Marketing and social media in the healthcare industry

We talked to marketing and PR folks across the state to hear how they are working to effectively utilize social media to engage patients and consumers. Below are the highlights.

Medical News: What is the most effective marketing strategy or trend you are seeing in healthcare marketing?


Debbie Cagle
Chief Marketing Officer

Strategies around improving access, customer experience and transparency. A great experience, with every interaction – obtaining appointments, handling regulatory and insurance paperwork, waiting times, caring of all staff and making payment simple and easy – is key to the customer’s assessment of value and a key marketing strategy for our organization.



Gwen Cooper
Senior Vice President Marketing & Business Development
Chief External Affairs Officer
Hosparus Health

Artificial Intelligence or machine learning is becoming mainstream in healthcare marketing. Again, you can use this type of technology in care delivery, using these new technology platforms as a value proposition for marketing to our health system partners. And you can also use machine learning to expertly target consumers who may need our services now and in the future.

A new technology has been developed that puts a DNA print on a web site visitor eliminates the need for cookies. I don’t quite understand how it works yet, but our interest is peaked!

It truly is all about the digital space in marketing to consumers right now. We are continually evaluating our advertising platforms to maintain a true omni-channel approach, updating our web site content for SEO and SEM and maintaining a consistent social media presence. Many traditional advertising methods are still effective, and in fact, we just added billboards in our more rural areas because of the ability for consistent reach to a wide audience. We are experimenting with OTT (Over the Top) advertising for those cord cutters, the jury is still out as to whether that is effective or not. We’ve added this to our overall digital targeted mix.

Through all of this it is imperative to maintain a strong online presence – and have great reviews – to back up what we are offering to the community. And, of course you also need your data analytics to determine the ROI of all your campaigns, digital and traditional so we can continually and effectively track and identify who are audiences are or who they should be.


Michael Johnson
Vice President of Marketing
The Sullivan University System

Marketing is more in a flux than ever before. Now so much depends on the audience you are trying to reach in developing an effective marketing plan. The first question a marketer has to ask is, “What age groups are we trying to reach?”

Reaching someone 45 and older is much different than reaching someone 34 and younger. The younger demo is less likely to listen to broadcast radio or TV, many of them have or are cutting the cord when it comes to watching cable…they find the cost to be prohibitive.

The younger demo is more likely to want to watch a show/series when they want, how they want to, e.g. binge watching, on the device of their choice, with as little interruption as possible. This makes getting your message to them much more difficult than that of 45 and older population.

You can still reach this demo on key broadcast channels or cable, this however is shifting very quickly too! Marketing in quickly moving from mass marketing to micro-targeted marketing.


Bethany Langdon
Corporate Director of Marketing and Communications

Finding resonance with clients will always be the most effective strategy. However, connecting with clients to build trust is unique in the healthcare market. Broadcast, print, social media, web site development strategies are only effective when an individual or families entrust their well-being to your organization.



Amanda Newton
Recovery Concierge
Amanda Newton Consulting & Contracting

In the behavioral health landscape, the best strategy is a comprehensive digital strategy (PPC, organic SEO, social media, re-targeting, geo-fencing) combined with field marketing. We know that over 80 percent of healthcare engagement begins with online research. Healthcare marketing needs to be geared toward winning at the point of engagement.



Emily Schott
Director of Communications
Kentucky Medical Association

The most effective strategy in healthcare marketing is to meet people where they are. For that reason, social media has been incredibly effective for healthcare. It has allowed patients to connect with providers on a more personal level and that connection has been valuable on both sides.


Medical News: Is healthcare marketing different than other types of marketing? If so how is it different? How do you adjust your strategy?


Mandy Brajuha
Bluegrass Care Navigators

In healthcare, you are working to speak to a patient/consumer’s most personal innate need to feel safe, well-cared for, healthy, etc. It goes beyond quality and competency. You have to make someone feel that they can place their life, or the life of their loved ones, in your capable, caring hands. That’s not always easy to get across in a 30-second radio ad, a flat newspaper ad, or in a digital ad on Google. When you’re selling shoes or roofing or sub sandwiches, you have to appeal to someone’s “I want it now” instincts. With healthcare, it’s more long-term and much more personal.

We have spent the better part of the past two years working to inform the public of our brand change and ensuring they understand we are the same agency that has provided excellent care to their families and neighbors for 40 years. This year we worked to create an ad campaign bringing our hospice services to the forefront again. The goal behind our campaign, which we call “Hospice Is…” is to help consumers better understand the life-enhancing benefits of electing hospice care for a terminally ill patient. Hospice doesn’t mean giving up, it means taking control of the time you have left to create incredible, bucket list memories or to simply enjoy the everyday moments of life. Hospice can afford you the opportunity to put your grandkids on the bus for the first day of school, or walk your daughter down the aisle at the much-awaited summer wedding.

We all have things we’re looking forward to. Our hope with this recent campaign is to provide patients and their families with the peace of mind to face a terminal prognosis but still feel like they can look forward to memories left to be made.

Debbie Cagle, Centerstone: The approach to healthcare marketing is remarkably similar to marketing any other consumer good or service. It is complicated by regulation, privacy issues and a profoundly complex landscape around how consumers actually pay for the care, but there is still the element of consumerism that’s driven by reputation, affinity, access and cost – the same drivers of most consumer choices.

Gwen Cooper, Hosparus Health: By the true definition of the word marketing, you are selling something. That something may be a service or a product, you may target businesses and/or consumers. In our case our marketing encompasses all the above.

Healthcare consumer marketing is about emotion, conveying a message that resonates with a patient or loved one to move them to act on what we are selling. Many non-healthcare campaigns are also about emotion, think about human service organization ads.

But in addition to the emotional aspect of our marketing campaigns, we are also selling our healthcare brand. The compassionate care teams at Hosparus Health deliver on our mission of improving the quality of life—better than our competition.

Educational marketing, on the other hand, is for our B to B audiences. We must create materials that educate our referral sources on what we offer, how we can help them meet their goals of care for their patients and why our brand of care is better than the competition.

While both types of campaigns follow the same look and feel for consistency in the broader marketplace, they are different in content for different audiences. Whether we are selling to B to B or B to C, we want people to think only about Hosparus Health for end of life care, whether they need us today or in the future.

Bethany Langdon, All marketing begins with storytelling. In that sense, healthcare marketing mirrors the efforts of other industries. As a nonprofit provider of behavioral health, our strategies at Bluegrass center around our mission. Serve those with limited resources to meet their healthcare needs is the center of all marketing messages at Bluegrass.

Amanda Newton, Amanda Newton Consulting & Contracting: Yes! I feel like healthcare marketing is innovating as fast as healthcare itself. Digitally driven consumers have inspired healthcare organizations to alter the way we market. Consumers have instant access to information about their choices so providers have to win these consumers at every point of engagement.

Healthcare marketing is vastly different, you aren’t marketing a widget, you are marketing a solution to an ailment which can be deeply personal. From a strategy perspective one has to determine who their target market is and how best to reach them. It requires understanding trends, consumer behavior, media consumption, clinical risk factors and other data to truly understand the best way to reach individuals.

Emily Schott, Kentucky Medical Association: While there are still more similarities than differences, healthcare marketing is unique in that the subject is sometimes literally life and death. You have to keep that front of mind in everything you do. Health is the most important thing we have, so building and maintaining the trust of your audience is crucial when you’re attempting to sell them on something.

Medical News: Give an example of a successful marketing campaign you have implemented. Why did it work?

Debbie Cagle, Centerstone: Our recent national policy campaign identified the top priorities in our healthcare sector to gain congressional support. We provided support of a comprehensive clinical approach to addiction and opioid treatment with appropriate quality measures and funding. In addition, to help impact the workforce shortage of mental health providers, we supported CMS (Medicare) recognition of licensed master’s clinicians that have equivalent clinical training and expertise and so that more clinicians could participate in the pool of approved providers. Using data and science, we became trusted resources for congressional representatives and decision makers.

Gwen Cooper, Hosparus Health: We launched an animated campaign in the fourth quarter of 2017 called The Candle animation was something new for us, and it’s had great traction. Through research we found that as people age they don’t want to see their “old” selves in the mirror or in advertising targeted towards them, especially if that ad is about healthcare. They would rather see an animated persona selling a product they may need, it becomes less personal. We agreed and launched The Candle as one of our campaigns.

We continued with our other campaign as well that we affectionately call Agnes, and utilized both animated and real-life pictures in different part of our overall marketing strategy, often conducting A B testing to see which type of ad performed better for specific messaging to specific audiences.

Our consistency between the real-life and animated campaigns is our tag line and the use of a candle in many of our ads. Our tag line is “Helping You Shine as Long and as Bright as You Can”. We are proud that The Candle commercial won a merit award at the 2018 National Healthcare Advertising Awards.

Michael Johnson, The Sullivan University System: We find that short and informative videos offered on sites such as YouTube are effective.

Bethany Langdon, I’m excited about our current campaign at Bluegrass to address the opioid crisis in Kentucky. The key message of this campaign is, “Everyone plays a role in preventing addiction.” The campaign focuses on what brings us together as Kentuckians and motivates anyone, everyone, to get involved in the solution to the crisis.

Amanda Newton, Amanda Newton Consulting & Contracting: I recently was running ads on social media for an addiction provider. Social media is a great cost-effective medium in which you can target your audience. On average we were receiving 118 leads a month, over half met the specific criteria that the provider was needing for admission. The CPL was extremely low and the ROI was high!

Emily Schott, Kentucky Medical Association: A few years ago, KMA underwent a strategic planning process that led to the streamlining of our communications offerings. We now send out a biweekly electronic newsletter to our members called “Kentucky Health eNews.” It contains a much more condensed offering of stories than our previous newsletters, but it remains rich in content. For that reason, it consistently garners open rates more than a quarter above the industry average. I think our members appreciate that we are bringing them quality content in a format that works for their busy lives.

Medical News: What marketing trends outside of healthcare do you think will enter the healthcare marketplace?

Mandy Brajuha, Bluegrass Care Navigators: Healthcare marketing must continue to keep up with the latest trends across the general marketplace. Digital marketing continues to be important simply because of the incredibly intricate and specific ways you can target consumers. For a company like ours, the key here becomes knowing who our audiences are for our various service lines and finding the places where they are consuming digital content.

User-generated content continues to play well in the traditional marketplace, but as a company, is not something we have pursued. In a field where word of mouth is paramount, it will become more and more important for healthcare agencies to have those consumer “public displays of affection” or testimonials. The hard part is figuring out how to find those consumers willing to share something far more emotional than endorsing your favorite sneakers or soft drink.

Debbie Cagle, Centerstone: We will continue to see a rise in online engagement and the development of content designed to be consumer centric. Eliminating the barriers for consumers to query, evaluate, choose and ultimately receive care will shape marketing strategies from communications, payer landscape navigation, provider recruitment, consumer experience to traditional and non-traditional advertising.

Specific to mental health and addictions care are new “entrants” and competitors working to solve access issues as the number of providers in this sector are decreasing. As marketers, we are dealing with a product (service) that is becoming increasingly limited in its traditional form and we have to embrace the trend at the same time balancing the timing to change.

Gwen Cooper, Hosparus Health: Short sound bites of information that are impactful and convey our message regardless of the advertising vehicle will be effective for both B to B and B to C audiences. But for SEO and SEM optimization we also need quality content, blogs, case studies and even white papers about our type of healthcare so that when people are seeking the information they need, they will find us first.

New machine learning algorithms and targeted social media campaigns across all platforms will help keep us relevant and at the top of all searches. In addition, as a nonprofit healthcare organization, we must also create new opportunities to engage donors and work to provide avenues and opportunities for repeat donors. We are using the new technologies that we engage for our B-B and B-C campaigns in our fundraising efforts as well as in our employee and volunteer recruitment efforts.

Bethany Langdon, Online chat is everywhere. Spend a short time on any web site and a pop-up asking if you need assistance via chat is live. This trend is one the healthcare market needs to adapt and in particular the behavioral health market. The stigma associated with mental health and substance use persists and pushes clients away from seeking treatment. Online chat is a powerful tool to break down barriers and engage clients at the very moment they are seeking services.

Amanda Newton, Amanda Newton Consulting & Contracting: We will start using AI to help guide our decision making. For example, there are artificial intelligence marketing platforms that require little human input and AI will analyze, manage and optimize paid ad campaigns. We can also use AI to help push notifications which can be specific to individual users delivering the right message at the right time. There are even chat bots that can access millions of customer-centered data points….and they aren’t really Becky, they’re a bot!

We know that video is growing and projected to be 80 percent plus of all consumer internet traffic by next year. I think more focused will be placed on YouTube. We also know voice requests are on the rise so more emphasis will be placed on local and personalized searches. There will be no more shotgun approaches, it will be personal, individual and location-based.

Emily Schott, Kentucky Medical Association: There’s a good chance healthcare will start to see some of the influencer marketing that’s become popular with more traditional brands. Consumers are questioning the things they see and hear more and more, and since healthcare really needs that element of trust in order to connect, influencing seems like it would be a logical fit for this space.

Medical News: Healthcare or non-healthcare, what is your favorite commercial/ad/marketing campaign?

Debbie Cagle, Centerstone: United Healthcare Optum Division’s, direct to consumer campaign, promoting the use of their 24 hours/7 days a week telehealth (online) care. Using online care, provides for the same quality of care and results as seen in a clinic or hospital, provides for self-service access and quick resolution for certain healthcare problems and reduces time and expense for all involved.

Gwen Cooper, Hosparus Health: My favorite for the past year is the Budweiser Farmer ads. I live on a farm, what can I say? I asked two on my team for their favorites:

Anna Brown, Marketing & Communications Manager: I love that companies like Allstate, Geico and Progressive have created a brand where, no matter the message, you hear that familiar voice, jingle or see the main character and know the company. And you can’t go wrong with a Geico commercial – I’d love to know what goes on behind the scenes of those brainstorming sessions.

Stephanie Garvey, Digital Marketing Coordinator: I have been a fan of two lately: (1) The non-smoking commercials; although graphic, where the person surrenders their health or lifestyle to the habit of smoking is a great message and (2) the HPV vaccine campaign running on TV where the kids are speaking to their parents throughout their childhood/life about how the parent would choose to vaccinate if they knew the risks of HPV. It’s a heart breaker.

Bethany Langdon, Thank You, Mom by Proctor and Gamble is a favorite. During the Olympics, Proctor and Gamble gets to the heart of why anyone is successful in life, not only an Olympic athlete. A caring adult. A person who did all the thousands of caregiving tasks that helps a child grown into the person they are meant to be.

Amanda Newton, Amanda Newton Consulting & Contracting: Ooooo! My all time favorite commercial (I wrote a 20 page paper in undergrad on this commercial) was the Charter Hospital commercial (I’m dating myself with this one). Charter was a national psychiatric hospital chain. The tagline was: If you don’t get help at Charter, get help somewhere. Very smart advertising.
Emily Schott, Kentucky Medical Association: I’m a loyal Southwest Airlines customer for a lot of reasons, but I just love everything they do in regards to marketing. It boils down to a relatively simple strategy (to communicate that they truly care about their customers) but I think that approach is somewhat unique in the airline business and that’s how they have managed to gain such a devoted following.

Favorite Social Media Tools of the Pros

Gwen Cooper, Hosparus Health: In marketing there are so many things to keep track of, the more integrated and corralled things are, the easier to work with, view, and understand.
a. We just started working with SEMRush for analytics and we LOVE it! It does so much more than just analytics and we plan to utilize all it has to offer within the next couple months.
b. Hootsuite for keeping everything in one place
c. Meltwater to track earned media in any online platform.
d. And of course, Google Analytics and Google Alerts are still mainstays.

Michael Johnson, The Sullivan University System: Instagram

Bethany Langdon, At Bluegrass, we are currently building our YouTube channel as a key tool in our marketing efforts. Engaging clients via video continues to be a top priority and a key method to explain a broad array of behavioral health services.

Amanda Newton, Amanda Newton Consulting & Contracting: I like Crello, it a free graphic design tool for creating social media print images.

Emily Schott, Kentucky Medical Association: I constantly feel like I’m singing the praises of Canva to everyone who will listen to me. Canva is a free, web-based design platform that allows you to create beautiful designs quickly and easily. We use it for a lot of our design work, but especially for social media. You can drag and drop and have an awesome graphic to go with your tweet in minutes. The Adobe suite is awesome, but Canva takes so much of the leg work out of the process.


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