Seven years ago, Hackensack Meridian Health operated on content autopilot.
It’s a story familiar to many marketers.
Some with the brand published a print magazine. Others sent newsletters with syndicated content that used medical sources unaffiliated with the largest health system in New Jersey. They had different names and aesthetics. No brand voice existed.
And they wanted to develop an online content hub — that’s what I was charged with when I started in this role in 2018.
Since then, Hackensack Meridian Health has united its content into the HealthU brand, which includes a digital content hub, a quarterly print magazine and newsletter, social media, and a podcast introduced a few years ago. The program won Best Content Marketing Program in Health Care in the 2023 Content Marketing Awards.
Recently, I shared the behind-the-scenes story in the CMI webinar Grow Up! How to Increase Your Content Maturity Level and Prove ROI (registration required). Michelle Jackson, vice president of content strategy at GLC, our agency partner, joined me.
Here’s a look at the factors that helped the content team establish the voice and content strategy for Hackensack Meridian Health.
4 elements of a successful content marketing program
In transforming Hackensack Meridian Health from a content creation program to fully realized strategic content marketing, we incorporated four critical elements:
- A documented content strategy gave the guideposts that enabled us to deliver a successful program.
- A content brand ensured a cohesive voice and look throughout Hackensack Meridian Health’s communication.
- Collaboration among departments ensured everybody understood the strategy, mission, vision, and process.
- Reporting results allowed key stakeholders to see the progress.
These elements enabled us to go from order takers (i.e., put this in the newsletter) to strategic operators who ensure the published content connects strongly to the brand’s marketing priorities, helping get people to our facilities.
Plan content first, then choose channel and format
Our content strategy involves a content-first, channel-second approach. We stopped doing magazine planning, blog planning, etc. We now do content planning.
Here’s how it works. The content team:
- Identifies a search trend, such as interest in marathons.
- Plans the content — in this case, a piece on tips for marathon beginners.
- Identifies the appropriate channels.
- Interviews a subject matter expert (a doctor in our system).
- Crafts an article for the content hub and produces a podcast episode from that information.
- Repurposes the content into other assets (i.e., a graphic for social media).
Sometimes, we think a topic would work well just for social media or only on the content hub. Frequently, we use the audience’s response to the digital content as a thermometer for the print magazine.
Let’s say an article about how much weight someone needs to lose for weight loss surgery receives a significant response online. We’ll plug it into the print magazine and include a QR code for a weight-loss health risk assessment that returns the reader to our digital content.
But HealthU content goes beyond those channels. Other marketing teams in the organization can use it in their campaigns, whether a sponsored content opportunity in a local digital publication or an airplane-pulled banner with a CTA for HealthU sun safety tips over a crowded beach in New Jersey (yes, that happened.)
Work across teams for content strategy success
Listening and collaboration are the essential ingredients for the content program’s success.
With 36,000 employees across 18 hospitals and 500 patient care locations, you can expect a lot of competing priorities. The content team supports the entire organization in Hackensack Meridian Health’s network office.
We meet regularly with marketers who support individual sites and service lines. We meet with them monthly to discuss their primary, secondary, and tertiary priorities for the next three months. They don’t come with content requests; they come with strategic priorities, and we determine how to help them support those goals.
Every two weeks, we also meet to look more closely at the expected and necessary activities in the coming weeks. Are new doctors onboarding? Do new programs need a volume boost? Will new tech be launched that we could support?
At those meetings, we really listen to understand what they’re saying. Then, we take that information, research the related ideas, and develop appropriate angles and distribution channels to support those priorities.
For example, sleep medicine is a priority for our pediatrics service line. Armed with that knowledge, we researched trending topics around sleep to understand what people wanted to know. We wanted the content to answer their questions, not just talk about what we think is important. There was a high search volume surrounding the use of sleep gummies to promote better sleep in kids, so that’s the topic we tackled.
Offer a pitch form
But content ideas aren’t limited to those meetings. We created a pitch form for marketing communications team members. They share the details of their idea, the sources, and even media consent forms and photos, if available.
Every pitch is reviewed. If we don’t plan to pursue an idea, an auto-generated email goes out, which includes a note about why the topic was declined. For example, a pitch to promote a highly technical component of clinical research was submitted. We replied by noting, “The topic doesn’t fit in HealthU’s consumer-friendly content strategy, but here are some other communications channels within the department that might help you reach your goals.”
The pitch forms also help the content team identify recurring themes — internal topical trends — that can inform future content planning. (To understand external trends, we use tools such as Google Trends and Answer The Public, which now incorporates data from Bing and YouTube search engines in addition to Google.)
To manage all this content, requests, and production, we’ve moved from massive spreadsheets to Airtable. It’s been a game-changer for us, letting us track all the ideas and content in a single database and automating steps, such as the individual responses to pitches. The digital dashboard is also accessible to all marketing communications team members so they can advise their stakeholders on content status at any time.
Show the impact
The fourth element of our successful content marketing program revolves around results. After all, driving people to use Hackensack Meridian Health services and visit doctors in our network is the ultimate purpose.
In planning the content, we also plan to measure its success. All the results are compiled in a single, templated report. Department leaders receive that report monthly. (We report to the C-suite quarterly.)
To assess the impact of the content, we secured our own call center number. Every CTA includes the same phone number. That line receives about 3,000 calls every year.
In the magazine, we publish branded shortened URLs and QR codes. We also did a reader survey and found one-third took action in response to HealthU content — scheduling an appointment, using a service, registering for a class, subscribing to the newsletter, etc.
The metrics also inform changes to the content strategy. Over a year ago, the digital metrics indicated our long-form patient stories and team member spotlights didn’t perform as strongly as other educational content. We deprioritized patient stories and gave higher priority and visibility to educational pieces around trending topics and human interest stories promoting our doctors.
After those content changes, calls increased by 97%, referrals to doctors jumped 169%, and service referrals grew by 61%.
Growing beyond a tactical approach
Seven years after the tactical evolution, we still publish a magazine and a newsletter. But now, they are integrated components of the HealthU strategy, projecting the same voice and mission as the digital content hub, podcast, and other Hackensack Meridian Health content.
We are a small team that also oversees social media and web content — five full-time employees at Hackensack Meridian Health and GLC as our agency partner. But by collaborating with the other marketing communications teams and truly listening to — and addressing — their priorities, HealthU delivers big results for the brand.
Please note: All tools mentioned in this article were suggested by the author. If you’d like to suggest a tool, share the article on social media with a comment.
MORE EXAMPLES FROM 2023 CONTENT MARKETING AWARD FINALISTS
- How Content Helped ServiceNow Grow From Startup to Global Brand
- How This FORTUNE Brand Studio Exec Built a Content Business on Brainstorming, Budget Constraints, and White Glove Service
- How Volvo Penta’s Adventurous Campaign Shook Up Marine Leisure Marketing
- How Purdue’s Award-Winning Video Transformed Recruitment With Emotive Storytelling
- How State Farm Turned a Viral Ad Into an Award-Winning Content Campaign
- The Ecopreneurs: A Win-Win-Win-Win for Salesforce, FORTUNE Brand Studio, Entrepreneurs, and Audiences
- How The Humane Society Makes Emotional Connections Through Print and Digital Content
- How One Content Leader Launched a 150-Year-Old Brand Into the Modern Era
- The Career-Guiding Question McKinsey’s Publishing Lead Always Asks
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute