Providence's chief marketing and digital experience officer is all in on personalized experiences

Providence's chief marketing and digital experience officer plans to utilize data and insights to bring the most useful and personalized experiences to patients.

Shweta Ponnappa, who was recently promoted to chief marketing and digital experience officer at Providence, oversees marketing and digital experiences across the health system's 52 hospitals and 1,085 clinics. She spoke to Becker's about her marketing philosophy, Providence's  marketing tactics and the role of a chief marketing officer among other C-suite leaders. 

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Question: In your new position, what do you hope to accomplish?

Shweta Ponnappa: My ultimate goal and vision is to bring the Providence promise to life. 

I hope to be able to build a flywheel of sustainable growth through strong cultural learning, experimentation and functional collaboration. This is a multi-team effort. Instead of going after one singular big innovation, I'd like to continue to refine my approach to growth, which is approaching it as a series of shifts that have compounded returns for our patient experience, health and satisfaction. 

Q: What issues do you hope to address in Providence's next campaigns?

SP: Our campaigns have always been related to how our patients and communities feel and the information that they need, so our campaigns will continue to be aimed at making sure we're relaying the most updated and accurate information to our patients in a timely manner. 

Going forward, we are going to really double down on personalization. This year, as healthcare systems, we are the stewards of our patients' most personal data and we take that extremely seriously. We can use data to make patient's lives better, so by delivering the right message to the right person at the right time, to the right channel, is the ultimate goal of personalization. And so by considering the patient in the full context of their lives and delivering personalized messaging to them that makes their lives easier, that is going to be a key feature this year. 

Q: Why are marketing leaders a vital part of the C-suite?

SP: I've always thought that the CMOs are the most or actually the least understood people in the C-suite because their job descriptions can vary. 

It's the CMOs who are the voice of the customer. That is the key and main thing that CMOs bring to the table. We are shaping the customer experience through how we reach out to them and how we build these digital experiences. 

We also have deep relationships, especially with the CFO and the CIO as those are imperative.  The CIO determines the robust marketing technology stack that all of our efforts are built upon and the CFO relationship helps determine how we're driving value and growth for the organization. This means CMOs are at the core of it all. 

Q: Marketing can be quite expensive, how can hospitals pursue marketing initiatives while being budget-conscious?

SP: Marketing can be expensive, but it doesn't need to be. I believe that smart marketing is always focused on return on investment. 

At Providence, we're able to drive growth even though we have only a fraction of the budget traditionally available to marketing organizations. For example, we conduct total search yield and how we're maximizing on that as a portfolio. 

Additionally, we focus on reputations. You can spend all the money you want on the digital space but Google is ultimately the arbitrator of healthcare demand. 

Ninety-percent of consumers will change their mind about a referral because of poor reviews. So investing in managing clinic reputation is one way to drive selection from that first impression in Google. And it's something that marketing obviously can't do alone. It's a cross functional collaboration with clinic operations, solicited and responder views. Because of this work we've done in this space, we've been able to drive improved views by 350 percent when clinic reputation was actively managed. 

The last piece is capacity-based advertising. Providence builds these proprietary algorithms in house using data science that turns our ads on and off based on our capacity. So we're not wasting time on advertising services when we have no appointments available. This is one of the easiest ways to lose money. And so that's why we invested the time in building those algorithms, which have saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising.

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