The Digital Age of Healthcare Marketing: How to Succeed in 2015
Ben Currie

Connectivity between healthcare companies and patients is changing. Just a few years ago, patients would only aggressively seek out healthcare information from health and science companies when a critical health issue arose in their life. They needed fast answers on how to treat their issue and wanted it delivered to them efficiently.             

Now, however, a different conversation has begun. In the digital space, health organizations can be more conversational, more transparent and fluid than the traditional communications and campaigns were in the past. The new conversation between patients and healthcare organizations is a continued flow of up-to-date information. The content is not just about a product or service being offered, but instead it is more focused on patients’ daily lives and their everyday mindset, their lifestyle and their condition. WebMD, MayoClinic and Cleveland Clinic are leading the charge and delivering to patients and their circle of care valuable health and lifestyle information and building a relationship that patients want and deserve. It’s not just about having the best care and information anymore, the added opportunity for health brands is about making a meaningful connection and maintaining valued conversations.             

Instead of creating one specific message, then implementing it and finally deactivating it, we must now embrace the publishing mentality and create conversations that are never-ending, and highly interesting to our audiences and engaging. We must better embrace social media as a communication tool instead of an ad targeting mechanism. We must approach email as a way to learn about our audience instead of thinking of it solely as a delivery mechanism. We can’t simply be promotional anymore. Only will this way of connecting will inspire conversations with patients and their circle of care and earn their trust to stay connected with us.             

The challenge to delivering on this vision is difficult. Campaign deliverables are much more static making them easier to inventory, and track status than the fluid publishing model. The fluidity of these conversations hold more ambiguity for the planners, and project managers who are wrestling with timelines and budgets. To succeed we must drop the battle mentality of the campaign where we all hunker down leading up to the launch and give it our all. Instead, I believe the future of successful healthcare communications is not the ability to launch, but instead the ability to sustain long-term communications with stability. It exchanges the battle mindset for an energetic routine. It also means that the digital department can’t carry the burden alone. Every role within the agency needs to embrace a new sustained communications approach, and bring digital experience to their role.             

The complication for many agencies is that there are still roles that need more digital exposure and experience to support a publishing mentality. The best approach I have found to growing digital experience across the agency is to support and encourage digital pet projects. Provide time, resources and training that allows employees to tackle side efforts such as maintaining their associations Facebook page, building their kid’s school website, or blog about their hobby. Help them with guidance, advice, setup, software and internal experts from the digital department that can help their pet project succeed. Digital is unforgiving for those who only understand the theory and don’t take the effort to get their hands dirty. For agency roles that are not under the hood daily, they risk making promises or providing direction that may have once been accurate but have shifted. Pet projects give people the opportunity to engage in digital, get under the hood and engage in real time rules of the road outside of a client deliverable. It is still a subject they care about but can have fewer critical components, more forgiving timelines and flexible requirements. The motivation to dig deep and learn the nuances is still there, but in a manner that is safe for the agency and their clients.