Healthcare tech firms: your content marketing isn’t working

The latest HIMSS study on healthcare content marketing indicates a huge gap between goals and results. However, B2B technology needs content marketing more than ever.

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Is there discontent in B2B healthcare content marketing?

A HIMSS study on the state of B2B content marketing in healthcare points to the big gap between content marketing goals and effectiveness. A full 85% of survey respondents said they have a content marketing strategy, but only 4% of them said they think it's very effective. Moreover, 74% of the respondents said they will spend more on content marketing in 2016, even though  "producing content consistently" was the most common answer (cited by 41% of those polled) when respondents were asked to name challenges facing healthcare content marketers.

The findings are strikingly similar to the findings of the 2015 annual study of B2B content marketing by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI). Only 6% of the respondents to that survey said that they think their B2B content marketing is very effective.

The mismatch between content marketing goals and results

The HIMSS study finds that the No. 1 goal, for content marketers — by a wide margin — is lead generation (cited by 58% of respondents). That's not surprising, given the nonstop pressure for revenue growth at all levels of tech companies. Clearly, content marketing is not delivering on this goal today.

Here are some of the key reasons:

The absence of a content strategy: Except for very large tech companies that have made strategic investments in content marketing organizations (think IBM, Microsoft, Salesforce), the vast majority of vendors don't have a content strategy. With those big companies, content marketing has been aligned with the overall business strategy and corporate branding initiatives over an extended period of time.

Lack of sponsorship: For most B2B tech companies, creating content is a low priority. Most individuals like to be involved in “deal flow.” Content marketing is left to small marketing teams with limited budgets. This results in content that is not aligned to business strategy and market positioning,

Content-creation bottlenecks: Content marketers need content to market. This requires the involvement of subject matter experts (SME) who are often too busy to participate. The result is low-quality content and a lack of consistency in content creation.

Lack of a content distribution strategy: My favorite analogy for this is that if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, did it make a sound? Most pieces of content are like falling trees in the dense Amazon rain forest of B2B tech marketing. Most B2B tech companies fail to take advantage of the multiple digital and social media channels to promote content. (As an aside, most senior executives in B2B tech companies are not themselves active in social media).

No patience: B2B tech companies need instant gratification. The HIMSS survey clearly points to a chasm that exists today between content marketing goals and the effectiveness of content marketing programs. Unfortunately, launching a content marketing program this quarter is not going to help meet your quotas for this quarter. 

B2B buyers want more content – how do we give it to them?

It’s not hard to understand why B2B tech marketers are planning to spend more on content. Numerous studies indicate that B2B buyers engage with content until they are well into a buying cycle before contacting potential vendors. B2B sales organizations depend crucially on content to advance in the buying cycle before they can expect to make in-person contact with the buyers. The flip side of this is that lack of content or poor content eliminates potential sellers early in the buying cycle. 

The CMI study on B2B marketing lists 14 different content marketing tactics and the effectiveness ratings of each. The highest scores for written content were for blogs, white papers, newsletters and research reports. Clearly, B2B marketers know what buyers are looking for. The challenges, as indicated by the HIMSS survey, pertain to content quality, consistency and frequency.

It's also important for B2B tech marketers to remember that a single piece of content does not generate instant results. The MIT Sloan Management Review refers to the “ladder of participation" which is a useful framework for developing content for different stages of the buying journey and measuring progress against goals.

A survey of 350 global marketing executives by consulting firm PwC indicates that most companies don't have a content marketing strategy, or make do with an incomplete strategy. 

However, there are pockets of excellence that illustrate the potential payoffs from content marketing, if done right and consistently over a period of time. Consider these two examples from the world of healthcare — one a traditional organization, the other a startup — that illustrate how content marketing can be effective:

Competing with larger organizations: Realizing that it did not have the deep pockets of traditional insurance companies, Oscar Health, a VC-backed health insurance startup in New York, has developed an effective content marketing campaign that uses simple and highly effective messages on its website.

Build it and they will come: Cleveland Clinic, a traditional health system, has made itself one of the most visited health and wellness destinations through a sustained content marketing program. It has also figured out a way to monetize that traffic.

Being “digital” today is not about technology — it's about process and culture. Add one more to the list — content.

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