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Putting “Emotional Intelligence” into Healthcare Marketing

In this week’s episode, Jenny welcomes Brian Deffaa, Chief Marketing Officer of Maryland-based LifeBridge Health. Brian shares his background in consumer and retail marketing and his journey into healthcare, where he is now on a mission to bring real emotion into delivering healthcare marketing. Brian discusses his “inside-out” approach to rallying LifeBridge teammates around a clear, compelling mission based on the organization’s history. Brian also discusses how he has translated that mission into a unique, authentic, and defensible brand proposition for LifeBridge Health that can be felt across every marketing touchpoint. Brian also discusses how he navigates measurement and ROI around more brand and awareness-driving marketing efforts.

Connect with Brian:

Connect with Jenny:

LifeBridge Health Creative:

“I’m Fine” Campaign: 

“Care Bravely” Movement: 

Jenny: [00:00:00] Hi friends, welcome to today’s episode of We Are, Marketing Happy – A Healthcare Marketing Podcast. I am Jenny Bristow. I am the CEO and Founder at Hedy & Hopp, a full-service, fully healthcare marketing agency, and I am so honored to be joined today by Brian Deffaa. He is the CMO at LifeBridge Health, which is located in Baltimore, in the Maryland region.

And, Brian, my team met you at Becker’s and we actually lightly talked about some of the things that you shared on our Becker’s recap. And they were so impressed with your ability to bring emotional intelligence into marketing that we just had to do an episode entirely on you and your strategy.

So, welcome.

Brian: Thank you. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed our conversation as well. Hopefully I can live up to that build-up.

Jenny: You already have, trust me. So one thing, I have a couple of key points I want to chat about today with you. Just a quick little summary, we typically don’t go into people’s [00:01:00] backgrounds on our episode. We’re going to link though to your LinkedIn in the show notes for folks that want to connect with you, but you have a very consumer marketing focused background, and then you came into healthcare. And one of the things that you mentioned on a prior call that you and I had was the interesting world we live in healthcare right now, where we have a really fragmented industry that is seeing some really rapid consolidation.

And one of the questions I have for you is, how do you create a culture within your marketing organization and throughout the entire organizational ecosystem? And how does that happen?

Brian: So, thank you for that. Before I answer your question, I’ll go back into a little bit of my history because I think it’s informative to answer your question.

I came from retail, I came from automotive, consumer finance, Capital One, Target, places like that. And one of the things that I learned from those organizations is that when they’re really well run, everybody understands what they’re running [00:02:00] toward. They understand the mission of the organization, how they’re different, and they can articulate it in one or two sentences. 

Whether they’re in the strategy department, whether they’re in the mail room, they know what the organization does, where it fits in the world, and why they believe they exist. So that was a real interesting education for me coming from B2C organizations and successful ones who carved out a unique niche in their spot. So I took that learning into health care. And what was interesting for me about healthcare is, when we look at the top 100 brands, there’s not a single healthcare provider organization in those top 100.

Yet we are 20 to 25% GDP in the U.S. And so those two things in my own head, they don’t match. If you have that much of an impact financially in people’s lives and in the economy, and you have that much of an impact personally in people’s lives, why is there no brand relevance? Why is there no single [00:03:00] brand really capitalizing on that and making headway with consumers?

And I think a lot of it is because it’s a very clinically driven industry, at least it has been. One of the reasons I’m here, and, as you noted at the beginning, this healthcare is relatively new to me. I’ve been here for 5 years now, but I had never touched healthcare before and it’s emblematic of where the industry is going.

Never before has healthcare really had to appeal to consumers in a B2C kind of way. And everybody and their brother from us as a large health system to insurance providers, like, the Blue Crosses of the world to OneMedical, which is Amazon, which you now see just today, they released an announcement that they are partnering with Common Spirit, which is another large health system.

So there’s this really interesting convergence of activity in the healthcare space, brand marketing and communication will always [00:04:00] play a role in that. But to your question about culture, we haven’t had to play that game as health systems, as providers. We haven’t, you build it and they will come, has been the model. Now that whole model is breaking down, it’s similar to the movie we’ve seen happen in retail where department stores were the 900 pound gorilla and now they’ve gone away, but we’re having to really understand and reevaluate, what our uniqueness is, how we communicate that uniqueness, how we tell our team members, this is how we’re unique and this is how we would like you to act and interact with our consumers. And then what value are those activities delivering to consumers?

Jenny: Yeah, I love that. I feel like so often whenever we’re chatting with different organizations or systems across the country, so much of their activity is focused on service line specific campaigns like, oh, we have an open MRI at this location, right?

It is very specific and tactical. And one of the quotes that I wrote down verbatim because it like really hit me [00:05:00] when we talked last time is if you can’t deliver emotion in healthcare, you’re not doing it right.

Brian: Right. Brand marketers for decades now have imbued things like water with emotion, right?

They’re literally selling water that I can walk down to the water fountain and get. So where is that emotion in delivering healthcare when you’re at the most difficult times in people’s lives and they’re relying on you literally for their life or the well-being and mental well-being of their family?

That’s when we should be at our best. And that’s when everybody in the organization should be rallied around a central idea to deliver for that family and those patients. And I don’t think we’ve thought about it that way. And you brought up something, which made me think, it’s service line saying we have the best doctors, the best buildings, the best equipment.

That’s what we’ve all heard Steve Jobs say is speeds and feeds. It’s not emotional. It’s not defensible from a brand standpoint. It’s just the latest and the greatest, right? And those things have a [00:06:00] place in the communication and the valve prop, but it shouldn’t be what we rest on. It should be emotion that we’re building into that exchange in their relationship with consumers and then you cement that decision with the speeds and feeds, but it shouldn’t be what we lead with. 

Jenny: So, Brian, the phrase everyone rallies behind, I have to bring up behind you. There’s the banner that says “We Care Bravely.” Talk a little bit about that. That feels like something worth rallying behind.

Brian: So, when I arrived at LifeBridge Health, we had grown, as a lot of other health systems have done recently, especially through acquisition, through buying additional hospitals, building on our continuum of care providing skilled nursing facilities, all those kinds of things that health systems do, but we had, we were still operating both operationally and from a brand standpoint as individual entities.

So we had this hospital here, that hospital there, this nursing home over here, and there was no connective tissue. There was no mental glue that was [00:07:00] putting all of these things together that you could go to as a consumer and say, we have all of your needs wrapped up. But when we started digging back into our history, so LifeBridge Health was founded because other hospital systems in our area weren’t allowing Jewish doctors or Jewish patients into their facilities.

So this organization, this group of leaders came together and said, we’re going to create a health system for us. And so it was emblematic of what we are today, which is finding a problem, finding an innovative and non-traditional way to solve that problem.

So that was the red thread that kind of drew us together. And we still operate along those premise. And, but we hadn’t given voice to it. We hadn’t put like a lexicon together for people to use to your point earlier about culture. So we came up with the term along with our advertising agency, Strawberry Frot in New York, about Care Bravely

When we see a problem, we care [00:08:00] about where it’s going. We care about the solution, but we particularly care about the patient. We will do anything, whether it’s traditional healthcare or non-traditional healthcare to serve that patient and to build a healthier community. And it was that, we don’t take no for an answer kind of approach that has become our culture and then care bravely has been that rallying grind.

It’s nice as a marketer, because I hear people use that term. That was really a “Care Bravely” movement, or he cared bravely for that patient. So it’s entered the daily use of people on the front line and giving care. And it’s really gratifying for my team to hear that. And it’s, that’s, it’s built that connective tissue that we so wanted.

Jenny: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a real win for the marketer, right? When you’re like, yes, it’s working. When the frontline people are using the phrase, that your campaign has been hugely successful. One of the things we chat often, there’s the big player, nationwide players, right, where they have locations across the country and then you have strong regional players. And then you have those [00:09:00] that are more tightly geographically bound. And all of them often are coming to us or having conversations about, how do we stand up to some of these huge players?

One of our clients came to us and said, listen, these huge players, they literally built a location right across the river. Like you can see them from us. So how are we going to differentiate ourselves? I know you have John Hopkins in your own backyard, so I know you have some beautiful work within your culture and some great shared language that you can get behind.

What else would you offer marketers or what other execution tips would you offer marketers that are in that same space?

Brian: Yeah, and that’s some of the biggest challenges that we’ve faced both internally to get people to buy in on where we’re heading and externally to make it stand out. So our approach and our discussions and our strategy is we’re never going to be a Hopkins for a whole bunch of reasons.

And nor do we really want to be because that just costs hundreds of millions of dollars to do [00:10:00] and it’s not really defensible So what we want to do was create something that was unique to us. It was authentic to where we came from, like the story I just shared, but had a different mindset. So we don’t want to do the esoteric like Hopkins.

We want to be the community health system. We wanna be in your community. We wanna be doing non-traditional things, not just around clinical care, but we have, we partner with ten Safe Streets organizations and some, Safe Streets is an entity around the country that is about violence interruption.

So we help manage those ten Safe Street sites. We hire folks, we train them. They do violence interruption and people ask us, why is the health system doing that? It’s because we want to keep people out of our ED. We want to intercede before the violence occurs. We want to help train people and give them other skills about how to avoid violence in the first place.

We want to give jobs and opportunities into those communities. So they have other outlets [00:11:00] besides violence and selling drugs and all sorts of other, nefarious things. But it’s a non-traditional approach and it’s what Care Bravely is all about. We try and find other different solutions that haven’t been tried outside of what would typically be clinical care.

And so now, we’re starting to look at gun violence. How do we get involved in that space? How do we get involved in early childhood education? We have a large Jewish Orthodox community here in Baltimore. How do we get the information to them to take better care of them and their families. Through research, we did a survey a couple of years ago around what does that particular community need?

And so we’ve talked about education. We’ve talked about seminars. We do a lot of those things to really address the needs of that particular community outside of a clinical setting.

Jenny: So, all of, I love all of this. It really helps cement your reputation and participation in the community. How do you report on the success of that from an ROI perspective?.

How do you go in and justify your marketing budget to leadership and say, Hey, here’s all the dollars we put towards reducing gun violence. Give it to me again next year.

Brian: It’s a short answer is, it’s a challenge and for a variety of reasons. One, a lot of that stuff is pretty qualitative.

So there’s some metrics involved. Some are, the other thing I’ve noticed about healthcare marketing is that when you’re in a retail setting, or when you’re in the automotive industry, you have chain of custody of data from A to B to C. In healthcare, especially when you’ve grown through acquisition, you’ve bolted things on, a lot of the systems don’t talk to one another.

A lot of the way you record data isn’t the same. The way you have physicians in the system isn’t the same. So that’s a long way of saying, none of the data talks to each other. It’s very difficult to get a tool to line up. Over the last few years, we’ve gotten a lot better as a marketing team about getting 1 step further into the funnel.

And so we can get, [00:13:00] for an example, to schedule an online appointment, we can get people to the site. We can get them to schedule an appointment and we understand what the data looks like now, but we don’t know if they actually showed up and nor do I know what revenue is associated with that appointment because they’re individual position system.

Some are on our network. Some aren’t. So to be able to say, I spent $500,000 dollars on a campaign and revenue, I had 250 appointments and I had $1.25 million revenue. I just can’t put that story together. And so it’s frustrating as somebody who lives and dies by data that our industry hasn’t caught up with other parts of marketing and other things that people do in their lives.

It just, it isn’t there yet, because a lot of that capital investment, a lot of the operating expense is just, it’s enormous. And there’s so, there’s such a great need across the system for data. We’re trying to change tires on a moving car.

Jenny: Yeah, that’s a great analogy. And I will say, though, I feel it probably [00:14:00] does go back to your organization’s core values, right?

If your leadership team is built in to the concept of really being that community partner, that probably does make it easier to justify it, right? Versus if you’re the only one ringing that bell in meetings and then it becomes much more difficult. 

Brian: Yeah, this would have been impossible. Care Bravely, specifically, but some of the other stuff that we do, would be impossible if we didn’t have strong leaders who believed in the mission. In fact, our CEO, Neil Meltzer, has been a champion of both, and Leslie Simmons, our COO, have been champions of both Care Bravely and then what that means in terms of making investments in the community. And frankly, we gave, Care Bravely was just a voice to what we had already been doing.

We just put it underneath that rubric of Care Bravely. And so we, as a system, we’ve taken a number of roll the dice kind of opportunities in the last few years to do things that help create healthier communities, not knowing if we’d have an ROI on the back end, but believing in the work and believing we would have some sort of return.[00:15:00]

And so, management does those kinds of things, whether or not we have metrics to track them. But we as marketers are continually trying to put stuff on top of those efforts to measure it.

Jenny: Absolutely. So I want to end on having you talk a little bit about a campaign that you did that made me literally laugh out loud whenever one of my team members shared it with me. And it’s “I’m Fine.”

I would love to hear just a little bit about your inspiration for that campaign and how you’ve leveraged it across digital channels, traditional channels, et cetera, and how that kind of rolls up to your organization’s core values.

Brian: So, in doing some of our research, people don’t pay attention to healthcare marketing. It’s all flavors of the same. And that flavor is vanilla. It all looks the same, it acts the same, it says the same things. To your point earlier about, we have the latest MRI, we have a new shiny building.

Those things are great, but they don’t resonate with people, they don’t stick, they don’t [00:16:00] differentiate, they don’t do any of that stuff. We wanted to take a really distinct approach, and to your point earlier about, being in the backyard of a 900 pound gorilla that is Johns Hopkins or even University of Maryland, we have, if we’re going to punch, we have to punch hard and make sure it stands out.

Because we won’t get that chance again and we don’t have a billion dollars to go and make sure we blanket the airwaves. So we wanted to make sure that our creative stood out, resonated with folks because these are everyday activities that people do where they get injured. And a lot of us know our primary care givers or primary doctors, but a lot of us don’t.

And we don’t have the first clue about how to get care, especially if you move around a lot as a lot of people do. So, and we also had a competitive advantage. We were one of the first in our market to have actual digital appointments like OpenTable. In many cases, people, when they schedule an online appointment, it’s a request for an appointment.

We had actual time slots devoted to this effort. We had a frictionless way to get that [00:17:00] done. So we wanted to promote it quite a bit. So, marrying a competitive advantage with some creative that really stood out, that was funny. And then we branded the tool as Hello Brave rather than just say, hey, it’s our eVisit.

It’s our digital physician. Everybody has one of those. They’re all forgettable. So we wanted to call it something and tie it back to our mission, which is Care Bravely. So we call it Hello Brave. And it’s worked. It’s worked really well. It stands out in the marketplace. We get lots of compliments on it.

Some people are like, Hey, did that person really get injured? No. But again, if they’re, if they, if it’s memorable for them, if it stood out for them, we’re doing our job because we only get one chance to make that impression.

Jenny: Oh, I love it. Well, Brian, keep up the good work. You are raising the bar for what creative can do to bring healthcare alive and make consumers begin to pay attention to the, to the great organizations in their own backyard, really.

So [00:18:00] please. Keep doing what you’re doing. For listeners, I’m going to put Brian’s LinkedIn, as well as some examples of the creative in the show notes, please go check them out and connect with him. And Brian, thank you again for being on today’s episode. This was fabulous.

Brian: No, great. Thank you for having me. I hope people have found some value in it. It was wonderful.

Jenny: Good. So, and for all listeners, thanks for tuning in. We’ll see you on a future episode of We Are, Marketing Happy.



About the Author

Jenny Bristow is the CEO and Founder of Hedy & Hopp. Prior to starting Hedy & Hopp, Jenny launched, grew and sold a digital agency in Seattle and worked at Amazon. She was named one of St. Louis Business Journal’s 30 under 30, won a Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2018 and speaks regularly at healthcare marketing industry events.

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