Posted: December 7, 2017

It's never too early – or too late – to begin planning your healthcare marketing strategy for 2018. However, a marketing strategy is only as good as your content. The need to provide engaging information to convert consumers into existing patients – and then retain them in the long term – is a primary driver for any healthcare facility, whether it's a 100-bed free-standing clinic or a multi-hospital system.

Content can be the first line of defense against ailments, and healthcare content marketing can be the first comfort to patients or their families. When you aim to solve problems and answer crucial questions with the content you create, distribute, and measure, you're on the path to better engagement.

So what are the most important elements of a successful healthcare content marketing strategy?

Keep Your Goals in Mind
As with any strategy that delivers results, you want to be clear on your goals from the start. Do you need to drive volume to a specific service line? Are you trying to raise awareness about stroke risk factors? Do you need to promote a new birthing center? Use your goals to help you create a content plan, then craft your strategy to help the right consumers find the right content at the right time.

Beginning to End: Content that Converts
In the first stage of the consumer journey, where they become aware of your organization, providers, and services, content should address high-level topics like provider bios and service line descriptions or common search questions like, "5 Causes for Knee Pain." Because it offers a relevant solution, this “helpful" content should be found organically via search engines or social media. Then, savvy healthcare marketers will offer a second piece of content to bring these consumers down the path toward conversion.

If you want your consumers to convert — whether that's scheduling an appointment, making a phone call, or filling out a risk assessment — your landing pages, longer content, forms, etc. need to offer more value, actionable advice, or can't-resist offers like patient stories, a proven plan for a successful outcome, or free/low-cost screening. If your content convinces your consumers to take that next step, to identify via form or schedule, you're on the right track.

The patient journey from awareness to procedure and follow-up can be a long one, but you'll have a better view into how your content efforts are matching up to consumer touch points if your strategy includes personalization that aligns with each step. You're addressing people, not just patients. To create long-lasting relationships and build trust, you need to offer value in your content, and in healthcare that value often means something that's personally relevant to your consumers — whether that's serving up relevant content based on their location or device type or presenting banners promoting services related to a form they've previously completed. Traditional channels like email offer great personalization opportunities for more sensitive topics like pre- and post-op instructions, content around living with a specific condition, and more.

A Content Marketing Strategy Specific to The Target Demographic
For a healthcare marketer focused on a pediatric service line, creating “helpful" content could mean writing an educational article on the merits and concerns of pediatric psychology. It may feel unnatural to create content that is so niche and professionally focused, but that is the type of content that worried parents are frantically searching for online.

Conversion point: Once a consumer is reading your article, offer them a free download of a white paper from your leading pediatric psychologist or offer a sign-up form for an upcoming workshop on childhood behavior led by the same physician.

Everyone in the family might be researching, so content can be created to target the family demographic. Experiment with infographics or videos for particular stickiness, as content with a low “barrier of entry" is a great to way to get your content to appear in search results. For example, content related to "diet best practices" could be a great way for healthcare marketers from a wide array of service lines to get the traffic they need. Once on your site, the “takeaway" content should be targeted to the main stakeholder, or adults who are most likely to make the medical decisions.

Conversion point: Offer them a downloadable guide in exchange for an email address. It can be a simple PDF with tips for healthy eating to hang on the fridge so the whole family gets on board, or offer an option to sign up for your healthy living email newsletter for ongoing engagement opportunities.

A Content Marketing Strategy Focused on Engagement
After you've chosen your goals and gained approvals from multiple internal stakeholders, it's time to put yourself in the patient's shoes. If your goal includes improving appointments for your cardiology department, it's a good idea to ask what a cardiology solution-seeker is searching for in a search engine. For many, it's a diagnosis. As a marketer, you can create a simple on-site quiz that will determine how at risk they are for an illness.

Conversion point: Once they take the interactive quiz, prompt them to book an appointment. In this way, the prospect is self-qualifying themselves as someone who is need of an appointment with a cardiologist.

Tracking and Measurement
With proper tracking and measuring in place, you set yourself up for success later on. As noted by a report from the Content Marketing Institute, “33% of B2B marketers and 41% of B2C marketers cited the inability to measure as a significant challenge."

Make sure every piece of content you create in 2018 is benchmarked against a single goal, like driving enrollment in a bariatrics seminar series or promoting health risk assessments. Document what your goals and tactics are along the way, so you can easily see what might need to be changed. Without these benchmarks and measurements, you won't be able to calculate ROI, which is a growing expectation for healthcare marketing teams.

Start Getting Ready for 2018 Today
Whether it's content that answers questions about treatment options or provides information about a specific healthcare provider, as long as your content genuinely helps the patient and creates a positive memory for a patient, they will associate “helpful" content with the healthcare organization that supplied it. It's these positive mindsets that turn prospective consumers into existing patients. And, it's these same mindsets which retain consumers in the long term and encourage them to act as advocates for your organization. This, in turn, generates additional traffic and leads to increasing patient numbers – and all because a conscious decision was made to focus on a helpful, consumer-first marketing approach.

Want more insight into personalization tactics in healthcare marketing? Read our guide to Driving Growth with Personalized Web Content.