Agile Marketing for Uncertain Times

Agile Marketing for Uncertain Times

If there are two words that describe what every health care marketer is experiencing right now, they are “rapid change.” And, if there are two words that describe what every health care marketer should be embracing right now, they are “agile marketing.” 

What is agile marketing? It’s finding opportunity and potential in change, being responsive instead of reactive, and doing the right work at the right time.

Watch our Campfire Session Agile Marketing for Uncertain Times. Or read below for key takeaways from our webinar event!

On 7/17/20, Mike and Stephen introduced us to agile marketing experts:

  • Kira Caban, Director of Public Relations for Protenus, a firm dedicated to developing insightful solutions that remove barriers to the efficient, safe and effective delivery of patient care.
  • Colin Hung, Chief Marketing Officer and Editor of HITMC and an award winning marketing leader with more than two decades of health care experience. He is also the cofounder of HCLER, a popular health care community that has gathered on Twitter every Tuesday night for the last eight years to discuss the latest trends and challenges in health care. 

The bones of agile marketing and its overall methodology and philosophy were discussed, including:

  • Best practices in agile marketing
  • Applying an agile mindset to your planning and strategy
  • How to encourage your team to be more agile

Why is agile marketing trending in health care?

  • Your consumer has changed and how you connect and motivate them must change too. Their wants, needs, desires and thinking about their health care have all drastically changed from what they were pre-COVID. And how you connect with them needs to be as agile as their changing requirements from you. (Adapting to your changing audiences is something we’ve researched and shared in a previous Campfire Session, Deep Dive: COVID-era Patient Personas.
  • There is opportunity in crisis. The crises we are experiencing right now—COVID-19, an economic downturn and a historic time of civil unrest—can lead to breakthroughs, beneficial changes in thinking and operating, as well as growth.
  • Being responsive beats being reactive. A quote from a CMS Wire article sums it up.

What the heck is agile marketing?

Kira shared: “For me, when I explain it to friends not familiar with that concept, I say it’s not about being reactive where you’re shooting from the hip all the time. You still have a plan, you still have a strategy in place for the year. Agile marketing allows you to pivot and respond appropriately given the current environment and really focus on what your customer needs.”

One definition of agile marketing, includes:

  • Teams identify and focus their collective efforts on high-value projects
  • Complete those projects cooperatively
  • Measure their impact
  • Continuously and incrementally improve results over time

Agile marketing best practices include: 

1. Aligning with leadership and set team expectations

2. Analyzing data to identify opportunities

3. Designing and prioritizing tests

4. Running tests

5. Iterating the idea based on results

Essentials of agile marketing:

1. Choose metrics that matter

2. Define goals and pace

3. Generate hypotheses

4. Small bets vs. putting in all the chips

5. Test and analyze

6. Retrospective and repeat

How do we adapt an agile marketing mindset?

According to Colin: “Agile—whether you’re a believer or not, you are probably practicing a lot of it right now because of all the changes you’ve had to make to your business, your approach to marketing and your own personal life.”

Kira added: “It’s being able to be quick on your feet and responsive and not always be so focused on: 

  • what you originally planned 
  • the process that is in place 
  • the time and effort you’ve put into something 

Because there is always going to be something that comes up and I think when you can adopt that mindset, it alleviates a little bit of the stress because you know you can pivot and respond accordingly.” 

Colin: “An agile mindset to me means being very open, recognizing that a lot of what you do is not actually within your control in terms of prioritization and that you really should revisit your priorities much more frequently than we traditionally do in a marketing sense. In marketing we look at six to twelve month time horizons. But in a situation like we find ourselves in right now, that would be deadly.”


  • Your messaging has to be different
  • The way you market has to be different
  • The way you connect with your audience has to be different
  • You must be very, very flexible 
  • Recognize the external input that you need to synthesize to figure out what your priorities should be
  • Use collective prioritization as a way to manage political sensitivities that can get in the way of success (watch this entire Campfire Session to hear Colin’s approach to this)
  • Constantly measure and go back to setting the right goals and looking at what you are actively achieving and where you may be missing the mark
  • Leverage constraints and turn them into opportunities
  • Instead of working and measuring quarterly efforts, think about affecting and measuring change using four to six week efforts
  • Continually tweak, always focused on the outcome, the end user or the patient


During the session Colin brought to our attention something just tweeted by a friend:

“The days of overthinking are gone.” Stephen added to that: “The days of underthinking are gone as well.”

We’re in this together

As we think about this time we’re in, now more than ever, we need ideas, insights, and community. We hope our Campfire Sessions are providing the conversations you are craving about the issues and opportunities facing your health care organization and its leaders. 

Make sure to sign up below to receive invitations to future Campfire Sessions and links to past Campfire Session recap

Health Care’s Retail Response: Cash Clinics, House Calls and Virtual Visits

Health Care’s Retail Response: Cash Clinics, House Calls and Virtual Visits

When the likes of Walmart, Best Buy and Amazon (and Target, Walgreens, CVS, Google, Apple, et al) started moving into the business of health care as part of their inherently retail product-based roster of services, many health systems knew they’d need to switch things up or die trying. COVID-19 has just sped up the process. 

These providers know that retail medicine, done right, is about responding to people’s desires and preferences, aka “putting the patient first.” So how have mission-driven clinics and health systems been shifting to adapt to changing pay models and income streams to stay afloat and serve people in new or better ways? Here are three recent observations from our working relationships with innovative brands.  

1. Cash Clinics

Our friends at Winona Health just took the bold step of opening a cash-based clinic with transparent pricing. Winona Health’s Main Street Clinic could be an awesome option for people who have high deductibles, no insurance or just want quick “in-and-out” services with no hassle. And, let’s face it: clinics need the cash right now. 

Winona smartly paired the new clinic service (that yes, really is on Main Street) with an existing eyeglasses shop, and followed the big box retailers’ lead in selling OTC pharmaceuticals and goodies you’d expect at stores like Walgreens and CVS. Here’s a tour they offered on Facebook upon opening

Clinic and 2 women

2. House Calls 

Long before the pandemic, certain providers had been disrupting the traditional model because there’s a consumer need. DispatchHealth upped the ante by doing things with its mobile urgent care in recent months that others couldn’t or wouldn’t: dispatching board-certified medical teams to people’s doorsteps. Here’s what founder Kevin Riddleberger had to say about it in our June Campfire discussion

It turns out they weren’t just innovating, they’ve been responding to serious patient needs in 19 U.S. markets, freeing up space in the ER and saving health providers over $250 million in the process. In recent months, their providers even partnered with food banks to address food insecurity by delivering to patients in need.

3. Virtual Care  

Telehealth has been happening for decades, particularly to help rural areas connect with high-demand specialty medicine. COVID-19 just made the future arrive sooner for health systems of every size and scope. When the pandemic made it impossible to see patients in person, nimble providers like Lake Region Healthcare responded fast—ramping up their telehealth model at a time when shelter-at-home and social distancing mandates were just hitting Minnesota. In this Campfire session, experts talk about the challenges of deploying a televisit effort that was still in the research stage while striving to help different audiences feel comfortable about seeing the doctor in a new way. 

[Here’s how we helped create and launch a Virtual Visits campaign in 7 days flat.]

Telehealth delivery is aptly suited for mental health care, and the need has never been greater. The Zoom format has helped this partial hospitalization program for youth to not just continue its innovative approach to mental health and substance use treatment during COVID-19, but expand its geographic reach

Likewise, our friends at The Emily Program, a national leader in treating eating disorders, say telehealth has given more people in the markets they serve access to life-saving behavioral therapy and treatment. The Emily Program’s Jillian Lampert discusses some spectacular ways that telehealth is impacting eating disorder recovery, and how they’re still learning to optimize the functionality for patients, in the Campfire session, Getting Patients Back to Care: What’s Working.


Just like big box stores make it easier to browse and grab what you want—faster and at a clear price point—health care providers are making it easier for people to get the care they need. The virtual visit is a bit like online shopping in that way, plus you don’t need a mask. But big picture, it reflects user experience desires that retail stores fulfill. Just like the cash-based, drop-in clinic. And the home-based care team that’s dispatched to your home. (Maybe we call this the Amazon model?) COVID-19 or not, they’re great examples of the changing face of health care in our material world.  

How is your organization adapting or innovating? Are your actions aligned with your purpose—and serving the better interests of your organization, your patients and medicine itself? Do tell. 

COVID-19’s Call-To-Action: Innovate

COVID-19’s Call-To-Action: Innovate

During a crisis like the pandemic—or the civil rights movement we are experiencing at this time—innovators are given permission to move more rapidly than “normal” to create change and foster new ways of thinking and doing. In health care that means reimagining care delivery and how to innovate the way we meet and engage audiences on their care journeys.

There is no doubt in our minds that when we look back on this time in health care history, innovations in patient care, as well as how we successfully communicate with patients, will be numerous. It’s why we invited two health care innovators to join us around the Hailey Sault Campfire.

Watch our Campfire Session, COVID-19’s Call-To-Action: Innovate. Or read below for key takeaways from our webinar event!

One 6/18/20, Mike, Ann and Stephen were joined by:

The discussion included:

  • How DispatchHealth is embracing innovation.
  • The evolving needs of patients at this moment in history. 
  • The opportunities available to innovate.
  • Leaning into risk.
  • Your ability to be an innovator.

Innovation at DispatchHealth

DispatchHealth’s mission is to create the most advanced and complete in-home care model in the world. Kevin Riddleberger shared: 

  • 17 to 21 percent of 911 calls don’t need to be transported to the emergency department. 
  • DispatchHealth started in the Denver, Colorado market as a response to the above statistic.
  • The company provides on-demand health care for people in their home. 
  • It has expanded from answering 911 calls to offering urgent care in the home and is developing an in-home hospital care model.
  • DispatchHealth has grown from 1 vehicle, staffed by a nurse practitioner and paramedic, to 70 vehicles in 19 markets.
  • It has saved the markets it operates in a total of $250 million in unnecessary 911 transports and improved patient outcomes.

Rallying to innovate and provide care during COVID-19

  • Kevin described the culture of innovation at DispatchHealth by humbly explaining:
  • “We don’t talk about innovation that much within the organization.” 
  • Instead, everyone from software developers to those in the field and the leadership team come together to answer one question—what does the patient need?
  • Each meeting begins with a patient story.
  • During COVID-19 the company worked to create coordinated care throughout its 19 diverse markets, partnered with a care facility in Denver to make PPE, created accessibility to care for patients who lacked access to their providers, and built a virtual care option.

Looking beyond the pandemic

  • DispatchHealth has begun to provide senior care in the home. And as mentioned above, is moving to design an in-home hospital care model. Right now it is:
  • Providing care for seniors and in so doing is able to address some of the social isolation needs seniors are experiencing due to quarantining.
  • Partnering with food banks in order to carry food in their trucks to deliver to patients who are in need. 

Your evolving patients

As a digital health care and customer experience strategist, Chris Boyer provided some light bulb moments and a practical look at how to innovate to meet the evolving needs of patients.

  • The needs of patients and their perception of care has changed in the last three months.
  • People are scared and uncertain about the future and what to do. They are looking to us, as health care authorities, for education and a clear understanding of what to expect when they receive care.
  • We need to keep in mind that we may have to pivot our communication as the virus ebbs up and down and our understanding of it continues to change.

Innovation through listening 

Chris introduced us to three words: Listen. Empathize. Define.

  • In times of crisis it is important to listen and empathize with our audiences’ needs and define how we can answer those needs.
  • It is through careful listening and empathy that opportunities to innovate reveal themselves.
  • This is an opportunity for us to think revolutionary and act evolutionary.
  • Throughout the innovation process we need to be constantly learning and iterating.

Taking risk—telehealth

Kevin explained that one of the things that has challenged health systems previously has been the lack of availability of a payment or revenue model to back up innovations, such as telehealth. Those revenue models have opened up right now, giving health care the opportunity to change the way it operates. He believes telehealth is here to stay.

Experimenting and taking risk—marketing and communication

Chris, Mike and Ann discussed the importance of leaning into risk right now. 

  • It’s time to jump in and get patients back.
  • It’s time to take what we learn from listening to our patients and experiment with marketing messages that speak directly to their needs and concerns.
  • It’s time to run multiple campaigns and begin reading the market in real time. 
  • It’s time to track and measure results weekly instead of every 30 days.
  • If something isn’t working, it’s time to quickly change the message. If something is working, it’s time to reinforce that message.
  • We need to use social media as our mini testbed to introduce solutions to our audiences’ needs, to quickly get messaging and/or videos out that put our audiences at ease, talk about safety and show our patients what to expect when they come in for their appointments.


1. The DNA of an innovative organization is one that asks, “How are we best serving our customers?”

2. The time has never been more exciting for health care, to answer the needs of patients through innovation.

3. Innovation is not a solo journey. It includes a diverse team listening, empathizing and defining solutions.

4. It’s time to act quickly, to experiment, take risk and capitalize on creating the health care experiences our patients are craving right now.

5. It’s time to be in the market with messages patients need to hear from the authority they want to hear from—your organization.

We’re in this together

As we think about this time we’re in, now more than ever, we need ideas, insights, and community. We hope our Campfire Sessions are providing the conversations you are craving about the issues and opportunities facing your health care organization and its leaders. 

Make sure to sign up below to receive invitations to future Campfire Sessions and links to past Campfire Session recaps.

The Big Pivot: Creativity During COVID-19

The Big Pivot: Creativity During COVID-19

COVID-19 has changed everything—including how health care brands connect with consumers. The service line and brand campaigns we planned at the beginning of the year now seem to be from a different era. Everything has pivoted, from the messaging and images we use, to the methods we employ to produce those campaigns—not to mention the speed at which we need to reach consumers.

How do we work around/with the creative constraints this pandemic has presented? How can we continue to create campaigns that contain the right messages for patients right now? How do we remain fluid and fast in this ever-changing new world in which we find ourselves?

Watch our Campfire Session, The Big Pivot: Creativity During COVID-19. Or read below for key takeaways from our webinar event!

Our 6/12/20 Campfire was hosted by Laurie, Deb, Stephen and myself. We were joined by Hailey Sault long-time client and friend, Marcia Bahr, Director of Marketing & Communications, at the Mankato Clinic.

The discussion included:

  • A review of the past three months in health care marketing
  • The whole new list of constraints COVID-19 has presented to the creative process, from brainstorming to producing
  • A look at a campaign to bring patients back to Mankato Clinic that will launch next week

Responding to the new world

Marcia Bahr shared a look back at what she, and probably many other health care marketers, have been dealing with for the past three months.

When the governor of Minnesota shut down the state, and elective procedures and surgeries were halted, Mankato Clinic patient visits dropped 70 percent. The clinic responded:

  • Telehealth was rolled out, physicians were trained on the platform and the clinic got the word out to the community about how to use telehealth.
  • Calls came in about whether or not urgent care was open and the clinic responded with messaging.
  • A respiratory clinic was established and the community was informed.
  • A testing tent went up and so did messaging around when, where and how to get tested.

When the governor opened Minnesota up again and patients were able to return to Mankato Clinic for elective procedures and surgeries, the clinic saw a lot of pent-up demand. Marcia reported that at first patients were slow to return to the clinic, but in the last few days as many as 1,400 patients per day had returned to care, exceeding the clinic’s goal for the re-opening, but putting it 20 percent below its 2020 projections.

Through it all, Marcia’s focus remained:

“How can we assure our community that we are here for them—not just us—but health care in general?”

Playing with a whole new list of constraints

Laurie, Deb and I discussed:

  • Bringing patients back to health care after asking them to remain home for so long means messaging with a whole new set of health care personas in mind. It involves talking about safety and protocols and trust. It also means re-examining your brand positioning, voice and tone to make sure it resonates right now.
  • Evolving strategies and adapting ad creative as messaging changes in real-time is becoming the “new normal” in health care marketing—and it’s happening as we are cut off from our usual way of brainstorming, concepting and creating campaigns.
  • In addition, what we create must be carefully planned to include safety and social distancing protocols, restricted budgets and the ability to work remotely with technology we may be learning on the fly. 
  • For now, the days of production crews filming in hospitals and clinics are gone, as is filming a patient story in someone’s home.

How we’re adapting

Deb and I shared particulars like:

  • Brainstorming remotely
  • Being creative when distractions (dogs and kids) pull you away
  • The challenge of using stock imagery 
  • The hidden beauty behind creative constraints


1. Trust must be established in order for patients to feel comfortable returning to health care.

2. Special care needs to be taken with words and tone—being ever-sensitive to how people are feeling right now.

3. Our old health care personas have evolved during COVID-19 and have new concerns we must address.

4. New ways of concepting and producing campaigns will push our creativity to its limits and many times result in a much better product. 

We’re in this together

As we think about this time we’re in, now more than ever, we need ideas, insights, and community. We hope our Campfire Sessions are providing the conversations you are craving about the issues and opportunities facing your health care organization and its leaders. 

Make sure to sign up below to receive invitations to future Campfire Sessions and links to past Campfire Session recaps.

Getting Patients Back to Care: What’s Working

Getting Patients Back to Care: What’s Working

When my colleague Stephen introduced this week’s Campfire Session, he did it by saying: “This is a very tough moment for America. So many are waking up to the truth that there is a lot NOT working right now for too many people and that’s gone on for far too long.” 

That’s why we added the subtitle: “What’s Working” to this Campfire Session. The purpose of this session was to share ideas and strategies that ARE working, because if we don’t engage patients and inspire them to return to taking care of their health needs soon, we’ll be staring the next health care crisis tidal wave in the face. 

Watch our Campfire Session on Getting Patients Back to Care: What’s Working. Or read below for key takeaways from our webinar event!

Our 6/5/20 Campfire was hosted by Mike, Stephen and Ann who jumped right into the topic at hand with:

  • Jillian Lampert, CSO of The Emily Program 
  • Jim Berarducci, senior advisor to leading health care providers

The discussion included:

  • Pivoting from COVID response to revenue recovery.
  • What’s keeping health care executives up at night?
  • The strategies/playbook to actively identify patients and nurture them on their journey back to health care.

This summary starts with statistics that illustrate why our work has never been more important.

  • 70% of Americans are concerned about contracting COVID-19 from health care facilities. 
  • Almost 50% of Americans have skipped or delayed health care because of COVID-19. 
  • ER visits in April alone were down 42%.
  • It’s estimated that over 40,000 women have undiagnosed breast cancer because they were delayed in getting screenings. 
  • There is a decline of 2.5 million childhood vaccinations due to COVID-19. 
  • There is a 38% reduction in cath lab procedures here in America. 
  • When we look at reports coming out of Italy, which was earlier on the COVID-19 curve, they’re reporting a 58% increase in cardiac arrests due to people not going to the hospital to address chest pain and other heart issues. 

Consumer-centric strategies pre-COVID and post-COVID

The ability to understand where patients are on their health care journey was discussed—as well as the challenge of overcoming the barriers to care that were present before COVID and are now amplified during the COVID era.

Telehealth moving forward

The rapid onboarding of telehealth to keep clients in care was shared, as was: 

  • The possible use of virtual care into the future—including advocating for continued reimbursement after this public health emergency is over.
  • Maximizing patient acquisition and recruitment messaging online, where people are now going for treatment.
  • The long-term forecast for telehealth and the advantage of building in-house capabilities.
  • The telehealth patient experience and how it can be used creatively.

Revenue recovery mode

An in-depth discussion about how health care facilities and systems can move from COVID-prep to recovery—and then to thinking about reopening, included: 

  • Responding quickly with furloughs (how to maximize staff to effectively serve clients).
  • Changing your command center meetings from a focus on responding to the demands of COVID patients to that of patient recovery and acquisition.
  • Forecasting and re-forecasting revenue due to the temporary shutdown in services and elective procedures.
  • Being good fiscal stewards, while at the same time investing in areas that will help capture and address patient demand.

The new mindset: Active patient acquisition, engagement and advocacy

  • Moving from a passive marketing strategy to an active strategy including reporting and an expectation of revenue recovery was illustrated.
  • The importance of implementing a strategy, testing it and switching mid-stream to maximize results was discussed.  


  • Plan to pivot: anticipate change and adjust marketing efforts based on ever-changing dynamics.
  • Marketing and operations work hand in hand: to adjust how we care for patients (like telehealth) and communicate these changes seamlessly.
  • Identify new opportunities to grow: brands that may have once been competitors may be open to mergers and acquisitions.
  • Maintain marketing presence: people are searching for care; ensure your brand is present and top-of-mind. 

Tourism & Health Care’s Similar Challenge: How to Bring People Back

Tourism & Health Care’s Similar Challenge: How to Bring People Back

Every segment of industry has been impacted by the public health and economic consequences of this global pandemic—perhaps none more than health care and tourism. Both of these high-touch industries face the daunting challenge of instilling confidence in consumers that it is safe to come back. What can health care marketers and communicators learn from the struggles of tourism’s marketers and communicators right now?

On 5/22/20, Mike and Stephen were joined by:

  • John Edman, Director, Explore Minnesota; Chair, Brand USA
  • Terry Mattson, President & CEO, Visit Saint Paul and the Saint Paul RiverCentre

Watch our Campfire Session, Travel & Tourism Insight to Help Your COVID Recovery. Or read below for key takeaways from our webinar event!

Our discussion included:

  • As access to services in both industries begins to slowly and carefully open what do consumers need to hear and experience?
  • What will the new normal look like and when will that new normal occur?
  • What strategies can be adopted to put our industries in the best position for whatever comes next? 

Here’s a summary:

  • Like health care, tourism is in a crisis mode right now. 
  • This is a large industry but a fragile one.
  • There is going to be a recovery but it will be very different from what people were thinking about even a couple of months ago.
  • Statistics were shared revealing the impact that tourism has on the economy of Minnesota.
  • The impact the virus has had on the state of tourism in Minnesota as a whole and in St. Paul was also explored. 

Latest survey—research was shared that indicates those in the tourism industry believe:

  • There will not be any improvement in the industry for the next six months or more. 
  • Every state is approaching reopening a little differently so there is a need for consumer education.
  • There is a need to focus on marketing and awareness.

Businesses are anxious

  • Small, medium or large, travel and tourism businesses are very anxious to get back to business again. 
  • They are optimistic that there will be a comeback. However, there is still a lot of angst about how to ramp up.
  • There is no playbook for what is happening now.

The single biggest challenge facing businesses in the reopening period is not knowing when the next phases are going into place and what they will entail.

Consumer confidence

  • Once governors open states, engaging consumer sentiment is of utmost importance.
  • A top priority in ensuring consumer confidence is making sure employees feel safe. If your employees don’t feel safe, you’re going to have a hard time communicating to your guests and consumers that it is safe as well.
  • Following/conducting consumer research is also important because even if consumers are allowed to come back into businesses and participate in travel and tourism, knowing what will make them feel comfortable/safe doing so is critical. 
  • The best way to do that is to develop programs that communicate safety.

Pent-up demand

  • Health care has experienced a pent-up demand for elective surgeries and primary care services.
  • Similarly, tourism and travel are experiencing a pent-up demand, with people wanting to get out and experience the world around them.
  • But the most important point for both industries is—consumers will only return once it is deemed safe.

What other business categories can learn from the plan to promote tourism and travel

  • The marketing strategies that were in place at the beginning of this year are basically obsolete and should be thrown away.
  • A traditional campaign, based on emotion is what is needed right now. 
  • We’ve got to get people to feel confident that they are going to be taken care of.


1. Our mindset shouldn’t be getting back to where we were. Our mindset right now should be where do we want to be tomorrow and how can we get there through this crisis.

2. Consumer confidence must be nurtured in order to bring people back in the door.

3. Communication, honesty and authenticity are paramount.

We’re in this together

As we think about this time we’re in, now more than ever, we need ideas, insights, and community. We hope our Campfire Sessions are providing the conversations you are craving about the issues and opportunities facing your health care organization and its leaders. 

Make sure to sign up below to receive invitations to future Campfire Sessions and links to past Campfire Session recaps.