Due to the Affordable Care Act, healthcare in the United States changed dramatically, and this year it will be up to healthcare marketers to understand these changes and adapt their marketing plans. The biggest changes we’ve seen so far are an increased emphasis on wellness programs, treatment for existing conditions, and prevention education. The increased emphasis on these initiatives lengthens the average life-cycle of patient interactions and requires marketers to change their marketing methods as well as their message.
When we couple these changes with the exponential growth in smart mobile devices, wireless technology, and the general adoption and acceptance of technology usage in healthcare, 2014 will be the year for healthcare marketers to proactively modify existing outreach practices and adapt to a landscape that will look much different January 1, 2015. Based on the rapid expansion of the ACA, technology adoption, current marketing trends, and online marketing opportunities/challenges, I make the following 12 Predictions about Healthcare Marketing in 2014:
- Transition from Branding to Direct Response – A majority of healthcare marketing spend is still either invested in traditional advertising methods- TV commercials, radio spots, print ads, and, sadly, billboards- Or in the public relations effort of creating “awareness” or “branding” through public relations and communications. These legacy advertising methods are quickly becoming less valuable due to the inability to accurately track performance. To maintain or increase market share in 2014, healthcare marketers must employ direct marketing techniques to convert prospects into patients and measure results. With reimbursement rates decreasing and competition increasing, budgets will need to be used much more effectively than in the past. A required shift from traditional marketing methods to more online marketing investment that can be tracked and tweaked much more effectively is absolutely necessary in this environment. I predict marketers will invest in the creation of short healthcare reports and program guides and use them as giveaway incentives to get prospective patients into their sales funnels.
- Simplified Messaging – Combining Online & Offline – It used to make sense to keep offline and online marketing separate because they functioned quite differently. Unfortunately, this sometimes led to redundant content creation and inconsistent messaging. The new year will bring a merging of offline and online marketing organizations to streamline costs, production, and messaging.
- Reduced Focus On Social Media – This may come as a surprise because the current belief is that if you are not active on 50 different social networks, then you are missing customer engagement opportunities. The reality is the ROI on social media is still very hard to measure and the activity on all of the various social networks requires tremendous resources to create valuable content. While reviewing the Healthcare Social Media List, you can see that the number of organizations active on social media is actually decreasing. When you take it a step further, clicking through many of the pages reveals profiles that have not been updated recently or are updated infrequently. My prediction is that organizations will limit their activity to 1 or 2 networks where they can be really active and eliminate the other social networks. Additionally, I predict that some organizations will make the determination that social media is simply not worth the investment.
- Increase in Online Spending – Google is changing search so that some local sites are finding it more difficult to rank. Facebook has announced that their Edgerank Algorithm has changed so that business pages will appear in the news feed of less than 5% of their followers. This translates to hospital marketers being forced by the major players to pay for traffic. If hospital marketers want their posts to appear in news feeds, it’s going to cost real money. Pay-per-click will be needed for Google Bing, and Yahoo to drive quality traffic to healthcare sites. I will not make any predictions about percentage increases in spend because the transition will be slower than needed mainly due to the belief in healthcare that traditional media still drives market share. This transition will take time. The increase in online spending will work in parallel with the implementation of metrics to measure advertising effectiveness.
- Remarketing * – Options for online marketing are becoming more advanced and more personal. Hospital marketers will now need to function like other B2C industries where multiple touches are required to gain new patients and sell services. This is especially true in the highly profitable procedures like maternity, bariatrics, and surgery. Hospital marketers will need to use remarketing and e-mail marketing to maintain frequent interactions with prospects after they have visited hospital websites. *(Remarketing uses tracking on a website to advertise to visitors after they have visited your site. Here is a much more detailed definition of Remarketing from Google).
- Reputation Management Becomes More Important – As hospitals merge and physician practices increasingly join hospital systems, online reputation will become more important. Physician ratings and reviews on sites like Ratemds.com, Healthgrades, and Vital.com will become more important. It is difficult to grow market share for a physician who is often rated poorly on the sites that rank highly when you search for that physician’s name. Hospital marketers will take a more active role in monitoring, responding, and improving the online reputation of their physicians.
- Mobile Site Conversions – Hospital sites need to be responsive to mobile devices. This will require sites to work across all devices and load quickly. The sites that make the switch to mobile responsive sites the soonest will have the advantage in the local markets. Google stated over a year ago that they preferred mobile responsive sites and stats in Google Analytics support that. Visitors bounce at higher rates from sites that are not mobile optimized. In 2014, hospital sites will make the switch to mobile friendly sites.
- Less Focus on Apps, More Focus on Mobile Experience – A few years ago, everyone in healthcare wanted to create a mobile app for their system. As it turns out, that may not have been the best idea. According to Adeven more than 600,000 apps in the Itunes app store have never been downloaded. Very few medical apps rank in the top 1,000 in the app stores of Apple and Android which illustrates that even after an app is created, gaining major traction is difficult. The numbers are even more dismal when usage of apps is measured after they are downloaded with most apps never being used after the first 5 days. Much of the functionality that is built into apps, can easily be dropped into existing websites. In 2014, hospital marketers will scrap plans to develop custom apps and focus on improving their existing sites mobile functionality.
- Real adoption of Content Marketing – Content marketing has been the buzz word for the last 18 months and just like most new marketing models, hospitals have been slow to adopt. I predict this will change in 2014. As Google keeps updating/changing their algorithm, hospitals must adjust like every other industry. Content has always been King, and that is not changing. The hospitals that refuse to adopt content marketing in a meaningful way will continue to find themselves ranked below sites like WebMD and newspapers in their local markets. The strategy can be fairly simple- answer frequently asked medical questions on your website and repurpose that content to be used in video, social media, and collateral giveaways. For thousands of ideas for content marketing, start here:
- Billboard Marketing Will Go Away – This is really more of a hope than a prediction. It is frustrating to see highways littered with hospital billboards because there are so many ways to market online more cost effectively with almost unlimited traffic. To make matters worse, these billboards usually lack a call to action or even a URL. They are presented as “branding”, but are terribly ineffective and a very antiquated way to advertise. Investing half the money spent on a billboard into Pay-Per-Click would produce much greater results.
- Site consolidation due to Mergers – This is more of a function of hospital and physician practice consolidation. The task of maintaining tens or even hundreds of sites puts considerable strain on the IT and marketing departments and, more often than not, results in inconsistent branding. At Healthcare Marketing Strategies Summit 2013, Chris Broyer– AVP of Digital Strategy for NY Northshore/LIJ Health System- stated that due to mergers and adding physician practices, his group was determining how best to deal with over 350 websites. Merging sites opens the discussion of search engine optimization, but most healthcare organizations will quickly determine that it is not worth the effort to maintain multiple redundant sites and will consolidate to only a few.
- SEO & Web Analytics Make A Resurgence – Capturing visits and pageviews will no longer be enough in 2014. Most sites use Google Analytics, but, in many cases, less than 10% of the functionality is being used. That will change in 2014 as metrics that are heavily used in other industries like goals, conversion rates, and cost per lead will soon see an increase in value in hospital marketing. With Google making the drastic change in October 2013 of making most search terms “Not Provided,” other metrics will increase in importance. Fortunately, the data is already there. The challenge now is how to interpret it and, more importantly, how to use the data to improve traffic and user engagement.
These observations are my opinions based on observation, client work across various industries, and the changing landscape in healthcare. Hospital marketing is changing in a big way and marketers will see measurable results largely by taking advantage of the technology already in place.
Are the any predictions for Healthcare Marketing in 2014 that I missed?