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3 Societal Shifts Healthcare Chief Marketing Officers Better Own

Analysis  |  By Kriste Goad  
   April 04, 2022

Marketing through the Great Migration, the Great Resignation, and the Digital Divide.

Once-in-a-generation shifts are forcing hospital chief marketing officers (CMO) across the country to rethink what it takes to reach, engage, and deliver care for the people in their communities. Traditional approaches to getting patients in the door won't cut it in the wake of America's latest "greats"—the Great Resignation, and the Great Migration, both of which have added fuel to the fire of another great, the Digital Divide, which is morphing in its challenges as more people gain access to the basics of broadband, computers, and smartphones.

These three societal levers are an opportunity and a threat to any health system and its place in the market. Who owns it? The CEO makes the ultimate decision, but chief marketing officers will be the central brain for gathering and interpreting data and bringing forward the paths for the team to follow. This is not the time for analysis paralysis.

First, the Great Resignation has hit the frontlines of healthcare hard, perhaps forcing the hands of health systems even more than the pandemic toward creative, digitally enabled solutions to such elephant-in-the-room challenges as patient access, patient engagement, and the patient experience. It's difficult to attract and retain patients when you can't attract and retain the people who you need to deliver a quality care experience.

And while recent census data suggest that the Great Migration isn't as widespread as previously thought, the pandemic has, indeed, resulted in large and notable shifts in population from more populous, high-tax states such as California, New York, and Illinois to less restrictive, lower-tax states such Texas, Florida, and Tennessee.

The need to "Know Thy Patient" now spans well beyond the bedside, taking on all-new meaning for marketers and clinicians alike as they both grapple with how to deliver quality outcomes and a quality brand and care experience.

Gartner's Chief Marketing Officer Leadership Vision 2022 report shines a bright light on how CMOs can reframe their thinking and approach amid such disruptive forces and maintain relevance and influence, offering these three top areas of focus:

  • Rebuild the marketing engine for flexibility in a changing environment
    • Much like the future of work, the future of marketing is hybrid, requiring CMOs and their teams to define how online and offline channels work symbiotically. Likewise, erasing the barriers between digital and traditional media budgets, planning and activation is essential.
  • Redefine the CMO's role as the organization's "Chief Connecting Officer"
    • Marketing is in a unique position—orchestrating connections between the customer, the brand, and the products and services that create value for the enterprise. They build connections between employees and the brands that represent them. They create brand experiences and messages that reflect the values and aspirations of their people, while serving as the de facto customer champion, able to bring together a range of data and insights to capture and anticipate customer needs and that reflect the values of customers.
  • Execute adaptive strategies that prove marketing's value to the enterprise
    • Clearly defining marketing's value is based on collaboration and consent. CMOs must invest time in agreeing with stakeholders up and down the organization about the connection between goals, outcomes, behaviors and activities… specifically the business goals and outcomes that marketing supports; the core indicators that marketing activities are delivering against marketing's goals; and the volume of clicks, impressions, interactions, etc., required to deliver against operational goals.

The Data to Influence

The two things that thread all these other things together and are foundational to CMO success are data and context.

CMOs can stay relevant and wield influence by delivering the kinds of data and context that keep the patient and consumer front and center across every interaction and transaction while also providing the reciprocal context that patients need when accessing healthcare.

A recent thought leadership post on discussed the digital divide not in terms of access to technology, but in the context of how people are now using technology to interact with the healthcare system. "When considering the digital divide in healthcare," the authors posit, "what if we stopped talking about what communities lack and focused on innovating for the skills, cultural context, and technology they have?"

They further propose that closing the digital divide rests squarely on a digital health innovation focus aimed at Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. "We should tailor digital health solutions to patient context and communication preferences. Smartphones, not computers. Secure links sent via text messaging, to keep things simple and encourage engagement. Patients should be trusted to choose how they wish to communicate with providers and health systems. Patients can learn how to share and control their data."

Which leads me to data. There's a ton of it around, but the real opportunity for health system CMOs is to figure out how to harness the right data, from the right sources, at the right time, and do what Gartner suggests, which is connect it with the right people and places within the health system to make a measurable difference for the patient and for the brand.

Increasingly, savvy health system marketers are turning to demographic data that lives with such consumer data experts as Experian Health (the healthcare unit of consumer credit giant Experian) as well as advanced consumer review and text-message toolsets like Podium, which helps democratize and personalize communications in ways previously unimaginable, especially in healthcare.

Pamela Maas, vice president, digital portfolio management, digital user experience and digital front door for Gunderson Health System, said during a recent small-group CMO forum with HealthLeaders that patient personas and segmentation have been "the most impactful thing we've done in our marketing efforts," allowing the system to "connect with people in meaningful ways and then be able to customize communications to them."

And while the marketing team can be super impactful when armed with a 360-degree CRM and a deep understanding of consumers in their market—understanding where people are showing up, where they are interfacing, where they're not interfacing, understanding disparities in health delivery, and understanding barriers to receiving care—Maas says truly moving the needle takes enterprise-wide alignment.

New Best Friends: Disruption and Alignment

With nearly $30 billion pumped into digital health startups last year (double from the year before), seismic shifts are inevitable.

"We can't plan for the future and think that we're not going to be disrupted," Maas said during a follow-up conversation. "And we can't plan for that future without all the C-suite areas being aligned because it affects operations, it affects finance, it affects digital architecture, and the CIO. Our entire C-suite is aligned that healthcare is going to be disrupted, and we want to be on the front of that shift and driving our destiny and our future, not reacting to it.

"If we didn't have everyone shifting at the same time, there's nothing I can do that would give us long-term success," Maas said. "I could do small things like a digital front door or a virtual app or pharmacy app, but without those all being integrated and creating that seamless frictionless experience and bringing down the cost of care, it wouldn't matter. At some point it's going to be a collision. It's not going to get you the gains that you need."

So how do we meet the challenges of the Great Migration, the Great Resignation, and the Digital Divide amid a new world order of disruption? Three words: data (clinical and nonclinical), context (at the patient and provider levels), and alignment (across the enterprise).

Kriste Goad is a contributing editor for HealthLeaders Exchange and Chief Fire Starter of Nashville-based healthcare marketing agency fuoco, providing strategic communications to dozens of provider, payer, and health tech clients spanning enterprise and startup brands. She is host of How It's Done, a podcast for curious marketers, now in its third season. Kriste can be reached at


The need to "Know Thy Patient" now spans well beyond the bedside. 

Vision 2022 report calls on CMOs to be the organization's Chief Connecting Officer, orchestrating connections between the brand and its customers and employees.

How data, context, and alignment will help health system marketers survive and thrive amid the inevitable disruption of digital health startups.

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