By Ilene Wolff with Kathryn Will
Forward-thinking health care organizations are quickly turning to comprehensive marketing campaigns—including social media, printed products, websites, branding efforts, and more—to promote their hospitals.
But now more than ever before, health care organizations want turnkey solutions with a fast turnaround and proven return on investment.
Of course, any hospital wants to keep a steady stream of patients walking in its doors in order to stay in business, and many hospitals already command a large share of their primary market, but new, multi-platform campaigns are aimed at keeping the public informed of the organization’s news, trends, quality outcomes, and cost-control initiatives.
That may be smart thinking. Just because a patient is loyal to a hospital today, that’s no reason to assume the relationship will last indefinitely. Most health care centers today count at least three nearby hospitals among their direct competitors.
“People today ‘shop’ hospitals and health care providers,” says Mimi Bell, editorial director for Great Lakes Bay Publishing, a firm that specializes in custom publications for health care systems. “When a hospital delivers timely and useful wellness information, it positions itself as the trusted authority, developing a relationship with health care consumers and earning their business.”
Though, as more hospitals are expected to do more with less, carrying out such a project in-house can be difficult, if possible at all, especially as shrinking health care marketing staffs have their hands full with media relations, events planning, and other day-to-day operations.
Still, with a bit of planning and the right people, it is possible.
Using a company with specialized divisions, such as custom publishing, creative services, and website development, to create a multi-platform marketing campaign helps to simplify the process and eliminates having to divert hospital talent from other initiatives across the system.
Even though they might not realize it, many hospitals already have a strong foundation for a solid marketing campaign in the form of an internal or external newsletter. They may be created in-house or otherwise, but they can serve as a great base from which to launch a new, comprehensive campaign. Using these existing materials, Great Lakes Bay Publishing and its parent company, The F.P. Horak Company, craft campaigns that include print, web-based, and social media components for health care clients throughout the Midwest.
Great Lakes Bay Publishing and Horak also offer the one-stop shopping, turnkey experience most hospitals need.
“I knew there were other companies out there, but I wanted someone who could do the whole package,” a chief marketing officer from one Midwestern health care system says.
In tandem, Great Lakes Bay Publishing and Horak can provide any part of or an entire comprehensive marketing communications campaign.
“Our approach is more of an umbrella campaign, so it covers every way of communicating to every generation,” says Marisa Belotti, chief marketing officer for The F.P. Horak Company. “In addition, you need to have the same message across all platforms, so everyone’s hearing that one message.”
According to a recent study from the PEW Research Center, 72 percent of Internet users said they looked online for health information in 2012. The same study found 11 percent of users said they signed up to receive email alerts or updates about health or medical issues, and that 52 percent of smartphone owners have looked up health information on their phone. This means that now, more than ever, health and hospital systems need to be thinking “print plus digital media” in order to provide consumers with the helpful and relevant content they are looking for.
Effective, coordinated marketing campaigns frequently include consumer print newsletters for households within a hospital’s market area and print internal newsletters for staff, with specific versions for practitioners. Doctors may also want the practitioner newsletter delivered to them in electronic form, but they don’t want to forgo their print copy. Consumer newsletter content can be re-formatted for blog entries, posted on a hospital’s Facebook page, or supplied for its Twitter feed. Savvy hospital marketers then can add in direct mail, media advertising, e-marketing solutions, and social media tactics.
“Print newsletters are the springboard for—and an integral part of—a broader content-marketing strategy that includes social media, e-marketing, and more,” says Bell.
Consumer newsletters can include anything from stories about bicycle safety toward preventing head injuries, orthopedic services, using balance assessments to prevent falls, allergies, board certification for doctors, recipes for healthy eating, and a calendar of hospital events.
“…All of which is branded content that is delivered directly to the information-seeking health care consumer,” says Bell.
Health care systems benefit when they promote across all platform areas in which they’re excelling.
Print newsletters can easily carry over to interactive campaigns aimed at the hospital’s patients and the community at large. Unique URLs allow people to register and specify what health topics interest them. With that information, hospitals can push information to registrants that’s tailored to their particular needs.
Considering that hospitals also are trying to remain relevant as more members of the communities they serve are turning to their smartphones for research and to make important decisions, multi-platform marketing campaigns should also include integrated mobile applications, or “apps,” too.
A hospital-wide mobile app can easily be created by assessing the most popular searches on a hospital’s website—job openings, physician referrals, health information, and event details.
Such an app allows users to interact with the hospital from the palms of their hands.
Other apps can require more planning. A custom family birthplace app has functions to keep track of the birthing process, such as the number of contractions, and child care, including doctor appointments, infant vaccinations, weight, height, food intake, and more. The app can email all of the tracked information to the mother’s or child’s doctor.
The app could also include the specific hospital’s birthing book, plus links to health information from such venerable sites as the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Some pushback about creating an app that could potentially take users away from a hospital’s website is possible, but the goal always is to be sure users get the best information possible. Leading users to outside health-information sites also relieves a hospital of the responsibility of keeping information on its website updated.
“I really like this app (custom family birthplace) because it has everything a new mom needs,” Belotti says.
For health systems with many hospitals, the apps could be tweaked—“re-skinned” in industry parlance—for their use. Coincidentally, parenting apps could lead to uniform branding of the system’s birthing units.
If one hospital in a system commissions the app, and other sister hospitals decide to re-skin the apps for their use, the originating hospital often can recoup some of the cost of development and work in collaboration with colleagues in a unified branding approach that has even greater reach.
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