Digital Marketing in Today’s Healthcare. Or Am I Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic, Again?

By Josh Putter, contributor.
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Marketing has always been a conundrum for healthcare executives. Do I really need to market? Do consumers make their decisions based on an ad? Doctors really drive healthcare decisions so why waste resources on marketing? All of these questions, and many more, have plagued decision makers and healthcare leaders for decades.

HOWEVER, marketing is an essential strategy, whether traditional or digital, to retain and attract patients, physicians, and employees. The No. 1 carbonated beverage is Coca-Cola and you can’t tune into any form of media without seeing a Coke ad. Marketing directors need to educate the C-Suite on the value of marketing in a concise and analytical manner.


        Josh Putter

Digital versus Traditional Marketing

  • Traditional marketing includes tangible items such as business cards, print ads, radio and TV commercials, billboards, etc. Traditional marketing is anything but digital and is meant to brand your product or logo. In addition, traditional marketing includes networking and referrals that require human interaction and rapport.
  • Digital marketing, which is continually evolving, includes websites, social media, email, videos, etc., and it is viewed using digital devices. In addition, digital marketing is not only on computers, but more importantly, mobile devices. However, the goal of digital marketing is for consumers to find your business in contrast to the goal of traditional marketing: finding the consumer.

Traditional marketing is more comfortable than digital because it has been around for most, if not all, of our lives. Newspaper, billboards, and TV ads are familiar and easy to comprehend. If you are over the age of 35, the digital world is new, foreign, and can be difficult to use. But traditional marketing has its shortcomings. It can be difficult to measure, is static and non-interactive, and is a very broad, shotgun type approach of marketing to a finite audience.

Digital marketing is much easier to measure (how many people clicked on my banner or ad is measured instantly), can reach a much wider audience, can provide instant feedback, and, in the case of your website, YouTube video, or Facebook page, it is always available and one-click away.

Digital marketing is essential in today’s marketplace. It is easy to jump in with both feet and quickly sink. First you have a website, then perhaps an email blast, then maybe a Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram account. It’s hard to decide what to do first.

Is Marketing Worth the Effort, Time, and Money?

As a C-Suite executive with more than 25 years of experience, convincing me to market has always been a challenge for the marketing director. I have always been skeptical of the value of marketing. It is difficult to put a tangible return on investment (ROI) for my review.

How many people actually see a print ad? Of those that see the ad, how many are decision makers for healthcare in their household? The same questions can be asked of television, billboard, radio, etc. How many times has an ad been seen by a physician with a large practice? Am I communicating my value to the consumer? He may have to go elsewhere. And it never seems to be an inexpensive endeavor.

Then you add the complexities of digital marketing and the marketing director’s job has become even more challenging. However, digital marketing can now provide instant feedback as it relates to clicks or visits to the webpage, the number of followers on Twitter, and the comments on Facebook. This is a tremendous opportunity for the marketing director.

I can now review numbers (I am much happier reviewing numbers than watching a feel-good television commercial). This is where the opportunity exists for marketing directors to really sell their product. I can support a budget for a program that shows results. Did that incremental outpatient volume come from the digital marketing? Answer that question and the budget will increase. The feedback is critical to sell me on increasing the digital marketing budget. And I do not need to understand the technical aspects of digital marketing, just the return.

When I review an ROI for a new piece of equipment, I have a good idea of how many procedures I need conducted in order to break even. And if that new piece of equipment for a surgeon increases his volume, I am more likely to buy more equipment. The same can be said for digital marketing. The analytics are what is usually missing on the proposal for digital marketing. You need to have a plan to sell your proposal.

Here are some steps to get you started:

  1. State your Objectives. An example is to grow obstetrics market share.
  2. Marketing Strategy. You first need to define what you are trying to achieve. Short- and long-term goals need to be clarified for all stakeholders. Growing market share in your strategy is too broad. Growing births by 6% over the next 12 months is specific and it can be measured.
  3. Marketing Plan. This is how you are going to achieve your strategy. This is where your digital products will be defined and developed.
  4. 4.ROI. The above can be the best plan ever conceived, but without a measurable return, the plan will not be well received.

Advice for Marketing Directors

Marketing directors, in my experience, usually have a difficult time putting their plan into a form that will sell the C-Suite. The director needs help. The CFO (I know they hate spending money.) is the best place to start. She can usually give you a template, advice, and an acceptable ROI. Staying analytical will sell the plan. I still am unsure if the billboard drives volumes, but I know that an email to expectant mothers will, at a minimum, engage them with my hospital.

Stay positive! You are still working in one of the most noble of all professions: caring for those in need!

About the Author

Josh Putter is currently a consultant with DCCS Consulting. According to the company’s website, “DCCS is a full-service consulting firm with a strong foundation in healthcare leadership focused on responding to the exponential changes affecting today's healthcare.”

Prior to his work at DCCS, Mr. Putter was President of Steward Health Care in Boston; Division President, Division Five (Florida), with Health Management Associates, Inc. in Naples, Florida; CEO of the Charlotte Regional Medical Center in Punta Gorda, Florida; CEO of the Medical Center of Southeastern Oklahoma, in Durant; CEO of Highlands Regional Medical Center in Sebring, Florida; CEO of Brazos Valley Medical Center in Bryan/College Station, Texas; and Assistant Executive Director of Clear Lake Regional Medical Center in Webster, Texas. He also spent 2 years as an Owner Operator of Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, in Delray Beach, Florida.

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