3 Strategic Healthcare Marketing Ideas to Increase Patient Engagement

Today’s healthcare consumer is demanding, and sometimes unforgiving: more than 90 percent consider changing healthcare providers after an unpleasant service experience. Convenience, efficiency, and instant gratification are the new normal in retail. Consumers now expect the same from their health care systems. Adopting new technologies such as mobiles apps to stoke customer engagement can be risky; a new service feature that fails to deliver can sabotage your entire strategy. Nonetheless, health care systems must offer value well beyond excellent medical care to sustain patient engagement.


“Apps and mobile devices that measure and track health data have the potential to impact patient engagement and create increased awareness to reinforce beneficial lifestyle choices. The validity and reliability of measurements need to be established, and challenges in adherence, privacy, and clinical measurement need to be addressed before these devices are broadly adopted.” – Patient engagement and self-management in pulmonary arterial hypertension”, European Respiratory Review, 2016


Here are several healthcare marketing ideas to help you optimize your patient retention strategy.


1. Go Beyond “Mobile First” to “Needs First.”

According to a recent study by Accenture (“Why Hospitals Need a New Digital Strategy”, a report by Accenture, 2016.), using data from The Center for Disease Control and HIMSS Analytics, although 66 percent of the largest 100 hospitals in America offer client-side apps, only 2 percent of patients given access are using them. The digital elements of your patient engagement strategy should be designed for your consumers’’ identified needs. That often includes efficient communication tools, easy records access, and healthcare education. Developing a campaign that integrates and promotes patient engagement with mobile technology must offer a genuine benefit to your consumers. According to the Accenture study, mobile tools seen as not “doing what they were supposed to” were viewed as an overall healthcare service failure.


The Takeaway:

Use insights gained from consumer feedback to showcase the app functionalities patients want. Focusing your campaign on what some industry analysts may consider the “latest and greatest” mobile technology might not be right for your brand. Attempting to stoke engagement with mobile tools that may have a prohibitive learning curve, or worse, sacrifice functionality for style, tells clients that you aren’t listening.


“As you try to make sure patients are engaged, the message is much more complex than, ‘Come get services here.’ You have to craft messages that make consumers change their behavior.”—Jan Greene, “Modern healthcare marketers reshape ad strategies”, Modern Healthcare, 2015.


2. Make Programmatic Media Buying People-Centered

Marketers’ increased use of media buying tools such as programmatic technology—an automated method of purchasing media—has been a mixed bag of promising results and intermittent dangers. The good news is that easier ad buying can help marketing departments preserve human resources for broader campaign management duties. The bad news is that this means more risk, such as exposure to the industry’s $7.2 billion a year fraud problem. Many advertisers have purchased ads which are “below the fold” or only clicked by bots,2. resulting in billions of wasted ad spend. But that isn’t healthcare marketers’ only worry.

Research studies have shown that most consumers don’t trust digital advertising. Healthcare ads are no exception. In fact, some industry analysts believe that consumers are less likely to trust healthcare ads than those from other industries (“The 7 Big Challenges Facing Healthcare Marketers”, Econsultancy, May, 2016). According to consumer sentiment research, this general lack of trust in advertising translates into a lingering sense of resentment towards audience-tracking ad campaigns. These campaigns tend to contribute to ad blindness, as the same ads are repeatedly shown to the same audience. Added to these worries is a recent rise in ad prices and a decline in consumer reach.4 For some marketers, programmatic may seem like a minefield.

However, it can also be a boon for consumer engagement. Programmatic buying involves the use of algorithms to predict which audience is most likely to buy an advertiser’s products or services. Consumers’ web search histories, purchasing behaviors, and demographic details comprise the “Big Data” that an advertising technology firm will use to define your targeted audience. This data can provide invaluable insights for your overall marketing strategy, in addition to helping to optimize your media buys. That said, your media strategy must always come back to ROI: only a small minority of your digital audience will click on your ad. Look at programmatic as a helper, not the core, of your marketing outreach.


The Takeaway:

Use “people-centered” logic in your media buying. Are you reaching your audience with “invitations” to engagement based on context and consumer value? Are you missing opportunities to gather critical first party data on consumers’ areas of interest? Optimizing your programmatic strategy means making every client interaction with branded media a new line of communication with your healthcare service. Use ads to drive your audience towards engagement by presenting them with an opportunity on your landing page to articulate pressing healthcare questions and receive clear answers.


3. Use Social Listening to Steer Content

Although consumers spend several hours per day consuming digital content, creating a strategy centered exclusively on trending topics is a mistake. Your audience values context and immediate benefit when it comes to content, regardless of its “buzz factor.” Healthcare marketers are susceptible to the error of attempting to transform trending conversations into teachable moments on social platforms while ignoring context and timing. Filter out the noise of “what’s hot and what’s not” in healthcare topics relevant to your brand. Develop a strategy that looks at the specific value of each post, video, or branded content series to your audience’s informational needs.

A flurry of conversations on a popular social platform around a cancer therapy news topic might not indicate that it’s time to purchase inventory for an “advertorial” on your hospital’s award-winning medical staff. Ad blindness can extend to branded content, and it’s most acute when an advertiser presents a thinly veiled sales pitch as an informational feature. A social platform, however, could be a great place for a first-person cancer survivor story. Content like this can draw your audience into a conversation about the quality of care and, by extension, patient education. Use social listening as a tool, not a blueprint for content creation. Evergreen topics (the quality of cancer care as opposed to a story on an individual news item) drive patient engagement because they’re always relevant. Consumers will begin to view your content as an essential element in their healthcare knowledge base, and they’ll keep coming back for more.


The Takeaway:

When poorly structured or wrongly targeted digital content appears on your social channels, it can be disastrous for your brand reputation and relationship, and by extension, your audience’s willingness to engage. Make your focus delivering relevance and sustained value to consumers. Debunking an inaccurate, yet popular, view on prenatal care is far less impactful than a content series on how to discern medical fact from myth. Present your homepage as a hub of information and the conversation will sustain itself.


Next Steps

It’s challenging to increase patient engagement without a partner who understands your vision, goals, and realities. Connect with us to book a free consultation to discuss your goals. We’re here to help!

Eric Brody

Eric Brody

Eric Brody is President of Trajectory, a brand and marketing firm specializing in creating momentum for businesses across the health + wellness continuum. The common threads are consumers who want to get well, stay well and play well, and brands that fulfill these aspirations and goals.