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There are over 6,000 hospitals in the U.S.
That means, theoretically, a doctor who needs to refer a patient to a hospital has more than 6,000 options to pick from.
While this number may not mean much for smaller, rural hospitals, those health systems in densely populated areas, like New York City or Miami, can have major challenges generating referrals from HCPs nearby.
For hospitals that are fighting for a referring doctor’s attention, understanding hospital marketing is a must. In this guide, we’ll give you a thorough primer on hospital digital marketing, from creating a marketing plan to choosing the best strategies to engage providers.
What Is a Hospital Marketing Plan & Why Do You Need One?
A hospital marketing plan uses digital advertising and marketing strategies for hospitals to engage HCPs and increase patient referrals. An ideal plan will include NPI-level data, smart ad types, and clever messaging that will generate referrals at a low price point.
And here’s why creating a hospital digital marketing plan is so crucial:
- Competition for HCPs’ Attention: A marketing plan helps hospitals “cut the line” and influence providers, nurses, and other HCPs.
- Digital-First HCPs: Today’s healthcare professionals are more dependent on technology than ever. In fact, 86% of hospitals utilize EHRs for their healthcare info. A digital marketing plan is the best way to reach HCPs directly, connecting the digital touchpoints.
- HCPs Are Connected Outside of Work: The average home has access to 25 digital devices, which means a digital marketing plan for a hospital is helpful for continuing the conversation while HCPs are away from the office.
5 Steps for Creating a Hospital Marketing Plan
#1: Learn About Your Target Market & Build an HCP Audience
Start by researching why HCPs refer patients to a given specialty (cardiology, urology, etc.), what patients want from the specialist or department, and what your hospital offers that meets those specific needs.
Once you have a complete understanding of your target audience’s digital behaviors, expectations from advertising, and common challenges, hospitals can refine their target list to only engage HCPs who fit certain characteristics and criteria.
As an example, if a hospital in New York City wanted to boost referrals for oncology services, it could use NPI data to engage PCPs, oncologists, and radiologists nearby. It could even target doctors based on title, enabling them to only reach HCPs with decision-level power. You may, for example, show an ad with facts about your oncology department or a new technology your hospital recently acquired.
#2: Decide on Your Hospital Marketing Goals
A smart hospital marketing plan focuses their campaigns on one goal, like increasing engagement or boosting referrals.
By creating a specific goal, hospitals can allocate their resources properly and build a hospital digital advertising strategy that aligns with their intended outcomes.
For example, if a hospital wants to increase referrals, they can use ad types with interactive elements so providers can easily be in touch.
Goal creation sets the foundation for the campaign, allowing you to optimize your creative, targeting, and copy.
#3: Analyze Competitor Hospitals & Look for Opportunities
The biggest wins in the industry often come from filling the gaps rather than following the pack:
- What sort of messaging are your competitors using?
- Are they promoting specific specialties or services?
- What ad types are they focusing on?
- Are they using geofencing, retargeting, and other smart targeting tactics?
- Do they utilize first-party data for their campaigns?
These answers — along with others — create a picture of the competitive landscape and what it’ll take to outshine other hospitals in your area.
#4: Choose Effective Hospital Marketing Strategies & Tactics
Forward-thinking hospital marketing plans align the strategies and tactics with the preferences, digital behaviors, and lifestyle of the HCPs in the target audience.
As an example, the disposition toward mobile technologies among healthcare professionals — 90% of doctors use smartphones in the workplace — means that marketers should prioritize ad types, messaging, and optimizations for smaller screens.
Similarly, the busyness of healthcare workplaces means that marketers need to fight hard for HCPs’ attention. How do you do that? By using interactive ads and video to break through the noise.
#5: Launch, Optimize, Repeat
Successful hospital marketing isn’t built in a day; it depends on insights from previous campaigns.
During your current campaign, hospital marketers should analyze their ads based on creative, messaging, and targeting to see what can be optimized.
- Are certain types of messaging getting more engagement?
- Do shorter videos perform better than longer ones?
- Have providers ignored ads on certain apps, platforms, or websites?
- Were HCPs with a specific job title more likely to refer patients to your hospital?
By answering questions like these, you’ll find the right media mix, reduce waste, and improve overall performance.
The 8 Best Hospital Marketing Strategies for Boosting Patient Referrals From HCPs
#1: Utilize NPI Targeting
The biggest challenge for hospital marketers? Targeting — and marketers agree. In fact, one study found that targeting was the biggest challenge for survey participants.
Hospitals often struggle to reach the right HCPs; the HCPs are who are ready to refer their patients.
The answer? NPI targeting. It allows you target providers based on AMA-recognized medical specialty, subspecialties, and more.
The benefits of NPI targeting? Only reach high-intent providers, lessen costs, improve performance, and navigate privacy laws more effectively.
#2: Focus on Digital
The pandemic has made technology part and parcel of hospitals’ DNA — and an expectation from patients. These two stats say it all:
In other words, digital healthcare is here to stay. But so is digital advertising for hospitals, like video, contextual, and native ads. Hospitals that want to increase referrals from HCPs need to optimize campaigns on the screens providers are using, including mobile phones, EHRs, and laptops.
Healthcare advertisers have lost their “personal touch.” And even worse, people have become tired of their ads. Why? Because they aren’t valuable.
We know this based on the outcomes when brands actually personalize their advertising experiences. 91% of consumers say they’ll shop with brands that provide relevant offers and recommendations.
If your goal is to increase referrals, personalize your hospital ad campaigns by utilizing creatives and messaging that speak to HCPs and their challenges.
#4: Use Video Advertising
50% of Millennials and Gen Z say that they don’t know how they’d get through life without video. If that’s not enough to convince hospital marketers to use video, the performance of video ads will. Marketers who use video advertising increase their revenue 49% faster than those who do not. The best video ad formats? In-stream, mobile, and native.
#5: Be Creative
While audience targeting is certainly crucial when doing digital marketing for hospitals, one shouldn’t discount the power of creativity and innovative ad types. Why? Because the competition for HCPs’ attention is fierce, making it difficult to stand out.
Rather than using static banner ads or traditional image ads, opt for light animations and rich media. This will help increase click-through rates and conversions.
A hospital ad agency with creative services can help you implement creative ads that attract HCPs’ clicks and drive referrals to your hospital.
#6: Consider Search
“Top hospital for treating heart disease”
“Who are the best oncologists near me?”
“Rehabilitation medicine in Chicago”
These are examples of search terms a provider may use prior to, during, or after meeting with a patient.
A search ad may not result in an immediate referral, but targeted search ads can put your hospital top of mind when HCPs are making decisions — both for current and future patients.
If you want to take this strategy one step further, utilize search extensions, such as “Find a Provider” or “Schedule an Appointment,” to give doctors a convenient option for getting in touch.
#7: Get Social
Despite the prominence of social media in today’s marketing landscape, hospital advertisers have been slow to utilize it.
But that’s changing.
Nowadays, social media is becoming a centerpiece of hospital marketing plans as providers and patients use it to stay connected and learn.
The stats say it all: 67% of HCPs use social media for professional purposes, and 60% of patients who utilize social media trust posts from their physicians.
Why the surge in healthcare social media?
Simple: Gen Z and Millennials.
Younger generations rely on social media and won’t stay away from it for their healthcare needs just because it’s less “traditional.”
Hospital marketers will need to adapt social media marketing into their hospital advertising strategies if they’re going to connect with younger HCPs entering the workforce and older ones who are evolving.
#8: Spend Smart & Evolve
Hospital marketers are under a lot of pressure to perform. Advertisers who dedicate all of their budget at once will see diminishing returns.
Smart hospitals, on the other hand, use optimizations from current and previous campaigns as their north star. They figure out what’s working and what isn’t and then increase the former while reducing the latter. That may mean changing out the messaging, experimenting with new ad types, or trying out new audiences.
Like Rome, successful hospital advertising isn’t built in a day.
What to Look for When Choosing a Hospital Marketing Agency
#1: Expertise in Healthcare
The most successful people and organizations have one thing in common: They’re experts in something rather than average at a lot of different things.
Rather than working with companies across various industries, your hospital advertising agency should focus on healthcare exclusively. Why? Because hospital marketing comes with an inherent set of difficulties that your agency must understand:
- Data privacy laws relating to patients and HCPs
- Regulations on advertising and other areas
- Unique corporate structures
The list goes on and on. What’s important is that you work with a partner that understands hospitals, their pain points, and what needs to be done to reach and engage HCPs. That’s how you get the best bang for your buck.
#2: HCP Data & Advanced Targeting Capabilities
The most important parts of hospital advertising? First-party HCP data and innovative targeting strategies. Without these two elements, your performance will lag and your costs will rise.
Your hospital marketing company must be able to provide brand-safe, accurate HCP data that allows for 1:1 NPI targeting. This is the best way to reach the HCPs who are most likely to convert.
#3: NPI-Level Reporting
NPI reporting is the fastest, easiest way to elevate your best hospital advertising.
Rather than relying on vanity metrics to tell your hospital advertising campaign story — for example, the overall number of impressions and clicks — NPI-level reporting enables you to know exactly which HCPs are engaging with your ads.
Your hospital advertising agency should be willing to walk you through campaign metrics, giving you a window into the data you care about. That starts with having a clear understanding of performance based on NPI numbers.
#4: Understanding of Costs
The prices of groceries, cars, and just about everything else have gone up. The “why” behind this rise can be mostly attributed to supply and demand.
The same applies to hospital advertising. Many hospitals (demand) are vying for limited ad space (supply), driving up prices. As a result, hospital advertising spend doesn’t go as far, so marketers need to squeeze value out of every dollar.
The solution? Work with a hospital marketing services agency that’s focused on cost-efficiency. They should have a clear understanding of your budget, financial needs, and market conditions so they can drive performance for the months and years ahead.
#5: Expertise in Digital Advertising
There’s a reason so many brands use agencies: Digital advertising is complicated, tedious, and challenging to get right — at least on a consistent basis.
And the challenges in healthcare are even greater, as the industry has plenty of red tape. An agency with HCP advertising expertise can help you navigate the complexities and regulations while steering your campaigns to success.
When considering different agencies, ask yourself these questions:
- Does the agency have a game plan for navigating HCP targeting once third-party cookies are no more?
- Do they have access to first-party data and know how to use it for cross-channel campaigns?
- Do they understand the various channels, including mobile, video, CTV, and point-of-care advertising?
- How do they approach ad fatigue? Have they built up an expertise in creative versioning and ad frequency?
Digital advertising, including programmatic, can be incredibly effective for increasing referrals to your hospital, building brand awareness, and more. However, success relies on working with an agency that has the expertise to overcome industry challenges.
#6: Client-First, Always
In 2023, one of the most important things to look for in a hospital advertising agency is an organization that puts you first. Don’t compromise on this.
Find an agency that is:
- Open to feedback
- Timely and communicative
- Focused on your goals, not just theirs
When you find an agency that checks all the boxes, hit go. Your campaigns will be in good hands.
Wrapping Up: Taking Your Hospital Marketing to the Next Level
As hospital advertising evolves, it’s more important than ever to understand HCPs and how to engage with them meaningfully. Working with the right partner is the first step toward reaching your goals.
Adfire Health is a healthcare ad agency with a proven track record of helping hospitals reach and convert HCP audiences. Using our proprietary database of more than 7MM HCPs and 1.4MM registered NPIs, we’ll help you take your hospital marketing ideas and campaigns to the next level.