Healthcare Business News
A multimedia approach

Telling their stories

Healthcare marketing, advertising emphasize the personal approach as providers find new ways to connect with patients

By Rachel Landen
Posted: August 3, 2013 - 12:01 am ET

It isn't often someone can enter an operating room and watch doctors perform surgery. But Memorial Health Care System in Chattanooga, Tenn., has allowed the public to do just that—through the Web.

Under the advice of Franklin Street, a Richmond, Va.-based health and wellness marketing and advertising firm, Memorial provided a free webcast of a pre-recorded, edited and narrated video of an open-heart surgery in which the several thousand attendees could also chat with the lead surgeon.

Such an approach isn't only an educational tool, but it's also an effective marketing technique, says Stephen Moegling, Franklin Street's executive vice president for client planning. “What we recommend to our clients is to publish content based on what they're doing,” he says.

Kim Fox, vice president of healthcare marketing firm Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock in Nashville, agrees with the strategy. “We're seeing a lot of videos, opening the doors of the hospitals and letting us see them in new ways,” she says. “It's all about storytelling.”

The methods hospitals are choosing to tell their stories are shifting. Between 2008 and 2009, spending on Internet marketing by hospitals, clinics and medical centers rose about 20% from $47.5 million to $57.2 million, while television marketing fell 7% from $395.3 million to $369.3 million, according to data from Kantar Media, a media consulting firm based in New York. In 2010, while TV advertising rose 10% to $407.9 million, Internet ad spending more than tripled to $202.1 million.

Since then, digital advertising expenditures—on tools such as websites, social media, search engine optimization and banner ads—have continued to edge higher, even though they haven't significantly cut into outlays for television, newspaper, radio or even outdoor advertising such as billboards and ads displayed on public transit. Only magazine ads have seen a consistent decline in dollars spent over the past five years, dropping by about 20% since 2008.

“On one hand, we're seeing a shift of healthcare brands putting more dollars into the digital space—search campaigns, display ads, social outreach—but they're lagging behind larger brands outside of healthcare,” Moegling says. According to Franklin Street's 2013 Healthcare Marketing Trends Report, the average hospital spends about 9% of its media dollars on the Web, but Moegling says spending is closer to 25% for brands in other industries.

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Though digital marketing is still a smaller line item in a marketing budget, observers say it's clearly catching fire in the healthcare sphere, perhaps because it doesn't have to be costly to be effective. In 2011, the average national 30-second television spot cost $354,000, according to the American Association of Advertising Agencies' 2011 Television Production Cost Survey. Also, a healthcare ad—on Sunday, in color—in the New York Times costs $28,900 for less than a half-page and $41,200 for a half-page to a full-page ad. Digital advertising campaigns are typically a fraction of those costs.

McLaren-Greater Lansing (Mich.) Hospital, which launched its centennial communications campaign just last week, allocated only 5% of its campaign budget to digital advertising, with the greatest percentage, 25% each, going toward television and outdoor ads.

“Because digital advertising is so cost-efficient—especially in a smaller market area—we didn't need to devote a large percentage of the budget to have an online presence,” says Lisa O'Connor, president of Publicom, the East Lansing, Mich.-based marketing and communications firm that worked with McLaren on the campaign. The digital piece, O'Connor says, was used as a tactic to reach a targeted audience. In addition to TV, outdoor and digital advertising, McLaren also allocated money to radio, print, on-site giveaways and public relations.

That multiplatform, multichannel approach is similar to a campaign debuted by San Diego-based Scripps Health in February. The campaign, titled “Where greater things happen”—which began with a local ad during the Super Bowl and then used print ads, billboards, online advertising and social media—featured stories told by Scripps patients who received heart, cancer and trauma care through the health system. Though the official campaign ended in May, the patient story videos remain available on monitors in Scripps' lobbies and on its website and YouTube page.

Don Stanziano, Scripps corporate vice president of marketing and communications, says using patient stories was an easy decision because “Scripps' brand promise is about patients.” They already link their internal communications and public relations efforts to patient stories. “It's more compelling when you make an emotional connection,” Stanziano says.

“Healthcare is an emotional decision, and so you have to touch the heart,” Fox says. “Nothing is more powerful to me than a story of survival and fighting and winning and getting back to what you want to do.”

At Scripps, digital media played a big role in making that happen by engaging people to publicly share through Scripps Health's Facebook page their own stories of care and healing.

Sharing their experiences

Similarly, at Boston Children's Hospital, fans of the hospital's heart center's Facebook page post photos and stories that help inspire other families who are about to go through similar treatments or procedures. Lily Albin, the hospital's social media specialist, who constantly monitors the organization's presence on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Instagram, responds to each Facebook wall post with a personalized message. On the wall, fans—patients and their families—are able to engage with the hospital and one another. It might not necessarily be a direct marketing tool, but it could be more effective with some audiences than a typical ad, experts say.

“Invite conversation and respond to it,” Fox says. “It's word-of-mouth marketing in a brand new way, using a different kind of tool, and a tool that you can monitor and engage in.”

Dr. Howard Luks, an orthopedic surgeon practicing in New York's Westchester and Dutchess counties, engages with his patients via a website that he maintains and had redesigned and optimized for search engines. But he mostly uses free tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to reach both current and potential patients. Luks shares educational tweets and health advice, films videos of himself discussing common orthopedic injuries, and writes articles about topics in orthopedics.

Even though marketing his practice isn't the primary motivation for his Web presence, it does have a helpful side effect. “A Web presence humanizes your existence,” Luks says. “For patients, it eliminates those first few minutes of anxiety. Not a day goes by that I don't hear from my patients, 'You're exactly like you were in your videos.' ”

Luks estimates that 17% of his patients visit his office because they found him online.

“By providing meaningful content, particularly online, that allows consumers to learn. … They'll see that educational provider as the leading expert,” Moegling says. “Chances are that when there's a need, they'll go see that provider.”

Moegling points to a trend that Franklin Street has referred to as “help me help myself,” where marketers use social media to empower patients who are looking for health information to help them stay well.

According to Indianapolis-based marketing agency DK New Media and research and advisory firm Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., 32% of online consumers trust the opinion of a stranger on a blog or in a public forum more than they trust a branded advertisement.

Listening to the patients

Fox argues that the feedback and ratings given by patients are far more important in convincing others where to go for medical care than the numerous official hospital rankings by U.S. News and World Report or Healthgrades.

She also contends that most people don't select a hospital because it has a robot or the latest piece of medical technology, so the idea of touting the latest technology doesn't always work.

“That's always been a challenge in healthcare marketing,” Moegling says. “It's hard to tell a chief financial officer, 'I know you want to talk about technology and outcomes, but trust me, if we do something more emotional, it'll hook people.' ”

He refers to Martin Lindstrom's 2008 bestseller Buyology, in which Lindstrom asserts, through case study examples, that consumers don't think rationally when they buy. Whether they are aware of it or not, emotions supersede logical thoughts and impact purchasing decisions.

Also, a patient's definition of quality—whether a clinician was nice, answered questions, or asked about the patient's family—is often different from a hospital's definition or metrics that might focus on readmissions or complications, says Rhoda Weiss, editor and columnist for the American Marketing Association's Marketing Health Services magazine and founding president of the American Hospital Association's Society for Healthcare Strategy and Marketing Development.

Though she believes ads still help to create a brand, it's much more about communicating with patients and their families when they're seeking out healthcare, when they are under the care of a hospital, or when they're following up on a previous visit. It's a strategy that Weiss says has always existed but is becoming more important as organizations shift their focus from sickness to wellness. “It's causing us in marketing to focus on long-term relationships,” she says.

At Scripps, Stanziano plans to confront the changing healthcare landscape this fall with less of a branding message and more of what he refers to as a call to action—how to learn more about Scripps' services and select a physician while shopping in the new state insurance exchanges. And although the focus on advertising approaches is evolving, Stanziano thinks it's important that the spotlight doesn't stray too far from the patient, which is why ads should be in their voices.

“It's easy to fall into focusing on yourself with chest-beating ads telling how great we are,” he says.

Follow Rachel Landen on Twitter: @MHrlanden

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