Skip to main content
Skip to footer

Why We Need to Personalize Health Care Marketing

Published on 6/8/2017

Today, consumer demands are higher than ever, and we expect the same ease of use and convenience out of health care as we do from retail brands. Whether at home or on vacation with our family, technology will evolve to adapt to our desires as consumers of health care.

A few years ago, I was on vacation in Florida with my family when one of my young boys dislocated his elbow and we needed to find a hospital.

The entire trip, we'd been using apps on our smartphones. Anything we needed to book, like an airline or rental car, and almost anything we wanted to do could be handled through an app. If I wanted to know what restaurant within 2 miles would have both an oyster bar for me and my husband and chicken fingers on a kids' menu, my phone could tell me. If I needed to calculate the optimal time to arrive at Disney World and plan our route through the Magic Kingdom, technology was on my side.

It was a different story when my husband and I wanted to find the best health care option for our son. We ended up at a hospital we knew nothing about, where there was no pediatric specialist on staff who could talk through my son's treatment plan and answer my questions about growth plate impact. I ended up calling personal friends to double-check on care recommendations, just so I could be confident we were making the right decisions. In the end, my son received great care and we had a good experience — but in the next few years, we'll see consumer-like experiences come to health care as a result of meaningful technology developments that help us all.

For just about everything I need to do in my daily life, my phone acts like a limb extension. Whatever I need, whatever questions I may have, the answers are at my fingertips. This is what it's like to live in an information society. But what happens when I have a health care concern and there's not yet an app suited for my needs?

Here's the truth: We are in the midst of the most exciting time in the history of health care. As our industry rides the wave of progress into the digital era, health care technology will evolve to suit the needs of modern consumers — like the parent who needs emergency care for a kid while on vacation.

Today, consumers have more access to goods, services and data than ever before. In a crowded marketplace, there's a lot of competition for consumer attention, and consumer expectations are increasing. In the health care industry, the mammoth task of marketing to consumers is complicated and multifaceted. For health care organizations, a comprehensive marketing strategy that focuses on a few key tenants — the patient experience, brand value and the personalization of health care — offers the best path forward.

With these themes in mind, I took a few moments to speak with my friend and colleague Karla Leeper, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Augusta University Health (AU Health).

Health care marketing from a brand perspective

Melissa Hendricks: From a brand perspective, what are marketers doing differently that perhaps wasn't important five or 10 years ago?

Karla Leeper: The biggest difference is that there are so many more ways for consumers to get information now that your brand has to be really focused and very straightforward. There is greater competition for attention than there used to be. One of the things we've done at AU Health is stress the core elements of our brand. We want to make sure those elements are present across all the different channels in our marketing platform.

When I got to AU three years ago and started to work with the marketing program, 90 percent of our marketing dollars were spent on program marketing. We marketed the orthopedic clinic, the OB/GYN clinic, the digestive health clinic — you name it. Today, we've shifted back and we're spending 30 percent of our dollars on marketing the brand. We're telling more patient stories. It's less about pushing out a menu of services and more about talking about how the services we provide and the identity of our organization affects the lives of our patients.

Marketing for the patient experience

MH: Health is personal — so health care marketing has to be personal, too. Branding for a health care organization should be consistent and authentic. What do you see as the link between brand experience and patient experience?

KL: When you're an individual and you walk into a health care environment, you don't know what you're going to face. If you're not feeling well, you want to be cared for in a way that is compassionate, but you also want to make sure that the provider you're seeing can manage whatever health challenge you are facing.

We talk about building a personal relationship with a patient, and we want that relationship to be a lasting relationship. It goes back to that notion of telling stories and letting people know about all the different ways that we can enrich the quality of their entire life.

Patients are going to have better personal relationships when the relationships are positive and easy to manage. Often, patients will come to us with complex needs, and so we emphasize services such as the nurse navigators in our cancer center. And because we're an integrated academic medical center, your oncologist can talk to your general practitioner or your surgeon very readily. We're all a part of that same family, and it's that interdisciplinary, interconnected family of care that makes a difference.

Building brand value

MH: Health care organizations must understand the value of their brand and should consider ways to add to that value. What are some ways to attribute brand value and build on it?

KL: It's important to constantly assess your brand to see whether your understanding of your brand is translating well to your patients and the broader community. We're believers in continually assessing our brand and the messaging around it. We evaluate everything from big data sets to individual emails from patients and their family members as well as comments on our social media sites. You have to be attentive to what people are saying about your brand and make sure that what you think is true is matching what people are saying on the ground.

We think about our brand as a representation of our mission, so when we talk about adding value to our brand, we're really talking about fulfilling our mission. We're the state of Georgia's only public medical school, and we take very seriously our work to tackle some of the greatest health problems in Georgia. There are a number of critical health issues — things like stroke treatment, cardiac health, diabetes — that people in Georgia are facing, and we're always looking to see how we can improve our contributions in those areas.

Additionally, almost every health care facility is a big part of their community. Hospitals are often some of the largest employers, and my point of view is that every person who works for us should be a great spokesperson for our brand and should be equipped to speak with their friends and neighbors about the great things we're doing.

The future of health care marketing

MH: Health care is facing a lot of change right now, and so it makes sense that the way we market health care is also changing. What are some of the biggest ways you see health care marketing changing in the next year, five years, 10 years?

KL: I think we will explore the implications of the idea that health care is increasingly personal. We're going to have a lot more conversations with patients on their iPhones. They're going to be engaged in monitoring their health from their own kitchen table.

As we decentralize health care, health care marketing is going to have to focus even more on the relational element of that care. How does your physician build and maintain a relationship with a patient when they're not coming into their office, and when they're providing health care treatment online?

We've been having many conversations about health care delivery. The manner of delivery will affect how we talk about ourselves and how we communicate with patients and potential patients about what they can expect from a relationship with us.

Do you want more health IT insights? Download Cerner's Perspectives, a complimentary digital publication featuring exclusive content from leaders in health care.