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Flip Your Media Plan: From Old-School Marketing to Digital in Three Steps

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I'll admit it. I work in an industry that's known for being "old school" in its marketing. Healthcare traditionally loves print pieces. We've adored billboards, even for inexplicable marketing strategies. A freeway billboard for neurosurgery? Yup, it's been done.

But changes are coming, actually more quickly than they have in decades. Healthcare reform, the rise of healthcare consumerism, and just the general agreement among some very talented marketers that it's time to make important shifts in strategy and resources are all in play.

For healthcare, as well as other changing industries, it's time to rethink marketing—and that starts with flipping our media plans on their heads.

The Foundation

Until we perfect that mind-meld with all our target audiences, there is no better strategy than investing in digital marketing and making it the foundation of our media plans. That means resources go first to these elements:

  • Paid search: Why would you not invest in a service that requires payment only when an interested party responds to your ad? I've never met a print ad salesperson who'd make the same promise. Paid search also helps reach highly targeted audiences, so there's very little waste.
  • Remarketing: Remarketing is a powerful tool for increasing awareness, ensuring new business, and pulling in customers who may prove greatly loyal over time. Remarketing is also efficient. You're gently nudging people who are genuinely interested in your product or service. Some people just need that little push before they're ready to trust. It's logical buying behavior.
  • Targeted mobile advertising: It's hard to travel around with a billboard in your pocket or even a print publication. But a mobile phone? It's practically glued to most peoples' fingertips. If you truly want to go to where your market lives, use mobile advertising. Just make sure that your ads are well targeted to your intended audience.

Level II

Once you've invested in the basics and ensured a robust foundation for marketing, you can proceed to Level II media, using this level for those products and services that merit more marketing push.

This level is where content marketing, social media, and public relations all help your story come to life:

  • Content marketing: Tell your story through the many avenues open to you: blogging, podcasts, videos, e-books, whitepapers, social media, presentations, and webinars. Invest in serious brand journalism that becomes a reliable source of information both for your customers and for reporters.
  • Public relations: Speaking of reporters, getting that all-important third-party validation should never be underrated. Telling your story through interesting media pitches is a good marketing investment that never diminishes. And despite my skepticism about investing heavily in print advertising, that skepticism doesn't apply to print journalists: Print content still sets the agenda for broadcast and other media, so it's important to nurture your relationships with print journalists.
  • Social media: Make sure your social media postings have purpose; also make sure they are related to your overall marketing strategy. The best way to ensure that is to establish an editorial calendar for all your content marketing efforts. Products such as Divvy HQ bring better organization to your marketing department and help internal editors and copywriters write to company strategy.

Level III

For those products, services, and events that truly merit the investment, consider mass media. Again, this is a big investment, so if you're thinking you must get your message out to the masses with that billboard or television ad, make sure you have the dollars reserved. And consider alternatives to traditional mass media that may have longer impact:

  • Out-of-home beyond the billboard: Go where your customers tend to gather. Consider ballpark, airport ,or mall signage or elevators doors leading to a conference attended by notables in your field.
  • Print beyond your basic newspaper: When was the last time you said, "Wow" about a full-page ad in a print version of the newspaper?" If that question made you scratch your head, you're not alone. Online newspaper readership officially overtook print about five years ago. If you buy print, make sure your demographic suits the buy. And try to negotiate a companion banner ad deal at the same time.
  • Broadcast: There's no denying that television advertising still makes a statement. But your ad must have excellent production—even for local cable—to truly make an impact. Before you venture into TV territory, ask first whether that buy is worth the money. Are there alternatives through social media channels that might also provide the power of video and attract just as many interested eyeballs?

For those organizations that love the presumed "prestige" of higher-cost media, this shift in emphasis to digital may take some convincing. However, the big advantage is the bonanza of metrics that will be available to your marketing team. Use the metrics to analyze the outcomes of your marketing strategy shift and share the story with your executive team. Let them understand the journey you're taking; in very little time, you will convert the doubters.

Best of all, you can probably wave bye-bye to that expensive billboard on the freeway.

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Susan Solomon is a healthcare marketing vice-president in Southern California and a marketing instructor at four universities. She was a Fulbright scholar and she has written extensively on marketing, branding, and social media for more than a decade.

LinkedIn: Susan Solomon

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  • by Victoria Ipri Tue Dec 16, 2014 via web

    Stellar advice in a logical format, Susan. Now if we can just get those 'old schoolers' to listen... (I think I actually passed that neurosurgery billboard the other day, somewhere near Philadelphia) Good tips here that I'm happy to share.

  • by Caroline Tue Dec 16, 2014 via web

    Logical step by step process! Will print for my wall so I am organised for campaign I plan (I have a number of apartment projects that I work on) - it also made me start thinking outside the box which is great since often I can't bounce ideas around off a team. Pity DIVVY HQ only offers a 14 day free trial though. Cheers

  • by Edward Michael Rhodes Tue Dec 16, 2014 via web

    Why Fight The Feelings?
    I am the view, Marketing as a discipline, would be better served if one reinforces the importance of integrating all activities in pursuit of satisfactory exchanges. Why the constant separating of what is termed Old and New Media? In a given scenario, all or some options may be best suited for adoption. Maybe, we can Brand this approach Conciliatory Marketing.

  • by Jenny McDermott Fri Jan 2, 2015 via web

    This article is all very well concerning the means of delivering the message, but I would like to state something that I think marketers for health care organizations don't get: the message itself is of overriding importance. When I need medical care, my primary, in fact my ONLY concern is whether the doctor I visit is competent and caring. I've seen billboards with stock images of models in bucolic summer settings with captions describing how ecstatic the (fake) patient is about her healthcare provider. Do they really think we're that stupid and shallow, that we'd be swayed by such ads? If I needed to go to the hospital I would go to whichever one a trusted doctor recommended, no matter whether it has glossy brochures, attractive billboards, or sophisticated online ads or not.

    If I needed a hospital on a non-emergency basis and a doctor wasn't recommending one I'd check out what the state Health Department had to offer in terms of ratings and listings of complaints, if any, about area hospitals and clinics. I do not consider marketingese babble and stock photos of people who've never been anywhere near the facility I'm considering to be a reliable basis for making healthcare decisions. Something I learned when I was doing direct sales is that after you make the pitch and get people interested, then you have to PROVE IT. Marketers would be better off citing the ratings from the American Hospital Association than shuffling around pictures of happy families playing with puppies.

    As you may already know, Google considers healthcare and medical Web pages to be in a special category they call "Your money or your life." Standards for getting these types of pages listed high in Search Engine Results Page are especially rigorous. Physicians' sites must list credentials, including any board certifications. Further, such sites must be up-to-date and contain adequate contact information. Google recognizes that people rely on it to give them accurate information and that healthcare information must be based on fact, not spin.

    So if you're writing marketing materials for medical facilities and/or professionals, I'd start by asking myself, "If I need major surgery, what would I want to know about the surgeon and the hospital?"

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