Barack Obama certainly stirred up some ferocious debate a few years ago with his cutting-edge ‘Obamacare’ proposals. But the effects of the president’s plans cut much deeper than the political wrangling surrounding the proposals themselves.
Since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law in 2010, the changes have compelled the US healthcare industry to re-evaluate radically its traditional values and to adopt a markedly more commercial attitude towards those it serves.
For example, healthcare providers are clearly now thinking in terms of ‘consumers’ rather than ‘patients’. It’s well appreciated in the industry that people now have much wider choice. They are better informed through communications and social media. And they are very aware of the buying power they wield.
So it’s no surprise that healthcare marketing trends are edging ever closer to becoming brand-savvy.
It’s significant that industry figures who have embraced the value of social media, such as Michael R. Anderson of UH Case Medical Center and Akram Boutros of The MetroHealth System, have been successful in establishing a distinct voice and mission in the eyes of the public and the media.
Clearly, today’s consumers value frank and open conversations via online communications. Take the case of Cleveland Clinic. In response to the perceived public appetite for openness, the clinic decided to make significant investment in healthcare marketing strategies, heavy on content marketing and spanning digital, social and traditional media.
The payback has been phenomenal. Cleveland Clinic’s blog, Health Hub, has become a leading voice in amplifying the brand, with all content generated by hospital medical personnel, many acknowledged experts in their fields. In 2014, Health Hub was registering around 2.7 million visits a month; the clinic has more than 1 million followers on Facebook, 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube and 251,000 Twitter followers. ClevelandClinic.org is currently No. 1 most visited hospital site in the USA.
Impressive stuff! And it’s no wonder this unique experiment is being watched so closely by industry pundits.
Adapting to the small screen
At the same time, healthcare brands are under pressure to respond to the practical challenges of the ‘small screen’. We are seeing many brands starting to simplify their visual identities so they will stand out well in small screen environments such a tablets and smart phones.
Health insurance company Aetna is a good example. Aetna rebranded itself as a ‘health solutions company’ with a vibrant new identity that moves away from the corporate blue so long associated with healthcare. Most importantly, the brand identity now stands out prominently on the small or big screen.
Deeper customer relationships
Changes to the legislation have freed up people to choose their own healthcare providers. Hence the urgent need for greater marketing personalisation in order to create deeper customer relationships.
Consider the industry sea change represented by Cigna Healthcare’s rebranding as Go You a few years ago (just recently updated to Together all the Way). In the past, insurers tended to consider employers and doctors as their customers, because the actual end-users had so little input in their own health insurance decisions. Interestingly, Cigna now has a customer experience officer whose role is to act on customer insights and structure the business to address these directly.
The company’s bold innovations have proved to the industry at large how understanding your customers is the starting point to building a good relationship, rather than trying to fit them into traditional marketing templates.
Aligning the brand
Healthcare businesses are increasingly recognising that their brands are strategic business assets, to be nurtured and valued, and driven by the organisation’s vision and values. Clearly, the most successful businesses are those that connect staff with their purpose, improving employee engagement and, in turn, translating into customer satisfaction and preference.
A good example is Varian Medical Systems. The company implemented a brand management software platform after a rebranding exercise with the purpose of aligning its internal teams behind their brand, so as to build their business from the inside out.
With 45 offices and 5,500 staff across the world, Varian has been able to build its brand consistently by ensuring all staff, whatever their role, have access to centralised brand guidelines, as well as the positioning documents and communication materials they need to grow the business for the long term.
So, Mr President, see what you have started!
We are currently witnessing how, by firing up a revolution in the provision of healthcare in the United States, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act also inadvertently created a new impetus among healthcare providers and radically changed their manner of engagement in the marketplace.
Gone are the days when healthcare providers interacted almost exclusively with the medical profession; now it is the ‘patient’ who must be treated direct! So healthcare businesses are inevitably starting to behave like consumer brands and to embrace the full panoply of marketing opportunities and techniques, from the exploitation of social media to the deployment of rigorous brand management.