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And the Winner is: Digital Strategy

The results of the 11th Healthcare Digital Marketing Trends Survey reveal digital strategy is the answer to meeting new consumer expectations and battling increased competition.

Have you ever noticed that some years during the academy awards, there is one film that’s name is mentioned again and again? Category after category, that film will be one of the contenders. I felt a bit that way while reviewing the results for the 2021 Healthcare Digital Marketing Trends Survey, only the dominant contender this year was digital strategy.

Where Leaders Outperform: Digital Strategy

This year marks the 11th survey – with the last three being in partnership with eHealthcare Strategy & Trends – that Geonetric has performed an online survey of digital marketing trends that gets healthcare marketers insightful data.

As part of the survey, respondents are asked to rank their performance relative to competitors in 22 functional areas, from digital advertising and social media to web design and user experience. The responses were then scored and organizations significantly outperforming their peers became leaders, those significantly underperforming laggards and those in the middle are average.

Digital strategy was tied as the third top area for digital leaders and was the second-highest area where leaders outperform everyone else, edged out by content marketing with leaders scoring their digital strategy capabilities almost two full points higher on a -2 to +2 scale!

Agency Perspective: Digital Strategy Has a Long Way to Go

Despite this strong showing from digital leaders, the industry has a long way to go. When we asked agency or other partner respondents for their thoughts on where healthcare is furthest behind other industries, digital strategy took the top spot. Provider respondents put this more in the middle of the pack at number eight (out of 22). This gap illustrates that although provider organizations think they are doing digital strategy well, agencies, who sometimes have a broader view, disagree.

Top Area for Investment: Digital Strategy

Investment in digital strategy continues. In fact, it’s the #1 hot job in healthcare digital marketing for the coming year. Respondents were asked – if you could hire up to three FTEs in the coming year, what roles would you hire, and in what order? Digital strategy received almost two-thirds more votes than the next hot job, which was content development.

Factors Increasing the Focus on Digital Strategy

In summary, the survey results indicate digital strategy is one of the big differentiators of digital leaders, it’s also identified as an area of weakness within digital in healthcare by agencies and consultants, and it’s a top area where health systems are investing in greater capabilities.

Which begs questions like – what’s driving this increased importance on digital strategy and why are we seeing it right now? Here are the top three reasons digital strategy is so important at this moment in time:

#1: The COVID-19 pandemic

Consumer expectations were already evolving pre-pandemic, and the pandemic accelerated that movement at an incredible pace. Healthcare consumers are working more and more often with brands digitally, and those interactions are creating new expectations in healthcare.
Consumers are more comfortable than ever with self-service – but they expect transparency. A person can see every step in the process when they order an item – when it’s shipped, as it travels, and when it’s out for delivery. You can see if the pizza that you just ordered is in the oven yet. Why can’t a consumer see if their doctor’s office is behind before they leave for their appointment?

#2: The redesigned the healthcare experience

Sure, much of the recently redesigned healthcare experience happened out of necessity with the pandemic rather than inspiration, but it happened and it’s continuing to happen. Health consumers don’t want to hang out in the waiting room waiting for their turn – and healthcare providers don’t want them there either!
Making appointments, changing appointments, filling out the pre-visit paperwork, collecting co-pays, even the visit itself – the last 18 months forced many organizations to rethink all the touchpoints of an encounter and ask:

  • What could patients do from home?
  • Could people wait in their cars when they arrive until we have rooms available?
  • Could they text us to let us know they’re here?
  • Could we have them pay co-pays while they’re waiting?

So many of the operational elements that seemed so set in stone just two short years ago have evolved. The answers arrived at during the heat of the moment weren’t perfect, but organizations can continue to iterate because they’re also not going back to where they started.

#3: Competition is tighter than ever before

Just before the pandemic hit, there was a lot of discussion about healthcare competition from new sources – from startups to retail giants to tech firms. That chatter receded to background noise during the constant crisis communications blitz of the past two years, but that doesn’t mean that they went away or stopped developing and innovating.

Competition from traditional players is heating up as well. Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in healthcare are a new normal. A recent Kaufmann Hall report noted 79 M&A deals in 2020, down from 2019’s 92 M&A transactions but still high considering the pandemic. And the pandemic is likely to fuel even more partnerships across healthcare. M&A activity, plus organic growth through new facilities and telehealth outreach, means competitors are entering previously untapped geographic markets.

And through all of this, patient loyalty to individual healthcare brands is at an all-time low as consumers were forced through appointment cancellations, delays, inability to access services, and experimentation with other care options. According to Klein and Partners 2020 Wave IV Omnibus Study (December, 2020), only 18% of consumers are unwilling to consider switching providers. This is down from 41% of consumers in Wave II of the study (May, 2020).

The result is that more consumers are being courted by more healthcare providers than ever before – and consumers are more willing to try something new and different. Increasingly, they’re selecting based on convenience.

The Solution: Digital Strategy

Each of these reasons alone indicates the need to invest in digital strategy. The three converging at the same time mean healthcare marketers are facing a new set of challenges, never seen before – challenges that can only be solved with new thinking.

Health systems can’t just look around at what everyone else is doing and see dozens of examples of exactly what they need to do to compete. They need to develop something new. Moreover, the strategies that they’re developing have more operational implications than ever before. In fact, this year’s survey noted lack of operational support for digital initiatives is now a top barrier for almost all healthcare organizations, not just the cutting-edge leaders as in previous years.

This means all healthcare organizations – from leaders to average to laggards – and working with internal stakeholders to figure out where they go from here. And the only path forward involves strategy development.

Download your copy of the 2021 Healthcare Digital Marketing Trends Survey results and see what big takeaways you uncover!

And the Winner is: Digital Strategy