| 01/21/2021

Why Digital Marketing in Healthcare is More Important than Ever

Written by Ed Bennett

While healthcare digital marketing has been increasingly critical over the last ten years, being in the midst of a pandemic has intensified that trend dramatically. Healthcare organizations are putting an even stronger focus on standing out in the digital space. 

The reality is, large healthcare systems can’t afford to have an ineffective digital marketing strategy. Your hospital or healthcare system’s digital marketing approach is a key driver to your organization’s success.

We sat down with John Berndt, CEO of TBG (AKA The Berndt Group, Ltd.), to get an inside look at what’s working in the digital space. He provided insight into healthcare marketing trends and how to make smart investments when looking for a digital marketing agency. His tips will help you to ensure your digital marketing budget can have the biggest impact.

Cyclical Behavior in Digital Healthcare Marketing

Digital marketing is no longer new in the healthcare industry, which means hospitals and large healthcare systems are feeling more pressure to establish an effective digital presence to remain competitive. The impacts of COVID-19 make this especially true, as it has forced the leadership of organizations to focus more on digital and to feel much more urgency in responding to digital needs.

Looking beyond the pandemic, there’s been a cyclical issue facing digital marketing in healthcare in recent years that continues today:

“There’s a big problem around people getting a large budget one time, spending a lot of money, and then not investing in necessary upkeep and on-going development for the period that follows.” 

This leads to organizations needing to invest in catastrophic redesigns and replatforming projects five or six years down the road, only to repeat the pattern. This cycle also results in healthcare systems not getting the full value of those initial investments. 

According to Berndt, what this tells us is that “Healthcare organizations are still struggling to fund their digital marketing operations at the right levels to facilitate strong and consistent positive outcomes.” 

Digital marketing trends in healthcare: Focus on building grounded practices

Organizations are focusing on enhancing their user experience for existing patients. As a result, they are expanding into areas that were previously exclusively for patient healthcare portals. With this focus on better platforms, many organizations are leaving their experience management platforms behind and instead are moving towards better platforms that allow for more personalization. 

It’s important to note that just because something is a healthcare marketing trend, doesn’t necessarily mean your organization should follow suit. Many organizations feel pressured to adopt techniques and technology that is beyond their reach, while not having kept up on the basics. Organizations need to build grounded practices in different areas, track results, and continue to optimize those practices over time—which can be hard if you are distracted by the next shiny thing that comes along.  

Berndt shared another digital marketing trend in the industry that he views as something that isn’t working in many cases:

“People are often not investing in the staffing and professional development that’s needed for personalization and marketing automation. 

In some cases, they believe they will be able to avoid those investments through machine learning applications. However, generally speaking, these applications are not ready for primetime, which leads to quite a bit of waste.”

Just as it’s important to know what’s working, it’s also essential to stay on top of the digital marketing trends that are becoming dated and ineffective. Some of the things that are fizzing out include the idea of landing page only vendors, which can create a silo from larger platforms and CRM activity. Another is a movement away from CRM platforms designed only for healthcare. These platforms tend to be less flexible and people are shifting to more universal platforms in many cases, like Salesforce.  

What are some signs that a hospital needs to invest in its digital marketing approach?

The reality is, organizations that don’t have a strong digital presence are at an inherent disadvantage in just about every market, including healthcare. This is true in large part because of the younger, more tech-reliant, generations. Berndt explains that this means, “It’s not so much if you should invest in digital marketing, it’s how much you can afford to invest.”

However, many organizations, especially small to mid-sized, are finding it hard to keep up because of expense and staffing challenges in digital marketing. So, if you are asking yourself if you should be investing more in your hospital’s digital marketing strategy, the answer is most likely — yes. But, more importantly, you need to make a smart investment and hire the right agency for the project.

Given that other industries have set a very high bar when it comes to consumer expectations, convenience, and feedback, healthcare organizations lean on digital marketing agencies to help them address some of the gaps between healthcare operations and consumer expectations. 

Beyond that, organizations tend to need more digital marketing support when they are in highly competitive markets and need to figure out how to differentiate their digital experience. There is a problem with imitation and inherent conservatism in the healthcare industry, but for organizations that are willing to take a more unique approach to their digital marketing strategy, there is a real opportunity. Berndt shares, “Differentiation in your digital experience can help your hospital to become much more visible and get a lot more attention.” 

What should hospitals look for when they hire a digital marketing agency?

Digital marketing agencies come in all different sizes and levels of sophistication. It’s important to first recognize that an agency in the digital realm may specialize in landing pages and graphic design, while others may build complex custom applications, offer consulting, or tech development. So, it’s important to be clear about what digital marketing services you're looking for and remember that not all digital marketing agencies will specialize in or even offer what you need. 

As you consider an agency's specialties, dig a little deeper to determine what they specialize in. Many agencies will claim to do everything but really only have two or three things they excel at. Make sure their true area of expertise aligns with your digital marketing needs.

When you’re considering a digital marketing agency one of the first things you want to see is the work they’ve done for other clients. Look for a potential agency to demonstrate their ability to solve the same type of problems your organization is facing. However, you also need to look for these solutions at your budget. It doesn’t do you much good if they have an amazing portfolio of marketing outcomes at four times your budget. So, ask yourself, do they work with organizations like yours and do they get good outcomes? Scale and budget realities can be really important, but of course, expectations need to be scaled too. 

Berndt explains that another critical piece to consider is who you will actually be working with:

“There is an industry wide danger of “bait-and-switch” since true expertise is sometimes in short supply. A lot of agencies will have the most experienced people be the ones who sell you the project and then suddenly you’re working with people just out of college with relatively little experience. Getting that clarified in detail upfront is crucially important to ensuring that your expectations will be met.” 

It’s also important to understand an agency’s background. How long they’ve been in business, what their track record is like, if they have a positive reputation, and where they’re going in the near future. It can also be important to understand what platforms they specialize in, as no agency is really master of more than a few, and software platforms deeply matter to outcomes and are not simply interchangeable. These big picture things can help you get an idea of if it’s the type of digital marketing agency you’d like to work with. 

According to Berndt, choosing the right agency is essential to ensure your digital marketing dollars have the biggest impact: 

“Working with an agency that has a strong healthcare focus, understands HIPPA law, understands patient dynamics, and has extensive experience in healthcare pays enormous dividends. There are many different levels of vendors but those that have been doing this for a long time can bring a lot of insight that will be far more impactful than just the execution of an individual project.” 

For more tips on how to find the right agency for your needs, check out this article that dives into types of marketing agencies and healthcare focus.

What are some of the benefits of working with a strong digital marketing agency?

When you work with a digital marketing agency, you can expect your marketing goals to revolve around real metrics to help measure the success of new efforts. These tend to involve things like converting new patients, driving high-value procedures, increasing overall patient engagement, and reducing readmissions, to name a few. 

A high-quality agency will also work to help build a sustainable digital practice. In Berndt’s words, “Good agencies should be trying to make themselves somewhat obsolete by helping the organization build a path to being self-sustaining in many areas.” This can look like helping internal marketing teams at hospitals to do their own marketing automation or creating a smart content strategy. 

Lastly, a strong agency should help their clients adopt platforms that allow them to leverage technology and to multiply the effectiveness of their teams: 

“Reducing the amount of wasted time, which can help to generate a more efficient overall operation, can be heavily tied to digital marketing efforts. Digital is often associated with marketing, but it can have much deeper operational impacts than just getting people to the door.”

What should you do next if you feel your hospital’s digital marketing approach is ineffective?

As a hospital marketer, when you sense it’s time to make a change to your organization’s digital marketing approach, an audit of your activities, channels, and desired outcomes is a fantastic place to start. Berndt explains that “A substantive audit of your activity from a smart agency will reveal, at a relatively contained cost, where the problems are, what the untapped value is and will suggest a way forward.” 

If they do a particularly good job, you can even use some of what is learned as the basis for an agency RFP, which you can take to talk to a broader group of agencies about the solutions. This is a great starting point to determine what kind of agency will bring the most value to your organization’s current healthcare marketing needs.  

Ready to see the impact of effective digital marketing support on your hospital? You can connect with TBG and other digital marketing agencies that can help you achieve your healthcare digital marketing goals on MarTech.Health.

TBG (The Berndt Group, Ltd.)

If you are looking to advance your digital consumer healthcare brand, TBG is a leading firm in the field. With an amazing 30 years of digital experience, TBG is one of the best-regarded independent customer experience agencies active in consumer healthcare. It has produced multi-award-winning work for clients like Johns Hopkins Medicine, Penn Medicine, University of Maryland Medical System, Children’s National, Nationwide Children's Hospital, UCLA Health, CHRISTUS Health, and many others across the country. The firm has been key to large-scale meaningful digital transformations, improved impacts, leading customer experiences, and streamlined digital operations for a large number of institutions.

Expert in all aspects of customer experience and digital platforms, TBG is known for highly collaborative, sustained partnerships with healthcare systems. One of Sitecore’s leading partners (winner of two Sitecore experience awards in 2020), TBG also develops digital ecosystems using Drupal and headless technologies. Unlike many other firms, TBG’s healthcare practice puts the realistic assessment of digital operations, opportunities and priorities ahead of trends and technologies to achieve grounded, sustainable results. In 2020, the firm won three Platinum awards at the Healthcare Internet Conference and has won major awards there for five years running. Reach out for a free initial consultation here.

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