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SHSMD Connections 2018: key themes and favorite things

By Kayla Lounsbery, Sr. Marketing Director, NRC Health


SHSMD Connections 2018 in Seattle marked my sixth time attending the conference, and I have to say, it’s the best I’ve attended to date. It felt like this year, more than any other, the bigger picture was realized—not just in the topics of sessions, but also in the attitude and energy of the attendees. As a collective. we seemed to all know (and were excited about) what we need to do.

The big theme: In healthcare, we need to get closer to our customers

It didn’t matter whether the session was about digital engagement or cross-functional alignment, the need to know patients as people prevailed. And within that theme, three key realizations stood out:

Patients are consumers.
Over the past couple of decades, healthcare has worked tirelessly to progress from provider-centered behaviors and practices to those that are more patient-centered, and as we are well aware, that was only part of the journey.

Several sessions at SHSMD surrounded the need to treat patients as consumers, and how to prepare your organization to succeed in this paradigm—so many, in fact, that “consumerism” was a track subtopic. But the important thing to remember for all the discussion was that consumerism isn’t just a buzzword. It is where we have (finally) arrived in healthcare, and we need to move forward accordingly.

Convenience matters most.
We’ve noted in some of our research lately that 80% of patients would switch for “convenience factors” alone. Now, while your marketing team can’t unilaterally decide to build several new convenient care sites, there are plenty of ways to make things easier for your customers. The best way to start is by thinking like them.

For example, in their session, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin discussed a customer panel in which they learned that their customers weren’t looking for “specialists,” but for a “foot doctor.” They changed their navigation on their website and saw a huge lift in specialist requests by changing the text to “What type of doctor are you looking for?”

Loyalty is the way to win.
Brian Wynne, vice president and general manager at NRC Health, was fortunate enough to share the podium with Ed Rafalski, chief strategy and marketing officer for BayCare Health System, to discuss why loyalty in healthcare lacks, why it matters, and what can be done about it.

Roughly 40% of patients are not loyal to a hospital or health system. Why does this matter? Because not only are loyal patients healthier, but they cost less. Increasing retention by a mere 5% could increase profits by 25 to 95%. The recommended steps to improving loyalty.

  1. Perform a feedback audit—are you collecting all of the information you need to inform decisions?
  2. Implement intelligent feedback systems to meet your needs
  3. Start measuring loyalty with Net Promotor Score®
  4. Tap into your customer “consultants” for ongoing feedback

You can find a similar version of the presentation here.

What did I learn? (Just a few favorites)

My perspective at this conference is fairly unique. Yes, I’m a vendor responsible for making connections with customers and potential customers, and for driving brand awareness. But I’m also a marketer—an attendee just like everyone else—and I’m certain that is why I always leave SHSMD with a mind full of ideas and a heart full of purpose. Here’s what I took away:

We’re not so different.
As my colleagues and I sat in sessions, we of course listened for ways our customers are using our solutions. (Which reminds me, shout-out to Jim Blazer at Hackensack Meridian for discussing how they used NRC Health data to track consumers’ awareness and perceptions of their merger!) However, I kept having my focus pulled toward writing down ideas to bring home to my own team.

Whether it was simplifying our thought-leadership platform or vowing to never do someone else’s PowerPoint ever again, so much hit close to home. It was comforting to know so many of the things we struggle with as marketers are universal, and we have as much to learn from our customers as they do from us.

Growth isn’t just about the numbers.
The main charges of most marketing teams are brand awareness and new customer acquisition—things that help to grow the business. With competition heating up across the industry, growth is more important now than ever. But with most marketing budgets held stagnant or shrinking, how do we do that? By growing ourselves.

It’s incredibly important for us as marketing professionals and marketing leaders to assess and plan for the growth of our teams.

  • When replacing headcount, don’t simply replace the headcount. Think about new skills your team might need and how existing team members might want to grow their careers.
  • Take advantage of mentorship within your own team, beyond the manager/employee relationship. There is so much knowledge to be shared across functions!
  • Audit your plans: how much is “what you’ve always done” impeding your team’s new ideas and/or what you should be doing?

 We are in control of our own destiny.
In marketing, it’s so easy for us to get caught up in the things we can’t control—our budget, customer experiences not living up to the brand promise, market forces, etc. But in an incredibly refreshing session, Johnny Smith, senior director of marketing and communications at Ascension, reminded us all that we need not only promote our business, but ourselves.

As marketers, what we can control we should measure, and what we measure we should “merchandise.” Ensure the broader business is shown the successes of marketing efforts in a way that’s digestible and meaningful. This packaging and promotion of marketing wins will earn your team the trust to increase marketing’s influence and shape the future.