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Healthcare Healthcare

The State of Healthcare Internet Marketing

Dan Bedell

You may have heard that a frog won’t jump out of a pot that’s slowly brought to a boil. He’ll just sit there and die a slow, blissfully ignorant spa death as the water warms so gradually that he doesn’t notice. We all know that the world of healthcare changes incredibly quickly in some ways and incredibly slowly in others. If you’re a healthcare marketer, chances are that you’ve been asked to generate patients for a revolutionary new surgical procedure or cutting edge treatment option, but your laptop still runs Windows 7 with IE 9. Medical treatments and medical device technology evolve super fast, but healthcare marketing is still largely mired in the realm of billboards and direct mail. Healthcare marketers have been told so many times to do more digital that they’re getting tired of hearing it. And if you have dipped your toes into the Googley waters, you’ve probably noticed a few things:

  • You can generate pretty good results for some service lines (Emergency/Urgent Care and Ortho) but not for others (Oncology, Neuro, Robotic Surgery, Recruitment).
  • Every year the organic results move further and further down the page—there are always more ads and more people competing for the same real estate.
  • Directories always outrank you for condition and diagnosis keywords. You can’t beat WebMD in SEO!
  • You don’t know what you get for your marketing budget. What are those dollars actually accomplishing? Would they be better spent on some other channel?

Marketers in other verticals have noticed an alarming trend that will eventually catch up with healthcare marketers too: every year it gets a little more expensive to get the same results. The water is warming. But spoiler—it turns out the frog tale simply isn’t true. In real life, the frog actually does jump out when the water gets too warm. And you’re trying to be as smart as a frog without a death wish. Which brings us to the REAL problem. The world is changing, the water is warming but all the healthcare marketing companies are telling you it’s fine. Actually they’re not telling you much of anything. They’re just telling you to keep paying that retainer and to spend more.

And maybe you’ve noticed something else. The TV guy tells you that TV is the answer. The radio lady tells you radio is the answer. The outdoor guy tells you billboards are the answer. The PPC lady tells you to buy more PPC. The SEO company wants you to spend more to keep your ranking. And you have a listings company, a programmatic vendor, a social vendor, a reviews vendor, a reputation vendor...The list is almost endless: direct mail, fridge magnets, geofencing, chat, loyalty, local publications, direct sponsorships, plus proprietary channels like Pandora, WebMD, YouTube, Hulu, Waze, Yelp, HealthGrades and Amazon. And every time a new marketing vendor shows up they have case studies that PROVE that their solution is the RIGHT solution for a healthcare organization just like yours. How can you possibly know what to choose? You don’t want to be the frog, but it’s these very vendors who are fueling the fire that’s raising the water temperature in your pot: “Spend more and spend it with me!”

You’ve all heard the funny/sad cliché that half a business’s marketing efforts work—they just don’t know which half. That’s why it’s so tempting to try the solution that the most compelling sales guy happens to be offering. There’s really no way to know what will work for an organization like yours. Unless...there actually is.

If you want to truly know what kind of marketing will actually work for you, you need to uncover a few, very key, very basic bits of information. And if you know these critical data points you can actually quantify your marketing solution. It’s super simple too:

  1. How well known is your brand and/or your service line?
  2. Does this service line serve a known need or an unknown need?
  3. Is this service line high research or low research?

This is simple, but not easy. It takes some serious research and some dedicated tools to accurately quantify these key measures of your operation. But you start by simply asking a few questions so you can begin to know which of the below four quadrants your service line currently resides in. How well known are you for this particular service line? (For well known, think MD Anderson for Oncology or the Mayo Clinic for Cardiology.) And how well known is the need for your product/service?

To start this exercise, I’m providing some non-healthcare related examples for simplification:

Known Need:

Imagine you come home from work and there’s water all over your bathroom floor as your toilet is slowly gurgling up in reverse. You have a very known need for a plumber. Known need puts you on the right side of the vertical axis.

Unknown Need:

I’ve previously written about the story of my Nespresso machine purchase. I was not actively in the market for a Nespresso machine—I was shown an ad for one and I realized it would be a perfect gift for my wife. In healthcare, too many marketers treat all service lines like they’re ER: run some PPC and get some leads. But many procedures and even whole service lines are things patients know very little about. Think robotic surgery—consumers simply don’t search for this service.

Known Brand:

You need to be honest here. Boosting your total brand or the strength of an individual service line will just result in running the wrong kind of marketing and will get you mediocre results. How well known are you to your ideal patients? How do you stack up compared to your primary competitors? Pro tip—this answer almost always varies by service line. You might be famous for your Pediatrics program but completely unknown for Orthopedics.

So let’s walk through a few examples to help you understand how to accurately assess yourself:

  • Per the above examples, home services companies generally live in the known need half of the quadrant. Just like plumbing, you tend to know if you need some fence repair or a new garage door.
  • Most new services or products tend to live on the left side of the known need axis. As a product, service or industry is emerging, the ideal customers don’t yet know they have a need. I mentioned Nespresso for me personally: I didn’t NEED a cup of coffee when I bought that. I also didn’t NEED a new coffee maker—I already had one. But when I saw the ad, I remembered that we stayed in a hotel once that had a Nespresso machine and that my wife told me she liked it. She’s also mentioned that she hates making a full pot of coffee when I’m traveling. For healthcare, think about the way that pharmaceutical companies market new drugs directly to consumers via television: most patients don’t know about the drug and in some cases, they don’t even know that the underlying conditions can be treated!
  • Another great example of unknown need (and at the time, unknown brand) is the classic marketing tale of Listerine. Listerine existed for a few decades in the late 19th/early 20th centuries as a general antiseptic. It wasn’t until the 1920s, when the company started advertising the scary and socially awkward condition of halitosis, for which they conveniently had the cure, that sales really took off. If you don’t have sufficient demand for the services you sell, expect to be mired in the dreaded quadrant four until you do. Another note on robotics: this is the epitome of a quadrant  four service. You’ll have to manufacture demand to meet your supply.

Research Level

The last component that you need to consider when designing a marketing solution is how much research goes into the selection of your service line. If you slice your finger chopping onions for that dinner casserole, there are only a few things you need to know before you make a decision about where you’re going: Are they open? How far away are they? How long is the wait? Do they have good stars/reviews?

But now imagine that you’re considering a very costly elective surgery like bariatrics or knee replacement. Or imagine a loved one has been diagnosed with a rare cancer. The notion of searching for “oncologist near me,” clicking on a PPC ad, and selecting the physician who will be responsible for the most critical thing in the world is ludicrous. Yet far too many healthcare organizations treat all service lines like ER.

High research categories require more than just PPC. You need content, explanations, physician bio videos, explainer infographics, and lots and lots of information about why your facility, service line, or physician is different or better. You need to run marketing campaigns that leverage those tactics: proactive advertising and not just reactive marketing. Healthcare is the industry that should be running the MOST proactive advertising.

The last thing to consider here is that EACH of your service lines exists primarily in one of the four quadrants. And so does your entire organization as a whole: in some communities, large percentages of the population can’t even tell you the name of a local hospital. But your potential patients exist in all four quadrants at any given time. The key to creating a marketing solution that’s actually, finally effective is knowing both sets of information. Where are YOU in the quadrants? And how are your prospective patients distributed in the quadrants? The marketing tactics to deploy are based on that combination of information. A representative, completely non-comprehensive sample of that omnichannel solution matrix looks like this:

And when you know where you are in the quadrants and you know where your ideal customers are in the quadrants, you can design an intelligent, effective omnichannel marketing solution to reach the most people the most effectively.

So if your marketing vendors aren’t running you through an exercise like this, you’re the frog in the pot. 10 years ago a direct mail and billboard strategy was the norm. Five years ago, putting a little emphasis on your website and SEO would help augment referrals. The world has changed. A single-channel strategy isn’t going to work for much longer. And a non-quantified solution is just a guess. Marketing is changing, so jump out of the pot. Now. Don’t let your marketing “partners” just let you boil alive.

In a sad, surprise ending to this story, it turns out that the current landscape of marketing solution providers are actually frogs too. All the single solution, one-trick ponies are right there in the pot with you. Just ask them. You’ll hear that they want you to keep doing what you’re doing and enjoy the warm water.

Healthcare marketing has changed. Jump out of that pot.

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