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Successful Consumer-Led Marketing Strategies

Analysis  |  By Melanie Blackman  
   September 01, 2022

Virtua Health's chief marketing officer details the health system's strategic marketing innovations that have led to successful service to patients and consumers.

Consumers are calling the shots, now more than ever, in healthcare. To keep up, healthcare marketers should focus on implementing consumer-led and consumer-focused strategies to retain current patients while also bringing new patients to the organization.

Virtua Health, a nonprofit health system serving communities in southern New Jersey and the Philadelphia area through five hospitals and over 270 care locations, is doing just that.

As the chief marketing officer of Virtua Health, Chrisie Scott, MBA, oversees the organization's marketing, communications, public relations, and human experience departments. She also oversees the consumer access center, which is available for patients to call 24/7 to get questions answered and get connected to care.

"I like to think that I'm the connector for the organization. I get to hardwire the brand, the culture, and the clinical excellence in ways that are motivating and relevant to the audiences we serve," Scott says.

Scott works closely with the other executives within the organization, including Virtua Health CEO Dennis W. Pullin, FACHE.

"I report directly to the CEO, and that is critical because it allows me to stay laser-focused on his agenda and road map for the organization. It gives me that close-up understanding of what's in his heart and his head, so that I can shape the most impactful strategies and narrative," she says.

Scott says she is aligned with many of the other senior leadership team members, too. "My job is to be the connector, and the first connection piece is that I bring the voice of those who we serve to the C-suite."

"I'm fortunate to have an incredible relationship with my clinical executives. This allows me to figure out how we intersect quality and safety and marry that with the overall experience, so that it's meaningful to our consumers."

"Of course, every marketing officer has to be able to validate their return on investment with their financial executives," Scott says. "I learn a lot from them and hopefully they learn a lot from me, especially with so many digital marketing tools and our ability to reach the right customer, on the right channel, at the right time. I help them understand how that works together, how we measure that, and report back to them."

The consumer leads the strategy

Part of Virtua Health's marketing strategy is to utilize its electronic health record (EHR) with its marketing customer relationship management (CRM) system. Through this capability, Virtua Health targets specific consumers and shares relevant information and messaging to try to connect them to their next best health action, Scott explains.

"What we've been able to do is, by taking a step away from traditional marketing and mass media marketing, we can identify high-risk patients who would benefit the most from the services and screenings that we offer," she says.

Virtua Health also uses AI in its marketing strategy to "rapidly test the marketing messages in their creative." Sometimes this includes doing A/B testing and seeing which images and calls to action garner the most response.

The AI "test quickly looks at who's responding to what, and we change up our marketing in real time to be as impactful as we can," Scott says.

The use of technology also promotes a humanistic approach. "We spend a lot of time on our team focusing on the language of healthcare," she says. "We're in tune with our words and the emotion and behavior that it connotes, and so we're spending a lot of time utilizing that."

Virtua Health also uses AI with its advertising buying process, which enables the health system to "find consumers and different audiences based on their media consumption and the channels that they're using," Scott says. "We're doing a lot of that to help us find both new consumers as well as existing ones that are engaging with those platforms."

It's important to note that Virtua Health's marketing strategy starts with the consumer's needs, then uses technology to help innovate and meet those needs.

"One of the first things we did to bring the consumer voice to life is we recruited for a digital insight panel. Think of the old-fashioned focus groups, except they can now be summoned up digitally and segmented," she says. This enables the health system to ask different audiences things that are relevant to them. There are about 30,000 consumers who are involved, which helps Virtua Health stick to its strategy of asking what the consumer wants, then delivering it.

Utilizing the CRM allows the health system to get even more personalized, she says, "to reach people and serve them information that's most valuable to them. And we're constantly optimizing that."

The marketing team has an "interactive storytelling studio" that they utilize to share Virtua Health's and patients' stories. They also offer virtual tours for patients and potential patients to check out the hospitals and their offerings prior to being on location.

"If you were to come here, it would look like a television studio to you. We produce testimonials there. We do instructional videos. Our team is doing 360-degree virtual tours, which has come in handy during the pandemic. And we've got a studio for producing podcasts. We're using that to its full advantage to help tell Virtua's story and connect with the consumer," Scott says.

Targeting specific consumers

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the health system was able to successfully convey to patients the seriousness of overcrowding and patient surges.

"This was such a massive undertaking. People listened; when we said stay away, they stayed away," Scott says.

But after the initial surge, the health system also needed to let patients know that it was safe to get care if they needed it, especially when it came to chronic condition care, heart attacks, and cancer screenings.

"[We had to communicate that] not only is it safe to come back, but it's urgent that they come back because they've not been in touch with their health in a very long time," she says. The marketing team developed a set of strategies, worked closely with the health system's leadership team, and utilized the CRM.

"Everyone that we've ever treated before technically had a next best health action that they could take and should be taking. We used our CRM to personalize those outreaches to the patients to help them get activated."

The health system also focused on utilizing mass media to convey "that now is the time to get back to care. Using our propensity models within our CRM, we were able to look for people who had higher risk of having developed more serious complications around their health. We sent out some great messages around that," she says.

Virtua Health also looked at which patients opened emails but may not have interacted with the emails further. This would result in a follow-up email to point patients toward the right care.

"We had great success, I would say in particular, getting people back to primary care, and getting those people who had chronic issues back into their treatment regimens." They also saw success in connecting with those who needed routine screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies.

One of the organization's most successful CRM strategies this past year was targeted communications that influenced more than 11,000 mammogram appointments. This resulted in 1,395 breast cancer diagnoses for patients who may not have otherwise scheduled their screening due to COVID-19 and pandemic restrictions.

Additionally, when Virtua Health educated patients about not delaying colon screenings, it launched a campaign for digestive health, which resulted in over 750 appointment requests in a short period, to help identify people at a higher risk.

Through utilizing a CRM attached to an EHR, the organization reconciles the financial metrics of its marketing outreach with patients' resultant actions, she says.

"Marketing has this huge business responsibility. An investment is made in marketing to help connect people to care. The margins that are gained by the organization by growing these businesses help us reinvest in healthcare and help us continue to provide that care," Scott says. "We continue to be a not-for-profit organization, but you still have to have revenue, and you still have to prove that the money that's being invested in that is coming back into it."

The marketing team uses a humanistic standpoint to ROI, including "the ROI of saving lives and the ROI of connecting people to healthcare," she says. "We do a great job on our team of working closely with our finance team, and we work to reconcile the investment that we've made in marketing, and messaging, and campaigns, with the growth that we've seen."

"Marketing is truly not only serving the mission of the organization, but it's also helping the organization stay financially viable so that we can grow and continue to serve the community."

She adds, "Our brand positioning is about being here for good, and that has resonated with the consumer during this time. It's served as the backdrop during the pandemic."

Marketing matters

Through the act of engagement and storytelling, marketers have the chance to make a difference for both the organization and the consumers.

"One thing I like to always say is that we, as marketers, have so much power," Scott says. "Part of that power is in our ability to use language and storytelling to help connect to people's hearts. I believe that one of the fundamental roles of healthcare marketing is to be a better part of somebody's day. If we're trying to connect people to care, or if we're trying to reassure them about symptoms they may have been looking up, or if we're trying to encourage them to take control of their health and feel confident and empowered in what they do, marketing truly has that ability."

Scott adds, "We're not the surgeons, we're not in the OR, we're not saving lives in that way. But we can have a profound impact on somebody's life through the way we position our organizations, tell those stories, and connect people to what matters."

Melanie Blackman is a contributing editor for strategy, marketing, and human resources at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

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