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Educational Marketing Best Practices: Know your audience first

Marketing needs to be much more than transactional. The best campaigns are also educational. And there are essential components that make the message more welcome, even appreciated.

For Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore, marketing firm HCB Health found an insight that led to surprising marketing success: Nervous new parents are looking for general guidance, but they also want instant feedback on their baby's health. That extends to potential indicators such as stool color, which can suggest problems with liver function or other illnesses that are best treated early. Johns Hopkins wanted to support them. So HCB Health created a mobile app called PoopMD that lets parents upload photos of their baby's stool and immediately get information based on the color, with the option to send the photo to a pediatrician. The app “teaches not only what to look for, but it also empowers patients,” said Nancy Beesley, chief marketing officer at HCB Health. “That's the most important part of educational campaigns.”

One Illinois hospital's campaign targeting the importance of mammograms emerged from research, said Jim Brown, chief operating officer at Hippo, a division of Muller Bressler Brown, and Shan Neely, creative director. The agency found that many women who didn't have a regular screening for breast cancer said they just didn't have the time to schedule an exam. With that in mind, the hospital began offering walk-in screenings. While it might have been easy for the hospital to focus on its technology offerings, it was more effective to focus on what mattered to the consumer.


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Other key components in educational campaigns include:
  • Avoid the hard sell. “It's all about help,” said Merry Heim, vice president at Harmelin Media. “Healthcare marketing, whether it's a drug or a hospital selling a service line, is all about 'How can we help you?' ” Cancer patients, for example, don't want to be pandered to, Beesley said, “so we want to give them language that is direct and powerful.”
  • Establish a target audience and customize from there. Understanding your audience is perhaps the most important step in developing an educational campaign. Different generations, for example, learn in different ways, Beesley said. For instance, when you're working on services for the senior market, don't overwhelm consumers with facts and statistics. Millennials, on the other hand, prefer lots of data. “Know your audience and their behaviors,” Beesley said. “Be anthropological in your approach. Study behaviors. If no one sees it or shares it, then it's blowing into the wind.”
  • Measurement is your guide, before and after. Harmelin Media conducts media focus groups to learn about the target audience's habits and media consumption, Helm said. Using focus groups doesn't have to be costly, she added, and they can help an organization distill information about the audience and design a better media plan. And it's essential to determine a means of measurement to validate each campaign's results.


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