A Few Thoughts on Healthcare Marketing Amid Neverending Brand Crises

Today’s news cycle operates at breathtaking speed. Headline after headline shoves its way into the spotlight and then is forgotten almost as quickly. So what does it mean for healthcare marketing when every refresh of the web browser seems to include another story related to healthcare?

Today’s news cycle operates at breathtaking speed. Headline after headline shoves its way into the spotlight and then is forgotten almost as quickly. So what does it mean for healthcare marketing when every refresh of the web browser seems to include another story related to healthcare?

Poor healthcare access. Astronomical health insurance premiums. Surprise bills.Medicare for All. Single Payer. Universal coverage. The list of healthcare grievances and proposed solutions goes on and on. The near-constant presence of these stories indicates a level of societal frustration that should worry all of us who work in healthcare.

Pick any one of these stories, and we can explain it. Poor healthcare access? Well, it’s related to a bottleneck in residency programs, a growing shortage of licensed providers and low reimbursements. Unaffordable health insurance premiums? That’s because the cost of covered services is high and demographic trends are driving more consumption. Medicare for All? Don’t you know that would result in hospital closures and massive layoffs? Each well-reasoned explanation becomes another brick in the wall.

healthcare marketing image
Credit: Getty Images by Jeffrey Hamilton

The seemingly unsolvable complexity of healthcare creates an atmosphere in which incremental improvements are unsatisfying, and Hail Mary visions of massive reform start becoming more palatable. That’s a risky spot to be in for an industry that dislikes market uncertainty. Industries that remain tone deaf to societal pressures become targets for disruptors. It’s starting to happen in healthcare around the edges, where the barriers to entry are lower, such as primary care and telehealth. Meanwhile, established players pursue vertical and horizontal mergers to keep patient volume in their delivery systems, which doesn’t address the underlying affordability and access challenges driving public discontentment.

As marketers, it’s important to understand and respond to the changing competitive environment. As communicators, we respond to media inquiries and help people navigate our systems. Let’s also remember that our scope of responsibilities includes raising difficult conversations about external perceptions with internal stakeholders. Without that ongoing engagement and a willingness to try new things, we may reach a point where the “system” is transformed around us through legislative action or competitive disruption.

Key Elements of Complete Personalization

I have been writing about using “model-based” personas stemming from a 360-degree customer view for proper personalization for some time now. This time, I would like to cover basic elements other than data and analytics. Too often, even advanced data players have a hard time executing personalization due to shortcomings in other areas. If consumers do not get to see personalized messages in the end, what good is all that data and analytics work?

Check out even more content about personalization with this case study about Amara on BRAND United.

I have been writing about using “model-based” personas stemming from a 360-degree customer view for proper personalization for some time now. This time, I would like to cover basic elements other than data and analytics. Too often, even advanced data players have a hard time executing complete personalization due to shortcomings in other areas. If consumers do not get to see personalized messages in the end, what good is all that data and analytics work?

Last month, I introduced a personalization framework that separates outbound and inbound personalization. Then I divided the inbound part into two groups again, one for cases where the target’s identity is known, and the other where the identity remains unknown. Such division is necessary as we are all living with marketing divisions created based on marketing channels and it is nearly impossible to identify all targets (refer to “Personalization Framework”).

Now, let’s examine another set of checklists for complete personalization. When I say “complete,” I am counting both “reactionary” personalization that is popular in the tech community; and “planned” personalization based on past transaction, promotion and response history, as well as demographic data.

Regardless of channels or types of personalization in the mix, marketers would need to connect all of the following elements to get the job done right (i.e., target consumer actually gets to see customized content through their preferred channels).

complete personalization

  • First, starting from top-left, we need technology that enables us to show different content to different targets. If it is about the website, the site must be modularized. If it is about email, we should be able to swap different content in and out easily. If it is about mobile apps, such content drivers should be built in. If it is about online chat, then customized scripts should be triggered at the right time. If it is about offline, well then, marketers must train their store employees to ingest information from terminals or hand-held devices and pamper customers accordingly.The bottom line is that we need some technology to drive customer engagement. But one should never treat this part as the end game. Too many marketers fell into that trap, considering the job done by setting some commercial personalization engine on an auto-pilot. That is the source of many “bad” personalization efforts: ones that are annoying, invasive, irrelevant and, ultimately, boring.
  • Moving clockwise, at the risk of stating the obvious, marketers must have an ample amount of content to display. In the days when commercial use of digital images and CGI (Computer Generated Images) is widely available, creating a library of content should be a matter of commitment. But a great many marketers suffer from content shortage, or on the reverse side, content overload, necessitating a decent content management system. There is no complete personalization, even after procuring the latest personalization engine, if everyone gets to see the same old generic images or messages.
  • Then of course there are data. I have been talking about this subject ad nauseam, so let me just reemphasize that data must be the primary driver for all customized messaging. Various types of data from disparate sources must be realigned to create a “customer-centric” view (or commonly known as a “360-degree view of customer”), as personalization should be about the person, not channel, division or products. Too many marketers get overwhelmed at this stage, and sheepishly resort back to the default setting of a commercial personalization engine with rudimentary segments based on some intuitive rules. That is a real shame in this age of abundant data.
  • Speaking of abundant data, to drive a personalization engine in near real-time, all of these datasets must be “summarized” in forms of personas, segments or model scores. Each score is essentially a summary of hundreds of considered variables, and they are in the end just another set of “small” data feeding into personalization engines. In the age of Big Data, making data smaller and more digestible using modeling techniques is an essential activity, not an option. On top of that, such statistical work also improves targeting accuracy. Even the worst model outperforms rudimentary rule sets designed based on human intuition.

Now the question would be “Jeez, where do we start”? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is “It depends.” It depends on the state of available data, technology platform, content library, types of developed models and segments and, most importantly, commitment level of the marketing leaders in the company.

5 Data-Driven Marketing Catalysts for 2016 Growth

The new year tends to bring renewal, the promise of doing something new, better and smarter. I get a lot of calls looking for ideas and strategies to help improve the focus and performance of marketers’ plans and businesses. What most organizations are looking for is one or more actionable catalysts in their business.

The new year tends to bring renewal and the promise of doing something new, better and smarter. I get a lot of calls looking for ideas and strategies to help improve the focus and performance of marketers’ plans and businesses. What most organizations are looking for is one or more actionable marketing catalysts in their business.

To help you accelerate your thinking, here is a list of those catalysts that have something for everyone, some of which can be great food for thought as you tighten up plans. This year, you will do well if you resolve to do the following five things:

  • Build a Scalable Prospect Database Program. Achieving scale in your business is perhaps the greatest challenge we face as marketers. Those who achieve scale on their watch are the most sought-after marketing pros in their industries — because customer acquisition is far from cheap and competition grows more fiercely as the customer grows more demanding and promiscuous. A scientifically designed “Prospect Database Program” is one of the most effective ways great direct marketers can achieve scale — though not all prospecting databases and solutions are created equally.

A great prospecting database program requires creating a statistical advantage in targeting individuals who don’t already know your brand, or don’t already buy your brand. That advantage is critical if the program is to become cost-effective. Marketers who have engaged in structured prospecting know how challenging it is.

A prospect database program uses data about your very best existing customers: What they bought, when, how much and at what frequency. And it connects that transaction data to oceans of other data about those individuals. That data is then used to test which variables are, in fact, more predictive. They will come back in three categories: Those you might have “guessed” or “known,” those you guessed but proved less predictive than you might have thought, and those that are simply not predictive for your customer.

Repeated culling of that target is done through various statistical methods. What we’re left with is a target where we can begin to predict what the range of response looks like before we start. As the marketer, you can be more aggressive or conservative in the final target definition and have a good sense as to how well it will convert prospects in the target to new customers. This has a powerful effect on your ability to intelligently invest in customer acquisition, and is very effective — when done well — at achieving scale.

  • Methodically ID Your VIPs — and VVIPs to Distinguish Your ‘Gold’ Customers. It doesn’t matter what business you are in. Every business has “Gold” Customers — a surprisingly small percentage of customers that generate up to 80 percent of your revenue and profit.

With a smarter marketing database, you can easily identify these customers who are so crucial to your business. Once you have them, you can develop programs to retain and delight them. Here’s the “trick” though — don’t just personalize the website and emails to them. Don’t give them a nominally better offer. Instead, invest resources that you simply cannot afford to spend on all of your customers. When the level of investment in this special group begins to raise an eyebrow, you know for certain you are distinguishing that group, and wedding them to your brand.

Higher profits come from leveraging this target to retain the best customers, and motivating higher potential customers who aren’t “Gold” Customers yet to move up to higher “status” levels. A smart marketing database can make this actionable. One strategy we use is not only IDing the VIPs, but the VVIP’s (very, very important customers). Think about it, how would you feel being told you’re a “VVIP” by a brand that matters to you? You are now special to the brand — and customers who feel special tend not to shop with many other brands — a phenomenon also known as loyalty. So if you’d like more revenues from more loyal customers, resolve to use your data to ID which customers are worth investing in a more loyal relationship.

  • Target Customers Based on Their Next Most Likely Purchase. What if you knew when your customer was most likely to buy again? To determine the next most likely purchase, an analytics-optimized database is used to determine when customers in each segment usually buy and how often.

Once we have that purchase pattern calculated, we can ID customers who are not buying when the others who have acted (bought) similarly are buying. It is worth noting, there is a more strategic opportunity here to focus on these customers; as when they “miss” a purchase, this is usually because they are spending with a competitor. “Next Most Likely Purchase” models help you to target that spending before it’s “too late.”

The approach requires building a model that is statistically validated and then tested. Once that’s done, we have a capability that is consistently very powerful.

  • Target Customers Based on Their Next Most Likely Product or Category. We can determine the product a customer is most likely to buy “next.” An analytics-ready marketing database (not the same as a CRM or IT warehouse/database) is used to zero-in on the customers who bought a specific product or, more often, in a specific category or subcategory, by segment.

Similar to the “Next Most Likely Purchase” models, these models are used to find “gaps” in what was bought, as like-consumers tend to behave similarly when viewed in large enough numbers. When there is one of these gaps, it’s often because they bought the product from a competitor, or found an acceptable substitute — trading either up or down. When you target based upon what they are likely to buy at the right time, you can materially increase conversion across all consumers in your database.

  • Develop or Improve Your Customer Segmentation. Smart direct marketing database software is required to store all of the information and be able to support queries and actions that it will take to improve segmentation.

This is an important point, as databases tend to be purpose-specific. That is, a CRM database might be well-suited for individual communications and maintaining notes and histories about individual customers, but it’s probably not designed to perform the kind of queries required, or structure your data to do statistical target definition that is needed in effectively acquiring large numbers of new customers.

Successful segmentation must be done in a manner that helps you both understand your existing customers and their behaviors, lifestyles and most basic make up — and be able to help you acquire net-new customers, at scale. Success, of course, comes from creating useful segments, and developing customer marketing strategies for each segment.