Healthcare Marketing & the Sandwich Generation

How to Reach Consumers Who Make Healthcare Decisions for Many

The Sandwich Generation comprises Gen Xers and Boomers who are providing care and support for parents as well as children/teens.

My mom, my daughter and me on Mother’s Day 2015

Like most wives and mothers, I have a say in all healthcare decisions for my husband, my teenager, and myself – but my influence doesn’t end there. As my 80-something mother becomes increasingly reliant on loved ones to take the reins for her well-being, I now play a role in her healthcare choices as well. This makes me a member of the “Sandwich Generation,” tasked with caring for a parent as well as a dependent.

It’s a well-populated place, this Sandwich Generation. According to Pew Research Center, nearly half of all U.S. adults age 40-59 fit the definition. Smart healthcare marketers will seek our attention and recognize that:

  • We are key decision-makers as healthcare consumers, given our involvement in multi-generational healthcare needs; and
  • This position we occupy in our families can be stressful, so sometimes what we need most is helpful guidance from trusted sources that bring information to us in easily digestible formats, rather than waiting and hoping we’ll find it ourselves.

Gaining the Attention – and Trust – of the Sandwich Generation

From one healthcare marketer to another, here are some tactics to consider when you want to win the hearts and minds of this influential market segment (the majority of whom are Gen X):

Go digital. Not surprisingly, people in the Sandwich Generation are busy. Pew found that nearly one in three (31%) report “always feeling rushed,” compared to less than one in four adults (23%) outside the Sandwich Gen. Because we are more pressed for time, trying to reach us via traditional print channels won’t bring much return – particularly during the busy work/school week. How and where you will find us online:

  • Social media – target the Sandwich Generation with paid advertising on social media outlets to reach beyond your following. Facebook is Gen X’s favorite social site, and Pinterest – with its small-but-growing user base largely comprised of women (often the household’s primary decision-maker in matters of health/healthcare) – is worth consideration as you plan your social content calendar. Time your posts and ads to catch us in the evenings and on weekends when we have more time to engage and dive in. [Check out these tips for directing the conversation on social media.]
  • Advertise on news websites and blogs – digital display ads grab our attention when we’re catching up on news, looking up how-to’s, etc. Search and/or site retargeting tactics will keep your ads in front of us as we go about our business online.
  • Host your own blog – post relevant, helpful content, such as topics around parenting and managing the health, wellness, and fitness of our children (mostly tweens, teens and young adults), ourselves (42% Gen X; 33% Boomers), and our parents (age 65+).
  • Online videos – whether it’s pre-roll advertising (those :15 and :30 ads that play before the main video), or clips you host on YouTube and include in your blog and social shares, videos can be a great way to expand reach, and even go viral if done well. [Check out these best practices from Advertising Age on determining video length.]

Let us know where you can offer value. Be as forthcoming and accurate as possible about the costs for a given exam, test, procedure, hospital stay, etc. This will be much appreciated by the Sandwich Gen because the dual caregiving roles impose financial strain for some. When asked by Pew, only 28% of Sandwich Generation respondents described their financial situations as comfortable, compared to 41% of non-Sandwichers (and the former outnumbered the latter by nearly 2:1 in the “just meet basic expenses” category).

Speaking for my fellow Sandwichers, we do not want to cut corners when it comes to our loved ones’ well-being. But, as we save/pay for kids’ college educations and in some cases provide financial support for aging parents, we do actively look for ways to avoid spending more out-of-pocket than necessary. If you can offer greater savings/higher value, let us know about it. And, if your organization is in a position to teach us how to self-manage the health and wellness concerns of our aging parents to the fullest extent we are able, that’s value. Make it known.

Be transparent about quality, too. Value is important, but so is quality. We don’t take our role as healthcare consumers lightly, and we want to rest assured that we’re providing quality care for the people we love. If your organization is a hospital, publish your quality rankings/recognition online. If you’re a surgery center, publish your low complication and infection rates, and outcomes data. Help us make truly informed healthcare decisions for the good of our families, and you’ll be that much closer to making loyal customers out of us.

When you let the unique needs, wants, and demands of your target consumer base drive your advertising messages and tactical plan, you give your healthcare company much better odds of getting noticed. And, when your target consumers do take action and you follow through with exceptional experiences at every encounter, you gain their trust and loyalty – and they, being mostly Gen Xers, will reward you with positive online reviews, social shares and word-of-mouth referrals. Content development people like me live and breathe this notion every day. We let the needs and perspectives of our audience lay the foundation for a tactical approach that serves meaningful, on-point content and gets results.

Measuring Your Facebook Marketing Efforts

Track Insights to See What Connects with Healthcare Consumers

Facebook InsightsResearch shows healthcare consumers look to social media for health information – and more than 40% take action based on health advice they find through social media. And that’s not just the younger demographics – for example, a 2013 Florida poll of adult internet users revealed that more than one third (36%) of individuals over the age of 50 have used social media to find and share health information. If done right, social media marketing and advertising can provide worthwhile opportunities to increase reach and engage individuals.

Facebook is an effective tool for reaching multiple demographics and provides meaningful insight to monitor the success of your messaging. Clicking on the Facebook Insights tab will give you a nice overview of how your posts are performing, including information on page likes, post reach and overall engagement. Here are a few insights to consider when using Facebook to engage with healthcare consumers:


Reach—or the number of people who are served your Facebook post, both organically and through paid advertising—means actual people, not impressions. In other words, if one person sees your organization’s Facebook post 30 times, it counts as one person reached, not 30.

You can find information about the people your Facebook posts are reaching by clicking “People Reached” in the People section of your Facebook Insights:

Monitor reach with Facebook Insights

You can reach people organically for free, meaning individuals will naturally see your post when their Facebook friend(s) “like” or comment on your post. You can also use paid posts — which include advertisements as well as boosted posts — to expand your audience based on your budget and number of active users in your specified target area.


Another important insight to track is engagement, or the number of people who “like,” comment, or share your organization’s Facebook post. You can see the breakout of engagement on a post itself or under the Posts section of Facebook Insights. This statistic is also included in the total number of “clicks” on your post (unlike traditional display ads, in which clicks usually indicate the number of users sent to your campaign’s landing page). If you want to track clicks to your landing page, you can use a custom URL in your post like you would with a display ad.

Monitor engagement with Facebook Insights

Likes, Comments and Shares

You will receive notifications (either by email or directly to your Facebook account) for “likes,” comments and shares on your health organization’s paid and unpaid posts. Facebook breaks down paid “likes” as those that occur within one day of viewing your paid post or 28 days of clicking on your paid post. So, even if an individual doesn’t get to your Facebook page directly by clicking your paid post, you can still monitor his or her activity with Facebook Insights.

Monitoring comments and shares on your posts provides great qualitative feedback. Responding to viewer’s remarks creates meaningful dialogue and shows consumers you are listening.

Negative Feedback

Facebook also monitors negative feedback, including the number of times a user hides your post, reports your post as spam or un-likes your health organization’s Facebook page. If you notice negative feedback, take action to understand and alleviate or correct the matter responsibly. Sometimes negativity is caused by an issue that can easily be resolved if addressed professionally and in a timely manner. If ignored, it may lead to bigger issues.

Monitor negative feedback on Facebook

As digital media becomes more and more integrated into our everyday lives, healthcare marketers are getting increasingly comfortable using it as a tool to engage with consumers. By monitoring insights such as reach, engagement, likes, comments and shares, you can adapt your social media marketing efforts to better reach and resonate with your target audience.

Why Healthcare Marketing Matters to Me

picture of women searching InternetAs a healthcare marketing professional, I am often asked what drives me—why I am passionate about healthcare marketing and why I think it is so important. The answer is simple: I care about my health and the future of our healthcare system, and I want to make a difference in people’s lives.

Like many healthcare consumers, I want access to information, products and providers that help me maintain my well-being—and I want it when I need it. Moreover, I want to know that if/when I have children someday, they will be able to find resources to meet their health and wellness needs. Healthcare marketing makes that possible.

Digital media, in particular, allows me to access health information and make healthcare decisions in real-time. As a millennial, I constantly search for data online. In fact, when I first moved to Kansas City and was looking for a new OB/GYN, I turned to the Internet. I narrowed my search based on my location and insurance carrier. From there, I was able to read reviews about local gynecologists and pick the one with the best online reputation, professional background and academic credentials. Fortunately, the provider I selected allowed me to schedule an appointment with a single click of my mouse—and I have been going there regularly ever since.

Aside from making it easier for consumers like me to access health information, healthcare marketing connects professional health service organizations, suppliers and medical manufacturers with customers and, ultimately, encourages people to choose their healthcare brands based on personal needs and preferences.

Take, for example, our award-winning 2014 campaign, Megan’s Journal, which we created to generate awareness that Lawrence Memorial Hospital (LMH) offers comprehensive, multidisciplinary expertise for patients fighting cancer. The campaign showed cancer patients in Lawrence that they do not need to travel outside their community for the care they need, and it convinced people to choose LMH instead of out-migrating to other hospitals in nearby cities.

Similarly, as the digital partner for Dickson-Diveley Orthopaedics, we manage the practice’s social media presence (including production of online videos highlighting each physician’s area of expertise) and search engine marketing, and develop physician referral strategies to reach and resonate with target audiences. Through benefit-oriented key messages, we guide prospective patients to the appropriate specialists.

You see, for us, it’s not about the awards—it’s about connecting people to providers, products and information that empowers them to make more informed decisions about their health. That’s why I decided to pursue a career in healthcare marketing—and it’s why I work at Dobies Healthcare Group. As healthcare marketing experts, we forge connections that help save and improve lives. We may not directly provide the services or products that make individuals healthy, but we show people how to get there, and that’s what healthcare marketing is all about.

#Winning: 5 Ways Doctors Can Benefit from Twitter

Note to our readers: If you’re a physician using Twitter a lot, you already know what we’re about to tell you – and we encourage you to share it with a colleague who doesn’t tweet, but should. However, if you’re new to Twitter, read on… 

Tweet KeyboardWe’ve been getting a lot of questions from our healthcare provider clients about what works, what doesn’t work, and what to expect with social media – particularly with regard to getting physicians to actively embrace it. Because social sites are not one size fits all, each platform should be addressed and approached a little differently to optimize the content physicians share and the benefits they derive from having that social presence. That’s why I’ve decided to take each social media property one at a time to discuss how physicians can benefit from “going social.” Today, let’s explore…

Top 5 Ways Physicians Can Benefit from Using Twitter:

1. Boost search engine rankings

According to research from the Pew Research Center, 77% of online healthcare searches begin at a search engine. Because sites like Google, Yahoo! or Bing are the first place internet users go for information, increasing SERPs (search engine results pages) will help patients find you. How does Twitter help achieve better results? Search engine “spiders” comb the internet for keywords, so if you frequently tweet about heart disease prevention and you’re a cardiologist, you will gain higher relevance – and ideally, more web traffic, from searches related to the topics of your tweets. Those tweets will push your name higher in search rankings.

2. “Attend” conferences on your own time

Twitter users are great at “live-tweeting,” which benefits busy people who don’t have time to attend conferences. The beauty of Twitter is that other people do, and they will live-tweet events. To attend virtually, learn the hashtags that conference attendees will use in their tweets. Usually you can find this by going to the conference’s Twitter handle or searching the conference name for the associated hashtags. Then, follow the hashtags to keep up with new developments and information imparted at the event in relative real-time. You might even be able to watch presentation videos or download slides, all without attending the conference.

3. Stay on top of innovative technology

Many medical journals or healthcare publications will publish links to research or news stories, and Twitter is a great place to stay on top of breaking news without visiting multiple news sites. Staying informed without spending lots of time is much easier with Twitter. If you find interesting content on Twitter, share it. Chances are your colleagues will enjoy it also.

Another Twitter advantage is the ability to “favorite” stories of interest. If you see an article you’d like to read but are short on time, click the star below a tweet. It will be saved under “favorites” for when you have more time to read.

4. Network

Twitter is a great tool for networking with fellow physicians who share research, advice, reviews and opinions you may find useful. You can also use Twitter as an observation tool to see conversations between colleagues and notice what competitors or other physicians are doing online. This is particularly beneficial as you’re getting used to Twitter and learning the lingo.

5. Gain visibility not tied to ad dollars

To gain visibility on Twitter, you’ll have to consistently use Twitter, share content others find valuable and spend a couple of minutes here and there engaging with other users. With greater visibility, you will gain followers and boost your SERPS without spending ad dollars. Think about it this way: sometimes, a retweet from a follower to a large audience can have a much broader reach than paid advertising.

Getting the hang of Twitter might take some time. At first, it can look like a digital land of gibberish filled with RT (that’s retweet, by the way) and symbols like @ and #. Gaining followers will also take some time. The most important thing to remember is to use Twitter at your comfort level. If you don’t have much to say, that’s fine. You can still follow hashtags that interest you and see what your colleagues are saying. Have fun and feel free to follow us @DobiesGroup.

Healthcare Marketers: Develop a Digital Content Strategy to Enhance Your Online Presence

This week in our Healthcare Branding Series, let’s focus on the importance of digital content strategies.ProTips-#2

The meteoric rise of the internet, social networks and mobile browsing has changed how healthcare consumers seek out information. For healthcare marketers to reach audiences with meaningful, helpful information when and where people are looking for it, it’s critical to have a content strategy. Besides providing information consumers want and need, your online content should aim to boost search engine optimization (SEO) and enhance the user experience by providing answers to questions people are asking.

The good news: online health information is in high demand. According to the Pew Research Internet Project, 72 percent of internet users say they’ve searched for medical information online. Among them, 77 percent started with a search engine as opposed to a specific website. To boost your search rankings, make sure your website provides helpful, patient-centric information, and integrate your online content across multiple channels. While practice details and information about your services are valuable, content that answers patient questions will attract higher search engine traffic. To further enhance your online presence, create pay-per-click and other digital ad campaigns that link to topic-specific (and keyword-driven) web pages, or to campaign landing pages with clear calls to action like schedule an appointment, sign up for a class or newsletter, take a tour, or attend an event.

Online videos are also very popular in the healthcare space, so they’ve become a must-have for many successful web and social content strategies. Videos are so popular and highly regarded among consumers seeking information that YouTube is the second largest online search engine. In fact, according to Google, YouTube traffic to hospital websites increases 119 percent year over year. Simply put, videos offer a great opportunity to improve SEO and expand your reach.

In short, your content should fulfill your customers’ needs. If you’re not sure what information your customers want, check back next week when we discuss how to learn about your audience by listening and engaging with them on social media.

We encourage you to check out our other topics in this series:

Going Viral in Healthcare Marketing

5 Tips for Creating Content People Will Share

Going ViralGoing viral…it’s the holy grail of modern-day mass marketing. How do you breathe enough life into your content for it to touch thousands or even millions of people beyond your reach? It’s not easy, but it does become easier if you know what you’re doing before you start production. Follow these five tips to boost your marketing content into the hallowed halls of virality:

#1: Put the right emotions in play.

Researchers have identified some common denominators when studying emotions evoked in highly viral content:

  • The overarching message should be positive. The subject matter may provoke sadness, fear, frustration, or some other not-so-jolly feeling, but the outcome and/or call to action should be positive or uplifting.
  • Anticipation and surprise are highly effective. When content drives curiosity, creates a sense of astonishment or makes people uncertain about what’s coming next, it has higher potential to go viral.
  • Evoking admiration also works well to increase social shares.

#2: Tug on heartstrings quickly, but weave in some “normal,” less emotional moments, too.

If you want a video to go viral, be compelling from the outset…the easiest way to lose your audience is to make them wait while you set the stage. And, because you want people to watch and share, your video should take them on a little ride – the proverbial emotional roller coaster, if you will – so they’re driven to offer friends and family the same experience by sharing it.

#3: Don’t inject too much of your brand in the content.

You can put your stamp on it, but keep it minimal – company name, logo and maybe a quick line of copy at the end to tie the messenger in with the message. Go too far beyond that, and people will decline to share your content just as they would if you asked them pass out promotional flyers on the street. Emotional branding in healthcare is so much more about what you do than what you say, so keep your footprint small on viral content and save your role for where it matters most: real-life patient experiences.

#4: Consider your options with Influencers.

Who out there can help you reach – and influence – enough people to make your campaign go viral? Think local celebrities (or national celebs who grew up in your community). Think relevant thought leaders with significant social followings. Think bloggers and reporters with lots of engaged subscribers – and ask yourself who among them may take an interest in your message and reach thousands of potential “sharers” with just one click? Give it some thought…you may find you have more options with Influence Marketing than meet the eye.

#5: Make your content useful and helpful.

Whether or not it goes vital, content with practical applications helps you garner attention as an expert or helpful resource. The same researchers who identified the most effective emotions for viral content also discovered that PSA-style messages – those that serve the “public good” – have potential to go viral. This claim aligns with separate findings that suggest many people are happy to support health-related causes by sharing on social media.

What’s your favorite viral campaign and why? Leave a comment to keep this conversation going about captivating the masses in ways traditional mass marketing never could.

Healthcare Marketers: Expand Your Reach with Online Videos

In our last blog post, we discussed the importance of giving patients what they want to see on your healthcare provider website. As you plan your content strategies, think about the rapidly growing reach of online videos. They’re an effective way to build your brand by engaging your audience.

Check out these related insights from a health consumer study by Google and OTX:

  • One in three people (32 percent) watch health videos online. That outranks the number of people watching videos about food, celebrities, beauty and fashion, sports and many other content categories.
  • More than half (54 percent) of patients want information on specific conditions when they watch health videos online. Additionally, 49 percent express interest in videos featuring experts, e.g. physicians (like these videos we helped create to introduce the doctors of Lawrence Memorial Hospital’s affiliated OB-GYN practice).
  • Four in 10 patients (43 percent) say they used a search engine for more information on health topics featured in online videos. Many took further action as well: 21 percent signed up for a health-related newsletter, 12 percent clicked on an ad, 10-16 percent recommended a website or forwarded a video link to someone, while another 7 percent shared a video via chat or blog. When you look at it this way, it’s easy to see how online videos make a very effective ‘gateway’ touch point between your organization and the people you want to reach.

In addition to being easy and relatively inexpensive to distribute, online videos excite and resonate with people who prefer to learn by watching (roughly two-thirds of the population). For your audience, videos are more closely linked to a storytelling experience than text on a screen, which makes video a more engaging and memorable medium by its very nature. Videos also offer a great deal of flexibility when it comes to production and execution:

  • They can be made on any budget. If spending is an issue, consider using a flipcam in a quiet work space with an attractive backdrop and good lighting. Feature your physicians speaking naturally (albeit from a well-prepared script) to deliver a clear, concise message with minimal post-production editing.
  • They can be repurposed for a variety of applications. Think outside your website and YouTube – your video content could be integrated into a webinar, included in e-newsletters, featured on your facebook page, displayed on tabletops at recruitment fairs and more.
  • They make very compelling online ads. If your budget allows it, go beyond educational videos and into the advertising arena. Video ad spending is projected to increase by 40 percent this year alone. Public service announcement videos are also effective at building brands by reaching out to people in meaningful ways – like this PSA we produced for Saint Luke’s Muriel I. Kauffman Women’s Heart Center, an oldie but goodie that moved the dial on heart awareness among Kansas City women.

If you’re new to video content creation and optimization, contact us for some useful tips. Then start planning – and producing – to establish new connections using online videos.

Healthcare Websites: Giving Patients What They Want

Healthcare Marketing: WebsitesSo…what do you think of our new website? We hope you like it as much as we do, because if we don’t provide a helpful, informative and visually appealing experience while you’re here, then we’re just wasting space, plain and simple.

This is especially true for hospital and physician practice websites. These sites should be current, easily accessible resources for the eight in 10 internet users who seek health information online, but generally speaking, they’re not. Studies show many of today’s provider websites are mediocre at best. Why? Because these patient-facing sites don’t offer much when it comes to patient-friendly, patient-focused information.

What they do tend to offer in abundance is hospital- or practice-centric ‘About Us’ content. While it’s okay to provide an overview of the organization as a local patient care provider, that’s really not why people visit the site, especially when it comes at the expense of information patients really need, like whether their insurance will be accepted, what forms they’ll need for a first-time visit, which floor the lab is on, whether they can get a certain procedure at your facility, how to reach their specialist by phone, and so on.

Bottom line: the most successful healthcare websites put patients first. Why disappoint when you can ‘wow’ people instead? Making your site patient-friendly involves varying levels of complexity and expertise, but here are some things to consider that won’t require a complete overhaul:

  • Be accessible to everyone. Offer concise content at a high school reading level – no long, jargon-heavy paragraphs. Make sure it’s a mobile-friendly site, because one in five cell phone owners in the U.S. today have used their phones to look up health-related information. Offer bilingual content if English is a second language for many of your patients, and accommodate people with disabilities like visual impairments that limit web accessibility if you can. Thanks to a wide variety of plugins, extensions and widgets available for today’s most commonly used content management systems, these tasks are often not as difficult as you might think.
  • Make sure search engines can – and do – find you. Plugins for search engine optimization (SEO) are a dime a dozen these days. It helps to have key words and phrases in your content, but that alone is rarely enough to make you a top match in searches. Deploy SEO strategies to ensure people find you when your content answers the questions they’re asking.
  • Keep it fresh. Stale, outdated content engages no one. Be sure to update your site with new developments relevant to patients, like upcoming health promotions, new doctors and services, extended appointment hours and so on. And if one or more of your physicians is willing to blog in layman’s terms on key medical topics and news, we say go for it!

By the way, online videos are also a great way to provide truly engaging content that users can access and absorb with ease. But that’s a whole other blog topic – read more here.

And finally, in terms of design, here’s your new mantra: No Clutter Allowed. Apply the same levels of neatness, logic and organization to your site as you do at your facility. Remember, your website is often your first chance to make a good impression, so use it wisely. Put the needs and interests of patients first.

White House Website Needs SEO Reality Check

President Obama's Healtcare Reform Web SiteI absolutely agree with the comments in iHealthBeat’s article about the sub-optimization of the White House’s new health reform website. Why go to all the work of creating a new media-rich site and not optimize it for the masses to find?

Though the meta keyword tag is not used by the major search engines, a look at the Reality Check site shows that its writers are more worried about nabbing searchers who spell Barack Obama’s name wrong than getting folks who are curious about health reform to the site. Unfortunately, it’s not clear that the staffers who threw the site together understand search engine marketing and optimization at all. They don’t even have ‘Barack Obama’ in text for the bots to find (the president’s name is only in a graphic and an alt tag).

Our SEO team’s recommendations? Write a better title. Embed in the content common search terms like  “Obamacare,”  “healthcare coverage” and “health bill,” as the authors of the article suggest.  Deploy a suite of online analytical tools including AdWords, WordTracker, Google Analytics and others to identify additional popular search terms related to health reform. Create keyword-rich anchor text and cross-link to the various .gov sites. If that sounds like too much work for our government friends, they could simply hire us to put Reality Check at the top of the search results.

The Mobile Evolution of Social Networks

Mobile Access to Social NetworksI have a dumbphone. I’m not trying to be insulting;  I’m just saying my cell is not what they call “smart.” That is, I have a plain, ol’ run-of-the-mill cell phone that lets me call and text…and that’s about it.  Which is fine, I guess. I mean, do I really need to have access to my Facebook account 24/7 Do I really need to be able to Google something anytime I want? Do I really need to tweet a photo of what I’m doing while I’m doing it? The answer is yes. Yes, I do. I really, really do.

Why? Because having on-the-go, hand-held access to the Internet (and thus social networking sites) has quickly become the best way to maintain one’s online presence. In addition to being able to interact with online communities at a moment’s notice, mobile social networkers are able to update their accounts more often with more relevant/timely content than those with “stationary” access. And it’s this constant stream of rich, fresh content that makes these sites all the more useful, informative and fun – for the user and for his/her friends and followers. Simply put, mobile access takes social networking to the next level.

Which is why I wasn’t surprised to see a new study that found that more than half of U.S. wireless customers access content on their mobile phones, and of those people, most spend more time on social networking sites than, say, looking up news and weather. As people like me start shopping around to replace their dumbphones with smarter ones, the number of mobile social networkers will only increase – which will improve the quality of content on social networks – therefore making social networks all the more popular. So for those of you hoping sites like Facebook are just a fad, think again. Mobile access is just pushing these sites to new heights.

A couple questions for all you smartphone users:  What content do you access via your phone?  And what smartphones do you find cater to social networks the best?  (I have my eye on the new Palm Pre…)