–1257. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6936a4.

leigh ebrom content director

Leigh Ebrom is content director at LaFleur, a digital marketing agency that specializes in highly regulated industries. She earned her J.D. in 2003 from Valparaiso University School of Law and now uses her experience to connect firms and consumers nationwide. Leigh co-authored Digital Marketing for Law Firms: The Secrets to Getting More Clients and Better Cases with Chip LaFleur in 2020.

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