All marketing has challenges – but healthcare marketing challenges are especially complex.
There’s no other industry like healthcare. The services we get and the relationships we build as patients are central to our well-being. It can be tough for even the most experienced marketer to catch that lightning in a bottle. What makes one doctor or clinic special?
For healthcare marketers, that question is only the beginning.
Though most of their tools and techniques are the same, they navigate an environment differently than any other industry. It’s crucial to understand how healthcare marketing is different before you jump in with both feet.
Although every market has its own opportunities, the structure of healthcare limits what marketers can do and how. Working within those boundaries isn’t just important – it’s essential. Forgetting to do so can cost businesses millions or force them to shut their doors.
What Is Healthcare Marketing?
Healthcare marketing refers to the interdisciplinary practice that involves developing, communicating, and implementing customer-centered and scientifically sound marketing strategies to attract a diverse patient audience.
Healthcare marketing is used for healthcare promotion and health protection for patient education. This helps healthcare organizations build trust with patients and encourages them to take care of their physical and mental health.
Healthcare marketing, as mentioned above, is unique, and practitioners in modern times are competing with a wide range of practices, along with medical and health websites for self-diagnosis. This means their digital healthcare marketing strategies are more important than ever.
Let's take a look at some of the common challenges healthcare marketers face and how these challenges can be overcome.
12 Healthcare Marketing Challenges (+ Solutions)
Here are 12 key areas that are challenging for healthcare marketers, with helpful solutions to each challenge:
1. HIPAA Compliance Issues
HIPAA is the name of the game when it comes to all things healthcare in the United States. This complex set of regulations touches virtually every aspect of the industry, from the delivery of care to the healthcare sales cycle.
Healthcare marketing compliance is a head-scratcher. Up until the 1970s, it was illegal to market to hospitals and practices. Healthcare marketers are restricted from using certain tools, such as re-marketing ads, to safeguard users’ confidential health data.
First of all, encourage team members to brush up on the HIPAA Privacy Rule in terms of how it impacts marketing. This way, your staff isn't accidentally (or purposely) sharing confidential patient information.
But most importantly, manage expectations through your messaging. You can't make false claims or inflate the results of a certain service or product. Avoid using cliché buzzwords like "world-class" or "best" because these aren't quantifiable or accurate.
Consider hosting a comprehensive HIPAA regulations training program to keep everyone on your marketing team in the know. Update this program throughout the year and retrain to keep compliance at top of mind.
2. Public Perception of Healthcare
Let’s face it: Most people aren’t in love with the healthcare industry. Recent skirmishes over the nature of health insurance have only underscored healthcare marketing challenges. Finding a doctor you trust is a relief, but not one all consumers have experienced.
Today’s consumers have been bombarded with some frankly weird medication advertisements and hounded by mountains of “mouse print.” It may take effort to win over a skeptical – even cynical – public. Luckily, practices can achieve a lot through inbound content marketing.
When you're developing your inbound content marketing campaigns, find ways to humanize your messaging. A lot of your audience might be skeptical of your brand, but a human element can create an authentic, positive relationship with them.
Use real stories in your content, while ensuring it's HIPAA compliant. You don't want to expose real patient information, but you can be strategic in positioning testimonials and case studies.
Also, include real employees in your content. This gives your audience a name and a face to relate to.
3. Tight Marketing Budgets
Although pharmaceutical firms often have robust marketing budgets, one of the top healthcare marketing challenges is found across the other links in the value chain. Small practices and clinics traditionally don’t make marketing a priority, while hospital outreach focuses on donors.
Hospitals are coming around to the idea they need to differentiate within a digital-driven and consumer-oriented healthcare market. However, it could take a lot of education and campaigning before the principals of other healthcare enterprises see the light. Budgets reflect that, sadly.
Earning buy-in from senior leadership for enough budget is one of the biggest challenges for marketing teams in healthcare. You need to approach your budget for both the short and the long term.
In the short term, measure your efforts and build reports that you can present to senior leadership proving ROI. This way, you can prove that marketing is not just a cost; it's a revenue generator.
You need a skilled analyst on staff who knows how to make the most of tools like Google Analytics. They can attribute revenue to specific campaigns and tactics.
Then, you can map out other concrete goals with senior leadership and customize goal-based budgets for upcoming budget planning sessions with the C-suite. For the long term, you can continually earn trust and faith as you prove consistent ROI, ideally leading to bigger marketing budgets every quarter or year.
4. Resistance to Change
Most consumers are pleased at having choice and agency in healthcare. However, some doctors have a contrasting view. They worry marketing proactively will increase the pressure to give in to ill-informed patient demands and cheapen the value of their expert advice.
It’s true that when it comes to healthcare, physicians are the experts. Modern consumers need to strike a balance and create partnerships with them. But doctors can serve their patients better than ever by looking for ways to strengthen trust and make each patient feel valued.
Paint the picture of the patient experience for your audience. This way, they know exactly what to expect when they arrive. For example, shoot a short video walking the viewer through every step of the service that you are showcasing.
You can also put your team's expertise front and center on your marketing channels, like your company website and social media presence. Introduce your team, and detail how long they've had experience, what their specialties are, and other important aspects (like their education history).
5. The Power of Reviews
And that brings us to reviews! It’s understandable why some “old school” doctors feel resentful at the idea that online reviews have so much influence. But don’t give in to pessimism: Doctors have immense power to garner reviews that help to move their business forward.
Marketers can partner with doctors to help. While no one can control a patient’s health, reducing the ambiguity and confusion of the healthcare experience is vital. Better communication, clearer paperwork, and – yes – great digital content are all influential.
Patient care should always come first in the world of healthcare. And that dedication to your patients' well-being needs to be apparent.
Make that part of your brand's messaging, and highlight how your company delivers the best results for patient wellness. Impactful content that includes real stories can build trust over time, leading your audience to better understand your healthcare team's expertise and knowledge.
Some of the best healthcare marketing content can come from reviews, which you can earn through many tactics, including:
- Making direct requests in person with clear instructions for patients to leave online reviews.
- Engaging with all reviews online. Thank those who leave positive reviews and respond professionally to negative reviews.
- Delivering links to online reviews through email correspondence and adding links on your website.
6. Market Segmentation
Over the last decade, healthcare firms have rolled out electronic medical records (EMR) systems to help them make sense of an enormous amount of information. However, most of them still do not use best-in-class marketing tools, such as a customer relationship management suite.
Before you can have effective campaigns – especially with personalized, high-touch methods like email marketing – you need to know who your customers are. This requires both the tools and strategic thinking to lay out a plan that aligns with compliance responsibilities.
Invest in tools that simplify collecting information about your audience. This kind of social data helps your marketing team deliver more contextual, impactful content.
With segmentation, your team can target specific audience segments, based on their age, gender, location, and even behavioral data. This also helps refine your marketing strategies and determine which channels to use. It can also help you identify health trends across diverse populations, thus empowering your care even more!
7. Marketing Triangulation
The U.S. healthcare system is one of the most complicated around. Hospitals need to have whole billing departments just to make sense of it. This affects marketers directly because prospective consumers who might otherwise be a “perfect fit” could be ruled out for insurance reasons.
Squaring the circle of all the different stakeholders is one of the never-ending healthcare marketing challenges. In addition to consumers and physicians, marketers need to clarify how their work will be perceived by insurers, regulators, and lawmakers.
It all comes down to gathering and managing your data. The more you know about your audience, the better you can market to them.
The market can be complex and hard to pin down, which means your approach to managing your database needs to be ongoing. This helps you accurately gauge the size of your actual market and to stay current with pertinent information.
Train your marketing team on data management and establish a clear plan for keeping your database clean and updated. While this process will require a good amount of time and resources, it will be worth it in the long run by preventing you from marketing to people who are not a proper fit for your company and your products and services.
8. Telemedicine Adoption
The increase in popularity of telemedicine is undeniable, but for some patients, technology can be intimidating. Telemedicine adoption is a challenge but can be a great advantage to practitioners and patients alike. Marketers need to think of how to position the ease of a telehealth visit, especially for patients who may be more prone to in-person consultations.
Healthcare marketers face the task of strategically positioning the simplicity and user-friendly nature of telehealth visits, particularly for individuals who may harbor reservations or are more accustomed to traditional in-person consultations.
Addressing the apprehension around technology is crucial. Marketers should emphasize the user-friendly interfaces of telemedicine platforms, highlighting how easily patients can navigate virtual appointments. Communicating the intuitive nature of scheduling, accessing, and participating in telehealth visits can alleviate concerns and encourage broader adoption.
Additionally, emphasizing the time-saving benefits, reduced travel hassles, and the ability to consult with healthcare professionals from the comfort of one's home can appeal to those who may be more inclined toward in-person interactions.
9. Data Privacy Concerns
Beyond HIPAA compliance, there's a growing concern among patients about the privacy and security of their health data. Healthcare marketers need to address these concerns transparently and implement robust strategies to build and maintain trust regarding data privacy.
It is critical that patients and their family members feel that their data is secure within your organization. Given the sensitive nature of all the data that healthcare organizations have at hand, it's totally understandable that people may be nervous!
Marketers can employ transparent communication strategies to educate the public about the rigorous data protection measures in place, emphasizing compliance with industry standards such as HIPAA. Crafting clear and accessible privacy policies, and incorporating these messages into marketing materials, helps demystify the data handling process.
Promoting the use of advanced encryption technologies and secure data storage practices can further underscore the commitment to safeguarding sensitive health information. Highlighting success stories and testimonials that attest to the secure and responsible use of patient data by the healthcare provider can also contribute to building confidence.
Ultimately, a proactive and open approach to addressing data privacy concerns can demonstrate the industry's commitment to protecting individuals' information, fostering trust between healthcare providers and the public.
10. Healthcare Disparities Awareness
Recognizing and addressing healthcare disparities is a critical issue. Marketers need to navigate the sensitive nature of disparities in healthcare access and outcomes, ensuring that their messaging and outreach efforts are inclusive and considerate of diverse populations.
Given the nature of healthcare in the United States and the changes from state to state, marketers are faced with the dual challenges of marketing to their local audience and also attracting people from other jurisdictions for services that may not be available where they live.
To assuage concerns related to disparities, marketers should focus on creating campaigns that emphasize a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Messaging should underscore the healthcare provider's dedication to serving all demographics and communities, ensuring that individuals feel seen and valued. Tailoring marketing materials to reflect cultural sensitivity and linguistic diversity can also help bridge gaps and enhance accessibility.
Healthcare marketers can also actively engage with communities affected by disparities, seeking input to better understand their unique needs and concerns. By fostering a collaborative dialogue, marketers can work toward co-creating solutions that address specific challenges faced by diverse populations.
11. Patient Education and Health Literacy
Many individuals struggle with understanding complex medical information. Healthcare marketers need to find innovative ways to improve patient education and health literacy through engaging and easily digestible content, empowering patients to make informed decisions about their health.
Patients don't always volunteer when they don't understand a procedure, don't have a strong grasp of the language being used, or have trouble with reading. Marketers need to consider this and make sure that messaging is useful for all levels of patient education. Keep it simple!
Education is key when it comes to healthcare, and marketers can contribute by creating content that informs the public about the importance of inclusive healthcare practices. This could involve highlighting initiatives, community outreach programs, or partnerships aimed at reducing disparities and encouraging inclusion.
Incorporating real stories and testimonials from individuals who have benefited from inclusive healthcare services can humanize the message and demonstrate tangible positive outcomes.
12. Mental Health Stigma
Although mental health awareness has increased, there's still a significant stigma associated with mental health issues. Healthcare marketers face the challenge of destigmatizing mental health and promoting mental health services. Addressing this issue requires careful messaging and community engagement.
Tackling this issue demands a multifaceted approach that involves careful messaging and robust community engagement strategies.
To address the stigma associated with mental health, healthcare marketers can start by developing campaigns that humanize mental health experiences. Sharing authentic stories of individuals who have navigated mental health challenges, emphasizing resilience, recovery, and the importance of seeking help, can help break down stereotypes and foster empathy.
These campaigns should focus on portraying mental health as an integral aspect of overall well-being, akin to physical health, thereby reducing the isolation and shame often associated with mental health struggles.
Additional Healthcare Marketing Techniques
Review these five essential techniques for marketing your healthcare organization.
Take Advantage of Paid Search Ads.
Leverage paid health search ads as a part of your new healthcare marketing strategy. Pay-per-click or PPC ads are great for reaching the specific people who are the best fit for your healthcare facility.
Patients search for doctors within a few minutes from their home, and PPC ads can be hyper-targeted to only focus on serving local traffic.
The best thing about PPC ads? You'll only be paying per click, so your ROI will likely be higher than print or display advertising.
Manage Your Reputation.
Word of mouth marketing has been amplified by the internet. People usually go to the internet before they start asking their neighbors for suggestions about healthcare providers. Every patient in your care is like a walking online review. Treat them as such.
Satisfied patients will leave you good reviews that attract more patients.
You can manage your online reputation in a variety of ways. For example, focus on the following:
- Sending friendly reminders.
- Sending patients anniversary, holiday, or birthday cards.
- Contacting dissatisfied patients directly to resolve undesirable experiences.
- Asking for reviews from satisfied patients.
Maintain a Strong Digital Presence.
Your online facility needs to be just as up-to-date and impressive as your healthcare facility. Over 80 percent of people search for information online before they decide where to purchase a product, or in this case, a service.
Building and maintaining a strong web presence is a necessity for your healthcare marketing plan in today's market. Your digital presence is comprised of the following:
- A functional healthcare website: Your website should establish your brand, list your services, allow your medical staff to showcase their expertise, and educate your patients with your messaging or blog posts.
- Social media pages: Having established Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram pages can boost your online presence. Facebook is a great tool for engaging your patients, and they can share their experience with your practice or facility on there as well.
- Directory listings: Healthcare directories are a quick and easy way for patients to locate you. Take time to submit your facility on a local online directory so you can increase visibility and improve your web presence.
Pay Attention to Local SEO.
Some things that you can add to your location page to boost your local SEO include:
- Your address
- Customized menus
- Reviews for the area
- Team member bios
- Local content
Keep Up With Content Marketing.
We've quoted this sentiment before, and we'll quote it again: Content is king! Don't neglect it.
Content holds its relevance in this marketing landscape. Sharing content online helps to improve retention with current patient audiences and is likely to attract a well-defined new audience.
It can also help you to build authority in your field, which helps increase the trust your audience has in your expertise.
Some content ideas include:
- Helpful health tips
- Virtual ask and answer sessions
- Blog posts
- Interviews with doctors and other important staff
Healthcare marketing is more necessary to patient decision making than ever. Craft your campaigns with these issues in mind, and you’ll help your brand stand out in this crowded field.