I recently hosted a live discussion with four of my favorite minds and voices in the healthcare marketing community: Chris Boyer, Colin Hung, Rob Klein, and Curtis Munlin. I posed a simple question to the panel: What are your 2022 predictions for healthcare marketers?

I distilled our far-ranging conversation into three categories of predictions:

Prediction 1: Expect a big shake-up among healthcare brands as new competitors enter the marketplace and consumers migrate to other providers and sources of care.

Prediction 2: After a brief hiatus in branding investment, healthcare organizations will seek to restore trust or gain trust from new consumers through focused and consistent branding strategies. 

Prediction 3: Marketers will enact and refine campaign strategies (aka “Capacity Marketing”) around bottlenecks in healthcare service delivery such as, supply chain shortages, labor shortages and high ER volumes. 

I’ll hit the highlights now and share ideas you can use in developing your next healthcare marketing strategy.

PREDICTION ONE: The Great Healthcare Brand Switch

During the discussion, Colin Hung, advisor, CMO and editor of HITMC predicted that healthcare consumers will migrate to new providers and different sources of care in 2022, which he calls the “Great Migration.”

We think the “Great Migration” is likely to become “The Great Healthcare Brand Shake-up.”

Patients are switching providers. In fact, Hailey Sault market research suggests that at any given time, 30% or more of patients are thinking about switching providers. COVID-19 and the increase of new competition in the healthcare space will accelerate consumers seeking new providers and healthcare solutions.

Where are patients switching their current providers or healthcare sources? To other providers, of course—and non-traditional providers. Emerging care healthcare brands like Parsley Health and Maven are attracting venture capital money and new patients who don’t feel traditional healthcare models are serving their needs and being respectful of their time.

Patients, like all consumers during the pandemic, are going to think twice before spending money with the same healthcare source again. 

We see organizations being split in half on this prediction.

Organization One doesn’t perceive patient migration to other sources of care as a big deal. It’s, as the kids say, a Nothing Burger.

Organization Two says, “People are willing to give different sources of healthcare a shot? And their bar is already horribly low? Let’s go win new healthcare consumers!” 

If you are within organization number two, here are strategy ideas to leverage patient migration.

STRATEGIES TO LEVERAGE THE GREAT BRAND SHAKE-UP

Improve key elements of your consumers’ brand experience.

I’m not encouraging you to rebuild the entire patient experience from the ground up. Think instead of conducting small, focused experiments. Earlier this summer, I hosted a webinar with digital leaders from Johns Hopkins and Sharp Healthcare who agreed: find stakeholders within your organization who champion change, and improve patient experience with those leaders and services first. Then, get other colleagues on board the “change train.”

During our predictions discussion, Rob Klein, a leading healthcare brand consumer researcher, shared a key insight on consumer preference: “Time is the new currency.” 

Do you like to wait? Neither do your consumers. Pick a service line or service in your organization, and work to improve wait times, or reduce the time it takes for the patient to get what she wants. 

Consumers are evaluating healthcare with brands outside the traditional healthcare lens, like Amazon. Aim to keep your loyal patients loyal, and let those great experiences lead to greater share of word-of-mouth and online reviews.

In fact, a recent Forbes article suggests that the era of healthcare consumerism is finally here (after many, many years of waiting and seeing if this trend would ever materialize). The Forbes columnist wrote:

  • More than half (51%) of consumers surveyed reported using the internet to find and select a new primary care provider. 
  • Respondents were more than twice as likely to use digital sources than a doctor’s referral to choose a primary care doctor.
  • Each year, the trend toward consumerism—patients relying more on their own online research and comparison shopping than on referrals from others—has increased, according to Andrei Zimiles, senior vice president of consumerism solutions at Press Ganey.
  • “Providers no longer are the gatekeepers of access to care,” Zimiles said. “The internet is democratizing the power of the patient and really putting them in the driver seat of their health.”

Given how many consumers are shopping for better healthcare solutions, we recommend the following for both traditional healthcare providers (like hospitals) and emerging care providers alike:

Tell your brand story to as many new prospective patients as possible in 2022. 

Consumers are looking to make a healthcare brand switch. Your brand has the potential for a much greater well of consumers in the Consideration and Intent phase of their buyer journey like no other time in recent history. Be out there with your brand story!

See what's working

PREDICTION TWO: The Time for Meaningful Brands 

So many people lost loved ones and livelihoods during this pandemic. Some of us (like myself) have skated through the pandemic reasonably unscathed, thanks to a laptop and a spare bedroom that serves as a home office. But all of us have our pandemic bruises. The impact of COVID means that we are rethinking our priorities and values, and are making different choices about where we spend our dollars—including healthcare dollars. 

That’s a large reason for the Great Brand Switch Up. But at the heart of this shift is a desire that healthcare brands should seek to fill in 2022: being a brand that is meaningful to consumers’ lives. 

Consumers have largely been put through the wringer, and have a different set of holistic wants and needs than before the pandemic. Consumers want healthcare brands that work hard to keep their promises to their patients to care well for them, and to address larger, societal needs.

We predict that the brands that outperform in 2022 will be the brands that index high as being perceived as meaningful: important, significant, relevant and present in their consumers’ lives. 

STRATEGIES TO LEVERAGE MEANINGFUL BRAND STATUS

Coming Together Again 

If your brand serves a region and the region is divided politically, tell stories that neighbors can agree on, which are likely central to your mission, vision, and core values. This story platform can also help your workers recommit under a shared goal and purpose. 

Help Patients Get Healthy

If your patient population is less healthy than before COVID (like most consumers), then help them by making it easier to take steps to better health: like scheduling an appointment with a primary care provider or booking a health screening. 

Keep Your Brand Top-of-Heart

As a brand researcher for top healthcare brands, Rob’s advice to marketers in 2022 is to keep your brand the star of the show. Many people are still operating out of fear and worry, which reduces their ability to take in nuance. So your advertising should keep your brand name front and center. Keep the brand story simple—and meaningful. 

Avoid the “Sick Care” Pigeonhole Positioning

The definition of what constitutes a healthcare brand is blurring beyond recognition. CVS, Walmart, Amazon, Microsoft and other brand giants are investing billions in redefining healthcare and how consumers choose and pay for healthcare solutions. If traditional healthcare sources like hospitals aren’t proactive, they’ll be repositioned by the brand giants as  “sick care” brands: not delivering proactive care, and only to be used when you’re really, really sick (aka, “the last resort”). 

In 2022, we are advising our traditional hospital and health system clients to regain control over their brand stories before brands like CVS and Microsoft pigeonhole hospitals as reactive and antiquated models of healthcare. 

Think about the holistic impact your brand seeks to make in consumers’ lives. What’s the vision for your brand moving forward? What’s the change you seek to make in a patient’s life? Make sure to hone your brand positioning and story—before Walmart and Amazon redefine your brand value in consumers’ eyes. 

Go Analog to Reach the Non-Zoomers

Curtis Munlin, VP of Hospital Partnerships at Doximity, shared during the discussion how vital it is for healthcare organizations to not neglect those consumer audiences who don’t have easy access to the internet and fast computers. Yes, having a digital-first communications platform is on trend and appeals to the majority of consumers who would prefer engaging with healthcare brands digitally. 

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t consumers who slip through the cracks. Those are the consumers who very well may need your services most. How can your brand reach and engage those consumers in non-digital ways? We saw the success rates that many healthcare brands had by personally calling patients and inviting them back for care after hospitals reopened for care in the early months of the pandemic. That’s an excellent example of using an “analog” strategy to reach certain patient populations. 

Many health systems also engaged in community-based healthcare strategies to ensure they had PPE and groceries. While we endorse using digital media and strategies to reach consumer audiences, make sure your brand has an analog communications strategy to ensure that your entire patient population is engaged on their road to health. 

Let’s look next at the final prediction to help you with your 2022 healthcare marketing strategic planning. 

PREDICTION THREE: Supply Chain, Busy ERs and Labor Shortages Are Driving Up the Need for Capacity Marketing

During our Campfire discussion, Chris Boyer, VP of Digital Strategy and Market Intelligence for Beth Israel Lahey Health, talked about the burden that supply chain shortages, labor shortages, and higher acuity, non-COVID patients are having on his health system and on health systems across the country.

These three issues are gnarly, to be sure, and won’t be solved with simple fixes. So what’s the healthcare marketer to do? 

Our strategic recommendation for 2022 is to refine your Capacity Marketing strategies.

Capacity marketing is the proactive planning strategy that accounts for bottlenecks in your healthcare system, and informs the messaging, services and calls-to-action for patient consumers to avoid creating further bottlenecks; and, as a consequence, a less than ideal patient experience. 

STRATEGIES FOR LEVERAGING CAPACITY MARKETING  

Triage Messaging

Chris shared how he and his team are developing communications strategies to encourage patients to make better informed decisions about where and how to receive medical treatment—for example, encouraging patients to visit urgent care clinics and their primary care doctor over going to the ER unless it’s a true emergency. 

Remember Rob’s quote that “Time is the new currency.” Helping your consumers know where to go to be seen quickly is a meaningful and valuable resource for your audiences.  

Pulse Media Buys Based on Capacity and Areas of Greatest Need

As you develop your media buying strategies, address performance in real time, and engage operations to address capacity challenges in real time. That way, you can turn the volume down (or off) on key service line marketing strategies if demand is too high on the health system. Ongoing huddles with operations and clinical team leaders will help to ensure that your marketing is pacing with what your healthcare brand can deliver.

This coordinated strategy between marketing, clinical leaders and operations might not have been possible pre-COVID. Healthcare, like many industries, had departments working in silos. But COVID forced innovation, and many health systems and providers today report much higher rates of cross-departmental collaboration. 

Leverage these new organizational skill sets to pulse your campaigns to address those areas of greatest need, and turn the volume down (or temporarily off) marketing for services that have capacity challenges. 

Conversely, we recommend our healthcare clients monitor areas within their service delivery that can handle additional patient volume: for example, shuttling new patients to providers who have open appointments, or services that are not negatively impacted by labor shortages. This strategy allows healthcare brands to maintain a consistent marketing presence and drive new patient acquisition without placing a heavy burden on already stressed providers and services. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

It’s been a challenging 20+ months. Take some time to acknowledge your contributions, along with your team members. Fill yourself back up so you can return refreshed and ready to reengage in the new year ahead. Remember: all pandemics end. Be ready to enjoy and leverage better days ahead. 


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