Emphasizing “community” in community hospital marketing

Advertising and marketing for community hospitals can be meaningful and rewarding work, but it requires a different mindset than other industries. A great hospital campaign can make consumers feel good about the care available in their community. Or, it can remind them to get a screening or take steps to improve their lives. When we consider the implications of preventive care or wellness, we realize this is important work. 

Consumers are seeing more healthcare marketing than ever before. In 2020, the pharmaceutical industry comprised 75% of the total ad spend on TV, and with so much of it out there, brands seem to be struggling to differentiate. Healthcare marketing definitely has a “look” but there are ways that community hospitals can cut through the noise. Here are a few helpful tips:

You’re local — use that to your advantage

Ever notice how so many of the pharma TV spots lean into lifestyle situations such as a young family at the county fair or a senior couple out for a hike? And why not? These scenes are designed not only to hint at positive outcomes but to evoke feelings of familiarity, accessibility, and ease. These are often huge brands, working hard to relate to the day-to-day lives of consumers across vast markets. Some of these ads are more believable than others. Community hospitals don’t have that hurdle. They’re right there in the community, engaging with people every day. Emphasizing the proximity in that relationship is key.

Build marketing strategies that align with your community

Be strategic in terms of pushing the right content through the right channels. For example, owned social content or printed publications work great for human-centered themes such as 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 cell phones, and they’re spending more than four hours a day on them. 73% of Americans 50 and older own a smartphone. With the widening use of virtual care the healthcare industry and consumers have adapted, so consider planning your digital communications around mobile.

That being said, every community is different. Any marketing strategy should be shaped by data-informed discovery work that considers analytics and audience research, to ensure alignment with the unique needs of your community.

Balance clinical excellence with warmth

Our expectation for healthcare is that it’s driven by science, innovation, and technology. After all, people expect their community hospitals to have the latest therapies and treatments. They also expect care and kindness.

For messaging, choosing whether to focus 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” or “There are 23% more cases of colon cancer in our community than anywhere else in the state, but a colonoscopy has been proven to reduce the number of cancers by 31%”). Clinical innovation could be expressed as a supporting message (i.e. “Even if we do find something, most procedures are minimally invasive” or “Thanks to robotic surgery, Dr. Smith and her team had me back to enjoying my life within 24 hours”). 

For a fundraising campaign to build a new robotics surgery suite, the messaging might lean more into the technology and how it’s going to innovate care at that hospital. In this you might 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 through faster recovery, less pain, and overall better outcomes for the community. 

Lead the community conversation

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 prevention tips, regularly publishing thought leadership allows community hospitals to make close connections with the community with useful information. This is also a great opportunity to humanize your brand by giving hospital staff a voice and personality through published content.

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. Dissatisfied patients and families are usually motivated to share their perspectives on quality of care. So it’s important to be contributing to the community narrative regarding your hospital. If there are operational issues, marketing teams must be made aware of them and consider them in their work.

Design with purpose

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

  • Represent your team and your community in a way that’s authentic and welcoming to all. Diversity, equity, and inclusion in marketing communications is an important part of making care feel accessible. 
  • Use white space as a design element to make communications feel clean. Cleanliness is a basic expectation in the minds of healthcare consumers.
  • Organized layouts with a clear hierarchy can create positive impressions of operational excellence. 
  • Design accessibility best practices are always a great idea, especially in communities that include varying levels of education or ability. 
  • Use photos of real people and places, whenever possible. Beautiful photos and footage can 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.
  • Design for the channels that matter to your audience. The right creative team can shape brands and campaigns to work on any channel, but the strategy needs to come first to ensure that happens.
  • Avoid trivializing hospital brands with cute themes. With community hospitals, some areas of marketing can take on a homegrown approach. Especially when non-marketing people (such as clinical support staff or volunteers) are being tasked with marketing responsibilities. The tone of some initiatives can be informal, but the integrity of the overall brand should always be considered. Community hospitals should be relatable, but they occupy a special place in the community that should reflect confidence and trust.
Think of your healthcare marketing communications as a part of the patient journey and it will help you create in ways more closely aligned with what your community needs and wants.