Planning got a lot more difficult for health care marketers when life as we knew it changed overnight. But planning marketing strategy is still essential, despite—or maybe because of—the uncertainty in the air.

Watch our Campfire Session What’s In Your Fall Marketing Plan? Or read below for key takeaways from our webinar event!

On 9/18/20, Mike, Ann and Stephen shared what they’re recommending to Hailey Sault health care marketers, planners and the C-Suite to shore up lost revenue and enter the fall strong.

6 Strategic Planning Frames

Mike shared the six frames or lenses we look through when we advise our clients on where and how to invest their marketing resources. These frames help identify areas of greatest need and opportunity, and provide clarity of focus. 

1. Service Recovery: does your organization need to recover lost revenue when it closed most services to brace for COVID-19 surges? If so, what are the service lines or specialties that will help shore up lost revenue?

2. Service Expansion: does your organization have the opportunity to grow share of market for key services? For example, opening or expanding key service lines? Hiring or affiliating with new providers? 

3. Landscape: what are the dynamics that could positively or negatively impact the organization? The most common three we see and advise on are the competitive landscape; state and local government policies (such as decisions about essential and nonessential services or not containing the spread of COVID-19); and culture/employee engagement. For example: how is your staff morale these days? Do you need a communications strategy to address culture? What about patient satisfaction? Most providers have seen lower patient satisfaction scores due to safety policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which impact patient and visitor policies and masking requirements. 

4. Consumer: what is the mindset, outlook and receptivity to receiving care in the hospital or clinic? Our clients are seeing sicker, higher acuity patients re-entering the ER and hospitals. How is this trend impacting your planning? We’re also seeing exponential growth of digital media consumption. How is this trend impacting your media buys and plans? Last: how have your patients’ journeys changed since COVID-19? We’re seeing our clients achieve results by encouraging patients to seek diagnostics and screenings at stand-alone facilities, versus re-entering the traditional hospital. This is likely due to consumer perceptions that smaller outpatient or stand-alone sites of care are “safer” than entering a traditional hospital. 

5. Brand Impact: consumers today want hospitals and providers to communicate with them consistently for COVID-19 and for other health topics. Is your organization leveraging this opportunity to reinforce its brand and impact? Unfortunately, COVID-19 has had a tragic impact on many health systems’ financial bottom line. While we don’t want to sound opportunistic, do you have opportunities to step more fully into a leadership positioning? 

6. Black Swan Events: black swan events signify situations that we can’t always plan for or envision … like pandemics. Is it time to regroup with your team and speculate, scenario-plan and imagine what might happen in the future so that your organization can move with confidence if the unimaginable might happen?

Dynamic Versus Static Planning

During the Campfire, Ann and Stephen had a fun banter discussing the pros and cons of dynamic (agile) planning versus static (long-term) planning models. Ann was “Team Dynamic” while Stephen was “Team Static.”

Ann led the debate with the benefits of leaning into a more agile, dynamic style of planning.

According to Ann:

  • Consumer sentiment and behaviors are constantly changing. Agile planning allows marketers to leverage in-the-moment insights for planning strategy and campaigns.
  • COVID-19 case counts change daily, and spikes in case load and hospitalizations require an agile approach to planning and messaging.
  • Because hospitals closed many services in the early days of COVID-19, financial recovery is still critical for many organizations. Census and capacity is a moving target, which requires an agile approach to planning.
  • Consumer journeys have changed since COVID-19: telehealth is a great example of a way we seek care. Agile planning helps keep pace with new dynamics in the marketplace like consumer journeys.
  • Cultural and social justice movements are happening in cities across the country. Hospitals and health systems are often the largest employers in the communities the organizations serve. Many health systems have chosen to voice their collective sentiments about this moment in history. Planning for messages, outreach and showing support must be agile to account for the fluid nature of this movement.

Stephen, representing “Team Static” or long-term planning, countered Ann’s arguments for an agile model by acknowledging what is not likely to change in health care, despite the uncertainty in the air.

Stephen shared statistics of the predicted number of annual deaths, hospitalizations, disease diagnoses, and surgeries for the United States:

  • Flu: according to CDC, influenza has resulted in between 9 million to 45 million illnesses, 140,000–810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000–61,000 deaths annually since 2010. 
  • Heart Disease: according to the CDC, about 655,000 Americans die from heart disease each year: that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. 
  • Stroke: according to the CDC, stroke is the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the U.S. Each year, approximately 795,000 people suffer a stroke. 
  • Cancer: according to the CDC, about 1 million men are diagnosed with cancer in America every year, and 900,000 women are diagnosed with cancer every year. And those numbers are expected to rise. 
  • Orthopedics: according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, about 790,000 people get a total knee replacement every year in the U.S., and about 450,000 people get total hip replacements every year.

Stephen also noted other factors that are typically “static” and require a long-term view to planning, including:

  • How hospitals and health systems typically make margin—which is most often the basis of where marketing dollars are concentrated.
  • Centers of Excellence and other high profile service lines (like cardiovascular and neurosciences) are still the focal point of health care marketing dollars.
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Though Ann and Stephen had a fun time debating each other, they both agree: health care marketers need both Agile and Static planning to operate in today’s environment. In fact, if there is an “upside” to COVID-19, it’s that it encouraged agile planning and approaches in health care. (Many in our industry have criticized health care for taking too long to innovate best practices in marketing and communication.)

What’s In Our Clients’ Fall Marketing Plans?

Mike, Ann and Stephen ended the Campfire by sharing a few recommendations we’re making to clients these days:

  • Communicate the Fall Trifecta: “Cold, Flu and COVID-19”: many health organizations are suggesting we should expect a fall surge of COVID-19 cases during cold and flu season. Consumers will likely be concerned about their symptoms and will seek health resources, flu shots and protocols to keep themselves and others safe as we head into fall. 
  • Promote primary care and pediatrics in those markets where patient volume hasn’t returned to pre-COVID-19 levels. According to a recent Healthcare Dive article, one-third of primary care docs still face significantly low revenue.
  • Reinforce the “Safe Care” message: even though many marketers and communicators have shared this message to consumer audiences for months, data suggests many Americans are still concerned about contracting COVID-19 in hospitals or clinics. That concern could mean putting off care, which is not good for sick individuals or hospitals. Tenet’s COO recently shared in a press conference: “We have seen into the emergency departments a higher acuity set of patients coming back in with disease progression that’s more than it should have been.” 

We ended the Campfire main session by encouraging attendees to leverage their owned media channels: email, direct mail list, and organic social media accounts. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been polling consumers to identify what they want to hear from providers, frequency of communication, and preferred channels. In our latest research, 93% of consumers would like to hear from their physician and/or health system consistently. Ann shared that one of our clients has seen massive increases in followers and engagement on their owned social platforms since we helped them amplify their owned social media channels:

  • Twitter followers are up 1,700%
  • Facebook followers are up 430%
  • Instagram followers are up 380%

Join Us for Our Next Campfire Session

We started the Campfire webinars in the early days of COVID-19 so colleagues could  discuss the issues and opportunities impacting health care marketers. That was when we thought COVID-19 would be “here today, gone tomorrow.” Clearly, there’s a lot to discuss. Join us and your colleagues for a fun and informative session soon. Click the link below to view past Campfires and to be notified of future Campfires.


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