Tight marketing budget? These 7 hospital managers have advice

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Hospitals operate on low margins, so marketing departments often have to create campaigns with tight budgets. Here, marketing managers from seven health systems across the country give tips on how to start a successful campaign on a tight budget.

Note: Answers have been edited slightly for clarity and style.

Jigar Shah. Chief Marketing Officer at Providence (Renton, Washington): Building effective campaigns requires a deep understanding of patient needs and the solutions we can offer. Effective audience selection, personalization, messaging, and using the right channel can all help keep campaign costs down. We routinely examine campaign performance to ensure that we apply the insights from news and channel tests and optimize them for future campaigns. Channel selection is critical to keeping media costs down, and we’ve found that using low-cost channels like email can be compelling when the needs and desires of the communities we serve are respected. We also use organic channels, earned media, and other inexpensive methods to reach consumers.

Ultimately, it’s critical to keep the message current and ensure that the campaign promise aligns with operational reality. Providing a smooth call-to-action experience ensures high campaign effectiveness. We believe the real campaign experience begins when consumers respond to our messages.

Alexandra Morehouse. Chief Marketing Officer at Banner Health (Phoenix): Banner has been able to run cost effective growth campaigns by posting highly relevant content marketing that in turn drives organic search results. We monitor health topics that are trending on social media as well as the topics our patients bring up when they call us. We use natural language programming to keep track of these phone calling trends.

Once we know what motivates our customers, we develop blog articles, social posts and emails that touch on these topics and use them to gain readers and engagement. This has dramatically increased the traffic to our website, which we consider our digital storefront. We are currently one of the top 10 health websites for traffic of around 9,800 nationwide.

Another inexpensive campaign tactic is to make sure we claim all of our Google listings for both doctors and locations. Before we did this consistently, banner entries were only seeing 1 million hits per year, but by 2021 we will have nearly 200 million visits to our doctor and location listings.

When investing in traditional television, radio, print, or out-of-home is too expensive, digital campaigns like these are very effective at stimulating business.

Suzanne Bharati Hendery. Chief Marketing and Customer Officer at Renown Health (Reno, Nev.): Many creative and resourceful healthcare marketers create highly effective campaigns by working across disciplines. PR peers help attract media attention through editorial roundtables, hosting events and distributing press releases, creating a reporter and media experience where patients tell / reinforce your story / brand. Social media / podcasts give CEOs and other representatives the opportunity to listen, engage, and respond to patients, donors, employees, and partners in wonderful new ways and on new platforms. Nonprofit partners, donors, and business partners help share your stories with influential and targeted audiences.

The American Hospital Association, Ad Council, CDC, and advertising agencies produce great graphics, photos, videos, and creative content on public health topics that are available free of charge. As non-profit health organizations, many of the national media and poster companies provide you with residual media free of charge.

Sheila Champlin. Chief Communications and Marketing Officer at the Medical University of South Carolina (Charleston): MUSC Health’s marketing team delivers effective, budget-limited marketing campaigns through a digital-first approach that leverages advance planning, collaboration, data-driven decision-making, and integration with our healthcare system and business.

The healthcare systems marketing team regularly connects with related teams, including public affairs, media relations, corporate campaigns, and college communications, and corporate brand development and strategy, to find ways to maximize storytelling and integrate messaging across audiences and channels. Our teams recognize and seize every opportunity to expand and reinforce marketing campaigns through seamless strategic orchestration. Together, our marketing team and our communicators consistently build loyal brand ambassadors across the company who enthusiastically share the compelling story of MUSC Health.

Susan Milford. Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communication at OSF HealthCare (Peoria, Ill.): Effective campaigns with smaller budgets are easier than ever in marketing. This is because there are so many more channels and opportunities to target very specific audiences, which will ensure that your budget is being used efficiently. When I first started in healthcare marketing there was mostly traditional advertising and earned media, so local radio spots and hometown newspaper ads were the most targeted.

Today’s data-driven marketing enables precise targeting and therefore less waste to reach people who are unlikely to become patients. In addition, free and low-cost options across social media, smartphone videos, email campaigns, content marketing for search engine optimization, geotargeted ads, search engine marketing, and targeted digital advertising can produce strong results for less. We often use our customer relationship management system to track patients with certain medical conditions such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, etc.

Finally, the rise in artificial intelligence in digital properties like your website now allows for greater personalization based on how your users interact with your website. Refocusing and offering the services the consumer is looking for is the way to become their trusted brand that encourages re-use of your healthcare system at no extra patient acquisition cost.

Matthew Pinzur. Chief Marketing Officer at Jackson Health System (Miami): Sometimes the best campaigns come with limited budgets because the team is forced to break away from typical tactics. When we create low budget, high impact campaigns, we spend a lot of time talking about the target audience: who are they? Where do they gather? What is it that catches your attention?

We find community partners to create unique activations, influencers who share our mission, and content creators to co-brand or white-label material outside of our wheelhouse. For example, we teamed up with a local comedy video group to produce and distribute a hilarious video about the birth in our hospital – the engagement was astronomical on a tiny budget, and now we have annual content with them- Contract that this year will include our first multi-part web series.

John Englehart. Senior Vice President and Chief Communications and Marketing Officer at the Hospital for Special Surgery (New York City): Start with a fresh look at organic sources of influence. All brands have latent or underutilized assets that are usually less obvious and more valuable than the normal marketing tools. Often they are uncovered through learning from current, highly affine consumers: In the blink of an eye, the hidden opportunity becomes blindingly obvious.

An HSS example is the ability and value of harnessing, attracting, and channeling patient affinity. The revelation came when a recovered patient was seen visiting the HSS office and asking to tell the right person about her very positive experience. This led to the observation that many patients feel compelled to share their story, and as we all know, information can be especially helpful, relatable, and trustworthy to others when considering whether and where to seek help.

Hence, we asked and answered the question of how can patients provide an easier, more rewarding way to share their stories and interested consumers to find the most relevant to them. The result is a Forum from 3,000+ patient stories used by millions browsing for common interest (from walking to weightlifting) and hometown (from Akron to Amsterdam) to illness and doctor. The forum was created for the cost of a single full-page insert in a major newspaper.


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