Marketing Strategy

4 Ways to Find Money to Fund Marketing During the Downturn

The following is a guest article by Andy Pollock from BrandActive

It’s said every cloud has a silver lining, and that adage applies to our current difficult circumstances.

The persistence of COVID-19 has an upside for healthcare systems: rising reputation scores. Edelman’s Trust Barometer reports that the public’s trust in all sectors of the healthcare industry rose by 8 percentage points from January to May of this year, putting hospitals and healthcare systems at their highest point since the study began.

There’s also a faint silver lining to the budgetary pressure accompanying the pandemic: It is providing an impetus for healthcare marketers to improve their brand and marketing operations.

The reality is that right now, healthcare marketers are under pressure to squeeze more value from their existing activities. With tight budgets and a growing list of objectives, your team may struggle to keep on top of tactical mandates, let alone increase efficiency and ROI. But there are things you can do today now and over the next couple of months that will both boost ROI and free up budget for next year and beyond. That puts you in good position to capitalize on that rise in industry reputation, attract patients back to your facilities—and continue as trusted voice people rely upon.

I’ve seen that healthcare marketers are already thinking and acting along these lines. Forty-seven percent of the attendees polled at a recent Modern Healthcare/BrandActive webinar said they were expecting their marketing budgets to decline. When asked where they would turn first to save money in their brand and marketing operations, they identified:

  • Streamlining branded assets (31%)
  • Freeing up marketing resources to focus on strategic actions (29%)
  • Standardizing repeatable processes (24%)
  • Addressing the marketing tech stack (9%)
  • Evaluating how they work with current vendors (7%)

Here are four ways healthcare systems are working to understand the nuts and bolts of their marketing and brand operations with an eye to maximizing speed to market, brand consistency, and resource efficiency.

1. Find opportunities to improve health system brand and marketing operations

To find the low-hanging fruit, conduct a brand and marketing operations opportunity audit. That means taking a close look at your marketing assets and operations, including your people, processes, tools, vendors, technologies, documentation, and dashboards/tracking. Pinpoint exactly what needs improvement, then rank each possibility by feasibility and your priorities. Which could free up valuable staff the most? Which will conserve direct budget dollars? Use these findings to put together a plan that addresses these healthcare marketing issues in a strategic and timely way.

2. Go for some quick wins

My best advice is don’t boil the ocean. Crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s for every potential action, then seeking approval a full overhaul plan can spell doom for well-meaning initiatives like this one.  

Start with those things are under the control of Marketing and Brand—such as the processes used to create and manage marketing collateral. If your findings are similar to those of other healthcare systems, you’ll notice significant overlap and redundancies across your print and digital branded collateral and perhaps some convoluted collateral production and approval processes. You can address these relatively quickly through a series of three actions. First, simplify the materials then rationalize them down to a smaller set of useful, on brand communications. One healthcare system reduced marketing collateral in use was reduced from 5,000 to less than 3,000 pieces.

Next, develop and/or make better use of standardized design templates. Finally, implement streamlined approval processes. Actions such as these produce savings by reduce printing and design costs and freeing up staff time – and improve brand consistency.

You may also find that while technology you use to develop and launch external campaigns is optimized, the technology driving internal brand and marketing processes lag. Perhaps they are still managed—albeit inefficiently—via spreadsheets and email. Internal training and enforcement alone can go a long way towards remedying the issue. (In some cases, the solution can be a new centralized brand management system.)

3. Maintain high levels of patient trust and overall reputational regard

This increase in trust in your healthcare system trust has been very hard-won.  Your marketing colleagues have worked long hours to communicate effectively with the community, support internal staff messaging, and of course, attract patients to your facilities. It’s hard to maintain a consistent voice amidst this turbulence, and it’s even harder when Marketing is decentralized. Some opportunity audits have identified decentralization as a barrier to pivoting quickly while maintaining the necessary consistency in brand messaging. A series of process adjustments and enhancements can bring centralized processes to decentralized organizations without increasing headcount.

4. Align brand and marketing operations improvements with strategic initiatives such as better patient experience

One brand operations analysis for a healthcare system found multiple disconnects and inconsistencies in branded assets that actually confused patients. An example is patient forms. A simplification and rationalization process found many overlapping requirements and inconsistent “asks.” The Marketing team was able to reduce the number of patient forms used system-wide by half. That healthcare system also addressed the variation in employee ID badges by creating a single format used by employees across all facilities used for identification and for access. That not only made it easier for patients to identify exactly who they were interacting with, but allowed physicians carrying as many as five different badges to travel much lighter using one universal badge.

It’s important to note that Marketing was not the sole source of funding for these initiatives. Yet, it all began with the kind of current state assessment I described in the first step.

Taking steps such as these will ensure you have well-defined and optimized brand and marketing operations that help your team become more agile and do more with less—all while supporting the strategic priorities of your healthcare system.

About the Author

Andy Pollock helps healthcare brands with the financial analysis and logistics of rebranding in his role as Vice President of Client Service at BrandActive. To date, he’s worked with more than 35 hospitals, healthcare systems, pharma companies and medical technology firms. He began his career in integrated sports and marketing, focusing on building market share and brand image for national clients including Chrysler Corporation, Siemens, Rolex, Callaway Golf, and Glaxo Smith-Kline. For several years, Andy managed corporate marketing for Briggs Equipment/Sammons, a global industrial supplier. He holds an MBA from the University of Texas at Dallas.


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