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Navigating Healthcare’s Perfect Storm: 5 Lessons in Marketing from Industry Giants

September 15, 2023
Marketing Strategy

By Jason Brown

From regulatory shifts to technological advancements, healthcare has always been an arena of transformation. However, the perfect storm that was the COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges that demanded a new level of innovation. Three healthcare system giants—AdventHealth, Adventist Health, and HCA Healthcare— came together on stage for the first time at the recent SHSMD23 Connections conference to share their remarkable journeys of not just surviving, but thriving during healthcare’s perfect storm. 

The panel featured distinguished individuals from leading healthcare organizations: Sharon Line Clary from AdventHealth, Janelle Ullrich from Adventist Health, Nicole Baxter representing HCA Healthcare, and Jason Brown from BPD.

Each of these healthcare systems, with BPD as their trusted marketing partner, delved deeply into their strategies, offering insights that transcend self-promotion and resonate profoundly with fellow healthcare marketers navigating similar waters. 

Here are the key takeaways from their discussion:

1. Repositioning Marketing as a Business Driver:

The first and foremost realization that emerged from the conversation was the transformation of the role of marketing within their individual ecosystems. Rather than being mere recipients of marketing requests, these healthcare leaders repositioned their marketing departments as partners that drive tangible business outcomes. Nicole Baxter drove home that point when she noted it as her job to “change the dialogue internally; the education of what marketing does and doesn’t do needs to be communicated to CEOs & leadership.” This shift in perspective allowed them to align their marketing efforts with the core strategic objectives of their organizations and, in the process, gain the trust of the operators.

2. Building Brands and Driving Volume with Data:

By more effectively leveraging the promise of data, we can inform everything in marketing, from brand building to service line positioning, and drive immediate volumes. By truly understanding consumer behaviors and preferences through data, these healthcare systems were able to shape their brands in ways that resonated authentically with their audiences. Moreover, data-guided strategies allowed them to promote services to only the highest value healthcare consumers, yielding never-before-seen-results.

3. Combining Propensity Models with Healthcare Consumer Data to Deliver Hyper-Personalized Approaches:

A unanimous chord was struck when the conversation turned to hyper-personalized marketing approaches. By combining powerful propensity models with robust healthcare consumer databases, they were able to develop highly targeted marketing approaches that recaptured volumes for key services at an astounding rate. Sharon Line Clary underscored the importance of innovative approaches like this one, stating, “thinking outside of the box like this allows an organization’s brand to move forward.” For one healthcare system, the ROI from an ER campaign has topped 100:1 (and still climbing), demonstrating the significant impact of such innovative strategies on their overall success.

4. The Shift from Centralization and Decentralization:

The panelists highlighted an intriguing balancing act that emerged during the pandemic—the duality of centralization and decentralization. In the past, each advocated for a centralized approach that enabled a unified voice for their brand. To maintain consistency, this centralized approach was mandated across all of their locations. However, with the downturn in the healthcare business brought on by the pandemic, each organization decided to give greater authority to “the field” in hopes of recapturing lost revenue. Janelle Ullrich noted, “we’ve tried it every possible way, and that can be painful and challenging, but that’s ok because we’ve learned from it. We’ve learned to lean into a structure that mirrors our central organization while still maintaining localized authority.” The theory, of course, is that local operators knew their markets best. So, each of the speakers evolved their approach (albeit to different degrees) to better align with this operational change. While all three still develop marketing approaches centrally, like their operators they’ve yielded some authority to the local markets to adapt their strategies at the local and/or regional level to better appeal to local audiences. This new approach of ‘inspiring centrally, innovating locally,’ has been proven very effective and allowed marketing to stay fully aligned with their system’s organizational philosophy.

The conversation among these healthcare marketing leaders at SHSMD23 Connections shed light on the importance of repositioning marketing as a strategic partner, harnessing the power of data for personalization and growth, and embracing the dynamic interplay between centralization and decentralization. Additionally, they emphasized the significance of coming together as healthcare marketers to share best practices, challenges, and experiences. By learning from each other, they aim to move the industry forward as a whole and ultimately better serve the patients in our communities. This collaborative approach fosters innovation, encourages continuous improvement, and strengthens the healthcare marketing ecosystem.