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5 Focus Areas Hospital Marketers Must Perfect in 2016

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   December 30, 2015

Here are some ideas on how to push the boundaries and find success in healthcare marketing.

Healthcare marketers revealed strength and innovation in 2015—hospitals nationwide expanded their digital marketing efforts, created impactful ads, and took risks experimenting with emerging media.

But with a new year around the corner, now is a time to look forward and uncover ways to push the boundaries even more. Here are five key focus areas that hospital marketers should strive to perfect in 2016.

Focus Area #1: Prioritizing Digital Marketing
Hospitals have made significant strides in incorporating digital marketing this year?you'd be hard-pressed to find a campaign that didn't include paid search, a microsite, or a social media element.

But in 2016, marketers need to take it a step further and not see digital marketing as simply an element of a traditional advertising campaign, but as the main focus.

Some organizations were trailblazers in 2015; Mayo Clinic centered its digital marketing efforts around patient engagement, making it the cornerstone of its communication strategy.

"Digital marketing is the primary focus of our marketing efforts," former Mayo Clinic CMO John Weston told HealthLeaders Media in May. "This includes seamless integration of digital social media tools allowing us to connect with patients when they need us, about the condition they are concerned about. The digital ecosystem is how consumers acquire and consume information today; especially health and wellness information. Mayo Clinic is committed to be a part of this digital health and wellness environment."

The health system adhered to that strategy by launching a channel on live-streaming app Periscope. In the same vein, Cleveland Clinic took to videos to humanize its brand on Vine.

"We have taken a light-hearted approach to Vine content and truly view it as an opportunity to start a conversation and to get people engaged with our brand in a new way," Amanda Todorovich, content marketing director for Cleveland Clinic, told HealthLeaders Media in March. "My advice to anyone looking to use Vine is to get creative and don't forget to add a personal touch to your videos. Vine is a great tool to help humanize a brand."

It's clear that organizations that mastered digital marketing reached more patients in a more cost-efficient way than their counterparts who view digital marketing as an afterthought. Ultimately, social media, search engine optimization, and paid search should be driving forces behind all major campaigns in the coming year.

Focus Area #2: Connecting with Niche Groups
One of the reasons digital marketing has proven to be so effective is it allows marketers to target specific demographics. Blanket marketing messages no longer hit the mark—content must be tailored to resonate with different consumer groups.

Next year, hospital marketers need to do a better job of identifying, targeting, and engaging niche groups.

Rethink the way you reach out to women. Crouse Hospital has seen success with its multi-layered communications platform geared toward creating meaningful relationships with healthcare decision-makers. Relearn what you thought you knew about communicating with older patients—seniors are more tech-savvy than you might think. And reconsider targeting patients from afar—Johns Hopkins reaches medical tourists via digital marketing and Northwest Specialty Hospital has found a profitable niche in Canadian patients.

Before launching any marketing effort, make sure you know who exactly you're trying to reach and whether the message you're sending will resonate with them.

Focus Area #3: Encouraging Patient Engagement
Thanks to social media and other digital platforms, advertising is no longer a one-way communications channel. While it's easy to focus on potential negatives caused by this shift, visionary marketers are encouraging patient engagement and using the results to benefit their organization.

Engaged patients can be cultivated into patient advocates. New York City's Hospital for Special Surgery created a microsite that encourages patients to post their own testimonials and allows prospective patients to search stories by condition, physician, treatment, or location. While the microsite itself is an advertising vehicle, it also allows the hospital to source emotional patient testimonials to feature in its ad campaigns.

Fostering patient engagement can also enhance your organization's social reach. When Rex's Women's Center's marketing team created a humorous video promoting its maternity services, all they had to do was post it on Twitter and Facebook and it took off from there.

"People like to be entertained versus being sold on a product or service," Lisa Schiller, vice president of marketing, told HealthLeaders Media in May. "No longer is our brand what we tell people it is, it's what they tell each other. This video, distributed through social sharing, allowed women to tell each other about their Rex experience, and why Rex is the most preferred hospital in our community to deliver a baby."

Focus Area #4: Mastering Image Management
Remember that patient who sued his anesthesiologist for scathing remarks said during his colonoscopy? That was just one of several negative hospital news stories in 2015, none of which were handled particularly well by hospital leadership.

In 2016, hospitals need to improve the way they handle image and crisis management. Sometimes bad publicity just can't be avoided, but having a prepared response will help any organization weather the storm.

Don't forget, a key component of image management is letting the community know when you're doing well. Brattleboro Memorial Hospital did this by launching an integrated campaign to promote its overhauled ED. Not only did the campaign boost its brand awareness, but it enhanced their preference, too.

In the year ahead, resolve to safeguard your hospital's reputation better than before. And, when in doubt, do the opposite of everything the Patriot's did during deflategate.

Focus Area #5: Delivering Extraordinary Advertising
Hospitals and health systems put out some truly outstanding ad campaigns in the last year, but there is room to push the envelope even more in 2016.

Play to consumers' emotions through compelling imagery and storytelling.

"This is not an intellectual exercise—the process of getting here certainly was, but the message is not," William Van Slyke, vice president of marketing and external affairs for Columbia Memorial Hospital said of CMH's 2015 rebranding campaign. "This is about emotional appeal and aligning our brand with a very resonant, visceral message that virtually everyone in this area can understand."

Let your advertising communicate to patients how your hospital or health system can improve their daily life. And, in doing so, make sure your ads accurately represent all of your patient demographics.

By improving on each of these five segments in 2016, hospital marketers will help cement their positions as organizational leaders—and that's something worth striving for in the year ahead.

Marianne Aiello is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.

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