Why your 2019 media strategy won’t work in 2020

In 2020, health care marketers will fight for consumer attention against a House impeachment investigation of Donald Trump, the 2020 Summer Olympics, and a presidential election with more than 14 candidates.

Consumer acquisition strategies that rely on mass media — television, radio, and others — are going to be expensive. They’re also likely to underperform.

And that’s a problem because health care providers are more reliant on these channels for customer acquisition and engagement than ever before. In 2016 alone, health care providers aired more than 3.5 million television commercials, up from less than 1 million in 1997.¹

Luckily, it’s not too late to get ahead of the 2020 media challenge.

So what can marketing leaders at health systems do differently to invest budgets more wisely across 2020? Our team has highlighted three strategies smart leaders will adopt:

  1. Rebalance media budgets to favor lower- or fixed-cost direct channels.

Savvy health systems will resist the temptation to outbid well-funded retail giants and political outfits for the same media time. Instead, they’ll seek consumer touchpoints through channels that are less exposed to price fluctuation, like direct mail and owned and earned social media.

Because marketers cannot replace the broad reach of mass media through these tactics, smart teams will work to identify the most appropriate populations for service line messages, and focus their strategies on reaching those consumers with direct outreach.

  1. Capitalize on interest (and fatigue) from specific consumer groups.

The year 2020 presents a unique opportunity to ride the wave of consumer interest in the Olympics and the election — if they can define customer groups well.

Health systems can win the already captive attention of Olympics watchers through targeted, condition-specific content. Educational or event-specific videos featuring sports medicine specialists are a powerful way to become relevant to an audience defined by interest. Marketers will want to deploy these tactics through exact-match social, programmatic video, and over-the-top television.

Health systems can also become resources to their communities during election season with apolitical efforts. Consider positioning your organization as a resource for the community through educational efforts that simplify health care for consumers. Providing unique resources to different populations (e.g., seniors eligible for Medicare Advantage) through print, direct mail or digital can be effective.

  1. See 2020 as a pilot and platform year, not a workaround.

Smart health systems will not view the 2020 media challenge as a problem to get past, but a chance to experiment and transform. Progressive teams will set goals, create different expectations for different consumer groups using trackable channels, and create a plan use their learnings in future campaigns.

These changes will require frank discussions with C-suite teams about reconfiguring traditional marketing investment plans to favor new, more accountable channels. Leaders that get ahead of this conversation will be well-positioned to meet the challenge of 2020 and beyond.

Learn more about how we’re helping providers make the most of their marketing budget.

About the author

Ford-Tyler-headshotTyler Ford
Principal, Consumer Acquisition Services

Tyler Ford leads Optum’s Consumer Acquisition unit. Tyler is responsible for leading Optum’s efforts to leverage data to transform healthcare providers’ consumer strategies to drive outsized growth and better patient engagement. Tyler works directly with many of the nation’s leading healthcare brands on growth initiatives, including marketing and loyalty, patient access, and consumer product design.


1 Schwartz, Lisa. Medical Marketing In the United States, 1997-2019. Journal of American Medicine. January, 2019.

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