Healthcare Needs a Marketing Transformation

Quick, name an industry at the bleeding-edge of marketing innovation. OK, name another. Now, name one more.

I would have to prod another seven or eight times before most of you would even consider healthcare as a viable response. However, if I were a marketer looking for a new gig—or a marketing firm looking for new clients–I would bust my hump to get into healthcare, because it’s an industry that seems absolutely poised for marketing breakthroughs.  

In the past couple of decades, healthcare providers (hospitals and physician groups) and payers (healthcare insurance providers) haven’t been the most alluring destinations for top marketing talent. But that’s changing quickly thanks to the emergence of some of the biggest disruptions—only one of which is the historic Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)—to hit the industry in a generation.

These changes include: a shift in the core payment model from fee-for-services (i.e., quantity) to value-based care; the introduction of millions of newly insured customers; a drive to greatly increase the sophistication of how large populations of patients are analyzed, grouped (i.e., segmented), and treated; and some pretty amazing breakthroughs in clinical technology (e.g., tele-health offerings).

I recently spoke to about a dozen healthcare consultants to learn about the industry’s challenges and opportunities. These service providers were incredibly optimistic about the amount, complexity, and sustainability of consulting work available to them.

The opportunity extends to marketers for several reasons, including the following:

  • An eruption of disruption

Disruption and innovation often go hand in hand: Innovation sometimes results in disruption, but disruption also creates fertile ground for innovation. The current disruptions include payers behaving as providers, and vice versa, as well as breakthroughs in mobile health technology. It’s noteworthy that Apple CEO Tim Cook mentioned the company’s new health and fitness offerings (the HealthKit platform and Health app) during his unveiling of the tech giant’s latest operating system. Management consultants say that healthcare companies that essentially ignored innovative business models, partnerships, and ideas a few years ago are chomping at the bit for fresh thinking today.

  • Millions of new (and newly empowered) customers

Millions of newly insured customers represent a new—and unique—marketing opportunity for many healthcare providers. However, all healthcare companies face a growing need to better understand their customers to operate in a more customer-centric manner.

“As the clout of individual consumers grow, it is not enough to achieve better health outcomes at lower costs,” write PwC Strategy& Inc consultants Minoo Javanmardian and Joyjit Saha Choudhury in a strategy+business article on healthcare priorities. “Providers must also deliver a better patient experience. (If not, physicians might read about it on a patient’s Twitter feed.)”

Healthcare companies that only dealt with patients now need to attract and keep customers who bear a larger burden of the cost and responsibility for their own care.

  • A deluge of data

The healthcare industry will be a hotbed of data-based everything in the coming years. That will give marketers ample building blocks to work with.  “We have more healthcare data than we’ve ever had in the history of the world, and that’s not hyperbole,” Fletcher Lance, national healthcare leader for consulting firm The North Highland Company, says. “But how do we use that data to lower costs and improve outcomes?”

That enticing question is part of an even more enticing set of conditions that promise to move healthcare up the list of most-innovative-marketing industries in the months and years to come.


Freelance journalist Eric Krell works with Mitel CMO Martyn Ethrington to produce DMN’s Diary of a CMO.

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