With more than 25 years in the healthcare industry, I've
observed and created countless strategies and tactics for rural
healthcare marketing campaigns. Some of them worked, others did
not. However, several ideas and messages stand out to me as "myths"
believed in the industry. Over the next year, I'll be writing a
series of blog posts that examine and dissect these common myths
and trends we see in rural healthcare marketing and give solutions
on how you can avoid them.
Myth 1: The Close-to-Home Strategy
This may be the most common myth critical access hospitals
believe when it comes to their marketing strategies. The idea
behind the message is that CAHs provide care to those that would
otherwise have to make a much longer journey to a bigger city. This
is not to say that the convenience of close-to-home care is not an
important message to communicate to potential patients. However,
using it as the primary messaging simplifies what you have to
Three reasons why "Close-to-Home" is not working for
Lacks differentiation. The most obvious problem
with the close-to-home strategy is that it's a message used by most
critical access hospitals. A message that is meant to differentiate
your CAH from larger hospitals quickly lumps you into a category
with every other rural facility.
Lacks dimension. Another issue with this
strategy is that it's one-dimensional. Location is only one factor
into what makes your facility unique. Often when CAHs use
"close-to-home" they are trying to communicate so much more than
just location. They want to communicate community-focused,
family-oriented, personalized care, less wait time, etc.
Lacks personality. What makes your facility
unique? Is it your pet therapy dog, Gordon? Or Amanda, the candy
stripe who loves to sing? Perhaps it's your senior life center
library, donated by George, a bibliophile who's spent his life
collecting books from around the world. Tell the story of your
facility because that's what makes you different: the patient
What can you do? If you feel stuck in the
close-to-home strategy, start at the source. Re-examine your brand.
What is your brand promise? Get specific about your strengths and
how they affect the patient experience. Think about the unique
character and personality of the staff, patients and community in
which your hospital exists. The details of your hospital's story
will help you see the bigger picture for your brand. And a complex,
more meaningful brand promise will lead to strength and consistency
across all your campaigns. To learn more on brand development,
check out our blog post What's in a Brand?
Let's face it, the crafty "do it yourself" mantra is no longer
for grandma. Now, young adults under the age of 35 (a.k.a.
millennials) dominate the 29 billion dollar crafting industry. In
fact, millennials are bringing together technology, creativity and
entrepreneurism as they take on more DIY projects. The same goes
for healthcare decisions.
According to research conducted last year from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), do it yourself
healthcare, including mobile apps and consumer medical devices, is
set to be a top healthcare trend in the next few years. And more
and more physicians are willing to consider information about their
patients coming from DIY devices.
This idea of DIY healthcare isn't entirely new. The invention of
the fever thermometer, bathroom scale and even the home pregnancy
test could be considered DIY devices. Today, those DIY ideas are in
digital form such as blood testing kits, exercise tracking devices
and use of apps to track vitals. In fact, consumers can now buy
strep throat test kits on Amazon. Parents can make better choices about
bringing their kids to an urgent care or emergency room now,
avoiding costly, time-consuming healthcare visits.
Furthermore, over half of the American workforce will be
considered a millennial by 2020. Research shows that 4 in 10
millennials are interested in co-creating products with
companies. Many brands are taking advantage of this and are
now offering customizable options. This demographic, and more
importantly, these behaviors simply cannot be ignored.
Hospitals should incorporate DIY tools into efforts to engage
patients. Here's three ways:
- Share free apps with your patients. Not all hospitals
and systems have the resources to develop owned applications. Help
your patients simplify the process by giving them tools to help
them make smart decisions about their healthcare.
- Use personal health devices or wellness tracking apps in
community relations projects. If you're going to sponsor a
community wellness event, incorporate apps that encourage weight
loss, drinking more water or even smoking cessation.
- Bring a support group to the web. We're already seeing
hospitals and health systems rethinking the traditional community
support group. You can use your existing social media accounts to
conceptualize the idea tomorrow.
Many experts think millennials will overtake boomers as the
nation's biggest consumer buying group. We think that insurers and
healthcare providers that survive or thrive in the future are those
who adapt sooner than later to the preferences of this fast-paced,
Your website is the main hub for your patients. Although you may
not see it now, it's also your health system's content marketing
hotspot. That's why your website requires weekly updates of content
to keep the engine running. If you don't have the staff to dedicate
a copywriter to website content management, repurposing the content
you already have could be a healthcare marketer's dream.
Repurposing content is when you take a piece of content and
change it so it serves a different purpose. But repurposing content
is not the same as revamping content. When you repurpose content,
you're doing one of two things: changing the format of the content,
or changing the target audience for the content.
Here are 8 amazing ways to help you build a bigger content base
Share presentations. If you don't have a
SlideShare account, get one today. Did a heart specialist give a
presentation recently on diet and heart health? Reformat that same
presentation and make it live on SlideShare. Then blast it out on
your social media sites. Your docs will love it. So will Google.
Another cool feature: SlideShare has solid analytics for free. You
can also turn physician presentations into blog posts. Or visa
versa. It works both ways.
Turn complex health articles into infographics.
I'm sure your noticing by now that your online audience has less
time to read. Turn your how-to guides, checklists or other complex
articles into a visual using an infographic. If you don't have a
graphic designer on staff, try Canva.
Reformat videos into articles/blogs. Your
patients bring different preferences for consuming content, so
repurposing into a different format allows you to cater to the
diverse needs of your followers. For example, if you produced a
video with discharge instructions for new moms, you can turn that
same content into a short how-to article (or infographic)
explaining the same topic. By using different mediums, you can
reach different audiences with the same information.
Use LinkedIn Publisher. The LinkedIn Publisher
tool is a wonderful tool to repurpose content. For example, post
new content to your blog and/or website, then share it on your
social sites in a few days after. Link the original content to
LinkedIn Publisher for those connections that may not regularly
visit. Once it's published, LinkedIn notifies connections about
your new post, which is great for both reaching new readers.
Start micro-blogging. By micro-blog, we
specifically mean Tumblr or even Twitter. It's easy to post the
headline of the article and let it fly on its own. Just be sure it
has a powerful headline.
Reuse your existing web images/photos. Such as
pinning images to Pinterest, then post that link to Twitter and on
Transform a series of blog posts into an
e-book. If you have several blog posts that fit together
well into a series, that could be an e-book ready to launch. It's
also a great way to establish your doctors and/or hospital as a
local industry leader.
Refresh old articles. Look back over your
previously published content and see if you have any posts that can
be easily re-angled to serve a different audience. You can do this
with articles you send to the local papers. With just a slightly
different spin, you can make your content more applicable to a
different audience and double up on posts with minimal recreation
effort. And just because you've written about a certain topic
before, doesn't mean you should never write about it again.
By repurposing your content, you can give your readers more
resources while simultaneously getting the most out of the content
you've already created.
This is painful for me to say because I've been on both sides of
the healthcare marketing table. But I've also learned that before
you can overcome a challenge, you have to know what you're up
A recent Fournaise Marketing Group survey of high-level decision-makers
revealed that 80 percent of CEOs don't really trust marketers. Why?
Because most of these CEOs (78%) "think marketers lose sight of
what their real job is: to generate more customer demand for their
services in a business-quantifiable and business-measurable
Ouch, that stings - at least on the surface. But let's peel back
the layers of the onion. First, I'm sure we're all in agreement
that many health systems' CEOs have a firm understanding and
appreciation of what marketing does for their organization. But
"many" isn't "all." Even if a CEO is fully on board with the
functions of Marketing, there's often a disconnect between the
So what's the answer?
Marketers needs to start thinking - and speaking - like a CEO.
Think about it … C-suite staff is analytical; summary-oriented;
focused on profitability, patient volume, quality scores, ROI. If
Marketing wants to gain buy-in, backing and trust from executives,
it's going to take both sides of the brain.
That doesn't mean creativity no longer has value. It's as
important as ever. It simply means that Marketing also needs to
understand the vision, goals and concerns of C-suite executives -
and speak directly to them. Here's how.
Do your homework before you meet with C-suite
- Read the strategic plan and current operating plan.
- Understand your organization's goals and be prepared to explain
how your marketing plan or campaign is aligned with those
- Understand and address at least one major concern of C-suite
Know how to talk to your CEO
Once you get in front of your senior execs, it's time to set
creativity and its related jargon aside. Stick to what CEOs and
other leaders need to know. Highlighting four key areas:
- Objective: What are we trying to accomplish?
What behavior are we seeking to change? How does this initiative
support your hospital's strategic plan?
- Messaging strategy: What is our message? This
doesn't mean you provide the exact text. Instead, clearly explain
how you will approach the topic.
- Timing: Share when the campaign will be
launched. Again, forgo the details. Stick to the key dates when
you'll hit your target audience(s).
- Results and measurement: Your CEO wants to
know how all of this will benefit the hospital and how you'll
report on results. This area is often glazed over or ignored by
Marketing. But I can tell you from experience, it's the most
important to C-suite staffers. So it warrants a deeper dive
If C-suite focuses on "ROI" - return on investment, marketers
need to focus on "ROMI" - return on marketing investment. This is
where metrics come in. You can break them into three general
- Output: What did your marketing function or
campaign produce (e.g., number of events that were held; number of
brochures produced? And how well did you do (e.g., were you on
budget; on time)? Pretty basic measurements - but knowing this
information can help identify inefficiencies that you can address
in the future.
- Marketing outtakes: These metrics focus on
results of a marketing campaign or specific marketing activity. For
example, if you held three events in three months, how many people
participated in them? Or, how many people visited your new web page
or downloaded a video you posted?
- Strategic outcomes: These metrics relate to
the strategic direction of your organization. These could include
patient volume, awareness, increase in revenue, patient
satisfaction scores, ROI … all of the things your CEO cares
It's important for Marketing to provide all three metrics, but
C-suite executives will focus on strategic outcomes. So plan ahead.
You'll need to know what you want to measure and have tracking
systems in place to capture the data.
The following case study walks you through the process Legato
Healthcare Marketing took with Holy Family Memorial, a rural health
network in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
Holy Family Memorial Case Study
Due to some biased interpretation and unsubstantiated
methodology of a quality scoring system by an insurer, Holy Family
Memorial (HFM), a health network in Manitowoc Wisconsin, was
concerned that it might be unfairly perceived by some area
employers as having lower quality or higher costs. However,
national data actually recognizes the organization as leading the
nation for high quality, innovation and creating an effective
industry-leading utilization model of care. The health network
wanted to demonstrate the true facts in an understandable and
persuasive way while simultaneously demonstrating the
organization's broad range of clinical capabilities through service
Timing and Messaging
To capitalize on its strengths and to communicate its clear
strengths in quality and costs, HFM needed a powerful marketing
program based on a sound business strategy. HFM senior leaders
substantially and boldly delivered on this strategy with an
organizational transformation to become a healthcare provider of
the future-one that works to keep costs down, quality up and people
out of the hospital. To do this, HFM leadership completed a
thorough analysis of its strategies and structure and determined
strengths, weaknesses and capabilities.
From this, HFM's Right Care Model was born:
Right Care. Right Setting. Right Outcomes.®
- Right care is using the most effective evidence based approach
- Right setting is offering the most cost-effective, safest,
highest quality and greatest value.
- Right outcomes is achieving the greatest long-term benefit to
the patient and society.
With solid support points, it was time to start promoting HFM's
quality and new way of delivering care. While HFM's five-star and
top-ten ratings could help pique consumers' interest, they hold
little value to consumers when promoted with only the name of a
rating organization as support. Consumers want to see how those
numbers and ratings will affect them.
HFM created "life. Empowered." to be the
umbrella statement for the quality campaign. Under "life.
Empowered.," four service lines were promoted, with the first phase
being cardiology. To help consumers really experience and see HFM's
quality, HFM and Legato used a testimonial approach, focusing on
real patients' experiences. Quality awards and numbers were used as
support points only.
Objectives specific to the cardiology phase were to:
- Increase the number of new patients at the Heart and Vascular
- Improve patient volume for catheterization lab procedures.
- Gain market share over its largest competitor
Results and Measurement
Several measures were used to evaluate the effectiveness of the
cardiology phase of HFM's "life. Empowered." campaign.
- HFMempowered.com was set up (with Google Analytics so traffic,
sources and video views could be tracked). HFM and Legato reviewed
these analytics monthly to see how different media placements
affected traffic and views.
- Elevator wraps were installed on two of the hospital's main
- HFM developed a chart to compare its Heart and Vascular Clinic
patient visits, catheterization lab procedure volumes and overall
market share during the time of the campaign in 2013 to the same
period in 2012.
- HFM conducted an image study in the first half of 2013 to see
how overall perceptions had changed since 2011.
After evaluating all of these measures, HFM and Legato saw some
- Paid consumer advertising was placed over a five-month period.
Radio impressions: 742,000. TV impressions: 1,538,799. Print
impressions: 130,434. Online impressions 341,523. Billboard
- More than 600 people visited HFMempowered.com.
- The cardiologist biography page, which was linked to
HFMempowered.com, also received more than 300 new views.
- The five cardiac patient testimonial videos located on the site
received 850 views.
- For the five months the cardiology campaign ran, HFM saw 185
new Heart and Vascular Clinic (HVC) patients. Three out of the five
months, the HVC saw more patients compared to the same five
- More than an $80,000 increase in HVC new patient clinic visit
- A $1,664,000 increase in catheterization lab revenues compared
to the same five months in the previous year.
- HFM's image study, completed in July 2013, revealed a 30
percent increase in the number of 2013 respondents who consider HFM
the "hospital they think of for cardiac care." HFM's main
competitor saw a significant decrease in this area.
Are You Talking C-Suite Speak?
In today's highly competitive healthcare environment, it isn't
enough for Marketing to make great ads or present great creative.
Now there's a new conversation taking place in the board room. And
it starts with, "How is Marketing contributing to revenue
opportunities?" You can lead that discussion wherever you'd like it
to go - if you're armed with the right data and metrics. Not just
any metrics. The kind that hit the "suite spot."
This article was recently published in Strategic Health Care
Marketing's June 11th Weekly Ezine.
Today, social media can literally be a full-time position in a
Unfortunately, in the rural healthcare industry, most marketing
"teams" are one, two, maybe three people who are in charge of ALL
marketing efforts. However, patients still expect your organization
to be on social media - and may even consider not being there as a
That's why we've compiled four of our favorite tips for
streamlining your social media strategy. So you can save time and
still have a strong presence.
1. Create one- to two-month editorial
This takes some up-front time in terms of researching and
writing posts, but it reduces the amount of time you'll spend on
social media each day. By writing out posts and finding links, all
you'll have to do is cut and paste.
These calendars will act as your flexible social media plan.
They ensure you have consistent content to share, but they also can
be rearranged when more current, newsworthy topics pop up. And
since the calendars only cover one or two months, you don't have to
worry about this general content being out-of-date.
2. Use Facebook's "schedule"
Facebook has a feature that allows you to schedule a post, as
opposed to publishing it immediately. And you can schedule as many
posts ahead of time as you like. Again, this involves more time up
front, but it will eliminate daily social media posting for the
duration of your schedule posts.
This feature also allows you to pre-schedule boosted posts.
3. Develop recurring
It's hard - and time consuming - to come up with original
content for every day of the week, every week of the year. That's
why "themes" like recipe Fridays or provider profile Wednesdays
come in handy. Weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly features will
speed up the process of developing social media content, while
still providing relevant and useful information to your
4. Share content
To build off of tip #3, sharing content from organizations like
the American Heart Association, National Rural Health Association or other
national, state or local health and wellness organizations is
another way to save time. This is especially helpful on days when
you need a post, but maybe don't have a lot of time to develop
original content. Just be sure to add a line or two of text that
makes it relevant to your organization and your audiences.
Do you have any timesaving social media management tips? Share
them in the comment section below!
I'll be discussing these and
other marketing tips as a keynote speaker at the Association of
Wisconsin Surgery Centers (WISCA) 2015 Annual Forum on June
All rural hospitals across the nation are trying to do the same
thing: combat decreased reimbursements and rising healthcare costs
while recruiting and retaining high-quality physicians, specialists
and staff. Although marketing can't entirely fix the issue, it can
certainly help increase your hospital's relevance and perception
versus what the nearby metro hospital is doing. In our previous post, we talked
about branding and how creating a personality for that brand is a
great way to start. After all, rural health organizations must
represent themselves in a more retail manner. But how does that tie
into your image?
Here are five ways to re-tool your hospital's image:
1. Keep focus on developing
loyalty. Loyalty is based on successful interactions.
Create engagement with your patients, stakeholders and community.
Reward them with positive experiences. Help them live a healthy
life, and they'll trust you when they're sick.
2. Be an open book. Open up
your brand to participation, and let your community contribute
their own stories. Let them share their stories with others through
you. Social media is a great platform for this strategy.
3. Turn a crisis into a way to boost
employee and community morale. In addition to positing
generic health observances, events and hospital achievements,
hospitals can use social networks to facilitate and mitigate crisis
management - such as disease reporting, communicating a power
outage at a facility or responding to a negative patient
experience. Posting on Facebook in times of crisis can boost a
hospital's public image because when done right, it's a great way
to gain a following and trust at the same time.
4. Offer health education and
prevention for free. Example: sending tips and resources
in a newsletter, email, radio show, podcast series or video. If you
aren't regularly staying in touch with your patients, you're going
to lose them.
5. Don't overpromise. With a
fine line between puffery and false advertising, hospitals should
carefully review advertisements to make sure they won't cause
patients or their families to expect more than what the hospital
can offer. Choose statements such as "our doctors score highest in
satisfaction surveys" instead of "we have the best doctors."
Social media is a key tool in implementing these five tips.
However, being active and engaging on social media may seem like a
time-consuming task. We'll talk about how to streamline your social
media strategy in our upcoming post.
Did you find
this article helpful? Let us know your feedback by taking a quick online survey.
Why brand development is important in rural
Brand. It's a small word with a big - and
even multiple - meanings. To some a brand is the visual
representation of your organization - your name, logo and tagline.
To others, it's your company's personality. And still to others, a
brand encompasses both of these ideas.
I'm in that third group. To me, a brand is a multitude of
elements that together, do three things:
- Develop a personality for your organization
- Represent your organization visually and verbally
- Create an emotional connection with your audiences
While branding may seem like a marketing expense you can't
afford, in reality, it's something you can't afford not to do. You
can learn more about brand development by registering for our upcoming webinar on May
12, but here are a few reasons why even the smallest rural
hospital needs to focus on its brand.
Since today's healthcare consumers choose hospitals and
clinics more like they choose a store to shop in or a restaurant to
eat at, rural health organizations NEED to
represent themselves in a more retail manner.
You need to have a clear identity in consumers' minds. This
includes your name, logo, colors, advertising, etc. If you look
like the competition, you may get mistaken for the competition.
While this could be a positive or negative comparison, it doesn't
create patient loyalty.
You need to have a distinct voice and use messaging that clearly
demonstrates your strengths and why a patient should choose you. A
consistent voice also allows for consumers to trust what you have
to say no matter what channel it comes from.
And you need to make a strong promise to your patients about not
just the type of services they'll receive, but how they
will receive it and in what environment.
Proper brand development can help accomplish all of this.
for a National Rural Health Association webinar on
May 12 to learn more about brand development for rural healthcare.
I'll discuss how to determine where your brand currently is, how to
strengthen it and even how to start from scratch to create a brand
that resonates with your audience and differentiates you from your
Why are some people healthy and others are not? How does a
person's ZIP code really affect their health? According to a new report, as the healthcare industry
accelerates its transition from a fee-for-service model to a
value-based one, population health initiatives will be larger than
ever in 2015.
Hospitals are in the business of caring for the sick and the ACO
shift to focusing on health and wellness is a cultural adjustment
that we just aren't used to. After all, if the health of the
population improves, won't that keep people out of the hospital?
There are a variety of reasons why it is necessary for critical
access hospitals (CAH) to implement population health strategies.
Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also builds patient
trust and loyalty and increases market share. In our post about turning
competition into opportunities, we explored the M&A wave,
explaining how mergers and acquisitions can be beneficial for CAHs
to strengthen their value proposition.
But, a partnership, merger or acquisition isn't always
better. CAHs are heavily linked to the communities they serve and
many are well positioned to thrive in the changing marketplace by
developing effective population health strategies.
Here are 8 smart marketing activities
CAHs can do today to get started:
- Start paying closer attention to recruitment/retention and
- Have marketing staff get involved in community workgroups,
committees and task forces that address population health
- Work with HR to develop and/or implement employee wellness
programs to encourage healthy behaviors.
- Engage staff in conversations.
- Include population health on the agenda at meetings.
- Focus marketing efforts to the uninsured.
- Reach out to the community and engage in conversations with a
wide variety of community partners and leaders.
- Keep boosting and increasing your community presence/engagement
through your marketing efforts. Get the CFO involved and discuss
charity care, bad debts and community benefit reporting.
Stay tuned to the next few posts where I'll explore other
challenges facing critical access leaders such as physician
engagement/recruitment and pay-per-performance models.
No. Not even close. Many opinion bloggers and industry writers
may think so. To us here at Legato, we see opportunity for you.
In case you missed it, Facebook dropped big news in January,
announcing to its users that they will see fewer promotional posts
in their news feeds. To brand pages (or hospital and health
system pages), this means your posts should expect organic reach to fall significantly
Specifically, Facebook is making it harder for posts that push
products, services, application installs and promotions.
Essentially, what Facebook is trying to say is that you need to
reach your audience by buying an ad. That message shouldn't come as
a surprise; in fact, it was bound to happen sooner or later.
If you think your Facebook pages are now worthless-think again.
Facebook is only trying to surface content that people care about.
So while the number of people you reach may have dropped, the
quality of those people has probably increased.
Here are 3 reasons to keep your Facebook brand pages:
1. Amazing content is king.
First, and foremost, you have to create content
that keeps fans coming back. Think about your audience and what
they will find value in. Create content that entertains, informs or
otherwise engages your audience. This is a critical piece in
boosting engagement and visibility on Facebook.
2. Facebook ad boosts aren't expensive.
In fact, for as little as $1 per day, you will get in
front of thousands of people who wouldn't have seen you otherwise.
If you are doing that and your competitors aren't, you're winning.
With more than 1.19 billion monthly active users and an advanced
set of targeting options, you can place your best posts in front of
a very targeted audience. When done correctly, advertising can
greatly improve visibility and engagement.
Advertising on Facebook will be necessary to boost
visibility on posts, attract more fans and increase engagement. We
can no longer think of Facebook as a free advertising platform.
Those days are over.
3. Fan engagement is increasing.
Despite the drop in organic reach, many
pages are seeing an increase in engagement on their pages and page
posts. This is because Facebook's algorithm is getting smarter. The
small percentage of fans who do see a page's posts are the fans who
are most likely to engage with the post. Although Facebook pages
are reaching a smaller audience, they are reaching a more engaged
audience and building a core group of engaged users.
Perception of quality. Awareness of services. Likelihood to
Imagine if you knew this important information about your
healthcare facility's target audiences. It could help shape
marketing objectives and strategies, determine what services need
to be marketed more - or less - and give you a baseline
understanding of your audiences' behaviors.
That's the power of market
Now I know it's a common concern amongst healthcare marketers -
especially if you work at a critical access hospital or rural
facility - that research is too expensive or that it won't reveal
any new information. But if done correctly, market research can
truly create a solid foundation for strong, strategic
There are two basic ways market research can benefit your
- It enables you to make marketing decisions based on objective
- It sets baseline measures that you can use to evaluate the
effectiveness of marketing efforts
And in addition to perception, awareness and likelihood to
use, there are many other insights you can gather from market
- Demographics of users and non-users of your services
- Reasons why non-users choose competitors
- The best media channels to use to reach your audiences
Still not convinced of the power of market research? Use
the link below to register for our upcoming National Rural Health
Association webinar to learn more about different research methods
and see a case study of how one critical access hospital has
successfully used market research to set and meet its marketing
Register today for "Research in Rural Health:
Building a Foundation for Strategic Marketing."
March 26 | Noon (CDT)