My stepmother used to knit me sweaters. Every Christmas there was that awkward moment when I had to try on her latest knitting experiment. The sweaters never fit—the neck was too small, the sleeves were too long, or my belly would show. (I was a fat kid. I didn’t want my belly to show.)

Most hospital service line marketing campaigns are created the way my stepmother knitted me sweaters: a one-size-fits-all approach that never quite fits the audiences that the campaigns seek to engage. 

Our firm has been creating health care service line marketing campaigns for over 40 years. You can imagine the number of headlines we’ve written over the years. Recently we were involved in a pitch and our contact asked us a thoughtful question: “If all you do is health care marketing, how will you give us new thinking?” 

It’s a great question. When you do something for as long as we have, you’d expect to achieve a level of mastery  …  and a level of sameness. 

I welcomed the prospect’s question. Health care marketing can reek of “Seen that a thousand times before” thinking. I think most health care marketing campaigns follow a tried-and-true playbook. (A former client described ads with doctors holding a piece of new technology as “Grip and Grin” ads.) 

But the campaigns we do today at Hailey Sault are vastly different than the campaigns we created even just a few years ago. The reason is that we’re embracing the new opportunities—and complexities—available to us via data. Data is giving us insights like never before to create campaigns and messages that move the needle. One of the insights that the data has given us is that consumers are far too sophisticated and unique to be motivated by “one-size-fits-all” campaigns.

The End of Singular Campaign Messages?

We find in our research that consumers today are ignoring messages like “We fix the most broken hearts of any hospital in town” or “We have the latest technology.” The reason: those messages are about the health system, not the patient. When a prospective patient is thinking about medical solutions, they care most about what’s in it for them.

In fact, as consumers research their own medical conditions, they become even more desensitized to blanket, across-the-board marketing messages. If a person is diagnosed with AFIB, they care about irregular heartbeat messages, not messages about heart surgery. 

As we prepare for 50% of all searches by 2020 to be done with voice, we’re seeing that consumers today are asking specific questions to get specific solutions. We’re spoiled in our ability to get the exact solutions we want. Most ad campaigns haven’t gotten the message that consumers are interested in specifics, not generalities. Singular, umbrella messages about hospitals and services can easily be seen just as noise. 

People Don’t Buy Podiatrists. They Buy Bunion Removals. 

People buy solutions to their unique and specific problems, including health care. By definition, singular service line marketing messages can’t address the unique and specific problems that consumers have. When the messaging platform stays at the highest level, it doesn’t resonate at the emotional center where we make our buying decisions. 

But health systems can’t afford to market every service to every audience. At some point, marketers have to prioritize and consolidate messages. That’s one of the reasons there are so many singular-message health care marketing campaigns. Instead of running ads for all the treatments a health system offers in a service line, the streamlined solution is to run a blanket service line marketing campaign. The hope is that the message leaves just enough of a positive impression that consumers will connect the advertising message with their treatment needs. But in our experience, consumers don’t have the headspace to connect those dots—especially when it comes to their health and wellbeing. 

So these days we’re developing different approaches to service line marketing and approaching the messaging platform differently. I’d like to share more of what’s working for us with the hope that our approach inspires you to generate better results for your health system. 

If You’ve Seen One Ortho Campaign, You’ve Seen One. 

At this moment, our team is creating four orthopedics campaigns for four different health system clients. And each campaign is incredibly different. Not just in brand design or the voice of the health system, but in media selection, user experience, conversion points and messaging

There are many factors that influence campaign strategy. But the starting point begins with the intended audiences. Our Audience Persona process brings a three-dimensional perspective to the people we want to help our clients engage and connect with. It’s a significant process to create spot-on audience personas, but worth the care and attention. Because we move from marketing to “Women, age 25-54,” to:

“Carol, mom of three teenagers who turns 56 this year, prefers natural treatment over conventional medicine, gets half of her news from Facebook, doesn’t own a laptop, has put off her annual mammogram and knows she ought to get it scheduled but hasn’t because yet she hasn’t found a provider she doesn’t have to call and schedule an appointment with, and is easiest to reach from the hours of
9 to 11 pm each night while she’s sipping a glass of wine and checking in with friends and family on social media.”

A little different, isn’t it? 

By creating highly personalized audience personas, we get the opportunity to create highly personalized messages and campaigns. We bypass the default singular message strategy and instead are able to lock in with the specific wants, needs, and questions that our audiences are asking to help them on their care journeys. 

There’s No Excuse Anymore Not to Personalize Messages.

Digital media has given health care marketers the power to target like never before. We should leverage the power of these tools and insights with our service line campaigns. After all, the journey of an AFIB patient is different than the journey of someone with heart disease. Both are cardiac patients, but both have vastly different needs and experiences. Ad messages should be tailored. The sequence of those messages based on patient journey stages should also be tailored. Landing page experiences should be tailored. Calls-to-action should be tailored. After all, we have the power to create unique, custom experiences that can yield better outcomes: for the patients and for the health systems who seek to help those patients. 

Personalized Marketing Can Also Mean More Complexity.

The downside to the end of the singular message is that it can require a higher level of complexity for the campaign strategy and execution. It’s not uncommon for us at Hailey Sault to create dozens of ads to serve to five or more different unique audience personas. That’s a lot of ads! 

It’s also a lot of data to track. We’re always looking for indicators as we monitor campaign performance that messages are converting or not converting, and how our audience personas are trending through their patient journey stages. Fortunately, we have the team to build the dashboards and tracking necessary to bring clarity to the data and respond accordingly. But it can be an eye-opener if you’re accustomed to running only two or three ads in a campaign targeting a single, general audience. 

But Creating Personalized Messages Is Worth The Work.

Instead of promoting an overall service line like orthopedics, you have the power to drive volume to sub-specialties and treatments for that service line. You also have control over how to tell your service line story so that it matters and resonates with your different audiences. A mother of three small children may care more about convenient, online booking than a retiree who is more comfortable calling someone to book an appointment. The audience dictates message hierarchy and calls to action. Your campaign messaging benefits from the richness of the lives of the audiences you serve. Instead of talking about your health system’s services in a vacuum, you can create more meaningful messages because you’re connecting with where your audiences are in their lives, wants and needs at that moment. 

This personalized approach to messaging also helps marketers positively impact the brand experience. As marketers, you can control the flow of new patient prospects into your health system and monitor access and capacity. You also have the power to manage your marketing spend to invest in those audiences and services that drive the most revenue back to the organization. You move out of the “spending money” category when promoting singular messages to the “making money” category by honing your messages to the specific services that generate the most ROI. 

What’s Your Next Move?

We’re fond of saying that health care consumers are increasingly sophisticated and our marketing should follow suit. What are you doing to advance your marketing strategies to reach and appeal to today’s health care consumers? Leave us a comment or drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you.