2012 Vision: The Future of Healthcare Marketing

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, September 17, 2008

As the annual Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development conference gets under way this week, organizers are looking to the future, asking what their customers will want in 2012 and beyond. Can you say the same?

SHSMD has formed a committee to look at the 2012 conference. Among the topics of discussion: how to adjust to accommodate for budget and travel restrictions.

"We're looking at new models for learning and technology," says Geri Evans, president of Evans PR Group in Longwood, FL, and co-chair of this year's conference. "We're already trying to plan for a conference that might look totally different in five years," she says.

Although SHSMD is a professional membership association, it is also a business. And smart businesses, including hospitals, don't just focus on what their customers—or patients—want at this moment. They take a long-term look to determine how their business and the needs of their customers will change.

How will you communicate with patients and referring physicians in the future? How will the demographics of your market change? What economic, social, and other factors will come to bear? What new kinds of competitors are lurking around the bend? What service lines are poised for growth, and which ones might you abandon? What new technologies, procedures, and treatments are in the pipeline?

And is your organization prepared to meet future challenges, whatever they might be?

Answering all these questions is not an easy task. It involves a mix of market research, prognostication, gut instinct, and risk. And it involves a lot of time—a premium for today's busy marketers, who all too often are expected to do so much with so little.

But you have to try. You know the expression: Innovate or die.

Meanwhile, one good way to find the answers to some of these questions is through professional development—attending conferences and other live events, reading books and online articles, listening to Webcasts, and networking with your peers. These are the ways that you identify and prepare for what the future of healthcare marketing might bring.

Despite the fact that belts are tightening at many organizations, professional development is still a wise investment. Again, it's a long-term strategy, whereas cutting back on educational opportunities is short-sighted.

Evans feels that face-to-face networking is particularly helpful to healthcare marketers at all levels of experience and expertise.

"We need to be connected to our patients, we need to be connected to our colleagues—we must stay connected. I do believe that's how we grow and how we're nurtured," she says. "We lose too much if we're isolated."

So, is there a chance that someday, down the road, we'll be communicating with our peers by satellite and video feed? It surely would cut down on travel expenses.

"Personally, I hope that doesn't happen, because we would miss the relationship-building and that, in the end, is what all of this is about," Evans says.

I feel exactly the same way, which is why can't wait to see you in San Francisco. Stop by the HealthLeaders booth in the exhibit hall and say hello. We'll be posting live from the event on the HealthLeaders Marketing Web site, as well.

Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at gshaw@healthleadersmedia.com.
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