Emphasizing “community” in community hospital marketing

Advertising and marketing work for community hospitals requires a different mindset than other brands. For some marketing professionals, healthcare marketing may not sound as fun as doing work for something like a beer brand or or dog treats, but it can be meaningful and rewarding work. For example, a well-crafted hospital campaign can make consumers feel good about their community care. It could remind them of something really important, or maybe even encourage them to take a step that can improve their lives. When you consider the implications of an area such as preventive care or wellness, healthcare communications are really important. 

Depending on where the audience is in their healthcare journey, hospital marketing can have different levels of importance to them, so it can be hard to create work that resonates.

Consumers are seeing more healthcare branding than ever before and, with so much of it out there, the genre has become a bit homogenized in its approach. Healthcare marketing definitely has a “look.” Consider that in 2020, the pharmaceutical industry comprised 75% of the total ad spend on TV and you can start to understand how marketers might struggle to come up with fresh ideas. Perhaps leadership teams, marketing teams, and agencies are sometimes afraid to step outside the aesthetic and messaging style that so many consumers are used to seeing. Sure, it’s important to be appropriate and follow the data, but community hospitals would do well to be aware of where their brands sit in the context of all that imagery and messaging in the healthcare marketing landscape. 

How can community hospital brands cut through all of this to create relevant, engaging communications? How can we make people feel good about a community hospital brand?  Following are helpful tips for achieving these goals in the context of some key areas of brand or campaign development:

You’re local. Use that to your advantage.

Campaign success can depend a lot on choosing the right channels. Smart brands meet people where they are, and this is especially true for community hospitals. Again, consider the volume of healthcare marketing we all see on a daily basis. Most of the pharmaceutical ads I referenced above strive to connect with people in their daily lives. Ever notice how many of those TV spots feature scenes like county fairs, car washes, or a couple opening a little coffee shop on main street? Comfort and familiarity matter in healthcare. The pharmaceutical companies are showing people enjoying life as a result of positive outcomes. Still, they’re also working really hard not to appear so big and disconnected from the daily needs of people. Some are more believable than others. A community hospital doesn’t have that hurdle. They’re right there in the community so why not leverage their proximity to real people’s lives? Here’s how they can do that:

Develop strategies that create access to your community hospital

By building in channels that put your brand in front of consumers at the right time, you’re not only checking “impressions” and “engagement” boxes; you’re positioning your community hospital as a resource that’s there where people are, in their lives, in their community. If you can meet the audience where they are with useful information, like wellness tips or screening reminders, you’re creating an even more powerful brand impression and building trust. It’s a form of access that resonates with healthcare consumers. And the right mix of channels and tactics can demonstrate a community hospital’s commitment to, and understanding of, the community it serves.

Be strategic in terms of aligning the types of content with the right channels. For example, owned social content or printed publications are great for really human-centered content like wellness tips or patient stories. Paid social can reinforce clinical excellence by targeting specific audiences for things like screenings or specialty care. Email marketing or direct mail can be used to promote events or classes or connect with community partners with similar missions. For digital marketing, remember that 97% of Americans own a cell phone, and they’re spending more than 4 hours a day on them. 73% of Americans 50 and older own a smartphone. With the widening use of virtual care thanks to COVID-19, the healthcare industry and consumers have adapted, so plan your digital communications around mobile.

Balance clinical excellence with warmth in content.

Our expectation for healthcare is that it’s driven by science, innovation and technology. We want to be reassured that our community hospital is using the latest therapies and treatments. But we also want care, kindness and empathy. Carefully balancing these ideas and knowing when to emphasize clinical excellence versus warmth can go a long way in building brand affinity that any esteemed organization in the community would strive for.

For messaging, choosing to focus more on clinical excellence or warmth depends on the purpose of the communication. For example, a campaign for a specific screening that historically causes apprehension (such as a colonoscopy) might lean more toward being friendly and warm to ease concerns (i.e. “It’s easier than you think to get checked out, and we’re here to help.”). This could be supported by specific clinical data related to this issue in the community as well as the benefits of early detection (i.e. “There are 23% more cases of colon cancer in our community than anywhere else in the state, but with early detection, survival rates increase 146%.” Even if we do find something, most procedures are minimally invasive.”). 

There’s often a pretty big gap between operational/clinical staff and marketing. But for everyone involved, achieving outcomes is all about understanding the community you serve. The marketing should align with that mindset.

For a fundraising campaign to build a modern, new robotics surgery suite, the messaging might lean more into the technology and how it’s going to innovate care at that hospital. Perhaps highlight precision and consistency, or the fact that surgical teams can collaborate remotely. Then the supporting narrative can focus on the impact it will have on people’s lives (less invasive, faster recovery, micro accuracy) and better outcomes for the community. 

Lead a community conversation with real and useful content

In addition to specific brand messaging or service line marketing content, community hospitals can build long-term brand affinity through thought leadership. Whether it’s seasonal wellness information, updates on the latest research, or tips for prevention, regularly publishing thought leadership allows community hospitals to make close connections with the community with useful information. Giving clinical staff a voice and personality through published thought leadership or just sharing stories is a great way to humanize your brand.

People have different experiences with community hospitals ranging from the worst of their lives to the best of their lives. Often these experiences are due to circumstances beyond the control of hospital staff. If there are operational issues, it’s important that marketing teams are aware of these issues and are authentic and considerate in their work.

No matter how great your hospital, folks out in the community will be sharing stories, so it’s important to be in the conversation for awareness and truth. And in that, your community hospital is playing a live, active role in the community conversation.

Design with intent and authenticity

Design plays a big role in a brand’s ability to connect with audiences, and it offers a lot of opportunities to get it right. Here are just a few:

  • Use white space as a design element to make communications feel clean. Cleanliness is good in healthcare.
  • Organized layouts with a clear hierarchy can make a positive impression regarding overall operational excellence. 
  • Design accessibility best practices are always a great idea, especially in communities that include people with varying levels of education or disability. 
  • Use photos of real people and places, whenever possible. Beautiful photos and footage can really make a campaign, but if budget and timing dictate amateur snapshots, a talented designer can make that work. Identifying image production resources early on is key when designing campaigns and brands that can embrace that authenticity to great effect.
  • Represent your team and your community in a way that’s authentic and welcoming to all. Diversity in marketing communications is an important part of creating access to care. 
  • Design for the channel you’re using. Again, 97% of Americans own cell phones and they’re on them four hours a day. Design digital pieces for mobile.
  • Be careful with the cute themes. With community hospitals, things like events and other initiatives can sometimes take on a homegrown approach. It’s important to connect with the community and to be warm (depending on the nature of the communication), but the integrity of the overall brand should always be considered. Community hospitals should be relatable, but they occupy a delicate role in the community that demands confidence and trust. There should be a balance.
Think of your healthcare marketing communications as being a vital part of the patient journey and it will help you create work more closely aligned with your community.