Post-pandemic healthcare marketing: Five trends to consider right now
By Cathy Rubino Hines, founder and principal, The Marketing Collaborative
As we mark three years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, let’s give credit where it’s due: the smartest leaders in healthcare have tackled profound challenges in running their organizations. And while their work has been far from business as usual, there’s a long-term pattern I’m still seeing as we come out the other side: healthcare leaders often don’t regard marketing as part of their responsibility. Why is that? For starters, they may not recognize its crucial role.
As we navigate the post-pandemic world, here are some of the most important trends I’m seeing—particularly at community health centers.
1. There’s an unseen threat in healthcare marketing
It’s not always easy to spot until the damage is done: misperception of your organization. Misperception by the public, by patients and clients, by your staff. This silent killer often comes to light in the midst of a crisis, or when an executive talks to another community leader—outside the organization—who has the wrong idea about the value of the organization.
Those of us who work with community health centers know there are plenty of misperceptions. We often hear “do doctors work there” or “that’s only for people without insurance.” Yet often marketing and communications are not included in the overall business plan. Those misperceptions stop patients from walking through your door.
We help correct those misperceptions. A skilled marketer, or should I say educator, can help increase the number of patients and clients who seek you out. They can help change your image and boost your reputation by making them aware of what’s true. They can encourage your staff to be brand ambassadors—and your institution more attractive to top talent.
2. What’s in a name? A lot.
It’s the centerpiece of your brand. But the healthcare sector is notorious for using acronyms for names. Unless your organization has a big advertising budget, tremendous word of mouth, and decades of history like the CDC or YMCA, chances are slim that an acronym will signal your services and correct misperceptions.
The other challenge in healthcare organizational monikers comes from names that don’t easily adapt as you evolve. For instance, many senior living facilities have embraced the use of “senior living facilities” to qualify their names because it encompasses assisted living, skilled nursing, hospice care, and so much more.
If you’re not sure your name suits your organization anymore, it’s not impossible to change it—and the return on investment can be substantial in terms of building your brand and your reputation.
3. Branding is more than a hot topic—it’s essential.
As the daily challenges of COVID-19 have begun to subside, the number of conversations about branding I have with healthcare leaders has grown. They’re turning their attention toward the long-term and thinking about the kind of image they want to portray. And when they realize they have some work to do, it becomes a priority.
How do they know they have work to do? They’re listening to their communities. They’re talking to other local leaders. Or there’s a new local crisis they could help address but they’re not invited to the table. Worse yet, they may find that their own employees don’t fully understand who they are and why they matter. That’s a missed opportunity for staff to be your best spokespeople.
4. We’re in the midst of a healthcare “disruption” that will change everything.
And not in the sense of an immediate challenge like power outages or pandemic surges. The disruption I’m talking about is systemic: new healthcare channels that the public is turning to like urgent care. Plus, consider the behavior change that COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites sparked. Sure, many locations were traditional healthcare organizations, but many others sprang up, too: convention centers, supermarkets, and community health centers. In fact, community health centers were closely involved in both testing and vaccination efforts because they were included in the funding and distribution of tests and vaccines. They were also identified early as places that could reach populations other health systems could not. How do you continue to educate the public about your services beyond COVID testing and vaccines?
5. Patient education is both an essential and underutilized tactic.
How do people find out about the availability of health services at community health centers or any other healthcare organization? By educating them. It’s a facet of marketing I’ve spent thousands of hours focused on—and one I’ll continue to study. Because as marketers, we’re not here to create award-winning campaigns (although sometimes they’re pretty great); we’re here to make practical, everyday communication work.
For healthcare organizations, that’s not just about feel-good TV spots or a warm-hearted social media feed. It’s about making sure everyone in our communities knows where to get the healthcare they need. While COVID-19 became a natural moment for community health centers to do what they do best, the challenge will be to keep the momentum going with the patient relationships they’ve formed.
Where do we go from here? I’d love to talk.
Nodding your head to any of these trends? Maybe it’s time for a conversation. As a healthcare marketing consultant, I’m always excited to discuss the issues that keep you up at night—to get a better understanding of how marketing or patient education can move your organization forward.