For healthcare providers who are still grappling with whether or not to move more marketing dollars to digital and/or how much of their content should be digital, marketing experts say that marketing spend in digital is no longer optional for any practice that wants to stay competitive.

"It is impossible to build a successful strategy without the right online content," Rafael Lugo, a general surgeon in Houston, told INC.com. "To succeed in today's developing healthcare industry, physicians and hospital groups need to constantly produce new content that not only gets them found but also enables them to capture leads for new patients."

Providers and consumers' alike are growing vastly more digital, and the technologies connecting them are improving and changing rapidly as well.

Here are 4 reasons why providers should initiate a digital marketing strategy today:

1. It's where the consumers are: A 2016 survey from Software Advice found that patients are increasingly going online for their healthcare. 72% of patients surveyed said they use online sources such as websites as the first step in finding a new healthcare provider. Additionally, 82% consulted some kind of physician review website to help them determine which physician ranked best among patients.

Not only are patients using the internet to find providers, Physicians Practice Magazine reports that 72% of internet users have investigated some form of health information online, taking their health into their own hands, and researching medical information. The more readily available informational content is for consumers, throughout all stages of the consumer healthcare journey, the more likely they are to get access to the right kind of care!

Millennials, the largest consumer group to need healthcare services, are accustomed to getting their information online and instantly. But, please don’t use that word (millennials) in your marketing! They’re the group that will definitely sniff out something that is a half-baked attempt at personalization. If you aren't utilizing digital marketing, you could be completely missing this critical group of cost-payers. If you're already reaching them digitally, be sure that you're not lumping them into the same sets of needs as older consumers, as service type, not just channel is key to reaching this consumer segment. Younger consumers are more likely to be looking for health-promotion and prevention services, while older consumers will likely need more information about acute and chronic conditions.

2. Digital Marketing is more affordable. While some providers may want to, and in many cases should, continue to put marketing dollars toward traditional channels such as mailers, ads in print magazines, etc., digital marketing offers a variety of affordable options - from Facebook ads to social media blitzes both for less money than print. According to Lyfe Marketing's blog, social media, in particular, is the cheapest form of digital advertising available today. The author posits, “It is one of the only forms of media that can expose you to over 1,000 people for less than $3."

3. Digital offers a greater variety of channels and opportunities for personalization. The number of digital platforms you can use to market to healthcare consumers, in multiple forms, is growing. Plus, the digital market has the distinct advantage of being instantaneous, as opposed to print, which often takes time to prepare and reach consumers. Inc.com recommends providers consider expanding their content to include blog posts, videos, e-books, webinars, and other content to increase digital visibility and reach consumers in more ways.

A one-size-fits-all approach to marketing doesn’t work anymore. Consumers no longer want to be lumped in to “affinity groups” or bundled into personas. Especially as consumers are becoming more savvy, they’re able to sniff out generic, little-thought-given to “who I am” or “what I like” content. Fortunately, digital channels often allow for more personalization, both for a practice's needs, and for your consumer audience. You can personalize imagery, offers, suggested services, facilities, and more - all based on your consumers' implied and stated preferences. Personalization with a digital touch can bleed into traditional channels as well. One option is to use digital variable printing like to create 1:1 maps on direct mail pieces that are supporting a newly opened practice. It’s a neat touch to get a map on a direct mail piece that looks just like the Google Maps directions individual consumers would pull up (from their house to the final destination) leading them to the office or facility you’re supporting in your marketing.

You should also experiment with different messaging and call-to-actions, based on the channel, to see which ones speak more to the consumer segments you're trying to reach. It’s critical to set ROI expectations early on in your campaigns and explicitly distinguish between channels and objectives what your ROI expectations may be.

4. Your competitors are doing it. Simply put, if your practice drags its feet, you can bet your competitors are already on top of it and will leave you in the proverbial dust. Without digital marketing, you'll eventually fall behind and see a negative impact on your bottom line.

Digital marketing doesn't have to be overwhelming. Start as simply and as small as you need, and expand your strategies over time. Think big, start small, go fast, and optimize!

Want more insight into how your medical practice marketing strategy can drive more volume? Request a free healthcare marketing assessment.