How to Overcome the Biggest Challenge of Children’s Hospital Marketing.

One of the biggest challenges of children’s hospital marketing is that no one wants to think about needing a children’s hospital, until they absolutely need one. So, most parents have very low motivation to engage with your messaging. Yet as marketers, you can’t wait until their child gets sick and they become highly motivated. You must be constantly building awareness and affinity among parents, so that when they eventually need you, they will already be predisposed.

This conundrum can be difficult to navigate. But applying some basic tenets of behavior change models can help. These models show that people need both motivation and the ability to take next steps in order for triggers (in this case, your messages) to successfully change behavior. Obviously, triggers will fail if people are not motivated enough. They will also fail if they’re motivated, but don’t have the ability to take action. For example, I might desperately want to eat healthier, but if the cafeteria at work has no fruits and vegetables, I won’t be able to change my behavior. But if I’m motivated and they put bananas at the register, that trigger will lead to action.

For hospital marketers, this means you must recognize that your audience exists across a spectrum from low to high motivation. You need to adjust your tactics accordingly to both increase their motivation over time, and to offer the right triggers depending on their current level of motivation.

For Less Motivated Parents
Less motivated parents are not ready to take any action. Their kids are healthy enough that they haven’t needed to find a specialist or visit a hospital. The key to engaging them is to connect emotionally in a way that transcends sickness and doctors and hospitals. Unfortunately, most children’s hospitals don’t make this leap, and instead rely on imagery of sick kids or “expert” doctors in lab coats. But you need to show parents that you share their values and give them a reason to like you even though they don’t need you right now. Our “Grow Up Stronger” campaign for Children’s National Health System did just that, by appealing to everyone’s innate desire to see their kids, and all kids, grow up to be their best possible selves.

For these parents, you can start building affinity and trust, and influencing future choice. Don’t expect immediate conversions, but do send them to a campaign specific landing page or content hub with useful advice, information about the latest procedures, and other ways to engage.

For Moderately Motivated Parents
Moderately motivated parents are somewhat ready to take action. Their child might have a minor issue, or they may have a chronic condition that their current care is not managing as well as it could be. These parents are beginning to do their research, so you need to be where they are. At the same time, you need to respect the reality that they are extremely time crunched. We’ve learned from our own campaign analytics that most parents are doing research late at night, on weekends, and on mobile. If you’re running a brand campaign on TV, a second screen buy might make sense to reinforce the message and move them further down the funnel with pre-roll or display banners that delve deeper into specialties. You can also create and curate useful content and provide emotional support and answers to their questions.

For Highly Motivated Parents
Highly motivated parents are ready to take action. They may have a sick child, or their child needs a specialist or a procedure. Hopefully, they have been predisposed to your hospital and have already seen your messaging or have engaged with your content. This is where simple, direct, actionable messages giving them the ability to find care, speak to an expert, or book an appointment will have the best chance for success. Use retargeting to focus on those who have visited certain pages on your website or searched the “Find a Doctor” section of your landing page and consider rich media units that allow users to start the process without even having to leave the banner.

Parents may not want to think about needing your hospital. But if you reflect their needs and expectations in your campaign, and in the digital experiences you build, you can make them more likely to choose your hospital when the time is right.

Jim will be speaking more about this topic and other aspects of building more parent-friendly marketing efforts at the Hospital Marketing National Conference next week with Children’s National Health System’s Director of Marketing Susan Muma. Click here to learn more.

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Jim Lansbury is Founder, Chief Creative Officer at RP3 Agency. He likes to think and write about ideas that harness new technology to forge deeper connections between brands and consumers.

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