In today’s crowded marketplace healthcare consumers aren't always starting from the point of “I need to find a hospital." (Many are trying to avoid that visit altogether.) They're just looking to solve their health challenges efficiently, effectively, and with someone they trust.

There's a new Matrix movie on the horizon, and it's just in time for an important marketing strategy lesson, especially when it comes to engaging with your competition.

If you don't remember the iconic spoon scene in the Oracle's waiting room, here's a quick recap: it was where Neo first learned a critical lesson — focus on perception instead of an object itself. There was no spoon, only his perception of the spoon.

Neo's focus on the spoon (and his not being able to bend it, while a child could) looks a lot like some healthcare marketers' excessive focus on the hospital down the street. It's a distraction from the real key to responding to their competition — healthcare consumers.

Accept who your real competition is
When it comes to healthcare, your consumers are doing things a little differently.

Of course, the buyers' journey still matters, but your potential patients are making complicated healthcare decisions, sometimes in a time of dire need, and others in a calmer period of prevention. This means, even when addressing something as common as the flu, their options range from going to the ER, to visiting a Walgreen's, hopping on Amazon, or even doing nothing at all.

Because of that, your competition isn't actually the hospital across town. (Remember, there is no spoon.) Your real competition is missing out on moments of need in consumers’ healthcare journey - from symptom, to diagnosis, to procedure.

Identifying and connecting with their moment of need means understanding what your patients are searching for online, the results they're running across, and who might be doing a better job of turning their digital experience into a digital relationship that solves their healthcare challenges.

Manage your perception
Still, eventually, consumers will probably compare you to a competing hospital. It might not even be intentional.

Healthcare consumers are busy searching locally online (46% of all Google searches online are local), so making sure your provider and location listings, content, and services show up in their searches (and micro-moments) when they need it most is the key to maintaining and, if you can deliver timely, accurate, and compelling content, perphaps even increase your market share.

Your goal is to create a highly visible and engaging digital presence that spans the online search ecosystem. Establishing and managing that presence can be complex, but it really comes down to five basic points:

  • Leveraging SEO-friendly software that automates as much work as possible
  • Building a secure, reliable site that helps boost your search rankings 
  • Continuously optimizing your on-page content, backlinks, page titles, etc. 
  • Boosting your relevance through the right keywords, landing pages, paid ad copy, and other content that aligns with your consumers' searches 
  • Maintaining accurate contact information across your site and directory listings

The great thing about managing your perception in a modern search environment is that as Google's algorithms have gotten more sophisticated, they've started to ignore keyword stuffing and do a better job of rewarding content that genuinely addresses consumers' healthcare concerns. It’s simple – Google is going to reward advertisers and marketers that put the consumer first because consumers will keep coming back to Google if they always get the most accurate and relevant info (but, don’t forget your on-page experience matters too). More people using Google, more advertisers vying for the audience, more clicks on ads, more money for Google, it should be a win/win/win.

Connect to the metrics
Since your reality is going to be centered on your consumers, metrics and benchmarking will be even more important. Establish your critical KPIs early, including conversions, bounce rates, appointments, newsletter subscriptions, and search rankings. Also, set benchmarks that align with each campaign objective and your organizational goals.

As you gather data over time, compare your results to previous weeks, months, and years to ensure you're moving forward and optimizing your share of the digital space your consumers are most focused on.

Once you start to see results, evaluate and adjust both your benchmarks and metrics to keep up with changes in your competitive environment, healthcare trends, and consumer expectations.

Most importantly, stay flexible. Healthcare might be a slower-moving space, but your consumer expectations around digital engagement are moving as fast as any other industry. Focus on being the best partner possible in your consumers' healthcare journey, and managing technology and digital marketing change gets a whole lot easier.

Want to learn more about how to succeed with today's healthcare consumers? Download our guide.