Monday, October 12, 2015

Has inbound marketing time come for hospitals?

Most marketing practiced by hospitals and health systems remains mired in traditional outbound marketing methods. That is pushing low-value content out in display ads, direct mailers, radio, billboard, etc., in the hopes that someone will pay attention and act. Calls to actions are generic in nature, and there is a lemming-like an approach by all hospitals in the same market to do the same thing at the same time. Commonly referred to interruption marketing, outbound is all about sending generic messages out to the widest possible number of audiences with no customization of content or message.

But in an age where the healthcare consumer and patient is increasingly taking control and making choices, is outbound marketing the best way to drive brand awareness, choice, and selection?

What is inbound marketing?

Simply put inbound marketing a series marketing actions designed to give healthcare consumers and patients a reason to contact you.  It’s about bringing the healthcare consumer or patient to you. Inbound marketing is commonly used in B2B to engage prospects and further build value and relationship with current clients. It’s a pull strategy as opposed to a push strategy marketing that hospitals and health systems use.  It’s not an either-or proposition; one needs both strategies well integrated to achieve maximum benefit.

Understand that inbound marketing focuses on “ reason to contact you” and not a “do you need a doctor?” or cancer services or insert clinical, technology, or building name here for outbound marketing. That means having thought leadership content that is engaging, meets a healthcare consumer or patient needs and prompts them to take action. The healthcare consumer or patient may not think its thought leadership in those terms per se, but it’s helpful and useful information that prompts them to make a decision.

The major component of inbound is SEO, blogging social media, content marketing, and review/referral sites. One is pushing relevant messaging based on the user personas and behavior characteristics that address their “pain points” and interests so that the hospital is staying top-of-mind in their decision-making process.

I submit for your consideration that is the healthcare consumer and patient now has a buying process.  And in that buying process technology is a major factor. They are searching for information on the hospital, health system or doctor, etc.  With that the case, doesn’t it make sense to be proactive and connect on a very personal level?  Inbound marketing allows you to do that.  And it’s not sending an email with generic information.

I receive an email from Blue Cross Blue Shield every month with health information that is of absolutely little interest or any value to me. It does nothing more that clog up my inbox. That is outbound marketing.  I have several hospitals and health systems that send newsletters in the mail that are of little interest and value. They all go mailbox to the recycling bin.

If one considers the healthcare consumer or patient as the focal point of what they need, not what the hospital needs to generate revenue, then the task of marketing shifts.  The Marketing department needs to understand the buying journey of the healthcare consumer or patient buying process. Once that is understood, then it’s about having relevant and meaningful information available for them at any point in the process. That means the hospital marketing process with inbound marketing is to now attract, capture, nurture, convert, and finally expand.

Here is what happens for the hospital in shifting some of its effort from purely outbound to a strategically integrated combination of inbound and outbound marketing. The hospital does generate revenue, the cost of marketing decreases and marketing ROI increases.

But here’s the kicker for everyone worried about value and risk-based contracts. Because you shift to inbound marketing, the hospital is engaging and establishing a strong relationship with the healthcare consumer or patient.  In population health management, engagement and meaningful patient relationships are everything.  Without meaningful patient relationships and engagement population health management fails.

So what one does today will pay huge dividends tomorrow no matter what the payment system.

For more topics and thought leading discussions like this, join Healthcare Marketing Leaders For Change, a LinkedIn Professional Group.

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