Brad Messinger

Senior Vice President, Marketing

Healthy Ambition: Leading Change in Healthcare Marketing

Being a leader in healthcare marketing today is not for the faint of heart. It requires savvy marketing skills and sharply honed industry foresight.



Leaders have more responsibility than ever before, and success means channeling your inner tech guru, creative director, psychologist, data scientist and more. Accountability also is on the rise, with greater pressure to deliver quantifiable results and maximize return on investment. And as if that’s not enough, layer on the rapidly changing healthcare industry, which has experienced huge disruption over the past decade or so, and the road to healthcare leadership looks like quite a bumpy path.

To take it one step further, there is a large-scale paradigm shift taking place, which is putting more power in the hands of patients. In fact, Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research labels today “the age of the customer,” described as “a 20-year business cycle in which the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful customers”—a situation that easily can be applied to patients, as well. These tech-enabled individuals have the ability to decide their route to your healthcare organization or away from it. Therefore, healthcare marketers must put patients at the forefront of their overall marketing strategy—or run the risk of forfeiting their loyalty.

All of this makes maneuvering the modern marketing landscape tricky, especially when you're responsible for leading the way. But don’t think of this task as scary. Instead, look at the opportunity it provides for marketing leaders today to become true transformational figures in healthcare. As you think about navigating the increasing complexity, consider these three things to becoming a marketing leader: Be a change agent, embrace digital and leverage the power of analytics.

1. Embrace change. Being a change agent is one of the newer hats you have to wear as a marketing leader, especially in healthcare. Many organizations simply are not moving at the necessary pace to keep up with customers, and the responsibility falls on marketing to accelerate change. There are two main reasons for this. The first is because of the central nature of the department, which tends to work with business units across the entire organization. The second, more important reason is because the marketing group is closest to the patients and should understand them the best. Remember, your strategy hinges on your ability to understand and serve patients’ needs, so naturally, it’s your role as a marketing leader to drive that change within your healthcare organization. However, influencing it requires many things: encouraging people to think differently, evaluating success in a new way and bringing in skills that may not be native to the organization. Regardless of the scope or scale, embracing meaningful change in your organization can be critical to evolving as a successful leader.

2. Think digital. If your healthcare organization is lagging behind industry standards, you need to champion a digital transformation to get up to speed. The healthcare industry is evolving at an increasingly fast clip, both inside and outside of the digital space, which has forced industry insiders to think about navigating new channels to reach and serve patients.

The millennial generation, which includes 75 million U.S. adults, or nearly a quarter of the U.S. population, also has created disruption. This tech-savvy group has become accustomed to consuming information how they want, when they want it—and healthcare content is no exception. Millennials are more likely than other generations to turn to online resources for health management information, and they’re using online and mobile channels to gather information on health-related issues at a rapid pace.

Yet when it comes to digital investment, the healthcare segment is significantly behind the curve. EMarketer estimates that U.S. healthcare and pharmaceuticals will spend the least in digital advertising in 2015, relative to eight other industries.

Chicago-based Health Care Service Corp., which provides healthcare coverage through Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, leveraged emerging digital channels to connect with customers through its BCBS Connect online community. The platform allows the Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in Illinois and Texas to publish timely information in the form of videos, infographics or blog posts, meeting the needs of consumers shopping for health coverage or using their health insurance, in some cases, for the first time. The platform has helped build trust between patients and their insurance providers, while providing utility to the community.

Although a digital transformation is necessary, it’s often difficult for organizations to make progress, oftentimes because they don’t have the resources to integrate digital initiatives effectively. A 2014 survey by Forrester Research found that while 74% of business executives said their company has a digital strategy, less than 16% of healthcare marketers felt that they had the necessary people and skills to execute on it.

Lines also tend to blur on who is responsible for leading such a transformation. Does it come from the top as an executive initiative? Is the marketing team responsible for making it happen? How about the IT group? What about the newly created digital team? The answer is all of them and more. In order for the evolution to be successful, the company must think digital first, and that means making it an organizational directive. It’s a journey—a long and often challenging journey that successful brands are embracing and developing as we speak.

3. Get analytical. The third and final key to establishing yourself as a healthcare marketing leader is a commitment to analytics. Everyone knows that you can’t manage what you don’t measure, and with the customer and patient journey more complex than ever, it’s critical to understand what’s impacting their path to your organization. Analytics boils down to the information that you use to better understand your customers, the impact of marketing investments and progress against your goals.

Subjectivity is on its way out of marketing. The goal is to continuously increase the amount of objectivity in our decisions using data. With the digital DNA left behind by customers today, there’s no excuse for not knowing how hard your investments are working. Harnessing this information will allow you to better serve your patients and make smarter marketing investments, while simultaneously giving you the tools to catapult into the marketing leadership stratosphere. However, like many things worth doing, it’s difficult.

Another challenge we inherently face is scale. The magnitude of gathering information across all customer touch points, integrating, sharing and activating across the enterprise only gets more difficult with scale. This can be a barrier because it makes “getting analytical” seem too big to tackle. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be. Once you’ve determined your goals, think about prioritizing your initiatives and, if necessary, start small. Make the pitch to test a project, or better yet, build testing into your marketing plan. Many industry leaders recommend earmarking 5% of your budget each year for innovation.

So how do you become a true data-driven healthcare marketing leader? Start by determining your goals. Determine what questions you need to answer and what data is necessary to answer them. As a modern-day marketer, one of your challenges will always be marrying the flood of different data sources and pinpointing the key insights needed to optimize your marketing activities. Be careful not to get swallowed up in all of the information to which you have access. Invest in the right team and technology to guide you, use smart (not just big) data, and you’ll be on your way to gaining the edge on your competitors.

Marketing has changed drastically, and the healthcare industry is continuing to evolve alongside it. The more you can influence change across the organization, push for digital transformation and use data as your guide, the closer you’ll be to keeping pace with today’s patients. If you embrace the challenges in today’s healthcare marketplace, you’ll be on your way to competitive advantage and emerging as a leader in a new, and more complex, healthcare marketing ecosystem.

Leveraging Le​adership

John Kotter, author of Leading Change, created an eight-step process that is a helpful jumping-off point for healthcare marketers looking to lead within their organizations. Here’s my take on a few of the most important steps.

1. Make sure you have the right people involved in the process. Forming a cross-functional task force will bring together important skill sets, whether it’s bringing in team members from the customer service group or those working in information technology roles. Borrowing these skills will only add value.

2. Recognize the importance of quick wins. If you can pick up early successes, it will seem less daunting and easier to make the case for growth, especially in very traditional organizations or those that are very risk-averse.

3. Get senior leadership involved early on. Their buy-in will make tackling bigger changes more feasible and will provide you with the support needed for success.

Social media is a strategy that marketing teams can develop a process for, understand what things are working (or not), and tout early successes to show impact. Think about what this looks like for you and where you’re willing to take the necessary risks to embrace change and become a transformational leader.

 

*This article was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of Marketing Health Services, a publication of the American Marketing Association.

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