HCIC 2017: Eight Key Trends for Marketers

Steve Leibforth, Vice President of Solutions Consulting
Virginia Howland, Director, Health System Marketing


This year’s 21st annual Healthcare Internet Conference in Austin brought together healthcare marketers and industry experts, who shared their ideas and successes with the largest group of attendees in the event’s history. The keynotes, breakout sessions, and conversations with health systems during the conference identified key trends that hospital marketers should take note of. Among them:

Digital marketing is marketing. As Paul Matsen, chief marketing and communications officer from Cleveland Clinic, said in his keynote address: “All marketers need to be digital marketers. Everyone on the team needs to understand analytics. Otherwise, they will be obsolete.” There should be no more “traditional versus digital” marketing divide in healthcare organizations. Highly successful companies in other industries — like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Airbnb — do not employ separate traditional and digital marketing teams. They just have marketing.

Embrace analytics to get a seat at the table. To have a voice in the C-suite, marketing must demonstrate impact and be able to have evidence-based conversations. Carolinas HealthCare System put on a presentation titled “Is Your Marketing Strategy Working? The Proof Is in the Revenue: How to Track, Measure, and Optimize With CRM and Analytics.” In addition to digital and CRM teams, Carolinas HealthCare has an analytics team to ensure all decisions are data-driven. The system also employs a sophisticated focus on attribution modeling to truly determine the value of the dollars it spends on marketing. 

The Periodic Table of Marketing Attribution - Bizible

Data analytics is the new core marketing competency. As hospital marketing teams become more sophisticated with analytics, they can justify requests for more dollars and resources from the C-suite.

Chatbots are gaining ground. Several presentations cited the use of chatbots as a growing trend in healthcare. In addition, both Margaret Sabin, CEO of Centura-Penrose St. Francis Health Services, and Aimee Quirk, CEO of innovationOchsner, described how their organizations have committed to improving the health of their patient populations, with the use of chatbots as a key strategy. 

According to Sabin, of the patients who participated in the program (which uses CareChats technology from Healthgrades), 80% indicated that their health had improved after the first year of interacting with the chatbot on a regular basis. As an industry, we are just scratching the surface of how chatbots can improve the consumer and patient experience, and it will be interesting to see how many health systems present about their successes with chatbots at HCIC in 2018.

CRM is a mindset, not just a tool. Customer relationship management is a collection of strategies, practices, and technologies that support an “extreme focus on the customer.” Cultivate a team of stakeholders — not just the marketing department — who will champion this mindset. Create a process that brings people together from across the organization and keeps them engaged — because CRM is the foundation for how we will market in the future.

Content marketing is the only marketing left. Three-quarters of companies will create more content than ever in 2017, yet the number one challenge for marketers, both B2B and B2C, is to produce engaging content. Why does most content fail? Our audiences are too busy, and what we have given them is not relevant enough. The good news is that there are a variety of proven strategies for improving content and its relevance, and better science for measuring its effectiveness.

Test and invest — put ideas out in market and scale them as they work. With traditional marketing methods, it could take 12 months (or longer) before benefits were able to be measured. Digital and CRM tools can help us collapse the cycle dramatically. Think shorter campaigns, smaller audiences, and more frequent measurement. Cycling through campaigns faster can help us build our team’s competency and improve results.

Shift to conversations. As marketers, not only do we need to map out topics that support the consumer journey, we also need our content writers to make the shift to speaking conversationally, versus authoritatively. Consumers equate this to being treated like human beings. It is harder than it sounds and may take some work to get internal stakeholders on board with, but it is a skill we need to develop if we want to increase relevance.

Think bigger about the patient journey. A wide variety of patient journey maps were presented, and many were service-line-focused — such as “knee replacement journey” or “bariatric surgery journey.” These are logical starting points, but as marketers we need to think more broadly about the consumer’s journey to address other aspects of their healthcare ecosystem. This will mean putting more focus on wellness, prevention, and ongoing health management in addition to active care. 

Having the right technology, data, and measurement tools in place allows health systems to make data-driven decisions to better assess the impact they are having on patients during their journey. According to the Greystone 2017 digital marketing survey, there is also an increase in staffing happening: “With regard to staffing, there is a distinct shift in staffing skills needed — from traditional and mixed responsibility staff — to staff with more digital and web development-focused skills (i.e., departments are beefing up their digital and web teams).”


While the healthcare industry still has a long way to go improve patient experiences, 2017 feels like a leap compared with the last few years, both in level of sophistication and data-driven decision-making. Hopefully, this great progress will continue as we look forward to another round of lessons learned this time next year, at HCIC 2018 in Arizona!

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