A Deep Dive Into Digital Marketing In Healthcare

We sat down with Renae Rossow, Chief Marketing Officer at iSalus Healthcare


As CMO of iSalus Healthcare, Renae Rossow is responsible for overseeing the planning, development and execution of the marketing and advertising initiatives. Working closely with the Chief Strategy Officer to generate revenue by increasing sales through successful marketing for the entire organization using market research, Renae leads on pricing, product marketing, marketing communications, advertising and public relations.

Ahead of her presentation at the Digital Marketing in Healthcare Summit this May 22 - 23, we sat down with Renae to discuss marketing within the healthcare industry, from the key tenets of any strategy to the technology set to make an impact going forward. 

In healthcare or otherwise, what do you see as the key tenets of any digital marketing strategy?

There are three that stick out as the most important principles that set the foundation for the rest of the strategy. Digital marketing is different and yet very much the same as traditional marketing in that you absolutely must understand your target audience before anything else. In many cases this means identifying multiple demographics and creating personas for each one. In healthcare you might be targeting a patient, a doctor, an administrator, etc. Each of these has their own unique character traits and will need to be communicated with differently and in different spaces. So first and foremost is identifying the “personas” or “personalities” of the target audience.

The next principle or tenet would be the foundation for your messaging. There are so many people talking about what they do. The internet is a very noisy place. To create a real connection from an ad on a computer or mobile phone takes a message that matters. Every campaign created, no matter if it’s on Adwords, YouTube, an email or your website, the messaging needs to come from the same foundation. That foundation should not be based on what you do, but rather why you do it. In the end, people buy a brand more than they buy a product. Everyone needs healthcare so why do they choose one practice over another? Communicating from the passion that is the underlying reason your practice or organization exists will create true connection throughout each campaign in your strategy.

The final of my top three tenets would be that you consistently provide more value than you take. If you’re going to provide a piece of content in exchange for an email address, make sure it’s a really good piece of content that is more valuable to the user than their email address. If you’re a software company like my company, and you get a demo request from your website, make sure that demo is personal and covers only what the potential client needs so that they find it valuable. If you’re a healthcare provider who is trying to reduce their no-show rate, make sure you’re reminding the patient of their appointment in the way that they have chosen and prefer. Make sure you’re offering services that make life easier for them. Make sure you’re communicating in a way that they truly understand. Providing more value than you’re taking is a good principle in every aspect of life but is just as applicable to marketing.

What are the problems with using customer data in what is a regulation-intensive industry?

Clearly HIPAA makes everything a little scary, but once the personalization of data is removed I do not see an issue quite frankly. In fact, I think customer or patient data is invaluable to improving healthcare overall. Why wouldn’t we want to understand how many of our patients smoke, how many received education on smoking cessation, and of those who received the education, how many stopped smoking? Stay with me – if you have 200 smoking patients, provide 100 of them with education on smoking cessation, and of the 100 that did not receive education 5 stop smoking of their own volition over the course of a year, and of the 100 that did receive education 25 stop smoking over the course of a year, which direction do you go?

Doctors and healthcare providers across the country already have the data they need inside the electronic health records they are using to document patient encounters. Unfortunately, we’re not to the point where everyone is using it and it’s an absolute shame. The United States spends more than any other country in the world on healthcare but has the worst results of all the countries similar in size and stature. Utilizing patient data is key to understanding how to reach and communicate and market to the very people you are trying to heal. Understanding key data points and using them to send the right messaging to patients could literally turn healthcare in the United States around and we’ll be seeing it more and more as population health continues to emerge. But, as long as we’re compliant and protect the patient’s privacy, it’s then that customer or patient data is invaluable.

What new technologies (wearables, for example) do you see making an impact on marketing in healthcare in the near future?

I think we’ll see more and more wearables that connect to patient portals emerge as healthcare continues to veer towards integrating technology in a mobile way. I think wearables will play a key role in patient engagement too. We’ve already seen how technology like the Fitbit and similar products have gotten more people than ever simply willing to start moving again. Now we’re beginning to see wearable technology that tracks your breathing patterns, analyzes them and helps you reduce your stress levels. Orthopedic doctors can track a patient’s exercise compliance after a joint replacement procedure to make sure they are reaching their goals and adhering to their care plan at home.

There are wearable glasses coming out on the market that will help those who are visually differently-abled live more independently and we’re even seeing something in the automotive industry called the “CardioWheel” which is technology that is built into a steering wheel or even bike handles that can identify who is driving and track multiple cardiac pathologies. It can even give you insight about your drowsiness and fatigue levels while driving. Here in the states we already have t-shirts that measure electrocardiogram readings. As far as the impact on marketing, it’s only going to give us more opportunity to interact with both providers and their patients. Not only will we have more to talk about, but we’ll be able to weave a story where clinicians have access to more accurate data in relation to their patient’s health and patients take more ownership of their health and become more invested in successful outcomes.

Hear more from Renae, along with many other leading marketers working within the healthcare industry, at the Digital Marketing in Healthcare Summit this May 22 - 23 in Philadelphia.

How easy is it to over-personalize in healthcare? Do brands risk being intrusive?

There’s always a risk to being over-intrusive. How many times should you be in front of your target audience? What is annoying versus helpful? This goes back to my third principle of always providing more value than you’re taking. Personalization in your marketing can be extremely successful. It can create an instant connection when you’re not only communicating on a personal level but you’re also giving the patient dynamic information they need. For instance, we can run a campaign that says, “Hey, Jane Doe, welcome back to our site. Here’s some heart healthy recipes that will help you get better control of your high blood pressure by reducing your salt intake.” We can do this because at some point, while on our website, Jane Doe gave us her personal information and told us she suffered from high blood pressure.

But what happens when you call the visitor Jane Doe instead of “Doctor” Jane Doe? This has happened to me. And the doctor was offended that I didn’t use her title, so she contacted my company and let them know that she was offended. Then marketing had to go digging to figure out how that happened. Now, eventually we traced it back to the fact that Dr. Jane Doe did not fill out the title portion of a form she submitted to download one of our e-Books. She had completed the form as Jane Doe and left the title empty. Of course, you cannot go back to the good doctor and blame her for the mistake so what do you do in that situation? Some would argue you make the title portion of the form mandatory. Others would say, quit personalizing the names because it’s not worth the risk of it happening again.

Personalization is a great thing in healthcare and for marketers across the industry – as long as you get it right. Get it wrong and it’s the quickest way a doctor can disenchant his patient or a vendor company like ours can bungle the relationship they are building with a provider that could become a future client. In the case I just mentioned, we were able to save the relationship with Dr. Jane Doe by simply apologizing and taking ownership of the mistake – and perhaps some thoughtful cookies were sent to her staff.

What social platforms, if any, do brands tend to use for healthcare marketing? What is the alternative, if the answer is none?

So this goes back to knowing the persona of your target audience. There are many different answers and not one can act as an umbrella to cover healthcare as a whole. If you’re targeting physicians specifically, you’re wasting your time on Facebook and for the most part on Twitter although there are some who take advantage of that platform. However, LinkedIn for physicians seems to be a place where a large amount of them gather. What most laypeople don’t know is that physicians have their own social platform where they connect with each other and those who are not physicians are not invited to participate. On the other hand, if you’re trying to reach the staff at a healthcare practice, then Facebook is a great outlet. The office managers, nurses, and other support staff will meet you there. C-suites are a mixture of unknowns where some of them are okay being on Facebook and others are not. I’d lean towards LinkedIn again. However, if you’ve given social media a try and it hasn’t proven beneficial for you, I would dive back into the research. 

My personal experience in trying to reach physicians on the internet is that they’re not on there hanging out on Facebook and if they’re on LinkedIn it’s only in brief spurts. So, where are they? There’s research out there that shows most physicians use the internet for reading the latest clinical trials. So again, identify your target persona, if it’s a physician is it a specialty like a Urologist? If so, where do Urologists get their information from? National associations? Urological journals? Find out the answer and figure out how to get your brand in front of them using Google Adwords and the placement feature or contacting the site directly to buy ad space. It takes work, but the payoff will be much greater than wasting your time on social media.

What will you be discussing in your presentation at the summit?

My discussion for the presentation is about pioneering patient engagement. True patient engagement is much more than just having the patient make contact or read their test results through a patient portal. Achieving true patient engagement means, as a provider, you have a patient who is just as invested in their health as you are. When that type of relationship is accomplished, then it is true patient engagement. There are many ways doctors and other healthcare providers can work towards achieving those goals but, interestingly enough, marketers also play a key role in attaining this level of patient engagement. I’m going to share some of the tactics and tools available to help you make a strategy that really brings healthcare providers and their patients together so that true patient engagement can happen. 


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