Where to Focus Your Healthcare Organization’s Marketing Efforts for 2021
Tips, trends & making smart investments in CRM, digital, and content marketing.

One of the many lessons learned in 2020 is that you must always be ready to adjust and adapt, especially in marketing. “Tried and true” healthcare marketing approaches are likely no longer useful in the changing climate.

If your healthcare marketing approach isn’t evolving with the trends, your organization will inevitably fall behind.

We sat down with industry experts from various leading healthcare marketing agencies to provide you with the insight you need to gain and grow a competitive edge for your healthcare organization in 2021.

Smart investments in digital marketing

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. The impacts of COVID-19 only magnified this, as it forced the leadership of organizations to focus more on digital and to feel much more urgency in responding to digital needs.

Given that other industries have set a very high bar for 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.

John Berndt, CEO of TBG (AKA The Berndt Group, Ltd.), 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.”

He also highlights 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 re-platforming 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.”

When you find the right budget and work with a strong digital marketing agency, you can expect your marketing goals to revolve around real metrics to measure new efforts’ success. 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 help internal marketing teams at hospitals do their own marketing automation or create a smart content strategy.

Learn more about smart investments and finding a strong digital marketing agency.

Marketing automation for a competitive advantage

As Hileman Group points out in a MarTech blog post: “Used in an array of industries, marketing automation is all about using software to automate marketing activities, from email marketing and social media posting to launching and tracking multi-stream nurture campaigns.”

Patients, themselves, are indicating that they value the ways automation can help to keep them informed. According to Accenture, for instance, patient expectations related to digital capabilities are on the rise. A growing percentage of patients indicate a preference for providers that offer digital capabilities of various types:

  • Request prescription refills: 77%
  • Receiver reminders via email or text: 70%
  • Communicate with providers through secure email: 69%
  • Book/change/cancel appointments: 68%
  • Use remote or telemonitoring devices to monitor health indicators: 53%
  • Communicate with providers via videoconferencing: 49%
Clearly, using marketing automation to improve patient communications can provide a competitive edge.

As Angi Krueger, vice president of marketing and business development at Core Health, points out: “Marketing technology can give you a competitive advantage and provide significant ROI.” How? Through a combination of automating communication interactions and leveraging data to identify the interactions likely to generate the most traction. It is, says Krueger, all about building connections with the empowered healthcare consumer.

Learn more about the basics and challenges healthcare marketers face with marketing automation.

How marketing automation can enhance your CRM

More than any other industry, healthcare consumers expect more genuine, personalized, and human communication. Marketing automation arms healthcare marketers with the tools to be more personable and timely with their communication.

“Marketing automation for CRM is making it possible for marketers to understand better who is coming into healthcare facilities and how they are utilizing services,” explains Jon Barlow, Healthgrades Senior VP of Professional Services, Hg Fusion.

“This has been powerful for marketers as they work to move away from email blasts towards helping a patient navigate their healthcare journey.”

A big trend is leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence to understand what patients are searching for and predict their behavior.

Marketing automation for CRM is being leveraged to gather and analyze data to provide insights to patients before they even realize their medical needs. Instead of force-feeding content, marketing automation makes it possible to respond to questions before they are asked to help patients better navigate their health challenges, symptoms, and concerns.

Barlow shares what this means for both hospitals and patients: “As we better understand the context around why a person might be searching certain symptoms or a particular provider, communication can be more relevant in helping them get to the decision that is best for them or helping them get the medical care they need.” So, what kind of impacts will this have?

“Health systems are going to have a better overall impact and the consumer is going to have a better patient experience.”

Marketing automation for CRM is also being increasingly used for retention, patient education, and adherence. “If you have an existing condition, like diabetes that requires guidance with medicine and nutrition, marketing automation is tying the care journey together. It can get a patient in the door to seek treatment but also keep them engaged to ensure their long-term success with whatever disease they’re managing,” Barlow explains.

Get more insight on the power of marketing automation for CRM and expert tips on selecting a strong agency.

Top trends in content marketing for 2021

Content marketing is your opportunity to set yourself apart from other healthcare options, however, the execution is not always so simple. Staying on top of healthcare marketing trends is essential for effective content marketing.

When you think of healthcare content marketing, you may think of the many resources online detailing every health condition under the sun. However, according to Reba Thompson of WriterGirl, “Many hospitals and healthcare systems are moving away from this traditional library of conditions.”

Instead, they focus on lifestyle and wellness, making emotional ties, opt-in content, and conveying to potential patients the level of care they provide.

Video and visual content will continue to have good traction, interest, and engagement. Healthcare marketers can also expect to see an increase in audio content, from podcasts and verbal searching. Audio technology is increasing the reach of blog posts, allowing them to be consumed in transit and by individuals who have a disability.

Beyond the format of the content, there are some clear trending topics. Marketing dollars are going to COVID communications. Making sure patients are informed about the virus and reassuring patients that it is safe to continue to get preventative care is a clear marketing trend.

Another healthcare trend on the horizon for 2021 is vaccine communications. Americans tend to be skeptical of vaccines, considering COVID vaccines have been pushed through the approval process, this will likely be amplified towards COVID vaccines. It will be up to hospitals and health systems to educate and encourage people to get the vaccine.

According to Thompson, another big trend to anticipate is diversity, equity, and inclusion. She explained that this has been big throughout 2020, and it will continue to take off.

“It will be imperative for hospitals to showcase how they accept all types of people, regardless of race, cultural background, sexual orientation, or religion. What was once a few sentences or maybe a landing page will now be integrated throughout all content.”

Content marketing is complex and demanding, which is why getting help from experts is the most effective way to enhance your healthcare content marketing techniques.

Get tips on stagnant content, what type of content is working now, and expert advice on selecting a high-quality content marketing agency.

Assessing your current conent marketing services

As demand for content has grown, many healthcare organizations have looked for external resources—freelancers and agencies—to help keep the content flowing. And some have gotten to the point where they’re asking an important question:

“Is it time for a new content marketing service?”

Their Ideas Have Become Stale: If new ideas start looking more and more like the ones you approved last year, or the year before—or more and more like the content your competitors are producing—it’s time to consider a change.

There Has Been Significant Turnover Among Staff: If your content creation team members are coming and going, it’s tough to sustain the type of consistency that a strong brand demands. In addition, staffing changes can lead to inefficiencies—and errors.

There’s a Culture Clash: Whether it’s a high-level difference of opinion on the creative direction or interpersonal conflicts that are becoming increasingly challenging to deal with, if the relationship isn’t working, it may be time to move on.

They’re Not Keeping Up With New Trends: Things evolve rapidly in content marketing. If your agency isn’t on top of trends, your competitors may quickly outpace you.

The Budget Has Gotten Out of Control: The fallout from the pandemic has hit healthcare organizations hard. When those hard hits come, one of the first things to go is the budget. If, at the same time, your content marketing agency fees are trending upward, it may be time to explore other options.

The Results Just Aren’t There: ROI matters. To you, and to your senior leaders. If your content marketing service isn’t delivering results, neither are you!

Learn more about identifying if it’s time for new content marketing services.

How to choose the right agency for your needs

Anyone working in healthcare marketing knows the unique challenges of this industry. You work with extremely sensitive information and you have to tread carefully between viewing your target audience as consumers or patients. A marketing agency with healthcare industry experience can make navigating these challenges much more manageable. However, there is a lot to keep in mind when choosing a potential partner.

Healthcare Focus

Traditionally, the higher the healthcare focus the better. But with the emergence of digital marketing in healthcare, it is no longer so black and white. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each option.

100% Healthcare Focus: They understand what works and how to handle the unique challenges within healthcare marketing. As a potential client, you’ll also be able to see the results of the healthcare marketing strategies they have produced for other similar clients, so you can get a clear idea of what you can expect.

Mixed Industry Focus: As digital marketing took off, most industries were quick to experiment with different marketing techniques in the digital realm. However, the conservative approach to healthcare marketing meant that the industry was slow to adopt these methods. This means agencies with a mixed focus may be able to offer more innovative healthcare marketing ideas.

General, Digital, and Specialized Agencies

Beyond just identifying the right healthcare focus for your hospital’s healthcare marketing needs, you’ll also need to select the type of agency that is the right fit for your project.

Traditional general agency: This is the primary agency determining big picture things like branding, logos, general messaging, website, and email marketing. These agencies give you one point of contact for a wide range of services. This can translate into better integration between all your projects and help ensure your communication messaging and themes are consistent.

Digital-focused agency: A specialized agency has a 100% focus on a particular niche. This ensures that they have explored the service extensively, allowing them to develop sophisticated tools to take full advantage of a project in their realm. Given their focus and experience, they also tend to be quicker with getting projects launched.

Specialized agency: Slightly more focused than a traditional agency, digital-focused agencies still offer a wide range of marketing services. They will be more focused in the sense that they will stick to services online, but they would not be considered specialized since they can offer everything from creating websites, SEO, and email campaigns, and more.

Get more details on agency types and choosing the right marketing agency for your next project.

5 Questions to ask a potential partner

When it’s time to look to a healthcare marketing agency for support, you’ll have a wide range of options. So, how can you ensure the firm you select will be able to deliver high-quality results consistently? By asking the right questions:

  1. Have you worked with healthcare organizations in the past?
    The knowledge that agencies with experience in healthcare marketing have about the industry can be a big benefit. On the flip side, though, sometimes agencies without this experience can deliver innovative approaches that don’t look like what everybody else is doing.

  2. Who will we be working directly with on our projects?
    A common frustration for some organizations is that they have direct contact with agency leaders and senior staff during the agency review process, but once they select an agency their contacts are with less experienced junior staff members. Setting clear expectations upfront is essential to ensuring you get what you’re looking for.

  3. What does your development process look like?
    You will want to carefully explore the process the agency uses to create content. What kind of input will they be looking for from you, and your team? How will they seek that input (via meetings, phone calls, email)? How will they present you with material for review?

  4. How will you measure, or evaluate, the success of your efforts on our behalf?
    Measurability and results are obviously important. In a digital environment—and many of your marketing efforts are likely to be digital—that measurability is easier than ever before. What will the agency evaluate? How often will they report on results? What type of course correction will they take if results aren’t up to expectations; how will you be involved in this process?

  5. Can we contact some of your previous clients?
    It’s critical to take the time to gather input from references. But don’t stop with just the names that the agency may provide you. Healthcare marketers are part of a tight community; use your own network to get additional insights to help you make an informed choice.

Get more tips on identifying the right healthcare marketing agency.

Ready to take your healthcare marketing to the next level?

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