Media and marketing are in a continuous state of flux. Technology, consumer behavior, and convenience are among the driving forces for this change, and every industry is affected—particularly healthcare.

Healthcare marketing has often been rooted in tradition; focusing on what’s always worked, complying with stringent industry regulations and struggling to push the envelope with innovation or alternative ways to approach media. With the consumerization of healthcare, patients are watching their wallets when it comes to making healthcare choices. To get patients the information they need, you need to employ new methods of engagement to meet them where are. This is critical to establishing meaningful relationships that last beyond a singular trip to the Emergency Department.

It’s so easy to get comfortable in a role, and with the quality of work that we produce in marketing and strategy. We know what works and we make it happen. This is where mediocrity can creep in. In healthcare, arguably more than any other industry, we must demand purposeful growth and change. A commitment to design thinking can make this a reality.

Leveraging design thinking in healthcare to anticipate and improve experiences across both on and offline channels can prove beneficial in the long run as it relates to driving the health and wellbeing of communities.

Let’s Focus More on Patients and Less On Us

Healthcare success has often been about being the best and employing the best. Marketing has historically focused on touting institutional accomplishments in an effort to increase visibility and recruiting power. The more prestigious the personnel, the more marketable an institution would be to patients. While having highly skilled personnel is still important, when it comes to connecting with potential consumers in a meaningful way, healthcare organizations need more than a list of accomplishments.

Marketers that employ design thinking to identify and connect with the needs of the community can adapt to this change in consumer sentiment, reallocating funds and strategies to focus greatly on influencing patient behavior, versus only targeting high-level executives and providers. Encourage loyalty by drawing the consumer in with culturally relevant information, crafting a voice for the organization that resonates with the community and ensuring the connectivity of both online and offline experiences.

Let’s Rethink Traditional Approaches to Healthcare Marketing and Communications

By focusing solely on traditional strategies and tactics, healthcare institutions miss an opportunity to connect with the unique needs of their community. Today, those at the leading edge of healthcare experience are dedicated to serving as health improvement organizations—driving health and wellbeing beyond clinical experiences and proving their relevance outside of disease states.

By adapting to new dynamics in the market, marketers that embrace design are working to create an active brand voice and enhanced experiences. But this work also challenges the age-old expectation that effective advertising and marketing comes with immediate, measurable (and often conventional) ROI—making it a tougher concept to sell to managers. But the simple fact is that shying away from change is that lack of innovation leads to staleness; a stale brand, a stale message, a stale experience.

With the increase in healthcare consumerism and competitors providing new and engaging messaging, it’s important for institutions to keep up and differentiate themselves in the market. What differentiates one organization from another in healthcare? It’s the ability to embrace patients throughout their individualized journeys of health and wellbeing—to be present and to drive healthcare innovation and an empowered experience.

The simple fact is, what used to work doesn’t work anymore. Today, healthy consumers are visiting physicians and scheduling well visits in almost equal numbers to the ill, in an effort to ward off preventable diseases. Now, marketers must also be proactive, reaching the consumer and providing information before there’s an immediate need. Marketers that embrace design thinking understand this transformation and have established dialogues with healthy and unhealthy patients alike to foster trust and promote wellness, changing the way healthcare institutions are seen and heard.

HOW-TO: Challenge Traditional Thinking in Healthcare Marketing

If your healthcare institution has been around for awhile, chances are you have tried-and-true business practices in place. While there’s nothing wrong with recognizing a successful process and approach, always relying on the same action minimizes opportunities for growth. Use these design thinking techniques to reexamine the tried-and-true and use your imagination to discover ways of evolving and reshaping what exists now to create what can be.

Observing—Look at your business and its touchpoints through the eyes of a new consumer. Evaluate the way each interaction makes you feel and how effective and informative you find the levels of communication. Taking a deep look at the current state will enhance the framework for future shifts and improvements.

How-To: Go to your website. Look for specific information. How easy or difficult is it to pinpoint what you want? What impression did the search, and the results, leave? Make note. Go through the same process by scheduling appointments, visiting waiting rooms, and interacting with hospital personnel. Observing through experience will help mold future iterations.

Learning—Dissect your audience. Who are they? How are you trying to reach them? What can they gain from your services? Understanding their needs and motivations can inform your message for maximum reach and retention.

How-To: Employ ethnographic tactics and other forms of qualitative research to discover what makes your audience tick. Conduct in-person meetings, poll neighborhoods, and spend time immersed in the community to learn how your passion for care resonates with their needs.

HOW-TO: Reinvigorate Purpose and Relationships

Healthcare institutions, like any business, are more likely to thrive when they engage their employees. Incorporate design thinking into communication efforts and messaging to help your staff reconnect with their purpose as your providers. Help them feel motivated and invested. By promoting this avenue first, you will foster the potential for stronger relationships with the community. Invested workers improve outside experiences with your institution, and improved experiences lead to consumer loyalty. Try these approaches to breath new and purposeful life into your strategy.

Brainstorming—Grab a large piece of blank paper, clear your mind, select a topic or challenge to establish your purpose and write that topic in the center of the page. From there, write suggestions, explore the expansion of ideas, document questions, and discover new ways to link all aspects together.

How-To: Your institution just decided to bridge the communication gap between facility and consumer by producing a public newsletter. While your team is aware of the overarching idea behind this new marketing push, the details behind how it will sound, how it will look, how it will feel, and how it will work are still undeveloped. Creating a mind map from the large concept and working outward to answer these questions will help you brainstorm in a free way, without the constraints of production efforts.

Reconnecting—Promote team building exercises to foster an environment that nurtures, supports and pushes employees to be better—and do better. Establish a sense of community so that what’s inside the hospital is reflected outside to the public.

How-To: After receiving new funding, the board has agreed to expand the cancer wing of the hospital. The additional resources will increase patient offerings and draw high-quality candidates. Let your existing personnel hear of these changes and initiatives from your leadership team first-hand—not through the grapevine of external sources.

HOW-TO: Inform Necessity and Process

When was the last time you considered the way you conduct business? Not just evaluating the bottom line, but actually asking why you do what you do, and why you do it the way you do. Revisit why your services are a necessity to the wellbeing of the community. Ask what makes you different and what makes you needed. Explore your intuition. Create a new and relevant purpose. Strive to revolutionize the industry and change the face of healthcare by embracing these practices.

Asking—Gather employees and leaders alike to gauge their impression of existing structures and procedures, and take their opinions and recommendations seriously. Emphasize the need and value of interdisciplinary viewpoints, providing a platform for expression and continued iterations.

How-To: You’ve looked at processes through the eyes of a patient, now consider how your personnel sees the institution. What are their impressions and feelings? Hold roundtable discussions where nothing is off topic. Post message boards where your team makes spur-of-the-moment suggestions. Schedule focus groups with different teams to gauge opinions of new ideas and possible implementations before release.

Evolving—Understand and accept that the design thinking process is continuous, and it’s not always clear-cut. Make the time to regularly evaluate all aspects of your institution and strategy. Keep an open mind and be comfortable with the unknown.

How-To: Challenge yourself to leave your comfort zone. Ask questions on a constant basis. Explore new ideas. Create a space for great innovation.

Even on the heels of a global pandemic, the healthcare sector in the United States is only growing and becoming more competitive, employing more than 20 million workers nationwide. There is no shortage of passion for improving health experiences—but doing so means trying new things to empathize and serve our communities. We can do this by utilizing design research to identify the underlying needs of the community and in turn crafting messages and designing services and experiences that support their unique health journeys. If you’d like to learn more about how to embrace design in your organization, contact us today. We’d love to talk.

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