Tight marketing budget? These 7 hospital execs have advice

Hospitals operate on thin margins, so marketing departments often have to craft campaigns on restrictive budgets. Here, marketing executives from seven health systems across the country share tips on how to launch a successful campaign on a tight budget.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Jigar Shah. Chief Marketing Officer at Providence (Renton, Wash.): Building effective campaigns requires a deep understanding of patients' needs and the solutions we can offer. Effective audience selection, personalization, messaging and using the right channel can help keep the campaign cost low. We do a deep dive of campaign performance on a routine basis to make sure we are applying learnings from message and channel testing and optimize for future campaigns. To keep media costs low, channel selection is crucial, and we have found that using lower-cost channels, such as email, can be compelling if done respectfully for the needs and wants of the communities we serve. We also leverage organic channels, earned media and other low-cost methods to reach consumers. 

Finally, it is critical to keep the message fresh and ensure the campaign promise is aligned with the operational reality. Providing a friction-free call to action experience ensures high campaign effectiveness. We believe the true campaign experience starts when consumers act on our messaging.

Alexandra Morehouse. Chief Marketing Officer at Banner Health (Phoenix): Banner has been able to deliver cost-efficient growth campaigns by publishing highly relevant content marketing, which in turn drives organic search results. We monitor health topics trending in social media as well as the topics our patients bring up when they call us. We use natural language programming to track these phone call trends.

Once we know what is on the minds of our customers, we develop blog articles, social postings and emails that touch on those topics and use them to draw in readers and engagement. This has dramatically increased traffic to our website, which we think of as our digital storefront. We currently are one of the top 10 health websites for traffic out of around 9,800 nationwide.

Another cost-effective campaign tactic is making sure we claim all of our Google listings for both physicians and locations. Before we did this on a consistent basis, Banner listings got only 1 million hits a year, but in 2021 we will have almost 200 million visits to our physician and location listings. 

When traditional TV, radio, print or out-of-home is too expensive to invest in, digital campaigns like this are quite effective in driving business.

Suzanne Bharati Hendery. Chief Marketing and Customer Officer at Renown Health (Reno, Nev.): Many creative and resourceful healthcare marketers produce highly effective campaigns by working across disciplines. Public relations colleagues help earn media attention with editorial roundtables, staging events and distributing releases, and creating an experience for reporters and media where patients tell/reinforce your story/brand. Social media/podcasts give CEOs and other representatives the opportunity to listen, engage and respond to patients, donors, employees and partners in wonderful new ways and across new platforms. Community benefit partners, donors and business partners help share your stories with influential and targeted audiences.

The American Hospital Association, Ad Council, CDC and ad agencies produce excellent graphics, photos, video and creative assets on public health topics that are free for the asking. As nonprofit healthcare organizations, many of the national media and billboard companies will provide remnant media at no cost to you.

Sheila Champlin. Chief Communications and Marketing Officer at the Medical University of South Carolina (Charleston): The MUSC Health marketing team delivers effective marketing campaigns using limited budgets through a digital-first approach that leverages advance planning, collaboration, data-driven decision-making and integration across our health system and enterprise. 

On a regular basis, the health system marketing team connects with related teams, including public affairs, media relations, enterprise campaigns and university communications, plus enterprise brand development and strategy, to determine ways to maximize storytelling and integrate messaging across all audiences and channels. Our teams identify and take advantage of every opportunity to extend and amplify marketing campaigns through seamless strategic orchestration. Together, our marketing team and communicators across the enterprise consistently build loyal brand ambassadors who enthusiastically share the compelling MUSC Health story. 

Susan Milford. Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communication at OSF HealthCare (Peoria, Ill.): Effective campaigns with smaller budgets are easier now than ever before in marketing. The reason is there are so many more channels and ways to target very specific audiences, which ensures your budget is used efficiently. When I started out in healthcare marketing, there were only traditional advertising options and earned media for the most part, so the most targeted you could get would be local radio spots and hometown newspaper ads.

Today’s data-driven marketing allows for precise consumer targeting and therefore less waste reaching individuals who are not likely to convert to patients. In addition, no- and low-cost options via social media, smartphone videos, email campaigns, content marketing for search engine optimization, geotargeted ads, search engine marketing and targeted digital advertising can achieve strong results for less money. We often use our customer relationship management system to target patients with specific conditions such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, etc., to reach those directly aligned to needing our services to help their chronic conditions.

Lastly, the growth in artificial intelligence on digital properties such as your website now allows for more personalization based on your users' interactions with your site. Retargeting and offering services the consumer is looking for is the way to become their relied-on brand, which encourages reuse of your health system for no added patient acquisition cost.

Matthew Pinzur. Chief Marketing Officer​ at Jackson Health System (Miami): Sometimes the best campaigns come from limited budgets because the team is forced to step away from the typical tactics. When we’re creating low-budget, high-impact campaigns, we spend a lot of time talking about the target consumer: Who are they? Where do they gather? What grabs their attention?

We find community partners to create unique activations, influencers who share our mission, and content creators to co-brand or white-label material that’s outside our wheelhouse. For example, we partnered with a local comedy-video group to produce and distribute a hilarious video about giving birth at our hospital — engagement was astronomical on a tiny budget, and now we have an annual content contract with them, which this year will include our first multi-episode web series.

John Englehart. Senior Vice President and Chief Communications and Marketing Officer at Hospital for Special Surgery (New York City): Start with a fresh look at organic sources of influence. All brands have latent or underutilized assets, which are typically less obvious and more valuable than the normal tools of marketing. Often they are revealed by learning from current high affinity consumers: In an instant the opportunity that had been hidden becomes blindingly obvious. 

One HSS example is the opportunity and value of harnessing, harvesting and channeling patient affinity. The epiphany came when a recovered patient was observed visiting the HSS executive offices asking to tell the right person about her very positive experience. That led us to observe that many patients feel compelled to share their story, and as we all know that information can be especially helpful, relatable and trustworthy to others who are considering whether and where to seek care. 

So we asked and answered the question of how to innovate an easier and more rewarding way for patients to share their stories, and for interested consumers to find the ones most relevant to them. The result is a forum of already more than 3,000 patient stories that has been used by millions who browse by shared interest (from walking to weightlifting) and hometown (from Akron to Amsterdam) to condition and physician. The forum was created for the cost of a single full-page insert in a major newspaper.

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