Transformation of the Marketing Function in Hospitals (Part 3)

This is the third post in a series of three blog posts that discusses how healthcare marketers need to transform their approach to adapt to shifting buying and searching behaviors. Read our first post about having the right tools and team members in place and our second post about having the right skills to effectively reach and communicate with patients and physicians.

Digital marketing in healthcare is more than just a passing fad – it’s a fundamental shift in the way that hospital marketing departments reach and communicate with patients.

While traditional marketing approaches still have their place in an integrated, multichannel marketing strategy, hospital marketers, now more than ever, need to be able to deliver personalized, relevant patient messaging to the right patient at the right time on the right channel.

marketinglightbulbDoing so, however, requires the traditional hospital marketing department to transform their approach and, correspondingly, their organization to adapt to rising consumer and patient care expectations. As we’ve covered in parts one and two of this blog post series, part of this transformation involves having the tools, team members, and skill sets in place to drive the most effective patient marketing campaigns.

But we believe that digital transformation is bigger than technology and team members. In order to compete in today’s rapidly-evolving healthcare environment, health systems’ marketing departments must fundamentally shift from the inside out. From transitioning individuals and teams to bringing on board new talent to integrating with previously siloed departments, healthcare marketers must embrace the change and use it as an opportunity to create better patient experiences.

Let’s take a look at what modern healthcare marketing departments need to do to refocus, reorganize, and stay relevant in the digital age:

Optimize Your People

While many would argue that technology investment is the solution to the digital transformation occurring in healthcare, technology on its own is useless without having the right individuals in place to deploy it properly. In other words, healthcare marketing departments must first evaluate existing teams and role responsibilities before they can make effective use of technology, such as a healthcare CRM platform.

According to Harvard Business Review, the modern marketing department needs to undergo a massive realignment that looks at each employee on an individual level. What are they best at? Are they operating in the correct role to best utilize their talents? How can they grow within their role?

Under HBR’s philosophy (still somewhat unknown in the healthcare space), employees are broken down into the following categories:

  • Thinkers: Data scientists, analysts, etc.
  • Feelers: Creative & service lines
  • Doers: Demand generation people, physically executing campaigns and bringing them to market; aggregation of thinkers and feelers

The idea is to rebuild the marketing department’s organizational structure based on these three categories to improve the speed and dynamic of the team and ensure employees are catering to their individual strengths.

The challenge is, of course, the learning curve that accompanies almost any critical shift in thinking. Employees will get moved around the department and they may or may not like the changes made (i.e., people who are older and more experienced may be working for younger, more tech-savvy people). Natural attrition is a necessary outcome of the philosophy, but it will result in a more effective and efficient team overall.

Top Down Leadership

Aside from the learning curve challenge, Becker’s Healthcare brings up another stumbling block: Many healthcare marketing departments are reluctant to change. The article, however, notes that the transformation in healthcare marketing is no longer optional:

“Hospitals are dealing with consumers who are remarkably smart, demanding transparency and two-way communication from their healthcare providers. They also trust brands less: 32 percent of people are more likely to trust a stranger’s opinion on a blog or public forum than a branded advertisement or marketing material, according to a recent DKNewMedia/Forrester survey cited by Forbes.”

The resulting imperative is clear: Hospital marketers need to align their departments with the expectations and demands of increasingly sophisticated consumers. But departmental reorganization is not enough – healthcare marketing departments need to be led from the top down, with the proper leadership in place for change.

The modern healthcare marketing department needs to transcend traditional roles (CEO, CMO, etc.) to include newer roles such as Chief Digital Officer and Chief Experience Officer. These roles can help guide the entire department to focus on the patient experience and drive patient engagement throughout the entire continuum of care.

But it goes beyond just the marketing department itself.

Becker’s notes that the most successful hospitals and health systems have a communication professional as part of the senior leadership team to ensure marketing’s involvement in strategic discussions with the C-suite.

The end result, says Kim Fox, vice president of healthcare public affairs firm Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock in Nashville, is “more informed, textured, and sophisticated campaigns, opposed to one-dimensional, one-off ads that may result from a trickle-down of information.”

Challenges to Adoption

It should come as no surprise that the shift to digital marketing in healthcare isn’t an easy process. Digital transformation threatens how things have traditionally been done in marketing, and it provokes a self-defense mechanism that pushes back against change.

Challenges to adoption may include any of the following:

  • Organizational readiness
  • Operational readiness (infrastructure that surrounds marketing (call center, IT, business development, strategy) and how they all work together
  • Goal setting as part of revenue management (understanding clinical roles & capacity)
  • Cultural/technological maturity
  • Establishment of roadmaps (maturity plan that has been introduced to the team)
  • Understanding of digital technology

The key point to keep in mind, however, is that this transformation is critical for staying relevant in the digital era. If hospital marketing departments can’t adapt to today’s digital landscape, how can they expect to drive successful patient marketing campaigns that engage and satisfy patients?

Final Thoughts

“Out with the old, in with the new” is very much the directive for hospital marketing departments in a rapidly-evolving healthcare landscape. But change doesn’t just involve introducing new technology and hiring new talent – it involves fundamentally shifting the way a marketing department functions from the inside out.

By optimizing each employee and acquiring new leadership, hospital marketers can see more efficient and effective marketing departments that are able to reach and connect with increasingly sophisticated patients and consumers. The question is not “When will your marketing department embrace this change?” but “What can you do to embrace the change today?”



Gary Druckenmiller

Gary Druckenmiller

Gary Druckenmiller, Jr. is Vice President, Customer Success at Evariant. He functions as lead strategist, digital marketing thought leader and C-level executive sponsor for all of Evariant’s enterprise clients, primarily focused on advising health system leadership of opportunistic methods to improve their digital presence and interactive growth potential. Prior to Evariant, Gary served as Vice-President for Harte-Hanks, responsible for healthcare digital strategy and deliverables including multi-channel campaigns, paid digital media, social media, CRM and analytics. Gary has been with Evariant for 8 years and can be heard often on the hospital marketing speaking circuit. Gary has a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Bentley University.
Gary Druckenmiller