The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has played havoc with hospital budgets overall. Rapidly declining revenues saw marketing budgets and operations, the first department to be cut. That is understandable as every dollar saved in marketing flows directly to the bottom line. The unfortunate reality is that when the hospital begins to emerge from the pandemic's first wave, any market momentum has been lost, and marketing is in a restart position.
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Looking into the crystal ball, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that hospital marketing budgets, for the most part, will continue to decline as a percent of revenues and operating costs for 2021. With 2021 planning already started in some organizations or nearly ready to start, the time is now for change.
The market has shifted dramatically.
Consider the seismic shifts that took place due to the pandemic for the plan and budget development – acceptance of telemedicine, the patient using social media and local Google searches to find alternative sources of care, and finding information other than the hospital need answers.
Marketing the hospital is no longer about us, but about the hospital rebuilding trust and what the hospital can do for the patient by providing the patient's relevant content and experience in the channel and format they want.
What that means for the hospital is now changing the marketing plan's dynamics based on past action and experience with a diminishing budget to shifting resources to be creative in reaching the patient.
By any means is not an easy task when you consider internally how hospital views marketing and what marketing accomplishes. The staff, Board, and senior leadership feel good when they see the advertisement or receive the random direct mail piece. These are old and tired mass marketing channels and techniques that do not bring the return on marketing investment that the hospital now needs.
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The following ten strategies are how you need to shift the budget and marketing plan for 2021 to reach patients in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. It is not an impossible task but requires maximum use of the resources on hand and staff creativity.
Building the Hospital 2021 Marketing Budget & Plan – Ten Key Strategies
1. Video- It is the preferred way the patient consumes content. Video marketing arrived several years ago, but hospitals and other providers have been slow to adapt. The patient or consumer has adapted and finds video easier to consume content than reading a blog post or informational sheet. With the programs that are available for editing and your iPhone, you can create all the high-quality video you'll ever need for your website and social media use,
2. Content– Content marketing drives organic web traffic and growth. After SEO, a web-generated content strategy requires a content marketing plan. Too many people think that content is a long-form blog post, which has its place in any content strategy, but over 40 different content types can be developed, and having a good mixture is essential. Each form has its benefits and level of engagement. You may settle on just a couple. Please make sure you change it up to keep people engaged.
3. Social Media– It's where your patients are. If the pandemic has taught us anything is the patients are using social media to a greater extent. While many hospitals have a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram page, that doesn't mean it has been better utilized or received substantial focus. The patient now uses social media to search out provider recommendations. It never too late to improve your focus on social media and content. The hospital can no longer afford not to be where the patient is.
4. Voice Search– Is being adopted by patients. With the rapid growth of iPhone Siri, Amazon Echo, and Google Home, voice search is becoming the most used healthcare search method. Voice search arrived years ago mainly on mobile devices but has now entered the home in a big way. That doesn't mean you have to go fill out on optimizing for or voice search, but it means the hospital needs to get started adapting for natural language SEO. Dive into long-tail-keyword research and how Goggle defines search intent. Write conventional style content based on how people commonly asked questions when searching for a hospital or physician, and not answering what you want them to ask.
5. Digital Advertising – More targeted than ever. From demographic and geofencing, the available data has allowed hospital marketers to become hyper-focused and target precisely the type of patient you want to attract for a specific service if your ads are done right. You will be social media to leverage ad drive referrals.
6. Online Reviews–People trust online reviews as much as they do family and friend recommendations. In April 2020, in "How Patients Use Online Reviews," by Lisa Hedges and Colin Couey from Software Advice found that in 2019, found that 72 percent of patients used inline reviews as the first step in finding a new doctor, 88 percent trust online reviews as much as a recommendation for family and friends, and 48 percent would go out of network. Now is the time to actively request reviews from your patients and manage user-generated content and display them on your website and social media.
7. Micro-influencers- Extend your local reach. Not the well-known celebrity or sports star that carries a lot of risk, baggage, and expense. The focus of your influencer marketing should be the micro-influencers in your community or region. These are the individuals who people trust and listen to. Finding a local influencer who align with your services is the way they go. It's nice to have Tony Robbins or Danika Patrick, but do they align with your services? Micro-influencers will drive followers and increase the utilization of your services.
8. The importance of a mobile website. From bluelist.co "60+ Statistics to Help you Rank #1 in 2019", 60 percent of people search and access the internet from a mobile device. Google and other search engines favor mobile sites over those optimized for a desktop or laptop. Now that Google has announced they have mobile-first indexing, your website needs to be optimized for mobile viewing, lest you be left in the dust, and at the very bottom of searches.
9. Focus on how you help, not what you do. If anything, this was the most significant change to come about because of the pandemic. People don't care about technology, buildings, or a plethora of medical services and features. Patients want to know the benefit to them of what you do and how you help them. That means moving away from what to do service-wise to how you help them potentially solve a medical problem. It's not about the hospital anymore.
10. Optimize your website for local search. Smartphones and wearables have made ultra-precise location-based SEO one of the most significant healthcare marketers' strategies and tactics. In addition to long-tail keywords, SEO optimization also includes image optimization site maps, backlinks, meta tags, crawl errors, and more. There is no reason not to have a highly optimized landing page for the hospital.
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The pandemic forced a significant change in hospitals and marketing in 2020. One can expect more of the same for 2021 with fewer marketing resources. These ten strategies should assist you in your budget and marketing plan development and provide you with some agility to respond to changes and not go completely dark as it happened in 2020.