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Four marketing questions every health care leader should ask

Discussions about marketing and attracting new patients often focus on promotional tactics like advertising, digital engagement and social media. While these can be useful marketing tools, they aren’t the most important elements of marketing success.

To drive sustainable growth, health care leaders need to better understand the consumers and patients they currently serve. They also need to leverage analytics and insights to build a data-driven marketing organization.

Health care organizations must become more consumer-centric to thrive in the rapidly changing marketplace, and marketing analytics holds the key to unlocking that potential. 

The good news is that there is more market data, more consumer data, more patient data and more real-time marketing data from which to generate strategic and actionable insights than ever before.

Here are four essential data-centric marketing questions every health care leader should be asking:

1. What customers do we need to reach in order to be successful?

Few organizations are successful trying to be all things to all people. Even those that serve very diverse audiences or broad geographies understand that their underlying success is tied to attracting and keeping certain customers. 

These may be the ones who value your services the most, derive the most benefit or remain the most loyal. Or they may be the ones who will help your cardiology or oncology program be profitable enough to help support low-margin programs that are nevertheless important to your mission. They may also be the ones who refer the most patients to you. 

Having better visibility into referral patterns may provide key insights for growth. Understanding who your most valuable customers are is essential to financial success and differentiating your brand in the market.

2. What do we know about our current customers?

Knowing something about your patients (beyond just what they came in for) is the second most important insight you can develop. 

  •  How did they research their condition and care options? 
  •  Which factors were important to them in choosing a provider? 
  •  What process did they go through to select you over your competition? 
  •  Are they more proactive with their health care, or do they need more support and encouragement? 
  •  What communications channels do they prefer to use? 
  •  Are they generally healthy or likely to have ongoing health care needs?

This data is easy to compile on patients today. And knowing your patients more intimately allows you to customize the services you provide and personalize your communications with them.

3. How do we ensure our current customers continue to choose us?

Knowing your patients at a deeper level ultimately enables you to deliver a better overall experience. At the same time, clinical and financial analytics can help improve outcomes and care coordination. This can all lead to higher satisfaction, greater loyalty and greater retention rates. 

Recently, health care research firm Professional Research Consultants found that patients who rated a provider “excellent” were up to four times more loyal than those who rated them “very good.” And they have shown a similar lift in “likelihood to recommend” — one of the strongest indicators of loyalty. 

The data and deep insights, combined with powerful tools like a customer data platform (CDP) and digitally-driven patient engagement strategies, can help facilitate stronger connections and lead to better overall patient retention.

4. How do we attract more of the right customers?

Focus on acquiring new customers with the goal of achieving maximum growth through the most cost-efficient means possible. That means being highly targeted and more measurable, like augmenting your data with things like predictive analytics around the health care needs of consumers in your market. 

Building “personas” and target customer profiles of who the more persuadable or “likely to switch” consumers are in your market allows you to craft more personalized messages. And finally, distributing them in highly precise media channels and optimizing the campaigns in those channels frequently provides better engagement and conversion rates. 

Deploying precision marketing in this way makes marketing more effective and ultimately more cost-efficient.

To thrive in an increasingly consumer-centric marketplace, health care organizations need to act more like consumer-driven brands. That means focusing from the inside out to better understand your current customers and patients. It also means building stronger, longer-lasting personal relationships, ensuring your best customers remain loyal, refer friends and colleagues, and continue to choose your brand. 

Finally, it means leveraging better data and insights to drive more cost-efficient, effective marketing programs that guarantee more measurable and consistent growth of new customers.

Daniel Fell is a marketing strategist in the Optum provider analytics group with over 30 years of health care strategy, marketing and advertising experience. He is the author of A Marketer’s Guide to Market Research and numerous articles on health care marketing. He can be reached at