Why Healthcare Marketing Will Soon Feel the Amazon Effect

June 15, 2016 Daniel Ruyter

Digital and technology are powerful forces, but are they powerful enough to carry healthcare marketing into the next wave of technology revolution?

I’m sometimes amazed at the rate of change I witness in the healthcare industry. As a digital marketing leader at the second largest healthcare system in the state of Florida, I’ve been embedded in digital and software in some form or fashion for almost twenty years now. Sure, I can look back upon the decades that have passed and see marketing’s evolutionary path, even just since I entered the field, and feel astonished. But that rate of change in digital marketing is accelerating, and it appears to be relentless, sweeping up—or casting aside—all in its path.

All this change, and yet, many organizations still lag—not recognizing the trends they have to bring to their organizations in order to stay ahead of the competition. We read that digital marketing is a tidal wave that you can’t expect to just swim around. But is it enough to carry industries like healthcare into the next generation of reaching and retaining customers? Is it inevitable that we must “get with the program” or someone will take our place?

As powerful as the digital marketing revolution is, healthcare isn’t retail, nor is government, or manufacturing. Higher education—another digital marketing laggard—is picking up a bit of steam in some areas, but the fact of the matter is that these industries will never match the digital agility of industries like retail, media, and entertainment.

Opportunities Abound in Digital Healthcare Marketing

On one hand, some people in healthcare marketing are doing things today that weren’t possible just one or two years ago. Take the Miami-based plastic surgeon that also owns a record label and has become an overnight Snapchat sensation.

Dr. Miami on Snapchat

While this is clearly unconventional in healthcare, one physician has found success. The good doctor has over half a million followers on social media and has earned media appearances in publications like Vice, The New York Post, and even Forbes.

It’s easy to pass judgment on the techniques of this doctor as providing nothing more than shock value. But the fact remains, he found a way to set himself apart and build his own form of online brand. The opportunities are there for the taking; healthcare providers and marketers just need to identify them and take advantage.

What does the path look like for digital marketing adoption? There are three high-level steps.

1. Acknowledge You Have a Problem (Opportunity)

Have you ever heard of the “Amazon Effect” (the pressure the company has put on other brands and industries to implement its innovative ways of doing business)? If you haven’t, here’s a pretty good (albeit, dated—2012) video on the topic. We all have come to accept that Amazon has revolutionized the online retail world, and I’d argue that the definition of the Amazon Effect has changed as well.

The online retail revolution is spreading because of one key driver–changing customer expectations. Customers now expect an “Amazon-like” experience everywhere they go online. They expect pricing transparency, selection, and value. Oh, and they want it now.

Healthcare won’t be able to escape this new Amazon Effect, and it’s up to technology to save us. Technology can help us in delivering better customer (patient) experiences, but we first need to accept that we have to change. We have to identify that an opportunity is presenting itself to us. If we fail to accept what customers want, someone will take our place and give them what they’re asking for. In fact, “someone” is already doing that in many markets, in the form of new urgent care clinics and outpatient care centers.

Imagine that—healthcare is going retail after all, because the customer demands it.

2. Commit to Change, Provide Focus, and Adapt

Once you’ve acknowledged that there’s a gap between what you can and can’t provide your customers, you have to commit to making a change. Change doesn’t happen overnight, so planning your path is of the utmost importance.

The first step in this path to change is to embrace digital mediums more holistically and focus on those that provide you with returns. It’s painful to see brands that try to market in certain channels but that just don’t “get” it. Perhaps they’re on Twitter, or have a blog, or even Snapchat, but the content they’re producing just doesn’t make sense. It’s not appealing to their audiences, and the audiences aren’t responding the way the brand expects they should. And yet, the brand continues, seemingly unabated.

Brand marketers have to be able to adapt—techniques, content, and channels—to the response of customers. If our efforts aren’t working (we should know if they are or aren’t), try something new and different. If our efforts repeatedly don’t work, perhaps we’ve chosen the wrong medium and need to adapt.

3. Condition Your Organization around Time to Market

Healthcare marketing is losing out in many respects because of its laggard acceptance of new marketing trends. All too often, healthcare organizations are just beginning their investigations on a new, proven marketing medium or tool when that tool is already being replaced in other industries, such as data analytics solutions. Furthermore, Content Marketing Institute has found that healthcare professionals use print over digital as a marketing medium more frequently than peers in other industries (for example, 43 percent of healthcare marketers use print newsletters, vs. 28 percent of other marketers).

Healthcare marketing study - by Content Marketing Institute

Some of us are risk-takers, while others tend to play it safe. Various pressures dictate our risk tolerance and some industries have more pressures than others, but I think it’s difficult to argue some of us could afford to push the envelope a bit more, don’t you think?

When we take too long to consider, decide, implement, and measure a tactic, we’ll continually find ourselves behind the curve. We need to adjust our organization’s expectations around the time it takes us to take advantage of opportunities. Large organizations can take years to make tectonic shifts like this, but it all often starts with one or a few people driving the change. Small changes lead to larger changes, and large changes lead to a complete cultural shift. That’s exactly what some of us need to be successful in the coming decades, because if you spend too long behind the curve you’ll eventually fall off the ball entirely.

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