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Healthcare Marketers' Top 5 Challenges

May 23, 2012

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of exhibiting at the 17th Annual Healthcare Marketing Strategies Summit in Orlando, Florida. It was an interesting year to be there, as many of the healthcare marketers in attendance were genuinely worried. “Now what do we do?”

Regardless of the pending Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the ObamaCare mandate, the healthcare industry is in a serious state of transition. Those who spend their days consumed with how to best market their hospitals, physician practices, clinics, and other healthcare organizations, are feeling nervous. Budgets are being cut, but marketers are expected to accomplish more. Meanwhile, tried-and-true methods of marketing aren’t working as well.

As one speaker noted, “It's amazing how small the budgets are for web but how high the expectations are for web.”

My own take is that this industry is being awakened out of a long complacency and that there is no better time to be a healthcare marketer than right now.

Here are my top five takeaways from the conference.

1. Healthcare marketing is behind the curve

The industry, as a whole, is a few years behind less risk-averse industries when it comes to social media, mobile, search, and other online marketing technologies. The reasons why are probably obvious. It can be difficult to innovate in an industry that is so highly regulated, where the stakes are so high, and where mistakes can bring litigation.

Even so, you’d expect that, at a modern convention attended by hundreds of “marketing experts,” at least this group would be a bit more, well, “present” online.

They were not. Only about a dozen or so people were actively tweeting out of several hundred attendees, all of whom in marketing or technology.

2. Healthcare marketing is at a tipping point

Notwithstanding all of the above, it felt like a really exciting time to be in healthcare marketing. The industry is starting to jump into the fun part of the innovation hockey stick, and I think healthcare will be transformed as a result. Some really wonderful things are happening now, especially in mobile.

According to David Friedersdorf of iTriage and Joseph Cazayoux of HCA Healthcare, 20% of healthcare consumers now use mobile phones to research healthcare purchases. Chris Catallo and Michael Schneider from informed us that nearly 90% of all Americans now have a mobile device.

Social media marketing is also now starting to take hold in healthcare. Chris and Michael also let us know that a third of people over 65 years old now are active on at least one social media platform, and this is only increasing.

Healthcare marketers are fully aware of these trends and are starting to meet the demand.


3. Healthcare marketing is getting more strategic

Here are some of the best tweets on this topic posted during the conference:


"digital media fluency is no longer optional." Web, social and mobile technologies require new skills


The brand experience starts long before you take my temperature


Marketers need to be at the nexus of analytics and creativity


Experimentation is the new market research


4. Content marketing is surging

I had numerous conversations with marketers at hospitals and other healthcare organizations who told me that content has become the keystone of their marketing efforts and that their biggest issue is finding the time and resources to create and manage content. They also expressed concerns about losing control of their own content.

As Chris and Michael at stated, “More people see your content off your site than on your own website.”

Of course, real content marketing requires a modern and highly flexible content management system like Plone.


5. Intra-organizational collaboration has a ways to go

Many of these organizations attempt to use SharePoint to provide a collaboration and document sharing platform, but a lot of the people I spoke with expressed dissatisfaction. It wasn’t hard to get them to sign up for Six Feet Up’s upcoming webinar, “Alternatives to SharePoint.” (Hint: If this is an area of interest you can sign up too.)

In particular, there was a ton of interest in KARL, an open source collaboration and knowledge management platform widely used for intranets in a number of industries.


As one keynote speaker pointed out, even if healthcare spending slows, it will still be one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy for the foreseeable future. Still, like any transition, it can be unnerving. The old methods don’t work as well as they did and the new methods are, well, new.

Still, I maintain there has never been a more exciting and dynamic time to be a healthcare marketer, and offer that if you’re feeling unsure about how to create content, how to manage and publish content, how to take advantage of social media, search, or mobile technologies, or how to better collaborate internally, please reach out to us and mention you read this post.

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