The #1 Skill of the Best Health Care Chief Marketing Officers

The #1 Skill of the Best Health Care Chief Marketing Officers

Of all the amazing traits and skills of the leading CMOs we’ve had the privilege of working with for 40+ years, what is the number one skill that sets the most effective CMOs apart from all the others?

I believe the answer is simple: the ability to build consensus for meaningful change.

Let me explain.

Health care CMOs face a very special kind of consensus challenge that CMOs in other industries don’t face: the consensus around investing in marketing. I might be wrong, but I doubt the folks at Amazon or Coca-Cola disagree often with the merits of marketing and branding. I also know that the CMO’s role in impacting the brand along the touchpoints of the patient journey is—to use a technical term—fuzzy. For example, when does marketing end and patient experience begin? And when does marketing “return” to mattering for long-term patient engagement and loyalty? I seriously doubt such debates occur at Taco Bell over what marketing’s role and purpose is, but I may be wrong.

When we look at building consensus for meaningful change, this doesn’t mean diluting the strategy or ad campaign so that everyone “agrees to agree.” That tactic doesn’t serve an organization, especially the patients and people it seeks to help and heal.

Building consensus for meaningful change means aligning stakeholders with a common purpose. Without a common purpose, there’s no vision for change. And change only occurs at the organizational level when the pain of remaining the same is worse than the pain of changing.

Highly exceptional CMOs deal in the currency of change. They balance the need to preserve and protect the status quo among stakeholders with the desire to make a meaningful difference in their lives and work.

Most often, CMOs skilled at the art of organizing meaningful change leverage the “What’s at Stake” conversation. That conversation often looks like this:

  • Describing the current landscape
  • Addressing the storm clouds in the near distance: in the form of competitive threats, changes in regulation, and other factors that can negatively impact the organization’s ability to thrive
  • Clearly stating that there will be winners and losers as the storm clouds converge
  • Inviting the stakeholders to ask themselves: if we remain the same and do nothing different, will we be winners or losers?
  • Inviting stakeholders for meaningful change

We’re often called in to help shape the meaningful change conversation, whether it’s with health care branding, service line marketing, strategies for new client acquisition, or simply lowering the cost of new patient or client acquisition.

It does not surprise us how challenging it is for stakeholders to embrace change, even when what the organization is doing isn’t working. This is not meant to slight an organization or its stakeholders. It’s just the reality of today’s business climate. The pressures are immense and given a choice of changing or not, most people would prefer to stay where they are. If nothing else, they know what they’re dealing with and the fear of the unknown, like the fear of public speaking, keeps people stuck.

To help our CMO clients, we often engage their stakeholders and decision-makers in reframing the problems and opportunities. For example, we may bring credible evidence to stakeholders that what they believe about their audiences—their preferences, health care purchasing patterns, etc., is incomplete, or even incorrect. (This is always handled delicately, of course. Being diplomatic is another trait of highly effective CMOs.)

We find that stakeholders have different agendas, so we look for common purpose and shared beliefs. These shared beliefs may be around patient care, a desire for high quality, innovation, and winning the future. We then look for opportunities to illuminate a perspective, backed by data, that helps our client and stakeholders to see the problem or opportunity differently.

What do I mean by this?

For example:

  • Stakeholders may want a larger pipeline of prospective patients for a service line campaign. But in our research, we may see a significant drop off among prospective patients from interest to making the health care decision. By putting more emphasis on nurturing the current prospect pipeline, we help our clients to convert more patients or customers than if the client had focused on growing the pipeline.
  • Another example: the CMO recognizes the need for a rebranding effort but isn’t getting traction with stakeholders for the funding and long-term commitment for a rebrand. We might present research that demonstrates that audiences in the client’s service area or territories are ambivalent to all health care solutions available. This presents a mighty opportunity for the organization because it’s far easier to encourage preference when sentiment is neutral. Because of this, a rebranding effort is seen internally as a strategic priority positively impacting all departments and stakeholders.

As we look to the future of health care, we see winners and losers. The winners will be the ones who embrace consumerism in health care, who know the most about their patients and audiences and are willing to embrace meaningful change. The CMOs who win are the ones who serve as expert guides in managing change for their organizations, one boardroom meeting at a time.  

The art and science of health care marketing persona development

The art and science of health care marketing persona development

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you understood your patients so well that creating content for them was like sitting down and having a discussion? Wouldn’t it be even better if you knew where to find them and how to get their attention?

That’s the magic of personas—composite sketches that represent the real people who inhabit your key target audiences. Personas allow you to walk in your patients’ shoes by giving you insight into their families and jobs, their concerns, time constraints, desires, beliefs and life experiences—and their cultural backgrounds, emotional drivers, motivations, health challenges, and health goals.

The purpose of creating health care marketing personas is to be able to create strategies, content, and designs that are meaningful and actionable to your target audience.

At Hailey Sault, we use a lot of research (science) and a little art (storytelling) to create our personas.

The science behind our personas

“Your personas are only as good as the research behind them.”


Data is what makes a solid foundation for any persona. Starting with science, not opinions and assumptions, is the only way to create truly actionable personas. So we always start by digging deep and researching the data behind each persona.

Background and demographics:

  • Where they live
  • The work they do
  • Marital status
  • If they have dependents
  • Their ethnicity

Personal preferences:

  • Their interests
  • Their habits
  • The entertainment/blogs they consume
  • Are they a cat person or a dog person?


  • Common fears
  • Health challenges
  • Barriers to taking action


  • What are their hopes, values, and motivations? Their health goals?
  • What does a healthy lifestyle look like to them?

How they intersect with health care:

  • Do they prefer holistic methods of treatment?
  • Is their experience rooted more in traditional medicine?  

How they consume information:

  • What’s the best way to reach them (e.g., social media, direct mail, patient portal, etc.)?

Our tools are varied:

  • Global Web Index—allows us to uncover and analyze digital consumer behavior for our target personas.
  •—is a great resource to analyze geographical specifics and key demographics such as: household income, average education level, likelihood to have commercial insurance, etc.
  • Google Site Analytics—gives us a look at your existing site visitors and identifies any trends from a geographic or demographic standpoint, as well as the type of content our personas are consuming/where they’re spending the majority of time on your site, where your visitors come from, what keywords they used to find you, how long they spent once they arrived. In other words we are able to discover trends in how patients consume your content.
  • Facebook and Twitter Analytics—allow us to look at your existing digital follower base for trends in demographics, preferred content topics, engagement rates, etc.  
  • Existing Testimonials and Site Review—if there’s a strong base of reviews and testimonials for your brand, we can scour those to uncover themes among conditions, gender, age, location, etc. to see what your existing patients are saying.
  • Brandwatch—this general listening tool allows us to pull keyword themes to see what people are saying about your industry, brand, other common areas.

The art of persona creation

Once all the data is collected, we get to work building personas that are genuine and have a fact based, believable identity and story.

We get heard when we get human.

We look at each of our personas as a character, writing their back story in the first person, using their authentic tone of voice and vocabulary. We want our persona’s ideas, experiences, feelings and daily life to shine through so that we as marketers can use what we know to answer questions, make our audience think, laugh and live healthier lives.

For example, meet Jennifer. She is just one persona we may use for an orthopedics campaign. She’s 45, a teacher, married and has two kids. She is experiencing back pain. Here is a small portion of her story:

“I stand all day and by the time I get home my back is killing me. I’ve tried new shoes and those smelly pain creams, but they didn’t work. Can you believe it, I even ordered one of those back brace things from Amazon. I seem too young to have back pain like this. I know I need to call the doctor. I just keep hoping I can fix it myself.”

Jennifer acts as the single truth about her particular target audience for each person in our team who touches this orthopedic campaign. From strategist through media planning and execution—who she is, what she needs from us and how we can reach her is paramount. She is so much better to think about and communicate with than the usual broad target audience that can include women age 40–60 who are experiencing musculoskeletal pain.

Final thought

The better you understand your target audience, the better your results.

Among the many outcomes you can expect if you put personas to work for you is the opportunity to establish marketing strategies that are more on the mark, to form better connections and to communicate your value to your target audience. If you need help creating these valuable representations of the real people in your audiences, we’re ready to put the art and science of personas to work for you.

The importance of words in cancer care marketing

The importance of words in cancer care marketing

I’ve lost several close friends to cancer, my dad has had recurrences of the disease over the past decade, and just recently my beloved sister-in-law was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. At this writing, thank goodness, we know that her tumor has not spread. She will still be facing several rounds of chemo and radiation and the side effects that come with that treatment, but she and her oncologist are optimistic about a very positive outcome.

If you’ve ever experienced it, or know someone who has, a cancer diagnosis turns life upside down for everyone involved. As my sister-in-law faces chemo, I am struck by the words we as marketers use to help people with cancer diagnoses make decisions about where to seek care.

How do we help people with this life-changing disease in a way that is respectful and informative?

Words can hurt

The last thing we as marketers want to do is admonish, berate or disrespect people dealing with cancer. However, in our effort to evoke the hope of overcoming this fearful disease in our audiences, we’ve been using metaphors to describe its treatment that can stir up feelings of guilt and failure. This may not be new to many of you who have created any kind of cancer messaging in the past few years, but people with cancer find that the combat metaphors we commonly use often make them feel responsible, or to blame, for not fighting hard enough. I’m talking about words like:

  • Win the war
  • Fight this
  • Beat this
  • Do battle
  • You’re a warrior

In 2014, Kate Granger, a registrar in elderly medicine working in Yorkshire, England—and a terminally ill cancer patient—wrote in The Guardian:

“I do not want to feel a failure about something beyond my control.”

“In my world, having cancer is not a fight at all. It is almost a symbiosis where I am forced to live with my disease day in, day out.”

“I submitted myself to this treatment gently, and somewhat reluctantly, taking whatever each day had to throw at me. I certainly didn’t enter the process ‘with all guns blazing.’ ”

“I believe rather that instead of reaching for the traditional battle language, [life] is about living as well as possible, coping, acceptance, gentle positivity, setting short-term, achievable goals, and drawing on support from those closest to you.”

More about hope

In 2017, NPR interviewed Lori Wallace, a cancer patient who wrote an essay titled “F*** Silver Linings and Pink Ribbons.” Wallace reported that as her cancer progressed, she became more critical of excessive positivity in health care marketing. She felt that the messages we marketers create that include patients who’ve overcome steep odds are a slap in the face to people like her. In the interview, however, she does share that she would have been attracted to messages of hope before she had cancer, but now she needs realism—“acceptance of both the world’s beauty and its harshness.”

What about journey?

A popular metaphor we are using now when we talk about someone who has cancer is to describe it as a journey. Professor Elena Semino, a linguist from Lancaster University has spent years examining how metaphors, like journey, are used in different groups of people affected by cancer—cancer patients, family care providers and health care professionals—and how they resonated with them. She found that when cancer patients use journey:

“They talk about being on a journey with everyone else who has the illness, they talk about themselves as companions on the same journey, and the people who have been ill for longer leading the way for the ones that have got a more recent diagnosis. They also talk about a sense of purpose in planning one’s journey one step at a time.”

She also found:

“For some the journey is less like an epic adventure, and more like a trip from hell.”

“For some other people, there is this idea of a reluctant journey. One person says, how the hell am I supposed to navigate this road I don’t even want to be on.”

The words we’re looking for

As we approach the words we use when we create messages about cancer care, we need to think about the fear and uncertainty people with cancer are experiencing.

There are no perfect words or metaphors for every person who is affected by cancer.

My takeaway from cancer patients like Kate Granger and Lori Wallace, and researchers like Elena Semino, is that people faced with cancer want to hear the truth using honest, well-chosen words so that they can make good decisions.

I believe our words can be hopeful and empowering without being excessive.

They need to convey a sense of comfort, show compassion, talk about symptom management and quality of life. They need to impart a feeling of partnership and a dedication and expertise for acting as a guide through difficult decisions.

Our words should be about exploration, struggle, discovery, endurance, ingenuity, adaptation and change.

For consideration

Many people don’t want to be defined by cancer, but as a person with the experience of undergoing treatment for cancer. Rather than fighting cancer, they want others to know they are living with cancer. Instead of being referred to as a survivor they want to be known as cancer-free.

Three words that change lives

“You have cancer” are three words that change people’s lives forever. They may be the three scariest words in the world. When we create messages for people who have heard those words we need to remember what they are going through now, what they will go through in the future and what is important to them as they make decisions about where to seek treatment.

The Emotion/Engagement Health Care Marketing Matrix

The Emotion/Engagement Health Care Marketing Matrix

As a writer, I am all about emotion. I have always believed that there’s an emotional core to every decision we make. I also believe that’s a good thing. Our emotions are what make us human.

Backing me up is some strong science called neuromarketing. According to Douglas Van Praet, author of Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing:

“The most startling truth is we don’t even think our way to logical solutions. We feel our way to reason. Emotions are the substrate, the base layer of neural circuitry underpinning even rational deliberation. Emotions don’t hinder decisions. They constitute the foundation on which they’re made!”

Van Praet goes on to say:

“If you want to generate action, you have to generate emotion.”

Trending: Artificial Intelligence and Emotions

Emotions are getting a lot of press lately. Right now, startup companies like Affectiva and Spark Neuro, as well as the biggies like Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple are working with AI systems and devices in an effort to recognize, interpret, process and even simulate human emotions. It’s a little scary and perhaps even creepily manipulative. Ethical questions are being discussed about how this technology should be best used. Some examples of how it can be used “for good” and some excellent insights into AI and marketing can be found here and here. Look for a future blog from me on this topic.

Your Health Care Audience: Emotions and Engagement

Right now, I’d like to discuss how we can use our audiences’ emotional states to discern the extent and type of engagement they want from us.

As a health care writer it is my job to put myself into people’s shoes, to be sensitive to their needs and to know the amount of engagement they want and expect.

It is my hypothesis that the emotions involved in making health care decisions put health care audiences somewhere on a continuum of emotion and engagement. This less-than-scientific continuum allows us to know how much content they want from us at any given time.

Here’s how I break audiences down:

Engaged and needing to know everything they can. Emotions run high for people who have cancer, the high-performing athlete with a serious injury, or someone with a chronic condition like diabetes. These people want to know about their condition—they want me to provide facts, outcomes and details. They want content that includes as much from me as I can give them to make decisions about their health.  

Connected and concerned about their health. This audience is healthy and wants to form a relationship. They want ongoing content from me served up in small bites that they can use in their daily lives. They want to have a continuing conversation about how they can stay healthy.

Responsible for finding immediate care. This is the mother or father dealing with a child’s ear infection, or the soccer player with a sprained ankle. The emotions connected with seeking care have to do with the speed of finding service and recovering as quickly as possible. They want to know where the most convenient care is located and that qualified practitioners are there to provide it. They don’t want much more than that from me.

Emotional matrix graph

Truly valuable content—the kind that taps into health care audiences’ actual needs, challenges, and goals—comes from being a good student of human emotion. It is an evolving science. Today, I use observation and listening to constantly build my ability to step out of my own skin and into the angst and motivation of my audience. With the continuing move by tech and AI companies large and small to study human emotion, who knows what tomorrow will bring. More about that later.

5 Ways Marketers Should Think Like A Patient

5 Ways Marketers Should Think Like A Patient

Health care marketers have a tremendous responsibility to be advocates for the patients and prospective patients that their organizations serve. After all, modern marketing is ultimately the practice of adding value. Without advocating what today’s patients want, need, expect and demand from health care organizations like hospitals and health systems, marketers can lose credibility and influence within their organizations.

That’s why at Hailey Sault we bring to the table a significant number of tools, techniques, and resources to help our clients understand their clients—their prospective patients—better. Tools like archetyping, journey mapping, persona modeling, and brand sentiment reporting give us quantifiable perspectives on what patients want and how they decide upon health care providers and solutions.

We’ll share more of those tools and how we leverage them in future resources. Today, though, I wanted to talk about 5 ways to think like a patient. The more we, as marketers, can appreciate how our patients think, the more relevant we can be in their lives.

5 Ways Marketers Can Think Like a Patient

(Author note: for purposes of this post, I’ll use the feminine gender pronoun.)

1. What is she feeling? 

To think like a patient, we have to first understand what our patient is feeling. Is she in pain? Is she scared, nervous, overwhelmed? Or is she simply annoyed to be dealing with a low-grade medical malady?

Feelings can obscure rational thinking. Before we have the opportunity to share thoughtful solutions to her symptoms or diagnosis, we must first appreciate our patient’s emotional state.

And a patient’s emotional state evolves throughout her journey. (That’s why we’re such advocates of patient journey mapping.) 

2. How much does our patient want to know?

We all have different levels of knowledge-seeking in any decision-making process: whether it’s buying a home, car or health care. As marketers, it’s our great work to provide the tools and resources to help our patients gather the information that they want on their own terms. Some patients will want to read everything they can get their hands on, while other patients would prefer simply knowing what medication to take and when they can get back to work and life. Knowing what our patients want to know is key to creating loyalty and engagement.

3. Will the patient need to explain her medical situation to others?

Patients—especially women as the primary caretakers of the family—often experience two simultaneous thought patterns when taking in information about their medical diagnosis and treatment plans.

What do I mean by this?

First, the patient processes the medical information in a way that she can understand. Second, the patient processes the information so that she can later explain it to family members, such as husbands and children.

In some ways, health care still operates in the Dark Ages: complex diagnoses and treatment plans are communicated orally, or with test results that only trained medical professionals can understand.

This creates great stress on the patient. Not only does she have to understand the information for herself, but she also has to determine how she can best explain the information to others.

4. Are we asking the patient to take the next step in her decision-making process too soon?

As health care marketers, we know that the patient journey to make the decision to seek medical care or to choose a specific provider can take time—months or even years, in fact. That’s why it’s important to share with prospective patients opportunities to take small steps in learning more, asking questions, reading and viewing resources, to help nurture the patient along the way to making her decision.

In other words, our job isn’t to rush a prospective patient into making a health care decision, but rather, to inform that decision in ways she finds of value.

5. Why should she trust your brand?

There are so many more health influences in your patient’s life today—and many of those influences are outside of what you or I might call expected influences. For example, many patients today regard sports brands like Nike as key influences on their health choices and lifestyle.

If you represent a hospital or physician group, it’s important to appreciate the many spheres of influence that shape your patient’s perceptions of health. Today’s patients want to be partners in the healing and wellness process. In your patient’s eyes, a partner is someone who is there for her through thick and thin, not just within the hospital’s walls but helping her stay well and on the path of health and well-being.

This should be good news to you because it means that you have the opportunity to create content and resources that are relevant to your patients when they aren’t your patients: just moms and dads, husbands, wives, and college students who want nothing more than to be happy and healthy.  

Health Care Marketers! Why Aren’t You On Instagram Yet?

Health Care Marketers! Why Aren’t You On Instagram Yet?

It’s only eight years old, but the explosive growth of Instagram in that time—and even in the last 18 months—is astonishing. Claiming now more than 1 billion monthly active users, and with a growth of 20% from 2017 to 2018, it’s a platform that brands can no longer ignore.  But Instagram is just for teens you say? Not quite. Because, folks, this 30-something, Elder Millennial is an active, daily user and proponent of the platform for many of our clients. I promise that our agency’s collective recommendations to utilize Instagram go beyond my own personal usage of the platform, though.

Here’s why we recommend Instagram for our health care clients

  1. It’s growing very rapidly. Instagram has been the fastest-growing social networking for the past few years at around 12%, and continues to show steady growth as it has hit the 1 billion mark and 20% growth rate.


  2. Your target audiences use it. Nearly 60% of the user base is in what we consider our core target demographic: ages 25 to 64.


  3. There’s not a major discrepancy of gender. Men account for 30% of users while women account for 39%—we typically see a larger gap (one way or another) in other social networks.


  4. Some Instagrammers have a higher level of disposable income. Around 30% of individual users make more than $75,000 per year, which would be a good indicator of either the ability to pay out of pocket for elective procedures and/or that they have good employer-paid health insurance.


  5. The content on Instagram tends to have better sticking power. Stories (the Instagram version of Snapchat) both promoted and organic, has shown to increase ad recall, message association and click through rate (CTR) resulting in greater awareness and action for your campaigns.

These are just a few of the compelling reasons we recommend incorporating Instagram into your content and social media strategy as well as into media plans, but it definitely isn’t an exhaustive list. Sold! Yes? Or maybe you’d like to hear a few of the ways we’ve approached the platform? I bet that’s it, isn’t it?

Five ways Hailey Sault has approached Instagram: A tale of organic and paid media

  1. Humanize brands by featuring people. Instagram is a visual platform. This gives health care brands immense opportunities to create engaging, emotional content.


  2. Improve brand relationships through storytelling. We all know the power of using stories to convey our messages. Instagram provides a really great platform to do that since you can take advantage of large images (4:5 aspect ratio has been shown to perform very well), live video and Stories highlights, and through carousel ads—all of which work really well together to share the complete story without posting too much content at one time.


  3. Diversify paid social media approaches to increase message recall. We start our media approaches with very clear objectives and measurement expectations, but very often Instagram is a choice channel to further our message to the right people through great targeting data points. If it’s a fit for your objectives, we recommend placing it as a separate ad group to the one you will place in Facebook. This will allow you to allocate a specific budget only to that platform vs. spreading between both Facebook and Instagram and it allows you to set up clearer KPI expectations for cost per click (typically a bit higher) and click through rate (typically on the average side).


  4. Increase effectiveness of email campaigns by teasing signature content to email list. To increase overall click through rate through our emails, we have started to tease out ads promoting our signature content to users on Instagram through a custom list that is in our CRM. This allows users to see the content and have a higher recall when the email hits their inbox.

    Bonus: methodically resend the same email, verbatim, to the users who didn’t open it while simultaneously running your Instagram promotion.  


  5. Supplement overall content strategies through methodical amplification. Our approach to social media has both an organic and a paid arm. In order to reach goals (and people) we recommend allocating a certain percentage of monthly spend to each of your pillars in your content strategy. For Hailey Sault, this looks like 50% allocation to resources and learning, 25% to highlighting what makes Hailey Sault live up to its mission through our people, and 25% to highlighting how we live up to our mission through the work we complete for our clients.


There are several ways other health care brands have used Instagram successfully, and we will continue to give a nod to the network while apply methods used by innovators across verticals.

In the meantime, here are a few simple tips for getting more out of your Instagram efforts and ensuring best practices.


  1. Always evaluate your marketing objectives before establishing a presence on a new channel. All content you share on Instagram should be within your brand standards, brand tone, and should be customized to that channel.


  2. Incorporate Instagram into your ongoing content calendar to ensure you’re consistently posting quality (it is quality over quantity).


  3. When possible, post with a location. Posts with locations tend to get more engagement—reportedly 79% more.


  4. Consider featuring user-generated content (UGC) where it makes sense. Brands have reported seeing a 4.5% higher conversion rate on posts that had user-generated content. Just be sure to share those that are from well-trusted sources.


  5. Utilize hashtags where it makes sense.  It’s been shown that around 60% of the top brands on Instagram use one consistent hashtag to attain more predictable post engagement. Oftentimes you can reach new people by incorporating the right hashtags into your posts. Just be sure the hashtag isn’t too noisy (too many other posts) and that it doesn’t go against your brand in any way.