Ascension's advertising has taken a decidedly digital turn as the Catholic giant rebrands all of its facilities.
St. Louis-based Ascension joins many other health systems that are moving more of their marketing budgets to digital and away from traditional media because that's where consumers are going first to research their conditions and providers, marketing executives say.
About 80% of all consumer encounters with providers start with a mobile search, said Nick Ragone, Ascension's chief marketing officer.
Ascension also likes digital because ad effectiveness can be more accurately measured and networks such as Facebook, combined with in-house customer retention software, allow for very specific targeting of consumers, he said.
Ascension is the nation's largest not-for-profit hospital company with 140 hospitals and 2016 revenue of $21 billion.
"As we move forward in our journey to fully integrate Ascension—clinically, operationally and from an identity perspective—we are putting more emphasis on advanced data analytics, which allows us to be precise in our digital marketing and stretch our resources," Ascension CEO Tony Tersigni said.
Ascension last year spent just 10% of its advertising budget on digital and 90% on traditional channels, such as television, radio and billboards. This year it will be a 25-75 mix, Ragone said, with a 50-50 split expected over the next few years.
Northwell Health, based in the New York City suburbs, is going heavily digital, too, said Ramon Soto, Northwell senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer.
Northwell had been almost dormant in ad spending in the years leading up to its name change in late 2015 from North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System despite having 20-plus hospitals, Soto said.
But when he took over the job to rebrand the system, he said he turned its ad mix from 1% digital before 2016 to about 20% today.
Recent integrated campaigns have focused on Northwell's cardiac and robotic surgery capabilities with each campaign having a big digital component, he said. For example, Northwell advertised extensively on PBS Digital and New York Times Digital to reach both the 4.4 million New Yorkers who have had some care at a Northwell facility over the years and the 4 million who haven't, he said.
Since 2015, Northwell's share of voice in New York, or its relative advertising exposure, has risen from 3% to 27%, 2 points higher than the system's total share of patient services, Soto said.
"The market is absolutely moving to digital," said Soto, who declined to share the specific amount of Northwell's ad spend.
Ascension, which is in the process of branding all of its hospitals and ambulatory sites as Ascension, is spending about 70% of its digital ad budget with the big two: Facebook and Google, Ragone said.
Google is crucial because it's the dominant portal that most healthcare consumers use to find health information and providers, he said.
The vast majority start their journey on a mobile device searching health conditions such as rash or knee pain rather than a specific hospital or healthcare brand, Ragone said.
Ascension has assembled a central team to ensure that ads and information show up on the first page of a Google search in its dozens of markets whenever a consumer searches key words such as "knee replacement Detroit."
Moreover, the system has centralized its 140 websites into one under its "One Ascension" strategy and its ad creative comes from one digital agency to promote a top user experience and consistent message across its hundreds of locations, Ragone said.
Ascension also has standardized its customer-relationship management software with a customized version of the Tea Leaves Health system, which allows company marketers to reach patients in need of a checkup or diagnostic test and serve them messages and ads to remind them to come in, Ragone said.
That allows for targeted messaging, which is cheaper than a shotgun approach and is one of the strong suits of Facebook advertising, he said. Using Facebook targeting tools and its own customer-relationship management system, the health system can find men over age 50 in a specific geography to serve them Facebook ads for colorectal health, for example.
Ascension also requires that its digital sites be optimized for mobile devices.
"If they don't get a great experience the first time, you usually don't get a second bite at the apple," Ragone said.