How to Strategically Allocate Your Healthcare Marketing Budget

Whether or not a marketing campaign is successful is largely based upon how you choose to spend your money. You need to be in front of the right consumers, with the right message, at the right time.

Sounds simple, right?

The basic budgeting steps are the same across all industries: Look at where money has been spent in the past, analyze the underlying patterns, and set up your marketing strategy accordingly. 

Once you get into the details, however, things may not be so simple. Marketing is expensive. Many healthcare organizations – especially in this day and age – are tasked with accomplishing quite a lot with a limited budget. Paid digital campaigns, traditional advertising channels, and social media spend adds up quickly, but when integrated together maximize ROI. 

So, how can healthcare marketers make the most out of their budgets? It comes down to analytics. 

Modern marketing is more science than art. The right tools and technology must be in place to guide your allocation strategy. Data serves as the foundation, allowing you to glean critical insights from past and present campaign performance. Then, you must also have the right resources in place to determine the demographic, service line, and geographic region most valuable for targeting. 

It’s not difficult to understand why budget allocation can be complex when there are so many factors in play. In this blog post, we explore the basic steps to strategically allocate your marketing budget for maximum results – and demonstrate your team’s value to key stakeholders across your organization. 

Align Marketing Goals with Enterprise Objectives

Today’s evolving, consumer-centric healthcare world demands a new kind of marketing strategy: One that is innately tied to overall business strategy.

Healthcare marketing teams must flip the paradigm and work towards becoming investment centers as opposed to cost centers. In order to do so, they must predict – and prove – the dollar value of each campaign to organizational leadership throughout the fiscal year.  

In an ideal world, marketers are not simply recipients of budget but instead actively involved in researching, strategizing, and planning around the budget they need in order to best achieve business goals – known as “goal-based budgeting.” Yet for many organizations, a traditional, top-down approach is still utilized. While less effective, the traditional marketing budget assignment requires less research and is generally easier for smaller organizations or practices. 

Regardless of whether your marketing team plays an instrumental role in fiscal year planning, it’s still important to spend your marketing budget strategically so your efforts prioritize big-picture goals, such as growing volumes to high-value service lines. It can be easy to get caught up in new trends and ad features, spending excess money in “unfamiliar territory” – when you should really target the populations your health system cares about with the tactics that are already proven to get their attention. 

Get Familiar with the Competition

As we’ve already stated, budget allocation is complicated. Without existing benchmarks, it can be hard to determine where to begin. This is why it’s incredibly helpful to perform an analysis of your competitors’ marketing tactics (and estimated spending) prior to planning out your own. 

While your organization will certainly want to allocate budget according to your unique resources, needs, and strategic priorities, a competitive analysis provides valuable insight into the best performing channels within the geographies your competitors are most active– and even a baseline percentage-based breakdown (if only an estimate) of overall spend. Google trends is your best friend. 

There a variety of online tools available – including both free and paid iterations – that allow marketers to track competition and estimate the spend across various marketing channels. You could, for instance, approximate your top competitor’s spend on Google Ads using SEMRush or discover their most profitable keywords and advertisements with SpyFu. There are several other tools available that provide competitive social media analysis, as well. 

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Plan Around an Axis

When allocating your healthcare marketing budget, you not only have to consider a multitude of business objectives and target consumers – there are also a huge range of channels through which to direct your efforts. 

There’s the vast world of digital marketing, encompassing paid and organic search engine marketing, display advertising, social media, website optimization, blog content, and video

Then, there’s a variety of traditional, offline channels that are still highly relevant to healthcare: Television, radio, newspaper and magazine advertising, billboards, and direct mail. 

Healthcare brands must also consider events, direct marketing, and market research within their overall marketing budget. With all of these channels fighting for a slice of your budget “pie,” it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The best way to stay organized and strategically allocate resources is to think of your marketing priorities on an axis: 

On one plane are the geographic markets that you need to support: For instance, a young northern market with strong potential for growth, or a western market that needs to be defended against a top competitor. 

On the other plane of your axis are your target service lines. For the sake of this example, let’s say your organization would like to grow orthopedics, bariatrics, and maternity service lines. 

As a smart marketer, you understand that each of your priority geographies behaves differently – the northern market might have a younger, more digitally fluent population and be located in an urban area. In this case, you might be best off prioritizing digital channels – like social media advertising – in the northern market. In the western market, on the other hand, you might choose to spend more money on billboard advertising, knowing that the region is less thickly settled (and therefore cheaper to purchase billboard space) than the northern market. 

Invest in the Brand

Regardless of the industry, branding is important,  especially in today’s hyper-competitive healthcare environment. Today’s consumers might be less loyal to brands and more loyal to experiences, but the brand is still an important factor. Consumers don’t buy what they don’t know, and they aren’t likely to seek out treatment from a brand that they are entirely unfamiliar with. It’s the same reason that Nike can successfully charge a premium for their sneakers and why Amazon is the number one brand associated with convenience. 

 It’s important that a certain amount of your marketing budget is invested in strengthening your brand. This can be done simply by providing useful, authoritative information about health and disease on your website, or by sponsoring a community event. 

A newer health system or practice will likely need to spend more money on brand-focused efforts – even up to 30 or 40 percent. Brand awareness can be difficult to achieve at first; rest assured, however, that a dedicated branding campaign executed early on will reap exponential rewards as your market position gains strength and authority. There is a direct correlation between brand strength and cost per lead: Become an integral, trusted voice in your community and consumers will think of your name first during their moment of need, reducing the spend necessary to acquire and retain patients. 

Remember that brand strength may vary from one geographic market to another. One metric to track is  Net Promoter Scores (NPS) to evaluate your relative brand strength and allocate towards your geographic “x-axis” accordingly. 

Prioritize Targeted Messaging

digital marketing businessman touching darts aiming at the target center with icon network connection business goal and technology conceptBrand-focused marketing is developed to improve the community’s trust in your organization – it serves a broad, generalized purpose, using content and messaging that is generally based upon awareness and an overarching vision or mission statement.

This, as we’ve learned, is incredibly important.

However, it’s just as important to create individualized, hyper-targeted messaging to attract specific consumer personas and make patients feel as though you understand them on a personal and human level. Healthcare, after all, is an innately personal industry.

When you go back to your budget allocation axis, look for geographies or service lines that are already well-established from a brand awareness perspective. Then, go after these populations with hyper-targeted, precision marketing efforts that ask for a specific “order” – i.e., a personalized email that prompts a patient to schedule an annual check-up.

Your mar-tech investments (such as an HCRM platform, marketing automation software, or business insights solution) can provide critical insights into consumer groups who are most valuable for individualized messaging – as well as where, when, and how often to deploy said messaging. 

For instance, when looking at your priority orthopedic service line, you may notice that the majority of new patients acquired in the past year were between the ages of 45 and 65 and predominantly male. Your HCRM platform then reveals that this demographic is most likely to use Google to research and find an orthopedic specialist in their area (based on the number of qualified leads). Since paid search ads performed so well for orthopedic goals last year, you could experiment with increasing spend on this year’s paid search efforts by up to 3 percent – as well as bidding on more competitive keywords to increase visibility within the demographic. 

Key Takeaways

The first steps to allocating your healthcare marketing budget are conducting a thorough analysis of what’s worked in the past, aligning your priorities with greater enterprise objectives, and coming up with a strategic balance between service line and geographic priorities. Marketers need to be careful to avoid spreading budgets too thinly across too many channels – in some cases, you may choose to cut a particular channel altogether.

Remaining aware of industry statistics and trends can be helpful in formulating a baseline breakdown of channels and messaging to pursue. From there,  take advantage of your marketing technology – such as an HCRM platform or business insights solution – to precisely guide and tailor your strategy based on the facts: Past performance, revenue, and competitive analysis. Make sure to balance your resources with the right equilibrium between high-level brand awareness campaigns and hyper-targeted, personalized outreach. 

With this step-by-step approach, you’ll avoid tipping the scale too far into one channel or segment – and you’ll be more easily able to adapt your campaigns over time (and re-allocate your resources) if one appears to be underperforming.

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Kara Venus

Kara Venus

Kara Venus, marketing practice specialist at Evariant, works with healthcare marketers providing best practices for driving high-value service line growth and improved consumer experiences. Kara works hand-in-hand with clients to create and execute multi-channel marketing strategies that deliver maximum ROI, as well as creating MarTech roadmaps that scale with the maturity of the client’s organization. Prior to Evariant, Kara applied her marketing expertise at the Direct Federal Credit Union and received her bachelors degree in public relations and sociology from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT.
Kara Venus

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