As a company that helps a lot of clients with similar goals, we have the opportunity to spot industry trends. One trend we’ve seen recently: marketing departments are increasingly handling internal communications. Memos and newsletters are rewritten as internal branding. So why do healthcare organizations “market” to their staff? And, once a healthcare organization decides to take the plunge into internal marketing campaigns, what are the best ways to reach the care providers actually walking the hospital floors?

To answer these questions, we sat down with Kathy Selker, CEO of healthcare-focused branding and marketing agency Northlich; Liz Phillips, Northlich’s chief client and strategy officer; and our own Donna DeMarco, Viddler co-founder. Here are the top five questions from our interview.

Through our research, we’ve noticed two trends:

  • Healthcare marketing in general is becoming more patient-centered.
  • Healthcare marketers are increasingly responsible for internal communications and for culture- or community-building within their networks/hospitals.

Selker: You’re absolutely right. Healthcare is becoming increasingly-consumer centered — and not just in respect to hospitals and hospital systems. Companies like Kroger and CVS are building clinics, and Amazon has entered healthcare. This shift is changing the way consumers seek care and is forcing the industry’s hand to be more consumer-centered. (I try not to say patients, because at the end of the day patients are consumers. They have choice.)

As a healthcare marketer, you have to think about which factors will make consumers lean in your favor versus what will make them lean in your competitors’ favor. Part of that is really understanding what your brand is and what it stands for. Healthcare organizations are increasingly coming to understand that one of the best ways to fully realize that is through their workforce. If a hospital stands for compassionate care, but its exam room nurses aren’t demonstrating that, their every interaction will affect the brand. A staff has to be inspired by the brand.

2. So how do you craft a message that inspires your staff?

Phillips: You have to start with the workforce. Our first step is always to do an immersive discovery. We interview key stakeholders, but we also spend a lot of time with the staff on the ground to understand the good and the bad. One, these interviews ensure that the message you create is authentic; two, they allow you to build alignment throughout the process. That way, when you roll out an internal campaign, you have people who say, “I was part of that message, I believe in that, and we should all rally behind it.”

3. How do you gather information from staff? What are the best ways to communicate with staff?

Selker: Sometimes we do extensive, complete workforce surveys; other times a less intensive approach works better, such as panel discussions, focus groups and stakeholder interviews for key leadership. It’s important to adjust the approach to suit the need.

DeMarco: A variety of methods provides multiple collection points to make sure all employees feel their input is heard and is valuable. Taking the time to listen at in-person settings shows the importance of the feedback and provides in-depth insights.

4. Having done these interviews over the years, do you see common patterns from organization to organization?

Phillips: Generally among staff, we’ve seen a yearning for something to rally around, something that taps into care providers’ intrinsic motivators. They don’t want to feel as though the hospital is just telling them what the brand is, and giving them a script.

DeMarco: That’s 100 percent right. We’ve seen among our clients a real culture of caring. The people in these roles are inherently caring individuals. That gets built into the organization culture, and draws in even people who aren’t directly providing care.

5. Once you have your messaging down and you’re ready to launch your campaign, what’s the best way to do it? What cadence, strategies and mediums are most effective?

Phillips: A lot of this depends on the organization. As part of our discovery, we work hard to understand what kind of communications already work at a specific organization. We try to leverage things that are already happening organically. We are very mindful that these types of campaigns should not be time-bound. They should be ongoing, and they should really be integrated throughout the organization.

DeMarco: An ongoing cadence is critical. So is convenience. Our clients want convenient and quick communications that recognize that their staff’s time is valuable. If your organization is going to use video communications, for example, it’s important to keep videos under two minutes and easily available through the intranet.

Selker: We also encourage senior leadership to make the effort to go to every location and every shift. Even when senior leadership participates in rounding, they tend not to go to other campuses. All of that stuff really matters. If you can facilitate that happening because it’s part of a coffee cart, or handing out logoed umbrellas like we did at Chicago-based AMC Loyola Medicine, you should. It’s a connection. It makes people feel differently about what they do.