To Expand Their Appeal, Children's Hospitals Need to Sharpen Their Focus

Mike Kondratick, healthcare account supervisor, Capstrat
Mike Kondratick, healthcare account supervisor, Capstrat

Hospitals of every stripe are facing severe revenue pressure. For children's hospitals, the squeeze is especially tight.

Existing funding streams are under siege. Competition from other institutions is threatening to steal the most profitable patients. To find stability, children's hospitals must offer value to today's more empowered healthcare consumers. This requires building strong relationships with moms—specifically millennial moms—and it needs to start before anyone is ever admitted.

The revenue woes begin with Medicaid, which covers a third of all US kids—if it covers hospital costs at all. With program rules changing and reimbursements declining, children's hospitals are feeling the effects more quickly.

This decrease in public funds is being exacerbated by an increase in consumer choice. A rising tide of healthcare consumerism has removed the taboo against treating medical care as a buying decision, and provisions of the Affordable Care Act make exercising those choices easier.

Steadily increasing costs are driving consumers to be more discerning about where they spend their healthcare dollars and to focus on how much wellness those dollars can buy. As consumers set out on these journeys of discovery and choice, they want guides.

This is where children's hospitals can turn the corner. Here is where an empowered healthcare consumer becomes an opportunity.

Most children's hospitals focus generally on mothers as that empowered healthcare consumer, because mothers typically make healthcare decisions. But the audience of moms is undergoing a seismic shift. Eighty-three percent of all new moms are millennials who think, act and communicate differently from their older counterparts. Children's hospitals need to respond by being their guides.

Forty-two percent of millennial moms feel that marketers don't speak to them. This is largely because they feel marketers haven't responded to the dramatic shifts in their approach to motherhood. Millennials are just as likely to be employed full-time as they are to be homemakers. More than a third have started their own businesses and promoted them via social media. A millennial mom is twice as likely as the average mom to be a single mother. Millennial moms are decidedly more independent and more entrepreneurial in their approach to balancing work and home (Weber Shandwick, 2014). Hospitals must reflect an understanding of this lifestyle in their communications to earn the opportunity to build relationships.

Millennial moms' entrepreneurial spirit creates a hectic daily routine of trying to balance work, children and, occasionally, some “me time.” To accommodate this balancing act, most millennial moms increasingly consume their information through mobile devices. Seventy percent use smartphones (BabyCenter, 2014). These phones are typically focused on social media, where they spend four more hours per week than the average mom.

Though it's easy to guess that their most frequent destination is Facebook, it's harder to guess which destination came in second: YouTube. More than half (53 percent) of millennials regularly use the video platform. Pinterest and Instagram also have strong followings of younger moms at 46 percent and 30 percent, respectively (BabyCenter, 2014). Therefore, think about ways to deliver valuable content to these moms on the go.

With so many millennials at the intersection of social and mobile, strong support networks have formed, making the opinions of peers more important. Millennial moms ask for, and offer, opinions. Fifty-five percent of millennial moms frequently seek the wisdom of their friends on purchase decisions, compared with just 39 percent for the average mom.

And Millennial Mom's friends respond. They “like” or “recommend” 35 percent more content per month than the average mom. Sixty-four percent of millennials actively share healthcare information (Weber Shandwick, 2014).

For children's hospitals to successfully build relationships with millennial moms, then, the first requirement is to demonstrate understanding of those moms' lifestyle in both how and what the hospitals communicate:

1. Be where they are...with pictures. Because these moms have no extra time and a well-established pattern of information consumption, don't expect them to jump right up and engage with a new website or community events program. Instead, deliver information through their preferred social and mobile channels.

Put pictures and videos at the center of your content strategy. Make sure they're easy to share. And since millennials are less likely to be a part of a traditional two-parent household, focus more of your visuals on the mother-child relationship. Not only will this approach improve the chances of your message resonating, but it also implicitly shows an understanding of the needs of today's parents.

2. Find and recruit ambassadors. Millennials are influencers. They actively share information. Their purchasing habits reflect the importance of peer recommendations. Instead of trying to drive communications directly with your brand, focus your strategy on promoting conversations among these moms. The endorsements that result will drive engagement. Over time, dedicate more resources to building relationships with your endorsers.

3. Simplify. Help simplify their hectic lives by providing millennial moms with wellness information that can keep their families healthy and limit the need to visit a children's hospital. The trust and credibility that you create will pay off handsomely when the need for care arises.

Just as critical, emphasize simplicity when developing your hospital's mobile presence. Forty-four percent of millennials made a purchase via mobile last week (BabyCenter, 2014). They will engage when they need you, if the process is intuitive.

4. Use owned media to drive paid. This audience engages with content that comes from trusted sources. They tend to avoid paid advertising. Consider distributing the wellness-focused content you develop through native advertising channels on mommy blogs or parenting and lifestyle resources. This content should tell a story that blends in with their existing online experiences and preferences. Investing in Promoted Posts on Facebook is another good native advertising option.

Also, make sure that your non-native paid advertising fits within the daily routine of the millennial mom. Consider sponsoring sports leagues, adding your logo to coffee sleeves or investing in banners and floor mats around busy daycare centers. Paid ads on services such as Pandora are also a great option.

Struggling children's hospitals need allies. If the way to a dad is through his stomach, the way to today's families is through the millennial mom. So the question is how hospitals can use this knowledge to differentiate themselves—and to instill a promise that when a difficult time comes, the patient experience will be as good as it can be.

Moms want ease of use. Moms want clarity. Moms want the peace of mind that comes from knowing you understand their parenting challenges. When it counts, they'll remember who gave it to them.

Mike Kondratick is healthcare account supervisor at Capstrat.