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Why Healthcare Systems Should Conduct Digital Competitive Analyses

Are your competitors creating effective online experiences? If you don’t know, conduct a formal analysis and find out.

Consumers have more options than ever before to quickly discover local healthcare. With consumers’ average attention span of 8 seconds (goldfish average better, at 9!) and an expectation of finding exactly what they want or need at the exact moment they want or need it, understanding your organization’s digital footprint and experience compared to your competitors’ is critical.

Health systems are competing for the ability to meet consumers in their moments of need — what Google calls “micro-moments” — those moments when a consumer turns to his or her device to know, go, do, or buy. Are you better than your competitors at winning these micro-moments? If you’re not sure, these situations may sound familiar:

“We primarily rely on service-line leaders, executives, and other team members to tell us what they’re hearing from patients and others in the community about what our competitors are doing and how their programs compare.”

“My team and I run across new functionality every now and then while visiting competitor sites, but we don’t formally document it.”

“Our patient advisory groups share competitive information. So we generally know what our competition is up to.”

While helpful, anecdotal information isn’t enough to prove what your competitors are offering in the digital space. You need to use cold, hard data as the basis for producing a thoughtful assessment of where you stand in relation to the competition, especially if you need this data to help prove the need for an increase in budget or team size. You also need a logical and effective way to organize competitive information to help you convey it most effectively to stakeholders.

This is where a digital competitive analysis comes in.

Set Yourself Up for Success with a Digital Competitive Analysis

A digital competitive analysis provides valuable insight into current initiatives that help to improve performance, evolve digital marketing strategies, and gain actionable insight that can help you achieve both short- and long-term goals. And, it provides a framework for presenting information in a clear way that will resonate with leadership. No more relying on anecdotal evidence alone!

You may be thinking: Using competitive information to inform your digital strategies, even while rooted in data, is just fodder for keeping up with the proverbial Joneses. It can seem this way on the surface, and your goals and objectives absolutely need to align organizationally and shouldn’t be determined solely based on what your competitors are doing. But without a deep understanding of your competitors’ digital strengths and weaknesses as well as your own, you’re missing critical information that’s likely leaving a hole in your strategies and resulting in a digital roadmap that may be off-course.

In addition to gleaning actionable insights about how your competitors are reaching consumers and patients in the same markets — and how effectively — your analysis can serve as a benchmark by which you can review your performance going forward. In general, a digital competitive analysis can help you understand the following in relation to your competitors:

  • How your channel mix compares
  • How much traffic your site receives vs. your competition
  • Functionality differences
  • Overall user experience
  • Team size and roles comparison
  • Where you’re ahead of the pack
  • Where you’re behind
  • Areas for improvement
  • Opportunities for or threats to patient acquisition or retention that require short- and/or long-term strategies and action

So let’s say one of your direct competitors has a robust email marketing effort to support their cancer program, for example — complete with a variety of different e-newsletters, some even personalized to individual preference, as well as drip campaigns that guide subscribers through different stages of the cancer patient journey. If cancer is one of your key service lines but you’re not sending email of any kind related to that particular service line, or you are but not as comprehensively, that’s a potential threat.

Here’s another scenario: If your competitors offer online appointment scheduling while you’re only offering an appointment request form that requires a call back to the patient, that is also a threat. Your competitors have set a new benchmark for convenience in your market, and that’s critical for you to understand as you formulate both short- and long-term strategies and assign budget. Based on this, you might prioritize talking with operations and IT about developing a process for managing online appointment scheduling over and above other potential strategies so you can make the move sooner rather than later.

Also, you may find through your analysis that most of your competitors are using a broader mix of digital marketing channels than you are, and that information can help you make a case for an increase in budget or team size in order to become more competitive.

Data presented in a visually compelling way can help executives see the need for new functionality that they otherwise may have overlooked in favor of other initiatives. If you’ve had trouble getting leadership on board to support new online initiatives that others in your market are already offering, being able to show that — and speak to how that’s increased consumer expectations that you’re not meeting — can be incredibly powerful.

Competitive Analysis Steps

It’s easier to conduct an analysis and report out on the results than you may think, but it will still take time and resources. Follow these steps:

    • Identify your competitors. Be sure to include indirect competitors, such as CVS, Amazon, Walgreens, or for-profit urgent care centers, in addition to direct competitors.
    • Quantify the amount of traffic your competitors are getting on average. If you’re not sure how to do this, some tools that will help include SEM Rush, SpyFu and Similar Web. While you’re checking, look into engagement stats like time on site and bounce rate.
    • Identify key website functionality. Examples to look for include online appointment scheduling, physician ratings and reviews, responsive design, urgent-care wait times, health risk assessments, price calculators, etc. Record what both you and your competitors offer, and track who offers it and who doesn’t.
    • Do the same as above but for digital channels, such as PPC, social media, mobile apps, display advertising, email marketing, and others. If your competitors offer e-newsletters, subscribe to them to understand the complexity (personalization vs. no personalization, for example) and frequency. Follow their social media sites, if you aren’t already. Download their apps and check them out.
    • Make sure you know what trends are occurring within the healthcare digital space so you can add these to your assessment, even if no one in your market is pursuing them yet. It’s important to look ahead to see what’s coming so you can plan effectively. Our 2018 digital marketing trends survey can help.
    • Tap into your partners and existing tools to obtain potential data for benchmarking purposes. Many marketing automation providers offer benchmark email data, as do social media management tools.
    • If you’re able to show ROI or ROMI for your digital initiatives, make sure to include that data in your report.
    • Look at team size and roles to assess how you compare to your direct competition and peers. Our 2018 digital trends survey offers lots of great information about team size and roles.
    • Look for supporting documentation. You won’t be able to understand the effectiveness of each of your competitors’ tools, but doing an online search may turn up articles in professional or local publications that can help provide some insights.
  • Once you have all of this information collected, it’s time to start your analysis. A simple and effective way to approach and structure an analysis is to use the traditional SWOT framework (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats). I also recommend creating charts to show how you compare to your competitors in functionality and channel usage. A simple table format that has different digital functionality noted across the top and your organization and your competitors listed down the left-hand side marked with Xs to indicate who offers what, is an easy way to compile results. The resulting visual quickly showcases either how far ahead or how far behind your organization is in each area.

    From there, you can then take the time to review results and assess each channel and functionality to gain deeper, more meaningful insights that will help you flesh out your SWOT analysis. Once you have your general findings compiled, you can follow a format like this to produce a formal report:

    • Background/Purpose
    • Competitors
    • Overall findings (consider reporting out by Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats)
    • Conclusions
    • Sources
    • Appendices for supporting data

    Once completed, you’ll be well-positioned to share your analysis with your larger team, boss, key stakeholders, and decision makers. And, you’ll have baseline data you can use to benchmark your performance and progress against both yourself and competitors at whatever frequency makes sense for your organization.

    Meeting Consumers in their Micro-Moments

    A digital competitive analysis is just one tool in your arsenal, but an often-overlooked one that can help you better meet consumers in their micro-moments and help you change the perception of your department as a cost center to one that’s focused on improving the top and bottom lines. And that is worth all the time and effort you’ll put into it.

    Geonetric helps healthcare systems and hospitals stay on top of digital trends, develop strategies, and measure results. We produce digital competitive analyses for clients, and we can help you too! Contact us today.

    Jaimie Somlai

    Why Healthcare Systems Should Conduct Digital Competitive Analyses