Today we talked to Chris Pace, Chief Digital Marketing Officer at Banner Health, about his transition from data and strategy to becoming a thought leader in the healthcare marketing space dedicated to humanizing healthcare and embodying Banner Health’s mission to make healthcare easier for consumers.

Hi, Chris. We’re so excited to talk with you today about this big topic: humanizing healthcare. First, tell us a little bit about your background. You didn’t come from a traditional marketing background, right?

Chris Pace - Chief Digital Marketing Officer - Banner HealthI started in strategy and facility consulting and then, almost nine years ago, I joined Dignity Health on the strategy team. We were doing market intelligence and identifying areas to grow and opportunities for physician alignment.

And then in 2014, I was approached by the marketing team to join that group as their digital marketing strategy lead. I was brand new to marketing, I never worked in marketing ““ I had marketing courses in grad school ““ and I was intrigued by it, but I never really connected the dots that what I was doing was the foundational work of what digital marketing is — which is understanding data and trying to figure out what opportunities to connect point A to point B using data as the lens to drive it.

So, I finally made the decision to go for the marketing team. And here I am today, sort of becoming a thought leader in the space, which I never would have imagined five or six years ago.

But, you know, it just proves that if you take on challenges and don’t say no to things that might be scary, good things can happen.

I love that! It’s so interesting that you came from a different world in working with data not related to marketing — how has that played into your digital marketing role?

I think it’s something that differentiates me. I’m not the smartest digital marketer out there ““ I know I don’t have the sort of creative juices to understand the visual and storytelling side of marketing. Obviously, I’ve learned enough to be dangerous at this point, but where I came from was having a firm understanding of all the metrics that matter most to make hospitals successful.

And so, understanding the financials, understanding where capacity constraints may exist, and really looking at it sort of through a “Moneyball” lens is what I was doing in my strategic planning days. Looking at the numbers, whether it was population growth or the mix of the insured population, and trying to identify where we might want to go forward with investments.

It’s kind of the same thing in digital marketing.

It’s just looking at it from the supply side out, demand-side in. But it’s ultimately a math equation to me. So, I think that’s where I was able to carve out my neat niche was in that math algorithm game that I kind of translate everything into.

That’s an interesting way to look at it. So, you’re obviously working with a lot of data. How are you bridging the gap between all the data that you’re looking at and analyzing the consumer side?

So, you know, I’d love to say that we’ve mastered it. I feel like we’re still trying to solve a lot of it. I look at it as kind of a polynomial equation. We have some of the variables figured out. Some of the variables aren’t figured out. And some of them aren’t even numbers so that’s hard to measure. And so, what we’ve kind of done is looked at it from a couple of different perspectives. And Banner Health helps this equation be solvable really well because Banner Health is a very focused organization and is focused on very specific business objectives.

So that makes the marketing craft a whole lot easier. When you’re actually helping solve problems instead of trying to make everybody happy.

I think marketing is kind of that department that just does whatever is asked of it. And at Banner Health, our marketing shop is very strategic and very focused. And so, from the supply side, looking at what is marketable, and we’ve got some pretty clear data that shows us what areas of the healthcare delivery system are what I call shoppable, meaning I can pick up a phone and make an appointment for that service versus other areas are kind of off-limits and require a couple of steps to get there, like a referral and then maybe imaging and then maybe a second opinion. And then potentially down the road, you get with the specialists that you were hoping to get with in the first place.

A lot of what we do is very transactional. So, if you think of the whole spectrum of healthcare, we have everything from urgent care, which is a retail play, to the highly specialized acute services. It’s all about being near the consumer and making sure that your services are easily accessed.

For example, Banner Health has over 40 urgent care locations in the Phoenix area, which is a very, very competitive market for urgent care. The market has a very high awareness of the service and Banner Health has a very strong presence because of our scale. So really my job to solve for in urgent care is how do we get in front of consumers before they get in their car.

How are you guys doing that?

We’ve developed digital tools to make accessing our urgent care services easier. We have kind of an OpenTable-style solution that we built internally with our Digital Business team to make it easy to find the closest urgent care and announce that you’re on the way.

We have gone from not having that capability three years ago to now driving 30% of the business that urgent care sees through that digital solution.

And we know that Google is part of everybody’s healthcare journey. Eighty-five percent of consumers that have a healthcare need start their journey on Google. So, we need to be present immediately in the search experience and not wait for the customer to come to our website.

The majority of the action we get is in Google with zero clicks to our site. We have to be present in that environment so that consumers don’t go for another option. We can do that through understanding the consumer behaviors and looking at the search data to say, here, where are these searches happening and where are the conversions happening? And we get a pretty clear understanding that those conversions happen in Google before they even come to our website.

How are you seeing zero-click impact your marketing?

Some of the data on business traffic from Google My Business and the knowledge panel is really fascinating. We went from about 17 million views of that content to 90 million in 2019, and we’re on track to probably 100 or 110 million this year. So, it’s definitely a reasonable number.

You mentioned that your team developed this OpenTable-style app, which is really cool. What are some other things you’re doing to keep consumers first?

So, I think one of the biggest opportunities that Banner Health had when I joined was getting involved in consumers’ everyday engagement experience. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, or consuming content through Apple News ““ finding where the eyeballs are.

So, we developed an engagement content strategy that I feel was pretty bold for a health system to take on. The traditional way that health systems want to talk about themselves is truly about themselves. It’s about our doctors, the services we offer, and quality of care that we provide. And those things are definitely important, and they have a role in where we live in the consumer’s minds.

But, most of the time, when consumers are well, they don’t care about Banner Health. They don’t care about healthcare in general. They only think about us when they need our services. And then there’s this underlying presumption that any health system has these core competencies ““ no matter who they are. We assume that we go to the doctor and we’re going to come out feeling better than we did going in. Hopefully, this is the case all of the time.

So, when we developed our engagement content strategy, we didn’t want to treat it like a sales tool. We wanted to treat it truly as a resource, and almost like you’re speaking to a friend that you trust that knows about healthcare. And that’s very consistent with our brand and the brand we launched two years ago, Exhale — which, like Banner Health, is like this trusted best friend.

Our mission statement is ‘making healthcare easier so life can be better.’ So, we just want to make things very easy and very clear, and that was the pillar of our engagement content strategy.

Once you created that content, how did you get it in front of the people?

It’s scaled through our social media channels and through email to the folks who want to consume the content we’re creating. Facebook is obviously a place that folks share and consume content. And we redesigned our blog to make it easier to navigate and made a decision on how we categorized the content so it’s organized by ‘better me, teach me, advise me, and inspire me.’

We’re also looking at what topics are trending and creating content around that. We had a story recently about cotton swabs and why you should or shouldn’t use them. It was based on an article that we saw was trending on Google Trends. We then decided to reach out to one of our doctors and ask questions about should people use Q-tips? And we had 40,000 views in one week, and it was because we amplified it through targeted email.

We have also had a topic about the pros and cons of using meal kits ““ so we’re trying to ladder into topics that are really top of mind for folks. We’re just providing content that may be helpful and useful to consumers, and I think that’s how we build that authentic relationship, which hopefully pays out long term.

I’m going to have to read that Q-tip piece for sure. So, you’ve been in the healthcare space and marketing world for a while — what are some things that have changed?

So, I think the one thing that I’ve noticed that is starting to flip — and Banner Health is definitely ahead of the curve on this — is consumerism. Paying really close attention to the patient experience, not only the quality of care but the happiness of the patient. Banner Health has been using net promoter score as a way to measure the patient experience for a while now. We find that net promoter score is a better way to act upon the patient experience.

And then not just the patient experience but the customer experience, too. Banner Health has been very clear about the difference between the two. Patient experience is really the clinical setting — the engagement that the consumer has with a clinical person.

But the consumer experience and the customer experience is really sort of ever-present. If you ever set foot on any of our campuses or any of our brick and mortar locations or engaged with our digital tools, that’s an opportunity for us to improve upon customer experience and make sure it aligns very closely with our brand experience.

I have the luxury of being part of our brand experience team, which gives me access to making sure our web experiences aren’t so much like a brochure but are more like something that consumers are used to engaging with like Apple or Netflix — simple and easy to navigate with minimal clicks to get where you’re looking.

That’s really what we’re about, and I think that’s kind of where the future of the healthcare space is. It’s finally growing and catching up with the rest of the retail consumerism that’s sort of set the bar.

And now’s the time for healthcare tech to grab it and go.

Speaking of the future of healthcare: What are you excited about when it comes to the future of healthcare marketing?

You know, the buzzword of the day in the marketing space is AI. I don’t feel like we’re quite ready as an industry to jump on AI because it’s so important to maintain empathy and humanity as part of those conversations you’re having with consumers. We need to be authentic, and we need to make an emotional connection, and I don’t know that AI tools are quite there yet, so I think that’s what I’m really excited about.

Reviews are very important to us. We pay very close attention to our reputation online. When people review us really well, we’re very thankful for that, and we want to embrace those opportunities to learn from those great experiences so we can deliver that every time. But we also pay attention to the less-than-desirable experiences because I think that’s really the best opportunity for us to take advantage of those insights and learn from them so we can improve.

Thanks to Chris for taking the time to talk with us about what they’re doing at Banner Health to humanize healthcare! Want to learn more about healthcare marketing and get insights from experts like Chris? Check out the related articles below, and give us a call today.

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