UnityPoint Health's marketing successes: Personalization, retail-inspired approach — and a 7-year-old kid

West Des Moines, Iowa-based UnityPoint Health tells its story by using a personalized, retail-inspired approach to marketing, and has also used a kid named "Austin."

Becker's recently interviewed Mallary McKinney, the health system's senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer, about her recent marketing wins and what lessons she brought to healthcare from her more than 10 years as a marketing leader for Target. With roughly $5 billion in annual revenue, UnityPoint Health has nearly 40 hospitals and more than 400 clinics and home-care organizations across Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Question: What recent marketing projects at UnityPoint Health are you most proud of?

Mallary McKinney: What comes to mind right away is the award-winning advertising campaign we launched during COVID featuring Austin, our "kid ambassador."

People were scared, they didn't know who to turn to — and we needed to find a new way to talk to our communities. Inspired by "Kid President," we brought in a straight-talking 7-year-old who was ready and willing to tell you (the consumer) exactly what you needed to hear.

His message was: "Listen up, people — vaccines save lives, protect yourself and others and be kind to those who care for you." His adorable delivery broke through the noise and played so well with our communities — and equally with our team members, who at the time, desperately needed to know they were being advocated for.

Q: What are the top trends in hospital and health system marketing nowadays?

MM: Consumers are taking more control of their health — and they expect the same level of service as they do with any other facet of their life. Given this, the trends you are seeing in healthcare marketing are all related to consumerism — things like personalization, segmentation, transparency and emotive brand positioning.

Q: What are the biggest challenges — or misconceptions about the job — that health system marketing leaders face today?

MM: Given the amount of pressure — such as staffing shortages and financial challenges — and the amount of change the industry is experiencing, it's easy to put brand marketing on the back burner. But let's be honest, consumers don't go on pause.

Brand building is not something that can ebb and flow — it must be consistent. There are distractions and new offers all around us so brand loyalty is everything. Our consumers are watching — and so is potential talent.

Q: What lessons did you bring from other industries (such as retail) to healthcare marketing?

MM: There are so many! One that comes to mind is simply: know your people. Just like shoppers, patients are consumers, too — and they are smarter, more informed and more demanding than ever.

To win, you better get to know them ... really well. You have to ask questions out loud, such as: "Who are our personas? What are their behaviors? How do they want to be served? How do we personalize to them?"

It's so easy to get caught in the internal fray of what we like or what we think our people need. Instead, a classic retail tactic I use with my team is practicing the art of "excusing yourself." Get out of the way and instead (fictionally) invite the personas to the table ... and we ask, "What would they want? How would they react?"

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