Along with increasing health care costs and the growing use of the Internet for marketing and social media solutions, the essentials of healthcare marketing are changing. Hospitals, physicians, insurers, patients, and other players in the healthcare industry must adapt to stay on top of their markets and in front of their consumers. The top trends in health care and medical marketing for 2012 reflect an increase in consumer sophistication, and a shifting landscape in health care delivery.
1. The Rise of the Sophisticated Healthcare Consumer. Today’s technologically savvy consumers are more apt to do their own research when selecting a doctor, investigating treatment options, and making major health care decisions. As more providers recognize this new role for consumers and the impact their requirements and expectations can play in the delivery of health care, the market is shifting from physician-driven to consumer-driven. Patients and potential patients—and their methods of conducting research and making decisions—have become the focus of the most successful healthcare marketing campaigns.
2. Increased Industry Consolidation. Nearly 100 hospitals were acquired by other hospitals in 2011. Similarly, the number of physicians who own their own practices has decreased significantly in the last decade. As doctors become less independent and join large workforces directed by healthcare organizations, consumers can start to question the level of service and quality care they might receive. Marketing campaigns in 2012 will need to communicate how these larger healthcare organizations will provide value to patients and to their communities. They must clearly show how they stand out from their competition when consumers are making decisions based on evaluations from ranked reporting vehicles and third-party endorsements.
3. Growth in Defined Contribution Programs. Many large employers are offering programs (such as Health Savings Plans) that are similar to insurance but put the management of a fixed amount of money directly in consumers’ hands. These emerging programs create a need for insurers and medical practices to direct targeted marketing campaigns toward large businesses who may be interested in developing similar programs for their employees.
4. Cooperative Partnerships Between Providers and Insurers. Insurance companies are starting to cooperate with—or acquire—health care providers, resulting in a merging of services geared toward reducing cost, increasing the quality of health care, and sharing any risk of coverage. Both the insurers and the health care providers involved in these cooperative agreements must take steps to educate consumers on the benefits of this new model, such as joint health plans and new payment standards.
5. A Growing Focus on Creativity and Digital Media. As more health care providers recognize the need to focus marketing efforts on consumers, the channels for reaching those consumers will become saturated with a variety of similar messages. The challenge to healthcare providers will be to differentiate themselves from their competition to keep or increase their market share. Creativity in marketing campaigns and using newer methods, such as social media and digital marketing to reach decision-makers, will be more important than ever.
6. Increased Internet Communication. With its round-the-clock availability, affordability, and sheer variety of uses, the Internet is emerging as the most practical and adaptable medium for reaching the average consumer. Healthcare providers will continue to use the Internet to communicate with their audiences—not only to gain new business through marketing, but to keep their existing customers informed through customized portals aimed at providing timely, accurate, and secure healthcare information.
7. The Growing Power of Social Media Testimonials. Facebook has more than 800 million active users, and 350 million of those users access the site through their mobile devices. Facebook and similar social media platforms are an extremely powerful tool for reaching consumers, and for learning what consumers are saying about the businesses they use and the services they buy. Similarly, online sites geared toward the service provider or medical communities (such as Angie’s List, Healthgrades, and Vitals.com) will become increasingly important in monitoring what consumers are saying about their health care providers, facilities, and insurers. Forward-thinking healthcare organizations will create and manage their own pages on these sites to better manage and generate positive online communication.
8. Refined Generational Targeting. There are currently four generations with very different values and expectations of their healthcare providers. For example, Generation Y is just entering the realm of adult healthcare, while the Baby Boomers are moving toward a different stage in life and may have very different needs. The key is determining the best message, approach, and medium to connect with your target generation, instead of the general population as a whole. Healthcare providers must refine their marketing tactics and messages for each (or a specific) generation to get the most return on their marketing dollars.
9. Continuing Focus on Physician Referrals. Despite the emerging shift to consumer-driven healthcare, referrals of medical providers and physicians are still important to making health care decisions. They carry great influence in discussions with their patients and industry peers, and will require a more tailored marketing strategy to be persuaded by your message. 2012 will see marketers honing their focus on physician marketing using direct mail, spotlighting clients’ work in hospital grand rounds, and advertising clients’ latest breakthroughs through continuing medical education programs.
10. Greater Focus on Target Markets. To succeed in today’s market, healthcare providers must be recognized by their communities as a trusted source of quality care. The Internet and social media sites are great ways to engage with the people who make up your healthcare community; patients, insurers, and even an organization’s own employees can contribute to a positive online presence. For example, business Facebook pages have very high levels of engagement and encourage the power of word-of mouth marketing. Increasingly, healthcare providers must understand their target markets instead of casting a wide net.
Medical marketing in 2012 will be about what healthcare organizations represent and live up to at each and every touch point, how they design extraordinary experiences for patients, and how their organizations deliver those experiences. While effective advertising remains a popular staple of marketing campaigns, marketing will become less about ad spend and more about the sum of total impressions, experiences, and relationships that stakeholders have with organizations. While consumers will lead this change, savvy marketing firms will help healthcare organizations develop and deliver campaigns that truly engage with their communities.
Raquel Baldelomar is the Founder and Managing Director of Quaintise, a full-service marketing, advertising, and public relations agency with special expertise in medical marketing. Quaintise is the Agency of Record for many of the largest names in Arizona healthcare and specializes in strategic, creative, and cost-effective solutions to help clients increase revenue, brand name recognition, and market share. Through work with companies such as Arizona OBGYN Affiliates, Southwest Kidney Institute, and Arizona Heart Institute, Quaintise has gained a unique perspective for building the brand equity for some of Arizona’s largest medical practices. Contact Raquel at firstname.lastname@example.org.