Health Care Marketing Campaigns: It’s No Longer ‘Awareness Versus Acquisition,’ It’s ‘Awareness With Acquisition'

By The SHSMD Team posted 10-02-2018 03:44 PM


The health care marketing world is rife with well-engrained processes, vendors and “traditions.”  For years, branding and awareness campaigns were all that was “needed” – we would put up billboards, secure a few solid television spots and plaster ourselves over local radio and print.  However, with the advancement of digital strategies and technologies, marketing funds started to shift from traditional tactics to inbound tactics – search, social and display. 

It’s a golden age in health care marketing, with more robust attribution, deeper audience segmentation and top-of-the-line technology.  Yet, as the use of digital marketing continues to grow, a disconnect is emerging between campaign planning, strategy and execution. A push toward “data-driven” marketing puts lead acquisition at the forefront. This forces different resources (and even departments) into the ring together. This collaboration is often new to the organization, creating questions on how to fit all the puzzle pieces together correctly. 

Brand, communications and marketing are very similar functions, however, their mindset, approaches and goals have traditionally been opposing: 

  • Brand thinks in concrete terms – “This is our brand.”
  • Communications thinks organically – “This is the content our patients want.”
  • Marketing thinks in priorities – “Orthopedics is our priority.”

In today’s age of attribution, only one of these departments have actionable goals, ROI goals and revenue numbers directly associated with them – marketing. 





Bigger budgets

No budget

Budget for priority SLs


Change preference and awareness

Build relevance

Lead acquisition


Overall traffic

Site metrics



While their goals and metrics may be different, all of these teams have the same ultimate goals: find the patients who need care, guide them to the right solution and keep them as loyal patients to increase a hospital’s revenue (so they can continue to provide medical care). 

This sets us up for today’s topic of discussion. Across the 900 patient acquisition campaigns I’ve been a part of, you can easily see the correlation between the two efforts when they’re integrated. TV provides a huge lift on digital tactic conversion. When brand awareness is higher in one metro area compared to another, the same message and creative will regularly outperform where brand awareness is higher. This is exactly what is supposed to happen through a coordinated, integrated strategy. We create the awareness and have our acquisition tactics ready and waiting for when someone is ready to act on that awareness.

So how do we plan for, differentiate and execute on the two main (but not only) campaign types: awareness and acquisition? First, let’s define each campaign type:

Awareness campaigns: Aimed at increasing recognition or recall of a brand, location, practice or expert, keeping the brand/provider top-of-mind within the buying cycle.

Acquisition campaigns: Aimed at educating and driving qualified individuals to a specific provider for a condition, procedure or service line. 

Traditionally, these two campaign types have been independent, siloed and disconnected for a variety of reasons:

  1. Different departments
  2. Different budgets
  3. Different goals
  4. Different tactics

And for some reason, this has been widely accepted, but that is changing – and fast!  These campaigns share a common goal: Increase patient volume, but approach the goal in different ways.

I believe every tactic has its place in a campaign – whether it’s a broad TV spot, a nurturing email or a long-tail keyword. They are all working toward the same goal and playing their own part. This is why it’s important to take acquisition into consideration when planning an awareness campaign, and vice versa.

Awareness Campaigns
Be sure to put in the work. Often the decision to go to market with a branding campaign is made under guise of “because we have to.” But why? Media dollars should be spent to fix a problem or achieve a goal. Negative perceptions, fleeting market share, drops in preference and new entrants are all valid reasons for embarking on an awareness campaign. 

We often strive to fix the patient loyalty problem with branding, constantly engraining our logos and our taglines into our service areas. But not understanding why we need to do this in the first place can be a colossal waste of money.  Loyalty hasn’t gone away, it has just changed.  Today’s consumers don’t pay as much attention to names and brands because there are just too many options. They pay attention to access, convenience and experience. Consumers have choice, we just need to give them every opportunity to say yes to us as their choice.

Acquisition Campaigns
Acquisition campaigns are the lifeline of any marketing department.  Without measurable (positive) results, budgets stay static (or worse, decrease), resources become scarce and marketing is seen as a cost center instead of a revenue and investment center.

Acquisition campaigns have long been associated with lead generation tactics (e.g., search engine marketing, email marketing), which only begin to scratch the surface.  Paid tactics are a strong part of an acquisition strategy, but it is only a player in a much larger strategy.

Acquisition campaigns are only as good as the follow-up. We can spend years developing the strongest messages, ads, targeting and strategy, but if the user experience isn’t easy, helpful and direct, then it’s time and money wasted.  This is where touchpoint management comes into play.

Touchpoint Management
Arguably the most important aspect of an acquisition campaign —touchpoint management—allows marketers to understand how to best utilize precision marketing: right message, right person, right time.  This spans the entire health care consumer lifecycle —from planning, to a scheduled appointment to returning patient. 

The basis of touchpoint management is understanding the needs of the users. If only 10-15 percent of those who interact with our assets actually take the action we want them to, what did the other 85-90 percent of users do?

  • Why did they visit a landing page? Was it the result of a TV spot, display ad, video or a proactive search?
  • What content did they consume when they were there?
  • Are they a return visitor to the page?
  • Do they need more information?
  • Are they looking for specific services?

All of these aspects (just a very small sampling of data sets) help develop a campaign touchpoint strategy, influence tactic mixes and engrains a follow-up process.

While touchpoint management is the most important aspect of planning and execution, it is also the hardest to plan, execute and evolve.  There is a lot of upfront research, data analysis, tactic mapping and content creation that needs to be done upfront before a campaign goes live.  The most frustrating part of touchpoint management is that it’s derived from human behaviors. With today’s attention spans, distractions and changing loyalties, a solid touchpoint management strategy may only be relevant for a few months.

Blending Strategies
This is where we start to intertwine awareness and acquisition campaigns. We work to create awareness of our services among consumers, then ask them to choose us.  Branding efforts shouldn’t stop at the ad, the billboard or the message, it should translate through the entire experience, including your website (digital welcome mat) and the call center. Pages meant for awareness traffic are a great opportunity for visitors to self-select into an acquisition effort through site navigation and robust content. Let your assets (your landing pages) work harder. Oh, and also be sure to follow-up with them through remarketing efforts (digital remarketing ads, nurture journeys, outbound calls, etc.).

As represented below, you have your strategy and your overarching goals, which can be broken down into two main buckets – awareness and acquisition (including retention). These can be broken down even further into sub-strategies: content strategies, UX strategies and media strategies. All of this works together for an overarching marketing strategy – with awareness and acquisition working together. 

When looking at digital attribution, it is very clear to us that digital tactics (acquisition tactics) see a definitive lift when branding tactics are in market. We create the awareness and have our acquisition tactics ready and waiting for when someone is ready to act on that awareness. We also see this in large increases of branded search terms within SEM campaigns while awareness campaigns are live. 

In hindsight, it’s very simple: Running awareness campaigns without a subsequent acquisition campaign simply primes the market for a suave competitor who wants to capitalize on your large branding dollars. You are advertising for your competition – it’s a huge opportunity lost. 

Likewise, running acquisition campaigns without an awareness element is a very underpowered effort. It’s hoping that a user searches for a keyword, and hope is not a strategy!

By Christopher Girardi | Posted October 2, 2018
SHSMD Digital Engagement Task Force Member
VP, Precision Marketing