Before consumers make a purchase, whether it’s a new camera or car, they typically follow a predictable cycle that takes them from shopper to customer. At the end is the camera or car they dreamed of (hopefully). Despite the common thought that healthcare is not a typical purchase, your patients follow the same pattern. And you need to be creating content for every stage of the healthcare consumer buying cycle.
Four Buying Cycle Stages
There’s some debate as to just how many stages there are in the buying cycle. Minimalists say three, while others break it down into seven or even more. You may choose to have different numbers of stages for each service line. For simplicity sake, we’ll stick with four major ones:
Awareness > Consideration > Purchase > Post-Purchase
Throughout the healthcare buying cycle, you need to keep good content marketing rules in place. Primarily, remember that the best content marketing helps people solve their problems by offering expert insights—not by promoting a product or service.
No one we’ve ever met wishes to spend their time and money on healthcare services, but they need health care to improve their lives. This is true when it comes to illness and injury but also for seemingly elective procedures, such as aesthetic plastic surgery. After all, wouldn’t we all prefer to travel to an exotic locale than schedule an appointment for Botox and filler? So it doesn’t matter whether your potential customers are needing a joint replacement or a new nose, they all are looking for information on the best solutions to their situation.
Creating Awareness of Healthcare Needs
The first step in any consumer buying cycle, the awareness stage, is rather broad. Healthcare consumers may hang out in this stage for years not knowing they have a problem or, if they do, not knowing there is a solution to it.
Take the middle-aged male who has knee pain. His pain has grown progressively worse over the years. He attributes it to an old football injury and thinks nothing can be done, so he just avoids aggravating it as much as possible. As a result, he’s slowly pulled back on life, giving up hiking with his grandkids and taking evening walks with his wife.
Your content goal: To educate him on osteoarthritis and the fact that it is treatable.
Best types of content at this stage: Remember, your potential customer doesn’t know there is a solution to his problem so he’s not online searching for information. That means you need to go to him. Great ways to do this are custom magazine articles and direct mail promotions for health seminars on joint pain and possible causes.
Percent of content focused on your providers: 5%. Your customer is nowhere close to making a purchasing decision, so you just want to position your hospital and doctors as expert sources providing reliable information. Your call-to-action should lead to more information about the problem and potential solutions—getting him to schedule a doctor’s appointment at this point in the purchasing cycle is not likely.
Getting Consumers to Consider Your Hospital
The consideration stage is when consumers weigh their treatment options and select the one that’s right for them. Staying with our knee pain patient above, he now understands something can be done about his condition and is ready to move on to the next step. He is now looking into a variety of treatments—everything from steroid injections to stem cell therapy to knee replacement.
Your content goal: Like a good physician, you want to be the source for information on all the options he is considering—even the ones you don’t offer. This creates trust because you’re not trying to sell him on surgery but rather trying to help him find the best option for his situation.
Best types of content at this stage: If you have engaged the consumer and obtained an email address, providing a continuum of electronic content at this point is ideal. Healthcare content like electronic articles, downloadable guides, and Q&As on the pros and cons of each type of treatment, the best candidates for each, and the likely benefits and risks are all helpful.
Percent of content focused on your providers: 25%. While you will provide more content about your physicians or hospitals, remember that you are still doing so within the context of solving the consumer’s problem. Promote what your hospital and physicians offer and any relevant information that pertains to making a decision. For instance, if your hospital performs more knee replacements than any other in the region or your doctors have started offering outpatient joint replacement, that’s valuable information for the consumer. Now is the right time to offer more information specific to your hospital or an appointment with one of your providers to discuss treatment options.
Helping Patients Make a Decision
During the purchasing stage, also referred to as the decision stage, healthcare consumers are choosing what type of care they want and where to go to get it. Our knee pain patient has decided a knee replacement is his best course of action, so he’s looking for who will help him get the best result. Part of his decision will be driven by insurance considerations, but all things being equal, he’ll be evaluating which doctor and hospital he goes to for the procedure.
Your content goal: You’ll need to convince the consumer your hospital is the best place to obtain treatment. But be careful, just because this is your time to shine, does not mean your content should be all about you. Your content should differentiate your hospital or your physicians but in the context of what is relevant to the patient, such as pain control procedures, physical therapy, and at-home follow-up care.
Best types of content at this stage: Videos, brochures, classes, hospital tours and patient testimonials that paint a picture of the successful outcome they could have by choosing your hospital.
Percent of content focused on your hospital: 50% to 65%. Even at this point, you still need to ensure your content benefits the consumer. That means that instead of touting why your hospital is so great, put it in context for a consumer. For instance, provide a list of the 10 top tips for a successful recovery from a knee replacement and point out how your hospital helps.
Don’t Treat and Release Patients
Great! Your guy has chosen to have his surgery at your hospital. Your job as a hospital marketer is done, right? Not so fast. While many healthcare marketers think their job stops at the call for an appointment, you can stand out by continuing to engage your patients after their treatment during the post-purchase stage.
Your content goal: You want the patient to feel truly cared for once they’ve returned home. Ideally, this happens at the operations level with follow-up clinical contact. But marketing also plays a role by continuing to connect with the patient.
Best types of content at this stage: After-care information, get-well notes, class schedules and event invitations.
Percent of content focused on your hospital: 10% to 25%. This is your opportunity to form an ongoing relationship with the patient over the care they received but also about other health conditions in the future. Think of this phase as starting the buying cycle over-identify new content needs and help solve additional problems.