Stevie Snow

If you type in “how do you know if you have …” on Google, every single autocomplete has to do with some sort of health condition. (Barring bed bugs, but that could still have health ramifications so I’m letting it slide.)

“What does it mean if …” also generates some pretty gnarly health-related queries that I won’t repeat here.

Why am I telling you this? To make the point that there’s an abundance of online opportunities for healthcare marketers to leverage.

While the healthcare industry calls for more physical touchpoints than other industries, there is a growing need to maintain a robust online presence. As prospective patients take their health into their own hands, they turn to the internet to answer their questions, research providers and make appointments.

Thinking about putting your healthcare marketing hat on? Here’s everything you need to know:

What is healthcare marketing?

Physicians, dentists, hospitals, insurers, suppliers, advocacy groups and other providers use healthcare marketing to promote their products and services. The target audience is healthcare consumers, meaning patients like you and me. Healthcare marketers employ a hybrid subject matter expertise, understanding both traditional marketing strategies and technical health information to create engaging yet accurate marketing campaigns.

Why is healthcare marketing important?

Marketing is vital for any company to build awareness and keep customers coming through the door. Healthcare marketing is especially important for differentiating medical practices, facilities and providers that offer the same, or at least similar, services.

What’s more, the healthcare industry is in a patient-centric era, meaning consumers are more involved in their health than ever before. They want to be in control of their medical decisions, which means reaching and converting potential patients is essential to securing a strong and loyal client base.

What makes a marketer a healthcare marketer?

Much like their colleagues in other industries, healthcare marketers develop and execute strategies with the goals of attracting new business, retaining current customers and generating additional revenue. The difference is that healthcare marketers work with a specialized client base, namely hospitals, doctor’s offices, nursing homes, medical centers, health insurance companies and other healthcare companies.

Oftentimes, these specialized marketers have experience in the healthcare industry, whether it be in a marketing position or otherwise. Such experience fuels their ability to communicate about medical products and services with authority and understanding.

And, no, watching every episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” doesn’t quite cut it, unfortunately.

What goes into an effective healthcare marketing strategy?

Healthcare marketing strategies follow the same principles you most likely know by heart at this point. It takes research and planning to determine goals and highlight KPIs before topic generation, content creation, publishing and distribution can begin.

Naturally, there are some nuances to keep in mind when developing a marketing plan within the healthcare industry. Here are some of the big ones:

Understanding the patients

Every marketer knows that their audience is at the heart of all their marketing efforts. Simply put: It’s virtually impossible to effectively promote products and services without knowing who you’re marketing them to.

The need for targeted messaging is why marketers across industries focus so heavily on creating buyer personas, attempting to understand the ins and outs of our potential customers in order to reach them with more personalized and relevant messages.

The same applies to healthcare marketers. Success relies on a thorough understanding of the patients that make up the target audience. The usual demographic differentiators apply, as well as a more detailed look at medical history, current health conditions, level of involvement in personal healthcare and so on.

Healthcare marketers can assess the audience by asking questions about the current lineup of patients, such as:

  • What’s the typical age range?
  • What kind of jobs do the patients have?
  • How do patients tend to pay for services?
  • How often do patients visit the facility?
  • What kind of ailments or conditions do they have?
  • What makes them choose a practice or hospital over others?

Exhibit A: An ear, nose and throat specialist will want to reach patients in the area who have sinus problems, and may increase marketing spend during allergy season. By contrast, a children’s hospital is likely to focus on young families throughout the year.

Perfecting the website

More often than not, a patient’s journey begins with a search engine. In fact, a survey of more than 1,700 U.S. adults revealed that four out of five respondents made a healthcare-related online search in the past year.

Where should that online search lead them? Ideally to a good-looking, informative and easy-to-navigate website.

Considering most patients will visit a website before making an appointment, healthcare providers must make sure their website makes the right first impression. The better the website, the more trustworthy and professional the brand appears to prospective patients.

Arguably the most important digital marketing asset for a medical practice, the website should check the following boxes:

  • User-friendly.
  • Mobile responsive.
  • Speedy loading times.
  • Easy-to-find services, location and contact information.
  • Consistent branding.
  • Extra credit: Online scheduling capability.

Essentially, the website should tell viewers everything they need to know, convincing them that they can consider their search for a provider officially over.

Sustaining an online presence

The same survey of U.S. adults also reported that 63% of the patients admitted that a strong online presence will lead them to choose one provider over another. In other words, it pays for healthcare companies and medical centers to invest in their online reputations – aka a strong digital marketing plan is a must-have for healthcare providers.

Along with a top-notch website, healthcare marketers can use social media to interact with patients and become a trusted source of both original and curated content.

Online reviews also help consumers differentiate between providers, so strategies to utilize patient feedback are also worthwhile.

Some providers even have mobile apps that allow patients to make appointments, submit payments and communicate with their doctor remotely. The convenience of an app can boost the online patient experience, adding to high satisfaction and retention rates.

Educating through content marketing

Content plays an essential role in health marketing, namely because it’s an effective way to educate, motivate and inform the public on health-related matters.

When the symptoms begin to show, for instance, patients turn to Google in an effort to diagnose themselves. Second opinions come in the form of multiple blog articles, infographics and white papers until they eventually decide whether their symptoms are worthy of making a doctor’s appointment.

As such, there’s a huge opportunity for healthcare providers to not only provide clear information about their services but to also publish blogs, social posts and other digital content that answers common queries and provides helpful, trustworthy medical tips.

Keyword research helps identify the terms and topics to target when creating content, helping healthcare brands drive traffic to the website – and their facilities.

What’s more, sharing accurate and relevant content adds credibility to that oh-so-influential online presence. Direct mail, email newsletters and social media provide even more opportunities for healthcare companies to reach their audience and hone in on the thought leadership perspective.

Leaning on specialists

Healthcare marketers have a certain level of understanding into the products and services, but it also helps to pick the brain of a true expert. This is especially important in healthcare, where educating patients is always a priority.

Quotes and insights from physicians, nurses and medical specialists will give marketing assets a trustworthy edge, helping build a reputation that attracts and retains loyal patients.

Reaping the rewards

A thoughtfully planned and well-executed healthcare marketing strategy can be the lifeline for medical centers and healthcare companies. We’re talking about benefits such as:

  • Reaching new patients with speed and efficiency for a steady influx of clientele.
  • Building brand awareness and recognition.
  • Developing long-lasting relationships with patients.
  • Establishing a trusted reputation.
  • Unifying messaging and objectives across all internal team members.

Should healthcare marketers work with an agency?

Marketers at agencies that work with healthcare organizations are, of course, well-versed in marketing and advertising, but they also have high-level knowledge of the healthcare space and patient audiences.

Such hybrid expertise means these marketing agency teams are up to date on the current trends, needs and expectations in both industries. Plus, they have the time and resources to conduct the necessary market research and competitor analysis that informs highly effective data-driven marketing strategies.

With a portfolio that may include physicians, dentists, hospitals and other clients in the healthcare industry, marketing agencies understand how to build campaigns and create content that achieves healthcare-specific goals. Whether it’s building awareness, driving patient engagement or launching referral programs, marketers who work with healthcare organizations know which medical marketing channels to use – as well as how to use them most effectively.

Any hot tips, tricks and trends?

As with marketing, the healthcare industry is vulnerable to seemingly daily changes. From patient preferences to policies to scientific discoveries, there are constant changes and trends that healthcare marketers have to follow and incorporate in their strategies.

In many ways, the healthcare industry is still adapting to changes in the power dynamic between patients and providers. Empowered by numerous options and endless information available instantly at their fingertips, consumers are pickier about the medical services and products they choose to purchase.

Together with digital conveniences, this patient-centric focus is at the heart of many current trends and overarching themes in health marketing. To name a few:

  • Data-driven personalization: Healthcare marketers are culling through the massive amounts of patient data to identify needs and behavior patterns. From there, they use the insights to develop targeted campaigns.
  • Focusing on patient experience: Through electronic tools, advances in telemedicine and various touchpoints, improvements are being made with patients in mind.
  • Speaking to millennials: This younger generation is a prime audience for healthcare companies, especially because they’re at the forefront of patient demands for convenience and digital solutions.
  • Encouraging wellness: As wellness trends overwhelm the internet, healthcare marketers are leveraging the topic in their content.
  • Shooting videos: Video marketing is driving powerful results for many organizations, and the healthcare industry is no exception.

To learn from healthcare marketing in action, check out our roundup of inspiring examples.

A specialized form of marketing

While healthcare marketing is cut from the same cloth as other forms of marketing, the industry focus gives the practice its distinctive nature. As with any specialist marketing, the key to success is an innate understanding of the industry and the specifics of its audience.

Newbies in the healthcare marketing world: Time to do your research! Visit credible sites and sources, learn from your fellow marketers and talk with healthcare professionals to hone the health side of your expertise.