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Q&A: How to balance brand building and performance marketing in healthcare

NRC Health recently sat down with Matt Hollenkamp, Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for St. Elizabeth Healthcare, to discuss his last seven years at the Kentucky-headquartered Catholic organization serving Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana. 

Hollenkamp, an executive with a rare combination of two decades across the consumer-packaged goods, healthcare, and non-profit industries, brings a unique perspective.  

Here, he shares his insights on strategy and metrics and how NRC Health’s Market Insights tool can measure four key marketing elements identified in a recent Harvard Business Review article about brand building and performance marketing.  

Hollenkamp also reveals how his organization prioritizes clarity on organizational objectives and strategies, ensuring alignment with marketing.  

He explains how critical it is to deeply understand target audiences, focusing on key segments related to prioritized service lines.  

Utilizing insights from brand-equity studies and recent research, Hollenkamp explains the importance of having a refined approach to measuring brand equity, focusing on metrics such as familiarity, uniqueness, quality, and the ability to meet the health needs of the community.  

By tracking these metrics over time, they gain valuable insights into the effectiveness of their brand strategy and its resonance with its audience.  

Discover here how they prioritize identifying distinctive points of difference that set them apart in the hearts and minds of their customers. 

Hear more from Matt in the Becker’s Healthcare podcast.  

Q. Can you describe your marketing and communications strategy framework?

A. The format we use specifically for the marketing-strategy piece is rooted in a very simple premise: We start by clearly defining the organization’s strategies and objectives.

We spend a good amount of time making sure that we understand that fully and that we can connect to those who are driving that strategy. We also make sure we can interpret what they are doing and their objectives, to inform the output of our marketing.  

Think of it as objectives, goals, strategies, and measures. 

Get super clear on what the organization sees as success, and then ask ourselves how we can connect the marketing strategies we develop.

We get clarity around the message and how that builds up to the overall brand we aspire to be, relative to who people say we are. 

Q. What can you tell us about understanding your consumer audience and your internal audience?

A. We start by asking ourselves whom we’re trying to reach—starting with a very deep understanding. NRC helps to identify our most important audiences and what they want through the Market Insights solution.

The question is: Who do we need to reach based on our organization’s strategy?’ 

But first, Who’s our target?  

The next layer is, What’s the message that we need to communicate?  

That could be multifactorial, based on the services we’re prioritizing to market. I know we’re going to touch on here, in a minute, the tension between brand building and performance marketing. 

How does that message come to life? The how part is typically where a lot of the detail exists. 

For our internal audience, we’re a large employer, with 11,000-plus associates.  

We need to ensure that the audience absorbs and understands who we are. First and foremost, they are the product. They’re ambassadors, so they’re really a part of the how.  

When you consider word-of-mouth and how important it is to your reputation, it is supercritical to ensure that we have 11,000 ambassadors for the brand. The audience is our foundation.  

We have audiences broken out by behavioral segments, each of which relates to and connects to key service lines that we need to market.  

Most of how our brand shows up to the world through our marketing is through about five-sevent services that we prioritize. 

Q. Can you share an example of how you segment and market to a specific audience or service line?

A. In cancer care, it might be someone who could have a predisposition to having cancer, who might be right on the cusp of age or in a situation that might lead them to have cancer at some point.  

We’re trying to find those people to make sure that we can market and promote our services. If you do have cancer, unfortunately, or want to prevent cancer, you choose St. Elizabeth. 

Another one might be in orthopedics or sports medicine—someone who has a predisposition to some type of pain like lower-back pain or knee issues.  

Most typically, contextually speaking, it could be someone who plays a lot of sports, is a weekend-warrior kind of person, who doesn’t stretch a lot—probably looking at myself in the mirror here on this—playing golf, running, or whatnot.  

I’d be an audience member, someone who is more likely to need sports medicine, or even surgery.  

Those are examples of key audiences that we might prioritize for our key service lines. 

There are a couple of other really important ones. One of them is what we consider potential donors of the organization.  

We have a foundation, and we raise money, so that’s a niche-type audience, but one that we would prioritize.  

Another one, which has grown quite a bit over the years, is those who are seeking jobs to work in our organization.  

A pretty big trend in healthcare, brought on by COVID-19, unfortunately, is staffing issues, and the workforce is our number one priority in the organization. 

Q. Do you have an example of how you’ve intentionally created stickiness around a campaign or messaging for St. Elizabeth?

A. We made a conscious choice five or six years ago to take a very specific positioning around the brand for the organization through our marketing.  

And the positioning was really born out of how to create greater emotional stickiness to the brand and leverage a bit of the heritage of the brand—what the brand is fundamentally known for. And it led to the campaign that we’ve had that’s been quite successful, called “I’m Right Here.”

“I’m Right Here” is the “Just Do It” for St. Elizabeth.  

The positioning is and of a double entendre—and insightful too—that we are a highly accessible, convenient brand for people.  

We are Northern Kentucky’s preeminent healthcare system, and so people see us and know us—literally in proximity, quite a bit—and it reinforces that benefit for people.

The other piece came out of brand-equity research that we did that indicated that the more personalized the care, and the more we can describe and show that we know people really well, and that people can see and know that we hear them, the better—that’s the top of the hierarchy of needs for people in healthcare.  

And that also played on a strength that we have, because of how connected we are, and the deep roots we have with the people in our community. The other part of “I’m Right Here” is the emotional side.  

The insight is really kind of cool, because if you think about it, you have someone calling out for you: “Hey, I’m right here.” 

Q. How did the “I’m Right Here” concept help you bring marketing to life?

A. You say it naturally, so it’s a very natural language that people use. For me as a marketer, by the way, that’s a really important piece for me.  

I’m really big on saying and communicating and showing things that people actually say. Too often, marketers try to get too fancy with words, and it’s not how people talk.  

But I think a very common way that you might show that you’re there for someone is summed up in, “I’m right here.”  

And so, with those two things combined, you’ve set a path of positioning the brand, and I think we can see what we stand for and what we’re known for—it’s really been reinforced. 

A. I look at distinctive measures and the point-of-difference measures that NRC has in the Market Insights tool—I could see those just one or two, or two or three, or whatever it is, is our top one. Of course, that’s great, because that means it’s working. The other sign that it’s working, by the way, is how it’s adopted within our four walls.  

Our organization loves it. When it becomes like little campaigns that people do on their own, or use and make funny jokes about in a loving way, you know that campaign has stuck with people, right?

And then there is the final piece of how things come to life.  

So, this is probably a loaded thing here, but I think what I would say is it’s certainly media driven, so paid media, non-paid media. We have really in the last five to six years made a significant effort to be very present from a digital paid perspective.  

And so how we show up to the world through social and through our website has been a huge priority for us, and how we leverage influencers in the digital space, so it has a bit of credibility to say more of who we are, versus us saying it. 

Q. How is does “I’m Right Here” resonate beyond the marketing department?

A. I’ve got probably the best example I could ever think of—really my ultimate hope. This is, I think, what any marketer, especially in the healthcare space, is aspiring for.  

A couple of years ago, we had a nurse leader at one of our hospitals, who—without anybody prompting her to do so—took the campaign, the ethos of the campaign, and built a patient-experience training around “I’m Right Here” and what it stands for.  

And I was just like, Wow….that is ultimately what we want, right?  

Where we can truly affect the experience and how our associates are living that out—that’s connecting what’s being put through marketing to what’s happening every day at the bedside. That was my best example ever. 

It’s really become kind of a rallying cry in our organization. You hear people kind of close out a presentation with it or say a line with it. It becomes something within the waters of St. Elizabeth, in a real positive way. 

Q. How do you assess and measure brand equity?

A. I came to St. Elizabeth from Proctor & Gamble, a world leader in brand-building and marketing.  

I’m coming with my experience in mind and how things were done at P&G, and how we can connect the dots here at St. Elizabeth—thinking about how brands are thought of, and particularly the equity of place and positioning that you own in the industry or categories in which you compete. 

I think it’s really important to make sure that it is understood, because it influences the metrics and performance that you’re looking for as an organization and brand.  

I alluded to a brand-equity study that we did a couple of years ago.  And it was really helpful, kind of a one-time thing but it’s become outdated.  

Recently, I came across a Harvard Business Review article about brand-building and performance marketing that energized me in some ways, because we had been doing our standard tracking through NRC, but to look at it in a different light, and how that story indicated it and came with that question and said, “Hey, look, I’d like to find a solution”—that was valuable.

And thankfully, NRC has that solution we were able to leverage.

So, we have started to say, in 2024, “This is how we’re looking at the equity of the brand” through familiarity, uniqueness, and quality, and asking, Do we meet the health needs of people in our community?  

Those four-point metrics that we can measure over time, we can see how they trend.  

Are they improving or not? And those are a little bit of a brand cheat code, if you will, around how we’re doing. 

I’ll say, in addition to that, that what I’m also looking at that, to me, is critical from a brand-equity standpoint, is those distinctive point-of-difference differentiators that are also in the NRC Market Insights tool, because that ultimately—again, back to my previous point on how we position the brand—that helps me understand truly what, in the hearts and minds of people, we are really standing for and resonating with.  

I’m a big believer in, “Our brand is not really what we say it is to people, it’s what they tell us it is.” 

Q. What are your thoughts on balancing brand-building and performance marketing in healthcare?

A. I think brand-building can be seen as the things that are kind of cushy and creative, and don’t really emphasize the killer claims that a brand might have, or those differentiators.  

But it’s stuff that would be really compelling and engaging for an audience, whereas performance marketing’s like, “Hey, something’s on sale. Buy this now”—trying to move a product or service.  

For those not in marketing to say, “Well, what’s the purpose of that? Why do we do that?”—that’s why I go back to the brand-equity stuff, and looking at those really critical metrics that affect the organization’s growth and movement. And perception does affect whether someone wants to use or buy you in some way, shape, or form. 

Right now, in healthcare, I think we’re at this time that’s quite challenging.  

We’re not immune to that.  

There’s a lot of financial pressure, and reimbursements are what they are. It calls into question: do we need to dial up the performance-marketing side to make sure that we can maximize our revenues because we’re nonprofit? For our mission to happen, we’ve got to have a little bit of profit.  

And so, it calls into question what the balance is there. Right at this moment, we’re actively switching to more performance-oriented marketing.  

I need to show a case for why they need to be pretty balanced—why we need to have strong brand-building while doing the performance-marketing-type stuff. 

Q. How do you use Market Insights to measure the success of your marketing efforts for brand awareness and performance metrics?

A. Market Insights is invaluable to us. I love it personally and can get in a rabbit hole with it. I’ve really tried to instill a love for analytics and understanding, and all that NRC brings to us, in the consumer. My expectation of the team is that they know what’s happening and what we measure to inform what we do. 

In addition to the brand-equity measures that are critical to us, we are tracking preferences, awareness, and ad recall.  

Within that, we have specialized questions to speak to different issues and situations we’re dealing with. Last year, we had something political, and with a set of questions, it helped us. Now, we’re looking at questions specific to key services related to the marketing priority for those. 

Don’t miss Matt’s conversation with NRC Health’s Kayla Evans on the Becker’s Healthcare Podcast.