Making Time for Strategy in Healthcare Marketing

Healthcare marketing teams juggle a lot of work. How do you decide where to focus? How do you show leadership that your efforts align with business goals? This article includes a helpful, downloadable template.

Healthcare Marketing Strategy

Healthcare marketing teams juggle a lot of work to support the organization and key departments. A typical day can include strategy, event management, creative development, corporate communications and a lot of random projects. It keeps everyone busy but may also leave you with a nagging concern about how time is spent.

How do you decide where to focus? How do you show leadership that your efforts align with business goals? This article includes a helpful downloadable template.

No Margin, No Mission

First, a short step back on why it’s important to be strategic in your use of time. Over the past few years, the uninsured rate declined to a record low of 8.8 percent nationally, bolstered by Medicaid expansion in 31 states plus D.C., commercial insurance through the Exchanges and an economic recovery that added jobs.

For hospitals, this meant more patients had some type of health insurance coverage, even if the reimbursement rate was lower than desired. That trend appears to have maxed out. The stalled funding of CHIP, $0 penalty for not having health insurance, uncertainty about rate stabilization subsidies and spiking premiums mean coverage is likely to contract by some amount. This will invariably impact your organization’s bottom line and intensify expectations of marketing.

“No margin, no mission,” is a commonly heard expression in healthcare, originated by Sister Irene Kraus, who led Daughters of Charity National Health Care System (now Ascension Health). Marketers are expected to help each facility earn discretionary choice among those with “good insurance” to earn revenue that helps offset uncompensated or under-compensated care. And so in your busy day, you have to make choices reflecting you understand that.

A Strategic Healthcare Marketing Framework

The foundation for decision-making is a clear link between the organization’s business goals and the marketing strategies and tactics developed and implemented by your team. This means tackling it from the top down, rather than instinctively defending how time is currently spent. Undoubtedly many of your activities support business goals, but in the absence of strong, obvious linkage, they may seem frivolous to a casual observer. The work you do matters; this template helps you show why and how it matters.

Feel free to use and modify this flexible template as needed: Healthcare Marketing Survival Guide Strategic Framework.

  • Start by expressing the positioning for your overall brand or service line. Everything you develop should flow from and reinforce that positioning.
  • Then capture high-level business objectives from your organization’s strategic/business plan, mission, board minutes or executive speeches.
  • Achieving each objective probably means you need to reach multiple audiences (internal, upstream and end-user) so list all of influencers and decision-makers that impact success.
  • Then you need to express the strategies/methods you will use to persuade each audience on an on-going basis. This is an opportunity to identify any market research efforts you might use to refine downstream elements.
  • Next, fill in the messages to deliver to each audience, tailored to address that segment’s perspectives, interests and motivations.
  • Then move to granular tactics, timing and measurements.

It’s easy to struggle with the difference between objectives and strategies, and Harvard Business Review did a nice article recently about that distinction here.

The template forces you to be succinct and to show clear linkage from left to right. At first, your grid will look like a partially completed tic-tac-toe board. Gaps may reveal where you are missing an opportunity to align. Any of your current activities and expenditures that don’t roll-up to a top-level objective may need to be re-considered, re-articulated or streamlined to free up time.

Your goal is to be able to quickly demonstrate how marketing is supporting the organization in the context of business drivers.

To work with this template, use the split cell, merge cell and delete cell functions. You can use shading/fill to black out non-applicable cells. And yes, you can also replicate this form in Excel.

The healthcare industry continues to undergo change and uncertainty. Your alignment with business strategy will help the organization and your team.

Author: Michael Crawford

Michael Crawford became interested in healthcare listening to the conversations around the patio table as his parents and their colleagues talked about work. For the past 30 years he's used his marketing expertise to help medical groups, hospitals and health systems connect with consumers, physicians, employers, brokers and health plans. He advocates for a strategic approach to marketing, audience-based communications, coordination between marketing and customer service functions, and early inclusion of the marketing discipline when planning services. His work has earned more than a dozen awards over the past few years. He’s no stranger to healthcare reorganizations or healthcare reform, from the failed effort during the 90s to the implementation of the ACA to today’s efforts at repeal. His blog, Healthcare Marketing Survival Guide, offers advice for B2C and B2B healthcare marketers trying to chart their course during uncertain times. Connect with him via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @health_crawford.

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