SAN FRANCISCO— Healthcare providers have a massive amount of data but they don’t necessarily know how to activate that data, Oracle Cloud Marketing vice president Jason Rushforth told the In2 Summit audience this morning, during a session on “What Epic Brands are Doing to Revolutionize How the Health Industry Interacts with People.”

Rushforth expressed the opinion that most healthcare companies are “where the high-tech industry was eight years ago” in terms of adopting new technologies, a view that was confirmed by Chris Bevolo, executive vice president with session sponsor ReviveHealth, who said “many healthcare organizations have difficulty getting buy-in for digital investment and other new technologies.”

But the centerpiece of the session was a presentation by Paul Matsen, chief marketing and communications officer at Cleveland Clinic, who discussed how his organization had been able to develop a robust digital platform to build its brand nationally and internationally.

The Cleveland Clinic brand, Matsen says, is based around clinical excellence, patient experience, wellness—all of which one would expect from a healthcare company—and innovation. “We try to be innovative in everything we do, including marketing and communications.

For a company called the Cleveland Clinic, building a global brand is challenging, Matsen says. “Most healthcare brands are local. We don’t have a national advertising budget, which requires us to think differently.” So while the organization does some local advertising, and places a lot of emphasis on earned media, “owned media has become our number one source of new awareness of our brand. It is also our number one channel in terms of generating leads.”

The Clinic has built a digital framework that includes its website, where “all the information is created by Cleveland Clinic experts” but a series of blogs that seek to provide trusted health information for consumers and for physicians, and social media channels. But the core target audience for all of this, Matsen says, is the “alpha influencers”—individuals who are actively engaged with the healthcare marketplace and who are inclined to share information with others.  

As a result, “We have a wealth of data we can share with leadership team and our physician team that can show them the value of what we do. That’s one of the things that’s really exciting about the digital tools we use.”

It has allowed the organization to monitor all the touchpoints at which patients are engaging with it, and to provide them with specific kinds of content that produces the highest conversion rates, developing a robust lead generation system and making the Clinic’s communications effort more efficient.

But Cleveland Clinic is one of a handful of healthcare companies to embrace marketing automation, Bevolo says.

“Marketing automation facilitates communications,” says Rushforth. “First of all you need that data. You also need to have content—and you need to understand how to deliver it, across what channels, to what audience. If you know who you’re talking to and what you’re talking about, that’s the key to success.”

The data can also help companies understand where patients are in the decision-making lifecycle and engage with them at the right time, Bevolo adds.

Finally, it is clear that others will have to follow the Clinic’s example, particularly as consumers have access to more and more health-related information. The major challenge, Matsen adds, will be the resulting transparency. “We are going to see more transparency around quality, transparency around customer and patient experience, and transparency around pricing, which is empowering patients to make choices.”