Healthcare Marketing

what-it-feels-like-to-survive-richardBlog post by Colin Hung

This week, I am traveling to attend the Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development (SHSMD) conference in the lovely city of Chicago – #SHSMD16. The conference starts on Sunday September 11th and runs until Wednesday September 14th. I will be live tweeting from the event using the #SHSMD16 hashtag.

This will only be my second time attending the SHSMD annual conference and I’m really excited to be making a return visit. This conference attracts marketing professionals from the provider side of healthcare (hospitals, large practices, etc.) as well as those from the marketing services side (ad agencies, PR consultants, etc.). This unique combination of attendees results in rich discussions on the future of healthcare marketing and public relations.

If you are in healthcare, and especially if you are in healthcare IT, I would encourage you to attend SHSMD. Why? Because at SHSMD you can learn where hospital marketers and marketing agencies are being asked to focus their time and dollars. Knowing this gives you a clear indication of what healthcare organizations view as important in the coming 12 months.

In 2014, the last time I attended SHSMD, patient experience and attracting physicians were two key areas of focus for healthcare organizations. This was in direct contrast to the prior year where the focus was on promoting the quality of care to patients.

This is a very interesting time for marketing in healthcare. Patients have more choice than ever on where to get their care (telehealth, via their device, overseas) and there is more information than ever before on the people actually providing that care (ratings, reviews). At the same time, patients are beginning to recognize that valet parking and nice rooms are poor indicators of the quality care they receive. In fact, many would happily trade a long walk across a parking lot for friendly bedside manner and better outcomes. It’ll be interesting to see if healthcare organizations still perceive that patient experience is a key differentiator to attract patients.

At the end of the day, attracting people to their organization is the main goal of most marketing departments at healthcare organizations. Bringing in patients is first and foremost, but also physicians, nurses and other talented people who can help their organization. It may sound blunt, but it’s a simple universal truth – the main job of marketing is to motivate people to take action – whether that action is to buy something, change behavior or make an appointment. If people aren’t motivated to take action then that’s a failure of marketing.

One healthcare marketing trend that I’m happy to see relegated to the scrap heap is the focus on high-profile physicians and surgeons. It wasn’t that long ago that hospitals would prominently feature a renowned doctor in their billboard, print and radio advertising. Don’t get me wrong, these doctors probably deserve every accolade they have received, but I found the subtext of this approach to marketing very troubling – “See how much we care about patients? We spent $Millions to attract this amazing doctor to our facility”. What about all the other hardworking people at the facility? What happens if I don’t get that particular high-profile doctor when I walk in the doors? Personally I did not find that form of marketing effective.

On the other hand, I find healthcare marketing that challenges the status quo or cultural norms to be highly effective. In 2014, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City rolled out a new marketing campaign that featured the following ad.


The first time I saw this I literally stopped what I was doing and read the whole thing. It was super-effective.

Since I’ll be at the conference next week, I thought it would be fun to center this week’s #hcldr chat on the topic of healthcare marketing. I would love to hear what the community believes is effective marketing and what is just noise. I hope you can make it.

Join the #hcldr community on Tuesday September 13th at 8:30pm Eastern (for your local time click here) as we discuss the following Healthcare Marketing related topics:

  • T1 As a patient what types/forms of healthcare marketing do you find effective (print, social, PSA-style, great docs)? Share links!
  • T2 What could healthcare organizations highlight to you in their marketing that would attract you as a patient?
  • T3 What failures of healthcare marketing have you seen or experienced? What doesn’t work in your opinion?
  • T4 What advice do you have for healthcare marketers to improve their work?

Shameless plug: In addition to SHSMD I would highly recommend attending the annual HITMC conference put on by John Lynn and Shahid Shah. You can learn more about it here.


The company I work for, Stericycle Communication Solutions, is an exhibitor at #SHSMD16 and provides services to the marketing departments of several healthcare organizations including: an online self-scheduling platform, automated patient communications and live phone agent answering services.


“Memorial Sloan Kettering’s New Ads Pitch a Message of Hope”, Andrew McMains, AdWeek, 2 September 2014,, accessed 10 September 2016

“Is Social Media an Effective Healthcare Marketing Tool?”, Anna Webster, Health Leaders Media, 11 May 2011,, accessed 10 September 2016

“Successful Practices Use Marketing that Evolves with the Changing Healthcare Landscape”, Bruce Brown, Hearing Review, 10 June 2016,, accessed 10 September 2016

“5 Retail Principles for a More Effective Market Share Strategy”, Molly Gamble, Beckers Hospital Review, 3 April 2013,, accessed 10 September 2016

“2016 Marketing IMPACT Award finalists announced”, Modern Healthcare, 11 August 2016,, accessed 10 September 2016

“Healthcare marketers reshape ad strategies”, Jan Greene, Modern Healthcare 30 October 2015,, accessed 10 September 2016

“Health Care Marketing”, Josh Gershonowicz, Huffington Post, 28 July 2016,, accessed 10 September 2016

“8 Examples of Brilliant Healthcare Marketing”, Chuck Malcomson, Hubspot Blog, 23 June 2015,, accessed 10 September 2016

Image Credit

What it feels like to survive – Richard

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