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#HITMC 2018: 5 Top Takeaways for Healthcare Marketers

This year, I made a commitment to attend an event I’ve long been wanting to check out: the Healthcare IT Marketing & PR Conference (#HITMC). During a three-day stay in New Orleans, HITMC boasted 60+ speakers and 40+ sessions – and I was told that I would “return home with new knowledge, new strategies and renewed energy.” With a promising fortune in the cards, I packed my bags and headed to the Big Easy, curious to see if it would live up to its magic as the premier conference for PR, communications and marketing professionals in healthcare.

It did. And then some. There were no voodoo spells, masquerade balls or Mardi Gras beads to bewitch me – just the passion and power of a community of like-minded marcom zealots committed to finding answers to some of our most vexing challenges.  For three days, we came together as a HITMC community.  Whether from the agency, hospital or vendor side, we dropped our masks and shared tips and tricks of the trade as peers.

This year’s theme? Nancy Ragont, Senior Manager for Insights at CDW, summed it up best during a Future of B2B Healthcare Marketing panel discussion when she said, “We’re on an evolving journey as the consumerization of healthcare changes our marketing strategy.” And that was reflected in the numerous presentations, networking meetups and exhibitor booths that I attended.

Following are some of my top takeaways from this year’s HITMC – and whether or not you’re in the healthcare industry, I think you’ll find these both valuable and inspiring:

  1. Earn patient loyalty through continuous digital engagement. Christine Gallery, SVP of Planning and Chief Strategy Officer at Emerson Hospital, stressed that because every patient’s journey is unique and each consumes information differently, building long-term loyalty via the web has never been more critical. The patient’s experience starts with a “digital handshake,” and a hospital’s website is usually his or her first touchpoint – often before the ER. Emerson teamed with SilverTech to build a Digital Customer Interaction Strategy that creates a personalized, one-to-one experience by identifying the needs of various patient personas through the lens of a retail customer. Adopting an Amazon-like mindset to become patient-driven and accessible from anywhere, at any time, will help healthcare leaders to thrive in an increasingly competitive climate and better connect with their “customers.”
  1. Build a strong and diverse media-facing thought leadership bench. This requires company spokespeople who are passionate, charismatic, authentic and available. But what if you don’t have rock stars who fit all of these superhuman criteria? Tara Auclair of Modernizing Medicine, who partnered with Matter Communication, proposed a variety of ways you can make the most of your internal assets. Consider a title change to enhance media curb appeal, by adding “strategy” or “growth” to a subject matter expert’s title. Make sure your spokespeople shine on social media (even if you have to do it for them behind the scenes). Schedule regular calls with your thought leaders to mine new stories and get their perspectives on industry trends. C-suite spokespeople are great, but a broad and diverse bench is even better. Transparency, access and collaboration are essential.
  1. Pitch speakers to top-tier healthcare events with a customer focus. To shift from wimpy proposals to winning abstracts that break through the clutter at major health technology conferences such as HIMSS, experts at Agency Ten22 offered some pointers for writing speaker proposals. First, reach out to conference coordinators and collaborate upfront to understand the nuances of submission criteria. Be sure your proposal includes a customer, which is often needed to even be considered for the speaking slots at HIMSS. Tie your topic to timely trends like regulatory updates, which are always popular. When writing the abstract, use active voice and be succinct; insert the benefits to the audience throughout; avoid clichés and boasting buzzwords (i.e. world-class, leading edge, state-of-the-art); discuss the positives AND negatives (i.e. lessons learned) of an experience; offer top tips and how-tos; and nail your title with free online tools like Headline Analyzer. If you don’t get accepted, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Repurpose your abstract (using the meeting hashtag) for blogs and other social media content to participate in the online event conversations.  Abstracts also make excellent fodder for media pitches, thought leadership and for pitching your spokespeople to smaller, regional events.
  1. Empower sellers to succeed through a virtual sales “community.” Bringing a company’s sales team up to speed on the healthcare industry can be daunting, and keeping them engaged is often even more trying. Molly True, Senior Healthcare Marketing Principal at Windstream, shared her experience with building a virtual sales community – a subset of the larger salesforce – to participate in monthly meetings, act as mentors to less tenured reps, share winning sales strategies and serve as speakers at events to help position Windstream as a trusted advisor. The virtual team members are hand-picked by executive leadership and awarded a spot on the team. In exchange for their commitment, they are incentivized with hot new leads, priority subscriptions to lead generation tools and databases, and the opportunity to pursue advanced certifications and continuing education. The community also strengthens the collaboration between sales and marketing.
  1. Elevate social buzz and sharing using live video. As it becomes harder and harder to get content noticed in an organic social news feed, live video is topping the charts as a way to rise above the noise. For healthcare organizations seeking a captive audience, Stacy Goebel and Eric Pound of StudioNorth noted that people watch live video 3x longer and comment 10x more than for pre-taped video. Visual content is also 40x more likely to be shared via social networks. They shared practical tips for executing live video, including the need to consider the reason you’re going live in the first place. Is it at a trade show or event that provides a compelling backdrop? Is there a sense of urgency? Is the on-camera talent capable of pulling off an engaging interview or narrative? One of the biggest plusses of live video is the ability to take questions and comments from the audience and answer them in near real-time. It’s important to promote live video at least 3 days (if not longer) in advance via organic and paid social, influencers, employees and your website, to name a few. Don’t skimp on pre-promotion. And, while “live” at the time, the video can live on and be repurposed after the fact to extend its value.

I’ve only been able to capture a small smattering of what I learned at HITMC in a single blog, but I hope I’ve left you with a taste of where healthcare marketing is headed!

Outlook Marketing Services offers a specialized practice in healthcare. You can learn more about our marketing communications services here and by following us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Also, be sure to check out the #HITMC hashtag on Twitter, join the HITMC group on LinkedIn and visit the HITMC.com community site.

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Author:  Kristin R. Fayer, Senior Vice President and Healthcare Practice Leader, Outlook Marketing Services

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