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Healthcare Marketing in 2009: The Year in Review

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, December 30, 2009

It's the end of December and you know what that means: One million editors are busy putting together slideshows of recently-dead celebrities, the 12 best YouTube videos of dogs howling "I love you," and montages of the Miracle on the Hudson. Two mornings ago, while getting ready for work, I actually stopped what I was doing to watch a segment on the "stupidest criminals of 2009." And I'm not ashamed to admit I enjoyed it.

Last year I made three predictions about what 2009 would bring for healthcare marketers. I always enjoy looking back and basking in my prescience or cringing at my ineptitude, as the case may be.

Here's what I said:

1. Hospitals will look for new ways to use new media and social media, including Twitter. That's right: I predicted that Twitter would be hot in 2009. What do you think? Should I quit my day job, buy some head scarves and a crystal ball, and take my act on the road?

It seems so obvious in hindsight, but I also added a caveat that I think hospital and health system marketers came to understand in 2009, after the novelty of blogging 140-characters at a time wore off: Social media marketing might be all the rage in 2009, I wrote, but it doesn't mean guaranteed success or a positive return on investment. You still need a strategy to communicate the right message and reach the right customers.

I almost wore out my keyboard writing about and participating in social media in 2009. I don't expect that will change in 2010, but I am curious to see if Twitter will go the way of Friendster and MySpace or if it will take off like Facebook and YouTube. Even more suspenseful: Will I re-read this column a year from now and scoff at the fact that I thought Facebook and YouTube would have staying power?

2. Healthcare will look to other industries for innovative ideas. I'd make this prediction again this year, in part because recycling is good for the planet and in part because I think the healthcare industry hasn't quite gotten there, yet. Don't get me wrong, we had a few other issues on our minds (and wallets) in 2009. But I have faith this trend might still catch on. A common theme in this year's HealthLeaders Media Hospital of the Future Now event was the lessons that healthcare leaders can learn from outside industries. A discussion panel on patient experience, for example, included Gar Crispell, general manager for the American Girl Doll retailer, who talked about going beyond good customer service to create memorable experiences for customers. The opportunities are there. It's just a question of whether leaders will have the bandwidth to pursue them in 2010.

3. Internal communications will remain hot as hospitals look to stay upbeat in a downturn. I'm not sure how well I did with this one—I think some hospitals and health systems did a better job than others of allaying employees' fears about layoffs and other economic worries. As usual, it came down to leadership and communication style. You either had leaders who were candid in their communications or you had ones that clammed up. Not much the marketing department could do with the latter.

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