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Healthcare Marketing: The Evolution of ROI and Measurement

You can’t fully understand the evolution of something without knowing the history. This is where Jenny and her guest, Michele Szczypka, Interim VP of Marketing and Communications at SSM, begin today’s episode. Michele expresses the importance of understanding the industry’s past to comprehend the impact of changes in the present. She emphasizes the value of this perspective for new graduates and early-career professionals.

Jenny and Michele discuss how healthcare marketing Initially started as PR and image-building for hospitals, but has gradually transitioned into true marketing and branding, aided by the emergence of marketing technology (MarTech) in the past decade. They highlight the challenges faced by early adopters of MarTech in developing models for ROI to convince hospital executives of the need for increased budgets.

Michele also notes the evolution of CRM in healthcare marketing which from their inception grew to allow more sophisticated tracking and measurement of marketing efforts. The implementation of CRM systems necessitated collaboration with finance teams and the establishment of goals and ROI models for different service lines.

The conversation shifts to the current concerns regarding tracking methodologies in healthcare marketing due to HIPAA and FTC regulations. Michele identifies two

camps and how they are reacting and/or pivoting. She and Jenny know that it boils down to the importance of respecting privacy and finding solutions that balance progress and compliance with guidelines.

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Jenny: [00:00:00] Hi friends. Welcome to today’s episode of We Are, Marketing Happy, a healthcare marketing podcast. 

I am super excited to have Michele Szczypka. She is currently the interim Vice President of Marketing and Communications at SSM, but she previously held the role of Chief Marketing Officer at Trinity Health for 18 years.

So welcome, Michele. Thank you for joining us.

Michele: Yes, thank you. I’m really excited to be here too, and it’s so nice to see you, Jenny.

Jenny: Thank you. So this is one of my favorite kinds of episodes. I’m really looking forward to digging into the history of measurement in the marketing world, specifically within healthcare.

I know whenever I graduated college and first started getting involved in healthcare, I knew what was happening at that time, but it was really difficult for me to understand what had happened 5, 10, 15 [00:01:00] years before I personally entered the industry. And I think having that perspective is really helpful for new graduates or for people, let’s say in the first five years of their marketing career because then they can more effectively understand how something that may seem like a small change can actually have rippling effects within our industry. So I’m looking forward to digging in. 

Michele: Sounds good. 

Jenny: Awesome. So let’s talk first about your role at Trinity. So it overlapped multiple transformative periods within healthcare and communications.

So let’s talk about that a little bit. Let’s talk about your experience. 

Michele: Yeah, what you had said in the very beginning about people coming in and being new, also people coming from outside the industry have no historical perspective on how healthcare marketing strategies have evolved, especially now that digital has really exploded.

It just didn’t exist when we first started this work. Healthcare [00:02:00] marketing started out really, quite frankly, maybe over 20, 25 years ago. We were PR groups, trying to sort of tell this good story of what’s happening at the hospital, trying to develop just image and awareness.

And then we’ve sort of over time transitioned into true marketing, branding engines and also adding on a MarTech stack, which didn’t exist. I mean, as we all know, the MarTech stack has really come out in the last 10 to 15 years. So those that were early adopters really didn’t have models for ROI.

And really were trying to develop those to build the budget, to convince them, the hospital executives and CFO that, look, we need more money so that we can, really build out new strategies. 

Jenny: And on that, let’s talk about the evolution of ROI specifically, because generally the justification of additional budget happens as a result of measurement and showing that it’s working.

So tell me a little [00:03:00] bit about what measurement was like when you started in your healthcare marketing career, and then what big leaps you have seen and have made over those years. 

Michele: So, boy, there are so many different things that took place in terms of measurement.

We were desperately looking for measurement. What is soft ROI? What’s hard ROI? The soft ROI was really around, we did an advertising campaign and we would start to see the volumes creep up. And we could anecdotally say, yeah, look at what’s happening with our campaigns.

We put a bunch of billboards out, we did some radio and television advertising and we got all kinds of calls and that was great, right? And we believe that was because of our advertising. But over time, really trying to find ways to build out true ROI. Looking at what areas in the organization were great revenue opportunities, and then building out nurturing cycles. A sales sort of cycle, which didn’t exist before[00:04:00] for healthcare marketing. 

How do you build that out? So we did start to turn to look into the new age of digital marketing and turning to partners that could help us determine the best practices that were out there and pioneer new models.

Jenny: One of the things as we were kind of chatting, prepping about this episode is chatting about the evolution of CRM and your work at previous organizations. Talk to me a little bit about what it was like when CRMs first came on the scene in the healthcare marketing space and how that changed the work.

Michele: It really did change the work, Jenny. I mean, CRM just didn’t exist. I mean, there were some database tools to keep track of how certain customers were interacting with us. And especially when it came to physician relationship management, like looking at the referrals that came in, but [00:05:00] not true, like looking at our customer base and our patients and how they interact with us. 

And over time we said, we really need to be more sophisticated. So when we started, we were at meetings and you would talk with people about their new CRM tools.

Well, we did have this one group that had some ideas about how to do it and we decided we wanted to pioneer some of the work and brought in a partner. And they’re some other company today. But they were really building out new ways of interacting through CRM and being able to look at a little bit of the patient journey, but really starting to dig into when we did a campaign, were we able to really bring in some return on our investment?

One of the things I think I told you about was our CFO and our finance team. Really, it took a while to convince them that this was gonna work and to invest the expense to [00:06:00] in this type of tool. So then there needs to be, beyond the expense, there needs to be additional revenue, and we have to agree on what that model looked like in terms of what money might already be coming in because we don’t just advertise, but we might also have a new business strategy or even a new technology. 

Right? And then what is actually coming in because of our campaigns. It was very exciting. It was very challenging, and it really was the beginning of this work that was not that long ago. We’re still early on in this journey and there’s so much more that’s happening now as we’ve, sort of explored with you guys looking at how to really do our patient journey. That’s something that’s happening in the patient experience world, right? I mean, that’s important to us too. But that customer journey, what is the consumer journey from the minute they look at your front door to what they, which is your website or other digital touchpoints to when they’re interacting with your [00:07:00] organization and starting to request information, starting to actually request an appointment or talk to your call centers. 

What’s that journey like for them and where do we have gaps in how we interact with them? 

Jenny: Yeah, it one of the things that whenever I meet with young marketers entering the healthcare space, one of the things I always tell them is, become best friends with the CFO.

You need to understand how they see and value marketing’s role within the organization so that way you can speak their language. So, as you were able to develop larger budgets to be able to implement CRMs, and you were able to really begin seeing and justifying and understanding the actual lift.

How did that change marketing departments? How did that change the way teams were built or the way that you communicated with, within the organization or with other leadership team members? 

Michele: [00:08:00] So, when we started to implement all these CRM tools and some of the activities around that, we would predict a certain amount of money that might come in through a campaign. Obviously, that’s very difficult to do, but we certainly had goals and that was always by service line. 

So those people that are, familiar with our sector service line is sort of like a product line, right? And so, if we put out a cancer campaign we knew there’s a longer journey for people to actually get into the system, it’s more around awareness, but there certainly would be a journey we’d have to agree on, what the length of period of time before we’re gonna see a return on an investment. 

It’s different than a campaign that you’re talking about for bariatrics. We found that was one of the best ways of measuring more rapidly. People are dealing with weight issues. And they’re making decisions pretty rapidly over that. So we would see return on that investment much more rapidly than we would a different [00:09:00] type of service line.

And orthopedics, for example, also an opportunity for a higher or quicker turnaround. And when we’d make these goals, and we would tell our CFO, or our finance teams who also validated the model that we put together for their ROI, we worked with them directly. And then when we said, yeah, this is what we’re gonna test, this is what we’re gonna believe in.

And then when they started seeing the value, the investment either, continued or increased. 

Jenny: Which is that’s phenomenal. Very helpful perspective I think. The big thing that’s happening right now that is on top of mind for every healthcare marketer is all of the things happening related to HIPAA and FTC and all of the tracking methodologies that we’ve all become so comfortable with having to change. We’ve really seen two camps. We’ve seen one camp where even super large systems are just pulling all tracking. They’re so afraid about doing the wrong thing, they’re just going to do [00:10:00] nothing.

And so we’re stepping back 20 years. And then on the other side, we’re seeing people actually implement correct tracking to be able to continue measuring their campaigns appropriately. So I would love your perspective on what you’re seeing at the leadership level throughout the country with your large network, how are people taking all of these changes and evolutions in healthcare marketing in stride? 

Michele: Yeah, you kind of nailed it. There’s, there probably are two camps and there’s really very few things happening in between. I think there’s that anxiety about, wanting to really be sure that, we’re following the guidelines and making sure that we are protecting privacy.

And that’s so, so important. I don’t think there’s anyone that’s not concerned with that across the board with healthcare. So, we’ve made so many strides in what we can do in the marketing space, but we wanna be sure that we really honor and respect all of the issues that are out there.

So I think that what my personal philosophy and what [00:11:00] a lot of people that I’ve talked to really wanna do is be sure that you’re committed to progress. I mean, honestly, there’s a way to solve for anything, right? I mean, right now there’s AI, AI is coming out and it’s all over the place.

And AI is so exciting. There’s so much opportunity with it. And there’s some people that are afraid of it because also it comes along with some issues that you have to be sure that you’re avoiding. And I think marketers. We need insights. We need technology. We need tools to help reach people in better ways than ever.

And for us, we’re selling a product nobody wants, right? I mean, nobody wants to have healthcare issues, but do they wanna have good health? Do they wanna deal with health issues? 

And you wanna know that you’re going to a trusted provider and trust is everything. Right? So some of the tools that have had to come offline, well, they’re, being retooled, if you will, to be secure. There are other avenues that perhaps you can pursue you. I don’t think you should [00:12:00] abandon this all together. This is my personal belief. I think that progress is something that is so important.

And if you pause, I mean you should be thoughtful and pause where there’s risk. But you should also think about, there’s always solution. There are always ways, and so pursuing that work and that passion for progress is important.

Jenny: I love that. And that is definitely the way that we’re all gonna continue having a positive impact on patients’ ability to access care.

So yeah. Thank you so much, Michele. This was such a wonderful episode. I hope for all of the folks that are either new to healthcare marketing as an industry or just starting their careers, that this was some helpful perspective. And thank you for being a guest.

Michele: Thank you. It was great talking with you.



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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