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The Building Blocks of Effective Marketing for Healthcare Companies

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Author: Dan Martin, Executive Vice President, Healthcare at PAN Communications
Dan MartinExecutive Vice President, Healthcare

When we think of successful integrated marketing and PR campaigns, we often focus on the end product, the measurable results, the overall impression and impact it makes on its intended audience. Yet, the accolades, awards, buzz and praise wouldn’t exist if not for the essential building blocks—the hours of research and planning and due diligence. As the saying goes, “Good order is the foundation of all things.” When it comes to marketing and PR, that good order needs to take the form of the foundational building blocks—messaging, buyer personas, content strategies and competitive analysis to name a few of the more important elements—well before any campaign is hatched and, subsequently, executed.

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It’s not earth-shattering advice or insight that business (and life) is about personal, human relationships and that people buy from people and from companies that they know, trust and have a common connection to. It’s been that way for a long time. And, in today’s world of healthcare marketing and storytelling it’s even more critical: We’re talking about healthcare, a topic which is highly personal and deals directly with people’s health and wellbeing and the time and money they put into it to be able to live in a way that maps to their preferences, values and interests. So, why then do so many marketing and business leaders, particularly in healthcare, still fall into the trap of lazy marketing tactics as they set out to tell their story to the market? They claim they need and want to connect with real human beings and be relevant to them, yet their priorities, actions and language is oftentimes doing the opposite and, as a result, getting lost in the “sea of sameness” and uninspired corporate speak.

Brands can and should tap into the power of storytelling to inspire, connect with and serve their audiences to build those important relationships and earn trust. And, we’re not talking about constant self-promotion on the latest, hottest platform or on their myriad of owned properties (i.e., social media, blog, etc.). It may involve using those channels strategically down the road. But, first and foremost, whether you are a big or small company in Health IT, digital health, pharma, medical devices or other across the broad spectrum of healthcare (or technology), storytelling requires having a solid brand architecture and message foundation. It also requires knowing your audience and your competitors and understanding that you can’t just push information to an audience, a list or a group of desired brand advocates, customers or prospects; you need to engage with them, establish a two-way dialogue and create some real value for them and your company.

Learn more about integrated marketing and PR, read: Implementing an Integrated Marketing and PR Strategy for Healthcare Brands.

So, that sounds easy, but how can it actually be done? Here are a few things to think about to get started:

1. Build the Brand

Start at the beginning. A brand architecture sets the foundation for all the other components of your brand, and aligns your brand personality traits, your promise, your story and your visual and operational requirements into a single unified structure. This serves as the overarching umbrella under which your positioning and messaging as well as your strategies and tactics will fall. It allows you to keep yourself and your organization honest in terms of how you are talking about your company, your products/offerings, your culture and your mission and vision.

2. Nail the Messaging

A strong messaging framework is essential to effective and engaged marketing. This embodies the core customer, partner and internal stakeholders positioning of your company and product or service.  It gets to the heart of:

  • What your company is (category);
  • What does it do (solution(s));
  • How does it do it (technology/partnership/key underpinnings/secret sauce);
  • For whom does it do it (speaks to customers);
  • Why do they need it (speaks to market need and point of pain);
  • Who else does it? (speaks to competitive landscape); and
  • How is it that we do it better? (speaks to differentiation and value proposition).

With a strong messaging framework, a marketer can succinctly communicate the primary and secondary messages for supporting functions who need to deliver the message including social, AR and PR practitioners, content developers, internal/employee communications, the digital team as well as the sales and executive teams. Providing a messaging “playbook” across the organization ensures that your message remains consistent and “on brand,” which will ensure it not only resonates with your key audiences but also doesn’t confuse them.

3. Create Your Personas

Speaking of audience, this is another key ingredient to success for any marketing and PR program. During the messaging exercise, as outlined above, the target audience will and should certainly be addressed, so you are able to describe your audience by their role, needs and buying behavior. However, many modern marketers today are taking it to a deeper level — something known as persona marketing, whereby imaginary versions of your prospects and customers are created that contain in-depth, lifelike character traits to help both inform and develop content and marketing.

As you start to think about the personas that best align to your company and products/offerings, a few questions to consider include:

  • What are their demographics—where do they live, gender, education and income level?
  • What is their lifestyle? What are their interests / what do they like to do in their free time?
  • Who influences their product choices?
  • What are their personal goals?
  • Why do they or would they interact with your company and your competitors? What do they want from your company?
  • Where do they look for information about your company and offerings? What type of information do they want?

Giving consideration to these questions should provide you with a good understanding from which to build out your strategies and tactics for reaching and engaging these people. If you are in the benefits administration space selling to employers, whom you are trying to reach, how they want to receive information and what they care about most is going to be different from the personas of a total population health company trying to sell to payers. This isn’t one size fits all, and marketers need to spend the time to truly know and understand the details of what makes their audiences tick. Once developed, be sure to share within your marketing organization as well as with other key constituents previously mentioned—PR, AR, employee/internal communications, sales and executives. This will not only help all involved but will also help create a continuous feedback loop that you can use to tweak and revise as needed based on what the market reception and feedback to your story, messages and campaigns/tactics.

4. Keep Your Competition Close

As mentioned previously, there are a number of key ingredients to building the foundation for effectively marketing your company and products/offerings. In the interest of time and space, we’re going to cover just four of, arguably, the most essential. The last one to highlight for now will be competitive analysis. This starts with taking an honest assessment of who else does what you do—and, it is not OK to say “well, no one else does what we do. We’re innovators and the first to market with anything like this.” 99% of the time this is not accurate, even if you feel that way.

  • Start by looking at companies internally developed resources from websites, annual reports, product brochures, investor packages, etc.
  • Subscribe to the newsletters and social media feeds of your leading competitors (or those that you have heard may be competitive to your company or offerings). These sources provide basic facts, but they are most valuable because they clue you into the stories that each company wants its target market to hear.
  • You can also investigate third-party resources from major investment banks and brokerage house publications to specialized websites such as:
    • com, Yahoo Finance and (many of these excellent and free research facilities are available— for example, Hoovers provides a company’s top three competitors in its free search results.) Even if your company is a small healthcare player in the industry, you can learn a great deal by reading up on your supersized competitors.
  • Other resources include industry analyst firms—while much of their content and insights are for clients only (i.e., you need to pay), oftentimes they’ll have brief synopses and overviews of their industry landscape reports that include the companies on their radar that are included.
  • Another excellent third-party resource is trade publications. They provide a lot of insider information and resources. For example, if you are in the health IT space, publications like Modern Healthcare, Healthcare IT News or Healthcare Finance News regularly provide information on revenue, market share and product launches across the entire industry. All of this is incredibly valuable information for understanding the competitive landscape.

Gaining this insight into who, exactly, your competitors are, the stories they are trying to tell and the messages they are using is invaluable as you look to build your own messaging framework and story. You can assess what others are saying. From that, look for opportunities to tell your story differently and, more specifically, in a way that gets at the heart of customer pain points and market needs that others are not addressing.

Remember, in today’s market, individuals, companies and organizations are all competing for mindshare and attention. By properly setting your foundation you can smartly outmaneuver to not only gain that attention but, more importantly, create compelling stories that resonate with your audience and drive them to a desired action (i.e., download a whitepaper, sign up for a webinar, purchase a product or service, share your content with others in their field, to name a few).

Happy marketing, and do be sure to reach out to PAN if you need the help of a trusted partner with experience across the B2B technology and healthcare spectrum.

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In our annual Brand Experience Report, we asked marketers and customers how they are using and experiencing AI to better understand how the technology is changing that relationship.