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Atlantic Health Chief Marketing Officer on Meeting Consumer Expectations

Analysis  |  By Melanie Blackman  
   April 11, 2022

Eric Steinberger shares how his background in marketing in other industries will help him in his new role, what strategic marketing initiatives he will lead during his first year, and how marketing in the healthcare sector is both similar and different to other industries.

Marketing to communicate with and meet the needs of consumers transcends industries, and learnings from other industries can be applied to the healthcare sector.

Eric Steinberger, who has experience in building brands and meeting consumer expectations in the finance, media, and retail industries, is proving just that in his new role as chief marketing officer for Atlantic Health System.

He joined the nonprofit health system, based in Morristown, New Jersey, in November, and has completed his onboarding, part of which happened during the COVID-19 omicron surge in December.

"It's been busy but very rewarding along the way," Steinberger recently told HealthLeaders during an interview about the first four months in his new role.

During his interview, Steinberger also shared what he focused on during his first 90 days, what strategic initiatives he will drive in his first year, and how marketing in the healthcare sector is similar and different to other industries.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

HealthLeaders: How will your background in marketing and leadership in the finance, media, and retail sectors help you in your new role as chief marketing officer for Atlantic Health System?

Eric Steinberger: The way I look at it is all of these industries are going through change that is driven by the customer and their expectations about customer experience. When consumer expectations are raised, or they see the kind of experience that they can have in a certain industry, those expectations are going to translate into every other industry. Certainly, we hear from customers or prospective patients that the way that they want to experience healthcare should change and adapt, and it has been a sequential effect that's happening across all these industries, but it's happening a little bit later in healthcare.

I have worked through some of the things that are in front of Atlantic Health System over the next five to 10 years, and they can benefit from all the mistakes that I've made in the past and hopefully get through this quicker because it is complicated, but meaningful work, to elevate the consumer experience across the board.

HL: What did you primarily focus on during your first 90 days?

Steinberger: I would say it's typical for an onboarding process, with maybe with a few differences.

The biggest one being, and I think Atlantic Health has done a great job in supporting me on this, is needing to immerse myself in the business of healthcare and the industry. Having worked across a number of industries, as well as working in professional services for a decent chunk of my career, I've prided myself as being someone who can jump into a situation and get my arms around a business in 90 days to six months. That's the easy part. The complex part is the processes, tools, and approaches that you take to drive change in an organization.

With all that being said, I've been humbled by the complexity of the healthcare space, from all of the different treatments and care programs that are needed to service an entire population in the region of northern New Jersey, to the different payer-provider models, the movement in the industry of all the different players, and where they're getting into the space with access points. That is a monumental task to unpack, but critically important to understand what drives behaviors in the industry, and then ultimately, what drives consumer choice in the space. That has been a rewarding but intense process.

The other things I've been focused on are digging into the marketing team, deeply understanding the work that they're doing today. My bias as a leader coming in is that people are smart, that they're doing things for reasons, and you need to first understand things that are happening, and why they're happening, before you seek to challenge or change anything.

I'm also focused on building relationships across the organization. One of the things about healthcare is there are so many different stakeholders in the organization. Building those relationships and building trust, as someone who wants to push change through the organization, is critically important.

The last thing is setting a clear vision for the marketing team so that they understand and can communicate with the larger organization about what we want to accomplish over the next two to three years, because I view my role as the CMO is to set that clear vision to inspire the organization to get behind that vision and be excited about it. Then I need to be a resource to help remove any roadblocks or challenges to keep moving forward along the way.

HL: What will your first year continue to look like?

Steinberger: There are three areas that I'm focused on:

1. Branding and naming strategy

Atlantic Health is a system with many different access points of care with the hospitals, physician offices, urgent care facilities, and rehab centers—what I see is a great opportunity to differentiate in the marketplace and have the benefit of being able to serve a consumer in all aspects of their care. Making sure that we have a brand promise, that the organization, our employees, consumers, and other stakeholders in the marketplace clearly understand that differentiating benefit, is going to be critically important to define and implement across the system.

2. Amplifying how we communicate to consumers in an integrated way

This includes all of our aspects of care and how we can be there for a consumer to support their health, both when they're sick and when they're feeling well. And combining all of those strengths versus talking about any one, individually.

3. Drive the business through increased use of data, analytics, and technology

This includes measuring performance and making sure that our investments are in the areas that are going to drive the highest return and have the most impact with consumers in our marketplace. It also includes understanding what messaging and relevant content is going to be the most engaging to them and building out personalized experiences. At the end of the day, data, technology, and business processes are part of the strategic assets that we bring to the table to provide a differentiating experience for consumers in a market that is now a highly competitive space.

HL: What steps have Atlantic Health taken to keep the patient at the forefront, and how will you continue those strategies?

Steinberger: One of the things that really attracted me to join Atlantic Health is that it's a well-run healthcare system. It is financially strong, driving great clinical excellence, and has a strong and impressive leadership team.

Where I thrive and what I enjoy most is taking an organization that's doing well today and being a catalyst to accelerate that growth even further. With the foundation that we have here, I can draft off of other industries and see how we can provide differentiation and elevate that consumer experience.

Then, what we call the digital front door—all the digital tools that are out there with online scheduling and personal care appointments—I see that as an amazing foundation that I can help, from a marketing standpoint, to continue to expand communication.

HL: How is healthcare marketing similar and different from other industries?

Steinberger: My perspective, at least 90 to 120 days in, is that there are more things similar than different. At the end of the day, it's a product and a service that we're trying to get consumers to engage in in a highly competitive marketplace where they have choices. Bringing all the data and technology together to be able to talk to a customer in the way they want to be spoken to, that shows that we understand them. It makes a lot of sense in theory, but it's difficult to operationalize that at scale. And that's true in all of the other industries that I've been a part of. It will be a challenge, but one that is able to be surmounted in the world of healthcare.

The other things that are similar is we're all communicating through the same channels. Consumers want to engage in healthcare through digital channels, just like they are in other industries. In healthcare, just like in other large organizations, there's a complex set of stakeholders and decision processes to drive through change.

The mission-based focus of healthcare is certainly one way that's different. Healthcare is more about serving and making sure that we provide equity of care across the entire community, and so that mission changes the lens slightly.

The product is a bit more unique in the sense that, a bath towel is a bath towel. But when you're sick or are getting preventative care, the treatment and experience that you get is going to be highly personalized in the world of healthcare.

For a lot of products and services, people are excited, it's a delightful experience that people are looking forward to. Most of the time, people aren't necessarily looking forward to a visit to the doctor or aren't wanting to be sick. So, it poses an additional challenge from a communication standpoint to help drive that behavior change.

The last thing that is slightly different is around regulatory and compliance hurdles. There are certainly more of them in the world of healthcare. I say that it is an added challenge, but it's by no means an excuse to say that change isn't possible.

“When consumer expectations are raised, or they see the kind of experience that they can have in a certain industry, those expectations are going to translate into every other industry.”

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

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