The healthcare marketing environment has become significantly more complex over the past few years – communicating to better informed consumers, dealing with healthcare system consolidation and navigating the outcomes-based focus of Affordable Care Act (ACA) – aka “Obamacare” – regulations.
An effective web presence is crucial as a competitive advantage – Americans on average visit a doctor three times per year, but spend over 52 hours searching for health information online (Makovsky). The web is a critical channel for engaging prospective patients in an increasingly competitive environment.
One of the most significant challenges to establishing an effective web presence for healthcare organizations is structuring content in a meaningful way for visitors. Because healthcare is now intensely competitive, with patients often having options about where they seek care, healthcare institutions must differentiate themselves with high-quality information and services that engage the visitor in an online conversation with the institution.
For many institutions, the process of creating online relationships is complicated by their size, decentralized nature and departmental diversity, with numerous competing interests and multiple stakeholders. Marketers must balance visitor engagement with their overall objectives of establishing brand preference, maintaining brand consistency, supporting revenue goals and providing superior customer service.
Finally, as healthcare consumers become better informed, they are seeking a broader range of online services and interactions, often using their web experience as a criterion for evaluating the entire institution. The patient experience is the brand experience – and it starts with your website.
Creating and Managing the Online Conversation
Think about a visitor’s experience with your website as a conversation – an exchange between the visitor and the provider.
As a marketer, how can you structure this conversation in a way that puts the consumer in the center?
And how can you move that conversation beyond simple transactions or passive interaction to one that is active and relational?
To lay the ground work for establishing this relationship a healthcare marketer should:
- Create a strategy for the conversation
- Develop content that drives the conversation
- Guide the conversation
- Select the tools that enhance the speed, ease and convenience of the relationship
- Use social media to continue the conversation
Create a strategy for the conversation
Web strategy begins with an understanding of the needs and personas of your desired target visitors. Think carefully about the content and services each visitor needs and the tasks they will want to accomplish. These outcomes guide site design, navigation and the interactive features that engage visitors. A large healthcare organization will have multiple audiences – patients, physicians, researchers, prospective employees, donors – with multiple needs for information and engagement. Answer the question, “If I were a patient coming to the site, what would help me the most?” Do the same for your other target audiences.
Develop content that fits the strategy
When you understand your visitors and their reasons for visiting the site, creating messaging and content gets easier. With the website visitor at the center, look around 360 degrees for the types and sources of content that make sense. Don’t just ask what information people want to receive, think about how they want to receive it. For example, a patient coming to the site may do so with a sense of urgency and heightened emotions. They’ll want answers and information quickly and in language that is easy to understand. Remember again that the audience is at the center of the conversation. Develop content that addresses their needs and keeps them involved.
Guide the conversation
Once a visitor comes to your site, it is up to you to structure and guide the conversation to a satisfactory outcome. This can be accomplished through navigation, calls-to-action, visual elements or short directive copy. Here are two examples from Johns Hopkins Medicine.
First, Hopkins uses a short text element: “Explore Johns Hopkins Medicine” which exposes a drop-down menu (figure 1) that provides contextual navigation for several categories of site visitors, including: prospective patients, med students, researchers, donors, media and staff.
Second, Hopkins offers action-oriented navigation (figure 2) specifically for patients and prospective patients – the visitors which drive the most value for the institution – directing them to the services they are most likely going to need to move their relationship with Hopkins forward.
Increasingly, hospitals are focused on providing robust health information to better engage prospective patients and to create a connection that ultimately results in an appointment. Health providers want to become the go-to sources of medical information and to capture traffic share from medical information sites such as WebMD. The best implementations of this approach provide prominent calls to action making it very easy for site visitors to find a relevant physician or to make an appointment while browsing health information.
An important aspect of the exchange with visitors is to provide insight into the process and how they’re involved. How have you been able to engage site visitors in meaningful conversation?
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