Among marketing efforts, healthcare marketing demands a high level of understanding of your audience. Empathy toward the sensitive situations and emotions of people who need healthcare services is paramount. By ensuring your strategy and messaging are attuned to your prospective customer’s situation, you’ll position yourself to responsibly encourage engagement.

Keep these four steps in mind to achieve the greatest impact from your next digital healthcare marketing strategy.

Step 1. Identify the impact you want to make.

Focus on your audience’s story and the tangible positive change your brand can make for an individual. This will provide a lens of empathy you can use throughout your planning process to keep your campaign attuned to your audience’s needs. It can also be helpful in identifying opportunities to frame the desired impact into a larger context — related services, for example.

Step 2. Decide what needs to be measured.

Every aspect of a digital marketing strategy is geared toward encouraging and guiding individuals to take another step along their journey. To ensure an effective and measurable journey, outline SMART goals (SMART = specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timebound). Elements of your campaign that are not tethered to these goals may struggle to achieve their full impact. Measuring SMART goals with key performance indicators (KPIs) positions the strategy for success by accumulating the essential information needed to prove the campaign’s success.

Before finalizing what you’ll measure, be sure you understand the full picture of what data, analytics, and tracking are accessible. If you plan to track all the points along an individual’s journey — from seeing an ad all the way to booking an appointment — make sure any necessary pixels or other tracking pieces are embedded in the correct areas of the digital experience, and that they are firing correctly. These pieces will work together to provide a holistic data picture that ties back to the SMART goals. Work with IT professionals to understand the web security protocols that may inhibit digital tracking, especially in industries like healthcare where HIPAA comes into play.

Step 3. Articulate the strategy.

Flesh out the core strategic questions (including the opportunity and goals outlined in steps 1 and 2) by answering questions pertaining to audience motivation, their decision-making processes, and the desired single-minded response. Review past analytics to understand past audience behavior. All this information is collected in the form of an “Engagement Brief.” This information serves to create the shared foundation that everyone involved can build on.

Remember: Many healthcare audiences are quite niche. Balance your strategy, messaging, and expectations accordingly. Messaging that is meant to appeal to people struggling with specific health issues will not garner mass appeal — nor should it. Ideally, when your strategy revolves around connecting with your target audience’s specific situation and emotions, it will help you “find the needle in a haystack” and elicit the desired reaction and interaction with your campaign and brand.

Step 4. Gather action items and form an execution plan.

Collaborate with the subject matter experts and teams you’ll be working with — media planning, digital, PR, and creative, for example. This collaboration will provide the creative assets, customer journey tactics, and corresponding measurement plan that will be synthesized to form the campaign execution plan.

To provide appropriate context to understand this framework, here’s a high-level example of how to enact this planning framework to create an impactful healthcare digital marketing strategy.

Situation: A hospital is introducing a new psychiatric outpatient care program.

  • Step 1. Impact/Outcome: Improve the quality of life for people struggling with depression.
  • Step 2. SMART goals: Drive traffic to the new website’s educational content. Generate 100+ content downloads. Convert 20 leads into consultation appointments via redesigned online scheduling tool in Q1.
  • Step 3. Strategy: Use available scholarly research to identify pain points, barriers, and opportunities among audience(s) seeking mental health services. Identify where audience interests and digital platforms overlap. Determine which platforms and properties are best for your campaign.
  • Step 4. Execution: Collaborate with subject matter experts and teams to develop the execution plan. Consider including content marketing resources and paid media assets to attract initial interest that leads to website traffic, content downloads, and online appointment bookings. Follow with an automated lead-nurturing email campaign that leads up to a booking, and then follows with an appointment to facilitate appropriate access to care resources.

In the healthcare vertical, combining effective digital marketing strategy with thoughtful execution can result in amazing opportunities to impact lives. By focusing on your audience’s human needs and building your strategy around them, you will inspire everyone involved in the planning and execution to build in layers of positive change throughout the project, which will inherently guide your initiative toward responsibly making an impact.