Learning about the life of an Organized Customer Marketer

By Jeffrey A. Spanbauer

I recently attended the Modern Healthcare Strategic Marketing Conference in Chicago, IL. This conference targets hospital and group practice marketers. My objective was to learn more about the issues and opportunities that marketers for organized customers deal with. Why? Since most physicians are being acquired by organized customers, and most of the marketing that HRM does targets Healthcare Professionals (HCPs) like physicians, I thought it would help me understand their priorities, opportunities and challenges. Makes sense, right?

Well, after spending a couple days with some of the best marketers in the organized customer space, I have some new perspective.

I was surprised to hear things like:

a. “Healthcare is a culture where the first answer is always “no””
b. “If we could only get the physicians to understand”
c. “We need a digital strategy”
d. “Physicians just don’t get marketing – especially digital marketing “
e. “Our budget is not big enough to do all the things that management wants”

I had to remember I was with organized customer marketers as opposed to pharma or biotech marketers. The similarities to what I experience with our clients was striking. I quickly realized that organized customer marketers have very similar issues to the world our clients are in.

Here are some highlights: Mobile Marketing

There were several sessions where organized customers shared how they are creating and winning with mobile strategies such as apps. One example had been developed to help parents and kids with medication management. Through the app, the hospital offered a unique and extended value that was different from their competitors.

It seems that everyone’s response to an issue is to “build an app.” To ensure high standards are met, the Cleveland Clinic built a center of excellence to ensure apps meet certain criteria. In this way, apps that are developed are both truly needed, and are consistent with their brand.

Healthcare Marketing Fundamentals

There was also discussion that fundamental marketing principals are ignored in healthcare. For example, Budweiser® buys 5 Super Bowl ads where a hospital sends one colonoscopy postcard and expects great results. Healthcare marketing has a huge opportunity to first recognize, and then enact best practices to improve marketing effectiveness and ROI.

One of the speakers, Craig Buffkin, referred to how healthcare marketing is evolving:

  • Healthcare 1.0 = doctor to patient communication
  • Healthcare 2.0 = patients using non-doctor resources (google, hospital’s information, etc.)
  • Healthcare 3.0 & 4.0 = new simultaneous advances in communication (digital, meaningful use, etc)

Top issues for Organized Customers

The top issues for hospital CEOs include: financial challenges, healthcare reform and implementation, patient safety, the patient experience, and the rise of consumerism.

Due to the rise in consumerism, there is a new role being created: chief experience officer. Hospitals and groups are looking for someone who is a marketing expert, understands operations, and who can positively shape the external customer marketing experience. Several large hospital systems have recently added this role.

Data & Multi-channel Marketing

Big data and multi-channel marketing were also a topics at this conference.

As the speaker said – “The days of single channel entropy are over.” Using data to better understand

responses, provider relationship and ROI are fueling better customized, multi-channel marketing. It is critical to integrate patient data behavior and sentiment data from all sources including your call center, web site, social channels, and health and channel preference areas to better communicate with patients.

There were examples shown of integrated multichannel media calendars that were used to meet service line goals, calculating marketing budgets to reach goals, monitor in-flight return on expense (ROE), as well as ROI.

Marketing Careers

A career expert spoke on careers in healthcare marketing and provided perspective on the important skills that will be required 5 years from now: digital, being able to advocate for marketing, soft skills, and fluidity with metrics while maintaining an ROI focus

Where are these jobs?

  • Patient experience
  • Social media
  • Digital marketing
  • Graphic design
  • Communications


There are also opportunities to partner with other businesses to find ways to improve the patient experience and overall buying power. Everyone (even Mayo Clinic) has to collaborate. There just isn’t enough resources to do everything well.

When going into a partnership, how do you determine value?

Ask these questions:

  • What’s your goal?
  • What are you trying to accomplish geographically?
  • Are the partners as good or better than you at what they do?
  • What will the partnership’s ability to influence be?
  • Aetna has partnerships in 200 markets
  • Economies of scale, structure, scope, skills

Trends in Marketing

Healthcare is local, but there are some national trends in marketing

  • Move towards personalization and customization (even with HIPAA)
  • A revolution of personalized healthcare products and services is coming
  • Work to simplify your processes
  • Focus on efficiency and speed
  • Sharpen your consumer facing strategies (pricing, retail, and disparate demographics)

Top Marketing Campaign Highlighted

Some recent examples of innovative hospital marketing includes:

1) Patient Quiet Pack: Acting on the insight that most patients are challenged to get sleep at the hospital because they are constantly awakened, this initiative was created. Putting the patient first, the hospital developed a n“quiet pack.”

2) Breast cancer awareness: To increase awareness of the disease and bolster the engagement of the staff, a “pink glove video contest” was created. Many hospitals have entered. This video has received over 13 million hits to date!

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