Five Tools to Upgrade Your Marketing Strategies

Five Tools to Upgrade Your Marketing Strategies

We’re finding that more and more health brands we work with are using an “agile-like” planning strategy. Instead of developing year-long marketing strategies, many of our clients develop their marketing strategies in response to immediate opportunities. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to plan your campaigns. What matters is what works for you, your organization’s culture, and the dynamics of your market.  

Regardless of your planning preference, we want to share five ways to upgrade your marketing strategies. These five tools can help you to:

  • Hone the messages and platforms that resonate best with your audiences
  • Create new opportunities to engage your audiences 
  • Offer controlled “experiments” to try and test new approaches

Five Tools to Upgrade Your Marketing Strategies

1. Leverage Audience Personas

The days of marketing to generic demographics like “women 25–54” are over. Upgrade the way you document the unique audiences you seek to serve with your marketing campaigns. Audience Personas are the framework we use and recommend to get clarity and insights that move the ROI needle for your campaigns. 

Here are questions to ask and answer to better leverage audience personas for your strategies:

  • What is your audience’s biggest challenge right now?
  • What’s your audience’s trigger to learning more about your brand’s services and solutions?
  • What are your audience’s barriers for seeking care?
  • What does your audience need to hear from your brand?
  • How does your audience currently engage in media channels (so your brand can be present in her care journey)?

Sample Persona Image

2. Map Your Patients’ Journeys

If you’ve been following our content and resources, you know we’re also big fans of patient journey mapping: and for good reason. The better you map your audience’s journey steps, the more relevant your brand can be. 

Whether you’re planning your marketing strategies a year out or using a real-time planning model, upgrade your marketing strategies by mapping your audience’s journeys. 

Follow these six core stages of the patient journey to map out your unique audience’s steps:

  1. Trigger Event: what begins your audience’s journey
  2. Awareness: your audience becomes aware she may need a health solution and begins casually to seek information and solutions
  3. Consideration: your audience is deeper into investigation of a solution and is consciously aware she is making a health care decision
  4. Decision: your audience commits (ideally!) to your health brand for treatment or solutions
  5. Experience: your audience has a patient encounter or other experience with your health brand
  6. Evaluation: your audience formulates her overall impressions of her experience with your health brands—this is where she is likely to tell a friend or leave a review.


PJM Graphic

3. Identify Audience “Stuck Points”

One of the reasons we advocate mapping your patients’ journeys is because your marketing strategy success is contingent upon helping to move your audiences along their care journeys. In health care, there are many “stuck points”—when audiences may need support in taking the next step of their journey to health and healing. This is why the patient journeys are often long and complex. As marketers and communicators, we believe the highest and best use of our abilities is to help our audiences make the best decisions on how and where to choose health care solutions. This often means helping your audiences when they are “stuck.”

[As marketers and communicators, we believe the highest and best use of our abilities is to help our audiences make the best decisions on how and where to choose health care solutions.]

Common stuck points include:

  • Overwhelmed by a health diagnosis or possible diagnosis
  • Confused on what health solution or which health brand to trust
  • Making time to schedule appointments or to seek care
  • Insurance or cost barriers for receiving care
  • Wait times to see a provider
  • Navigating between primary care and specialty care (such as in the case of cancer care and cardiovascular services)

How can your campaigns and strategies help your audiences when they feel “stuck”? 

We all know health care is complex. The larger your organization, the more complex it may feel for your audiences to navigate. Health care marketing is the art and science of audience empathy. We may not be able to physically “heal” your audience. But you can “hear” your audience and help them navigate their journeys. 

[We may not be able to physically “heal” your audience. But you can “hear” your audience and help them navigate their journeys.]

Here are a few ways to help your audience “get unstuck” and make progress on their care journeys:

Provide multiple options for accessing care, such as:

  • Online appointment scheduling
  • Sharing providers and sites of care that offer immediate access
  • AI or live chat features

You can tailor your content around the wants and needs of your audience at their journey stage. Each journey is unique, but here are a few best practices to upgrade your content and campaign strategies:

The more complex the patient journey, the more your audience is likely to need—and welcome—your resources. 

Use calls-to-action to communicate to audiences what content types may be most relevant to them, such as:

  • Symptom checker or health screening content
  • How to select a provider right for you
  • Common treatment solutions
  • Advanced treatment solutions
  • Questions to ask your provider

Address your audience’s emotional needs. This may be the most significant strategy to upgrade your marketing strategies and to help your audience to get “unstuck.” As a former client of mine once wisely told me: “Health care is the business of life and death.” Not all audiences are experiencing intense emotional states. But it’s likely your audience is experiencing some degree of fear or feeling overwhelmed. How can your campaigns and strategies meet your audiences in the moment and help them to feel hope and confidence, and find a path forward?

[How can your campaigns and strategies meet your audiences in the moment and help them to feel hope and confidence, and find a path forward?]

4. Create an “Audience X”

We always recommend approaching campaigns with a testing mindset: the marketplace will let us know by their engagement and actions which messages, images and platforms resonate best … and what should be optimized or discarded altogether. 

What we’re talking about here is creating a new audience—one that you haven’t marketed or communicated with—in previous campaign efforts. 

For example, we recently worked with a health system client who had traditionally invested their marketing dollars into reaching consumer prospective patient audiences. When we began collaborating on a new service line marketing campaign, we saw an opportunity to engage referring providers, who typically drove new patients for the particular service line we were tasked with marketing.

We added referring providers to our targeting and segmentation—referring physicians became Audience X in the campaign—a new audience. 

Another client we work with historically only marketed their services to female audiences, who are typically the health care decision-makers. But in researching the service line, we discovered that men were an underserved audience: they needed our client’s services, too. For that client, we developed a specific male audience and corresponding marketing strategies. Men became Audience X.

For both clients, we launched campaigns that targeted the traditional audiences as well as niche marketing efforts for these “Audience X.” Both clients saw an uptick in new patient encounters by creating new audiences to reach, engage and serve.

Applying the “Audience X” strategy is a powerful way to rethink and reimagine your campaigns and strategies—thereby upgrading your approaches. 

Which brings us to the final tool for upgrading your next campaigns and strategies: creating an innovation lab.

5. Create an Innovation Lab

You may not have unlimited resources to test and experiment with every campaign and marketing strategy. You may not even feel like you have the time to test everything you do. But we encourage you to leave the door open to experimentation. Experiments lead to breakthroughs. 

So how do you experiment with limited resources? Create an Innovation Lab. 

Innovation Labs are virtual playgrounds to try and test new ideas and approaches. These new ideas and approaches often run in the background of your normal planning and campaign efforts. 

For example: you might encourage your team or agency that while they are developing ad concepts, to also develop a concept that is wildly different than what you expect from them. You may be surprised and delighted with what they come up with.

Your next Innovation Lab might be to apply one of the upgrades we’ve shared in this article:

  • Expanding your audience personas
  • Mapping your patient journeys
  • Addressing key “stuck points” in your audience’s journeys
  • Identifying a new Audience X for campaigns and marketing

You might even encourage your team and agencies to develop ideas to address emerging trends in the industry, such as:

  • Reaching Gen Y audiences
  • Voice search
  • Leveraging AI
  • Social media trends (like Instagram Stories which, by the way, is working well for our health clients!)

Whether you develop yearly marketing strategic plans or prefer a more agile-planning model, we recommend leaving the door open for innovation. You don’t need to commit huge time and money to your next Innovation Lab. The key is to be open and try new things. After all, that’s the way great discoveries and breakthroughs occur: through testing and asking, “What if…”

Final Thoughts

We hope you found this article useful—but more importantly, we hope you try at least one of these marketing strategy upgrades!

Rethinking Brand Impact on the Patient Journey [Part 5 of 5]

Rethinking Brand Impact on the Patient Journey [Part 5 of 5]

For years, perhaps even decades, brand level initiatives were the cream of the crop for marketers. For clients, they’re an affirmation of their leadership skills. For agencies, brand development of any kind is the most highly visible, and often the most lucrative of all engagements. And if you’re asked to take it on, it’s usually an acknowledgment that you have some serious chops. 

Win-win all the way around.

For most of this same history, health care organizations measured brand impact on a fairly large, somewhat obscure scale. You told the same stories to your C-Suite. At best, there was some pre- and post-effort measurement. More often, you all looked at year over year market share, or even volume. But few marketers, if any, could legitimately quantify brand impact on the organization or its bottom line.

But, hey, the new brand mark and positioning were cool. They had thoughtful rationale. The campaign to promote the change was evocative and emotional with killer production values and huge media spend. So, yeah, we all told ourselves, the market would have to respond. 

However, our shared focus on brand impact typically started and stopped with that campaign. Sure, we all made sure that the following service line campaigns adhered to brand standards, maintained the appropriate voice, and supported the overall brand—even if we couldn’t quantify it. After time, those initial, well defined brand goals faded away, and became secondary to the service line objectives, and revenue. 

In reflection, that big brand effort ended up being performed in a vacuum, and measurement of its effect became less relevant as time passed.

Sound familiar?

Today, it’s different. In the modern marketing operating system, the impact of brand is measured throughout the patient journey in continuous, more meaningful ways. It doesn’t exist in the silo of a brand campaign, but permeates patient engagement throughout the patient journey.

PJM graphic

Most health care marketers spend their brand efforts engaged in the Awareness Phase. Typically, they’re trying to generate reach and frequency prior to a Trigger Event, but without any meaningful way to leverage that brand engagement beyond the Trigger Event.

In the Modern Marketing Operating System for Patient Acquisition, Engagement & Advocacy, brand attributes are attributed to specific instances in a patient’s journey, and are tracked for success. Take this example:

Assume brand pillars like compassion and innovation are part of a “Eponymous Health System’s” brand platform (sound familiar?). These attributes are part of any brand strategy, and are defined in such things as the creative brief, tactical messaging, etc. Assuming Eponymous Health System has already implemented their brand campaign, let’s examine how these same brand attributes can be extended into subsequent service line efforts, and planned and measured to influence the patient journey:

The next service line campaign for Eponymous Health System is Cancer Care. So we test messaging in the Awareness phase that emphasizes attributes of compassion and innovation. If, in that testing, innovation performs better, we know that brand attribute is more important at that point. It would make sense that people diagnosed with cancer want to know their health system employs the latest technologies to treat them. Then we optimize “innovation” messaging. However, through journey mapping, we may also come to understand that same person, having gained a measure of confidence in the early stages of their journey, wants to know they’re going to be treated by a sensitive, attentive physician. So messaging that emphasizes compassion becomes more relevant later in their journey.

Ultimately, we track a prospective patient to the point of acquisition, or exiting from EHS’ patient journey. However, in previous marketing models, EHS wouldn’t have been able to identify resonant messaging at different intervals. Its ads would have simply been placed and left to run the course of their media buy. But today, through Patient Journey Mapping, we know what prospective patients value at different times in their journey, so EHS can extend its brand efforts to affect decisions along the patient journey.

For today’s high-performing, innovative marketing teams, delivering new value to the C-Suite is imperative. Through this process, part of the Modern Marketing OS for Patient Acquisition, Engagement & Advocacy, the true impact of your brand can be identified, planned, tracked and measured. Unlike before, though, you can redefine the value of your entire department to your leadership by conveying success measured in metrics like engagement, appointments, volume, and revenue. That would be a new kind of branding Holy Grail.

What to do when every orthopedic service line campaign looks the same

What to do when every orthopedic service line campaign looks the same

How do you proceed when your market is being flooded with orthopedic service line campaigns featuring expert surgeons and touting best in class services? How do you step back, stay true to your brand and resist the urge to do a full-blown
“us too” campaign

More importantly, how do you stop the competition from stealing your knee and hip replacement patients—and grow volume for your bone and joint services? 

You zig when everyone else is zagging

That’s what we did when Lake Region Healthcare, our community hospital partner in Fergus Falls, Minnesota showed us samples of the “patient stealing campaigns” two of its competing hospitals were running. 

The standard orthopedic message

The competition’s campaigns contained the usual orthopedic surgeon headshot. A few nice lines about credentials and special training. The much-used line in orthopedic campaigns about “getting back to your life without knee or hip pain,” and a call to action that created a sense that time was of the essence.

Here’s the dilemma

Patients need to know that the surgeon they are trusting with their knee or hip replacement is an expert. They want to know when they will be able to do the activities they enjoy again without pain. And of course, they need to know how to make an appointment. Those are just a few of the reasons most orthopedic campaigns all look and sound the same.

Pushing beyond the usual

Our challenge was to include all the usual messaging in Lake Region Healthcare’s orthopedic campaign—but in an unusual way. In addition, Lake Region asked us to consider using time as the centerpiece of its campaign.

6 steps: Creating an orthopedic campaign unlike any other

1) Lake Region’s brand is patient-focused, so the first thing we wanted to do was flip the messaging the competition currently had in the market to create an on-brand, patient-focused campaign for Lake Region. 

2) The hospital marketing director was with us all the way, supplying us with patient stories that solidified our thinking and drove our direction. She introduced us to a young woman who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro after bunion surgery. And, a man who had lost one leg, but was adamant about trusting the surgeons at Lake Region to repair the knee on his remaining leg.

3) We knew we had to share these stories—they practically wrote themselves they were so compelling. But how could we connect the patient and the surgeon within each and wrap it all up by urging our audience to make an appointment—plus include time in the mix?

4) We got to work concepting and mulling about time and all the ways we could use time to tell these stories. 

5) We threw out the usual, “It’s about time” direction, and had similar concepts on our list when the magical beginning of every good story—once upon a time— came to mind. We knew instantly that this concept had the makings of a stellar orthopedic campaign. 

6) Once upon a time allowed us to:

  • position the patient as the hero to their own story
  • relate a before and after scenario 
  • incorporate the physician or surgeon as a natural part of the story
  • in most cases, describe how long recovery took
  • create a call to action that would get our audience thinking about their own orthopedic story and how they could change the outcome of that story with the help of Lake Region Healthcare

Lake Region Anna Ortho ad

Lake Region Matt Ortho ad

A happy ending

At the campaign launch we executed a full sequence of messaging and closely monitored KPIs. As of the date on this blog, traffic is up on Lake Region’s orthopedic service line landing page by 183 percent and the hospital has reported a significant increase in conversions resulting in orthopedic appointments. 

Health Care Access Issues Are Marketing Opportunities

Health Care Access Issues Are Marketing Opportunities

Have you seen this movie before?

A health care marketer is tasked with growing market share for their organization’s brand. Here comes the plot twist: the service lines that have the biggest opportunity for long-term growth can’t handle any more new patients!

Bah! Talk about a “Darned if you do, darned if you don’t” scenario. At Hailey Sault, we’ve seen this dynamic a thousand times before. 

That’s why we wanted to write this article. We don’t want limited access to key services to be a barrier to your ability to share meaningful stories about your health organization to build the brand and engage future patients. 

That’s why we wanted to share four ways to overcome access and capacity barriers when marketing key service lines and building your organization’s overall brand. 

Access Solution 1. Remind stakeholders that the goal of branding is to win over tomorrow’s patients—not to drive immediate access.

As we like to say at Hailey Sault, what your organization stands for is how you stand out in the marketplace. Branding is a strategy to drive long-term growth. Branding’s core job is to create a meaningful impression with your audiences—not necessarily to convince those audiences to take immediate action. Branding is all about planting seeds for long-term growth. Getting prospective patients to take immediate action is the work of highly targeted service line marketing campaigns, which have vastly different approaches to driving conversions. So help your stakeholders to recognize the differences between branding strategies and service line marketing strategies. 

Access Solution 2. Identify pockets for driving immediate access. 

We often work with health systems and other health care organizations to pinpoint those very specific services that can benefit from new patient acquisition. For example, when marketing cardiovascular care, you may determine that your physicians and care teams have the capacity to see new AFib patients, but have limited access for other types of cardiovascular patients. So marketing AFib solutions can become your go-to-market strategy for cardiovascular care. We see this strategy working well with providers who offer multiple sites of care—not all of which are at capacity. You can tailor your marketing to the specific geography of those sites of care that are able to see more patients. 

Access Solution 3. Focus your efforts on prospective patients in the Consideration phase of their journey. 

As a health care marketer, you know that patients move through a series of six stages in their patient journey. Access only becomes a barrier when a prospective patient is in the Decision stage of the patient journey. 

Need a refresher of the 6 stages of the patient journey? Get instant access to our guide to patient journey mapping!

Our work as marketers is to help our audiences make informed choices about how and where to receive the best care for our needs. That’s why you might choose to focus your efforts on connecting with prospective patients in the Consideration stage of their patient journey. This is the stage where audiences are researching, asking questions, and are in a focused fact-finding mission. Depending on the health condition or need, people may spend months—even years—in the Consideration stage. Cultivate a greater engagement with prospective patients by providing them valuable resources to aid them on their journey to care. That way, when your organization is ready for more new patient encounters, your prospective patients will be more knowledgeable and confident in selecting your organization for care. 

Access Solution 4. Conversely, focus your efforts on the Advocacy stage of the patient journey. 

If your organization has capacity or access challenges, it could mean that either there is a shortage of care providers … or your organization has such a great reputation for the quality of care that there is an incredible demand for your services. If the latter is the case, that might mean you have a high number of grateful patients who are open to sharing their positive experiences about your brand with others. Invest in a strong reputation management program to encourage sharing positive reviews on the leading review sites. Word of mouth is the most effective form of marketing and can help your organization outpace others for top-of-mind awareness, preference, and utilization.

In Summary

Never discount marketing a key service line or using that service line for a branding initiative because of access or capacity challenges. Turn that challenge into an opportunity by:

  • Finding other ways to leverage the service line to grow awareness and preference for your brand
  • Identify specific services or sites of care that can benefit from patient acquisition
  • Invest your marketing spend in key stages of the patient journey—such as Consideration and Advocacy—to drive long-term ROI. 

To reshape health care, The Believe in Better Project starts with stories of success

To reshape health care, The Believe in Better Project starts with stories of success

Have you ever paused and thought about what it would take to be in the best health you could be? Sure, we’ve all envisioned our best selves. That picture typically doesn’t look like our current selves. And it would take a lot of help to really get there. Now imagine that you had all the help you needed to get there—from your primary care doctor, physician clinic and fitness studio to a dietician, alternative therapy provider and even your employer. Now imagine they were all in one place telling you how to be better.

That is exactly what’s happening from October 16 – 17 at The Believe in Better Project in Duluth, MN!

For its second year, The Believe in Better Project is bringing some of our country’s most provocative thought leaders and innovators together to share how they’re reshaping health care in America. But it’s not your typical theoretical best practices. Here, you’ll see and learn—through real stories of success and failure—how some of the most entrepreneurial business people in health care are working every day to improve the lives of people they serve.

This year, Believe in Better will feature powerful stories of:

  • Transforming patient experience by transforming the people who provide it. More and more, we hear about physician burnout. Dr. William Maples will share how the Institute for Healthcare Excellence’s curriculum is “healing from within”.
  • Creating healthier lives by creating healthier workplaces. Vickie Rice will talk about the advancements that CareATC is bringing to some of the country’s most innovative employers, including bringing data and evidence-based, preventive care onsite—or near it—to foster better outcomes for employees and families.
  • Understanding the benefits of medical marijuana, and other applications in everyday health. Aaron Lachant has been at the front lines of crafting California’s cannabis policies, and will share his insights into the disruption and opportunity for health care providers.

Yes, this isn’t your typical health care summit. At the inaugural event in 2018, there was passionate discussion around several topics. The forum was constructed for plenty of dialogue. It’s one of the dynamics that made it so meaningful. So don’t come to Believe in Better expecting to just sit back. Expect to participate and share your ideas. 

However you choose to participate, you can expect a better understanding of how health care innovators are breaking systematic boundaries to help people throughout America. You’ll hear real stories. With real results. And real ways you can create change, too.

Side note: you’ll also get to hang out in Duluth during one of the best weeks of the year and at one of its most iconic venues, historic Fitger’s on the shore of Lake Superior. 

For a complete look at our speakers and agenda, check out the

Big ideas: How to make lightning strike

Big ideas: How to make lightning strike

You’ve seen them. You’ve envied them. You’ve wondered where they come from and how you can get your hands on them. They are those absolutely simple but brilliant big ideas that lead to memorable health care campaigns. 

Read no further. (Although if you don’t, you’ll miss some good tips and tricks). I’m going to let you in on a secret.

Big ideas that lead to the kind of campaigns that generate more click-throughs, calls, filled-out forms and appointments scheduled are born in kick-ass collaborative creative concepting and brainstorming sessions.

 Creating the right atmospheric conditions

At Hailey Sault, concepting typically includes an art director, creative director and a writer (or some similar combination) retreating to a favorite space. It can be a room, a corner in a coffeehouse, or a lakeside bench—wherever and whatever helps set the mood for brilliance.

Must-haves include: 

  • A creative brief that a gifted strategist has carefully crafted to include the challenge(s) we’re up against. 
  • A persona or outline of the person we need to move the needle for with our creative. 
  • Coffee, laptops, notebooks, those large sheets of paper you can hang on the wall, markers and possibly the office dog. 

I wish I could tell you that:  

  • Concepting meetings start with the team sitting down to follow a nice, neat, linear process that ultimately leads to a eureka moment and a big idea. 
  • We can generate “blow the competition away” ideas in a matter of minutes or hours. 

But you already know that isn’t true. 

Ideas that stand out and stand up against similar campaigns are generated by a slow build up of pressure and a passion to make it rain for our clients.

Generating the perfect storm (aka “the good tips” section)

With so many channels available in today’s information-rich environment, it’s important to go into every concepting meeting thinking large and holistically. Creating the idea is still the goal, but giving the idea long legs so it can extend across channels is essential. 

Here’s what works for us:

Start by spitting it all out 

  • The obvious solutions, the bad ideas and the really bad ideas that make everyone groan.
  • What others have done in the market, genre and industry.
  • The words/visuals/designs that can be associated with the challenge or with how you want your audience to feel.

Think dangerously 

  • Start mashing diverse ideas together.
  • Can you look at the challenge in an offbeat way?
  • Is there an idea that could get you in trouble?
  • Is there an idea that will make people laugh, cry or stop scrolling?
  • Can you represent the idea visually or with one or two words?

 Know when to take a break

  • After you’ve been brainstorming for a while, you’ll probably notice you’re repeating the same idea over again. You’re just saying it differently. When that happens, stop and take a break. No matter how tight the deadline, you need to stop concepting and come back with a fresh brain.
  • Think about the problem through a new lens. Could an idea come from something totally different or completely unrelatable? Look at anything and everything through the constraints of the campaign or idea.
  • Take a shower. Lather. Think. Repeat. The best ideas always come to you in the shower. Always!

Shop your ideas around

  • Share your concepts, test them out on everyone in the office, run them past relatives and friends. 
  • If there are any glitches or hesitation on your test subjects part, revisit the brief, get together with your fellow idea generators and push it harder.

You’ve got it: just ask these last questions

You can hardly contain yourself. This is it—the big idea.

  • Does it speak directly to the persona?
  • Does it address the communication objectives, key benefits and barriers?
  • Can it be rolled out in multiple ways across all media channels?
  • Is it new or outside the box? Does it capture attention?
  • Does it have potential for expansion?
  • Will it work?
  • Can it be executed on budget?
  • Do you feel it in every fiber of your being, like you know this is it, this is good, really good?

Are you looking for big ideas that can steal the thunder in your market?

Check out some of the work that has moved the mark for our clients.