Overall, only 2.6% of board members in S&P 1500 firms have marketing experience. That’s not good news for CMOs, whose average tenure has now fallen to 42 months.

As hospitals in particular continue to embrace marketing, more board members with marketing skills are strongly needed. Until then, what can a hospital CMO do to extend his or her longevity and bring credibility to marketing as a discipline?  

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There is a huge opportunity to improve the marketing knowledge of existing leadership.  On a tactical level, there are real actions healthcare CMOs can initiate to build trust and communications with their decision makers, many of whom have deep medical knowledge but lack marketing fundamentals.

The 42-month time horizon can be segmented into a pre-and post-campaign launch roadmap. Along the way building trust with the board and senior decision makers can take many forms, from cultivating stronger relationships and educating them about marketing to setting measurable goals.

Create maximum pre-launch buy-in. CMOs can tip the scales in their favor with the board and senior stakeholders by being proactive. A worthwhile first step is assessing their overall marketing knowledge. Second, create a marketing literacy game plan, because what is second nature to most marketers (things like brand positioning, communications planning, and marketing analytics) may not be well understood by healthcare professionals who have spent their careers as physicians, researchers, or caregivers.  

Education is essential. A client was looking to grow from a regional to a national brand. We developed case studies of other well-respected and admired healthcare brands explaining their campaign strategies, long-term time horizons, and success metrics. This allowed us to engage board members and C-level executives in discussions about required investments and results they could expect, at the same time respectfully educating them about marketing fundamentals.

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As the initial campaign planning begins, in addition to setting traditional KPIs, develop a three-year business case including projected media budgets. Since the board will be focused on ROI and growth, framing the conversation around market potential, the competitive share of market, the cost of patient acquisition, and how they align with projected revenue and growth rates will be more effective than relying on marketing buzzwords.

Make an effort to include a diverse set of stakeholders in the discovery process, so they have a vested interest. For one research medical center’s rebranding campaign, we interviewed a diverse group of 26 doctors, researchers, nurses and senior operations staff, and their answers informed the positioning and creative strategy.  They felt valued, shared important insights, and became ambassadors for the campaign with their peers, major donors, and board members.

Before your campaign launches, invest in a robust internal communications plan to promote employee buy-in. Employees serve as a critical voice and are advocates to advance the program. If effectively engaged, they can rally thought leaders and decision makers who may be ambivalent.

Post-campaign launch (when the honeymoon is over). Continuing to merchandize the campaign internally after the launch has many benefits. It keeps the initiative top of mind for decision makers and continues the positive momentum and information flow before annual budget meetings. This is especially important since year-over-year results take time to compile.

One way to deliver quick quantitative analysis between 30 and 40 days into the program is by conducting a field survey of physicians, nurses, and researchers. The survey serves multiple purposes; it directly engages the physicians and nursing staff with the campaign by asking them what they have seen, heard, and experienced, and secondly, it provides feedback of trusted colleagues as well as anecdotal excitement. Report these findings and campaign course corrections to the CFO, CEO, and even the board.

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In the three to four months post-launch, continue to merchandize the campaign by reporting on digital and social, including A/B test results, metrics for sentiment and engagement, increased online donations, and new patient appointments. Over the longer term (between six to eight months), a pre-launch vs. post-launch brand tracking analysis of key audience segments, such as patients, donors, and referring physicians, can provide greater insight into how effectively the campaign is changing perceptions and propelling growth.  The data can be used to help refine and sell-in your strategy for year two of the campaign, which will require action and approval well before year one results are in.

There are multiple opportunities to bring marketing to the attention of the board and healthcare decision makers. Marketers need to spend time educating them at the beginning of the process, constantly updating them on the campaign’s progress and demonstrating results that deliver ROI, to have a better chance of increasing their budget during the next cycle. And when they do, having marketers represented on the board has shown to increase shareholder return.

Joe Dessi is managing partner at Interplanetary.