From the thriving live video scene to the introduction of AI-powered messaging apps to the wildly successful launch of augmented reality app Pokémon Go, 2016 was an eventful year for digital marketing and technology. Marketers were presented with a plethora of new platforms and tactics to further engage consumers and create unique brand experiences.

Considering the amount of innovations last year, it can be overwhelming to sift through what’s important to you as a healthcare marketer. What we can count on is that consumers want to be in control of their experience—from the moment they begin searching for a healthcare need to how they interact with you after a hospital visit. Digital marketing will play a huge role in building and transforming this entire journey in 2017.

As you assess how you can enhance your digital marketing this year, it is critical to think first about providing consumers with the best online experience possible. Keep these key healthcare digital marketing trends in mind.

#1 Mobile. Mobile. Mobile.

Okay, so it might sound like we’re beating a dead horse here, but we cannot stress enough the importance of designing for mobile in all that you do. There are still hospital websites that are not responsive, which, considering Google started prioritizing mobile-friendly websites in 2015, damages your search ranking. You simply cannot afford to ignore mobile-first strategies any longer.

In 2017, marketers will be doing two things as it relates to mobile:

  • Understanding how users interact with smartphones and designing mobile experiences that align with these insights to connect people’s physical and digital worlds. For example, we use our phones all the time for navigation. How can you utilize this feature for your brand? Can a smartphone’s location services be used in way finding, to help visitors navigate your hospital?
  • Adapting online experiences to perform best on mobile. For example, when it comes to lead generation, consumers aren’t going to fill out a lengthy form on a phone. They want a simple click-to-call option, or a condensed form. If you want people to complete the desired action, you’ll have to design experiences with mobile in mind.

If you’re still not convinced, consider this statistic from Think with Google: 44% of patients who research hospitals on mobile devices schedule an appointment. The reason being consumers are researching health data on-the-go, as soon as they experience a healthcare need, and they’re making appointments in that instant. Your brand must be present in those key mobile moments to capture more patients.

#2 Planning to Learn

Data-driven marketing is not a new concept. Every campaign you develop should be supported by compelling consumer insights, like the ones we uncover in our SPM American Health & Life Study. But don’t stop there.

In 2017, the most successful campaigns will use real-time performance data to strengthen creative, targeting, and tactics, and optimize to what’s delivering best against your goals. Rather than assuming we know what type of content and message our target will relate to, campaign optimizations will be made based on audience data, including how they interact with our ads and which ads are getting the most engagement.

Tests can be conducted in one of two ways, depending on your strategic goals and what you hope to learn from the test:

  • By running a few different creative versions at the same time, and letting the algorithms show which ads our audience is most engaged with or is driving more leads. The least successful ad/message is retired, and the better-performing ad/message continues on.
  • By A/B testing specific components of an ad, such as the headline, visuals, CTA, size, etc. Small tests over a period of time can help you craft the perfect message and get the most engagement, but will require more resources.

When designing your digital marketing strategies, it’s important to plan incremental budget to create new ads, especially for paid social and display, so you can test, learn, and optimize based on audience and performance data. It’ll be worth it when you generate better results.

And finally, it’s important that when analyzing performance metrics you take into account attribution and affect of indirect media in the marketplace. Was there a brand campaign running prior? Was the digital advertising coupled with TV, radio, etc.? Otherwise you may drastically underestimate the power and contribution of an integrated marketing campaign, and overestimate the results and potential of targeted digital or direct program. Keep in mind all that is going-on and strive to measure and learn holistically.

#3 The “Near Me” Effect

At SPM, we’re not shy in our assertion that traditional media still plays an important role in the media mix. And yet, while other broad-reaching media have their own advantages, digital marketing allows you to deliver more personalized content—and, as consumers, we have come to expect it. Like when we ask Siri to “Find a gas station near me.” Just any old gas station won’t work; you need an answer relevant to you (or, in this case, your location).

The “Near Me” effect is why targeting parameters will be even more important in 2017. In any online search or experience, consumers are looking for content that relates to their personal situation. Brands that deliver relevant content will capture more patients. For example, geo-targeting around your urgent care facility informs potential patients that, when the time comes, you have a location near by. You become the brand they can count on, and that type of relationship pays huge dividends.

Of course, targeting isn’t limited to location. It can be as broad or specific as you want, and determining targeting criteria should always be part of upfront strategic planning, so you can tailor creative messages to the context. The more relevant the ad, the more likely your audience will relate to it and complete the action you want them to take.

#4 The User Comes First

A now-apparent theme emerging in each of these trends is a focus on the user and, as we mentioned previously, allowing consumers to control their journey. This is where user experience comes in. UX strategy and design prioritizes the consumer and enhances the experience they have with your brand online (on a website or landing page, for example), keeping in mind the path you want the user to take.

In the coming year, marketers will be more intentional in the way they design web and landing pages. You may want to consider something like Conversion Rate Optimization, which uses an audit of your website, heat-mapping, heuristic analysis, and Google Analytics data to assess how you can better optimize your site for online conversions. Since website conversions, like making an appointment, are typically key to healthcare marketing strategies, ensuring the path to conversion is clear and natural will increase the number of your website visitors converting to patients.

To do this, focus on eliminating distractions on the page by including only information the user needs to convert and placing conversion buttons high and prominent on the page. Demonstrate the benefit to the consumer for performing the desired action, and create a clear and actionable CTA that entices people to act.

#5 Technology Transforms Content

Perhaps the most exciting trend is technology and the way it will shape content in 2017. Immersive content will open up a whole host of new opportunities for marketers to create unique brand experiences. So which technologies should you keep your eye on?

  • New Realities: Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR) will make inroads in healthcare, allowing consumers to explore the in-hospital experience and watch procedures, or transporting patients outside of the hospital through alternative reality experiences. To see more examples of how this technology is being used, read our post from a recent innovation summit we attended.
  • Live Video: Both Instagram and Facebook are offering native live video, and brands are taking note. Healthcare marketers should consider taking advantage of live streaming during events or seminars, tours of the facility, or as an opportunity to meet physicians.
  • 360-Video: Like VR and Live Video, 360 videos create immersive experiences, which can be used to create content around your hospital, how to get around, what to expect, the details of a procedure, and more.
  • Chatbots: As AI becomes more sophisticated, and consumers adopt more of this technology, it can be expected that chatbots will introduce new ways to assess symptoms, submit patient information, pay bills, and make appointments.

When deciding what technology to explore, keep in mind you can’t do it all. Choose the opportunities that most closely align with your strategy and campaign goals, and experiment with smaller test and learns to see how the technology resonates with your audience.


The front door to your hospital is no longer at the entrance to your building. It’s online, where consumers are searching more and more for healthcare information before they’ve even stepped inside a hospital. If you don’t put your best foot forward, your patients’ feet will be walking through your competitor’s door.

It starts with engineering a mobile-first strategy and designing with the user in mind to ensure potential patients have the best possible experience with your brand. Then, if you can provide tested and optimized creative in a relevant context, you’ll maximize conversions and get better results. And, as consumers begin adopting new technologies, your brand must innovate to keep pace. Bring it on, 2017!

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