September 15, 2023

How to Right the Wrongs of Healthcare Grassroots Marketing

Alex Becker

Let’s face it: traditional advertising can only take your healthcare brand so far. At some point, you need to go beyond advertising to build a local reputation—to see and be seen. This is what brands like Monster and Red Bull understand so well. They’ve got two concepts down to a science: 1. bringing positive associations; and 2. encouraging trial and affinity with their brand. That science is called grassroots marketing, and it’s about developing personal connections with potential audiences in the local community. 
Where Healthcare Gets Grassroots Marketing Wrong 
Too many healthcare organizations think grassroots marketing is about writing sponsorship checks or throwing together last-minute activations. But you can’t just provide a logo or a stack of brochures and call it good. Or scramble to gather some giveaway items together for an event that weekend. Either approach is a waste of time and money. 
Just as dangerous for healthcare brands is ignoring and devaluing grassroots marketing all together. The lure of “tangible” results from traditional marketing and advertising channels can be seductive in contrast to measuring grassroots. Figuring out full-funnel attribution and whether leads converted into patients, members or customers can be difficult, but what your brand risks by not doing grassroots marketing is even more important: conveying your values and story. The best way to do that isn’t through tactics like ads or emails alone but also up close, person to person. Nothing beats that one-to-one connection, especially in healthcare where trust and relationships are paramount. 
What Healthcare Can Do to Increase Grassroots Marketing Scale and Effectiveness 
Establish a Core Team 
A marketing leader should drive the grassroots strategy, but they’ll also need the support of key administrative and provider leaders to truly be successful. The entire organization needs to be bought in to the why and how of local community activation. 
Create a Strategy 
Healthcare brands need to be intentional with their grassroots marketing efforts, starting with key questions of why, where, when and how: 

  • Why are you doing grassroots marketing? To announce a new location, to grow our patient panel or membership size, to deepen connections in the community? 
  • Where will your target audience be, and which events make the most sense for you to have a presence at?
  • When will you focus on grassroots marketing? Leading up to and during an opening? As an ongoing effort? 
  • How will you ensure brand consistency and maximum efficiency? How will you empower local markets, especially in rural areas? How will you compliantly track leads?

 Here are some tried-and-true tips: 

  1. Develop criteria that establish which types of events you do and do not want your brand associated with.  
  2. Ensure events are close enough to your location/market that they make sense, and they are something your target audience will attend. Let’s say your practice is located about 20 miles south of a large metro area, and most patients live within 3–5 miles of the clinic. While a large festival downtown is a large draw for those who live throughout the area, chances are you’ll meet more people who live further from your clinic than those who do. You may have more luck with a smaller, but more local event instead. 
  3. Consider whether owned events, events you host yourself, make sense for you or not. For a provider with a community space, you could leverage health and wellness talks from providers as a regular, ongoing series. 
  4. Develop event kits, programs in a box and other templates for turnkey, grab-and-go activations. Your materials (signage, collateral and giveaways) should be simple and sturdy enough for a wide range of activations. Be sure your collateral will work for the event location. For example, digital activations may not make sense for daytime outdoor events where sun and glare can defeat the purpose. 
  5. Be sure to think through what types of activities and giveaways will most attract visitors. Freebies are a must. Try to think beyond the usual lip balm and pens that everyone else is giving out. Think about the locals and what they do and love. For example, Denverites are all about their dogs, so dog-themed items that also relate to your brand can help you stand out. 
  6. Think long-term versus one and done. Be willing to tweak and re-evaluate your efforts as things change. 

Examples of Success 
Clinics Designed with Community Rooms 
Grassroots marketing can’t be an afterthought for healthcare providers. Hospitals and clinics aren’t always places people go to casually, but, if you design the space to have a community room that’s welcoming and comfortable, attendees see how nice the space is and how friendly the staff is firsthand. Those positive interactions elevate the provider in the minds of the community. In a time where loneliness has become an epidemic, these communal spaces are more and more important. The provider’s location then isn’t just for medical care but for overall well-being, too. These spaces can be used for those owned doctor-talk events, social activities or third-party activations like Medicare 101 educational events for insurance agents. Many senior-focused primary care clinics Heinrich works with not only have such spaces but also see the value they bring to their patient panels and community reputations. 
Retail Collaborations 
Health happens everywhere, every day, not just in the exam room. That’s why it’s important for healthcare organizations to be front and center where people make decisions about their everyday health and well-being. There’s perhaps no better place than a grocery store. Heinrich has helped Medicare insurance agents nationwide host tabling events in store and we’re also helping to connect the dots between Medicare Advantage spending allowances and local retail chains. We've developed messaging to help eligible shoppers better understand how to use the spending allowance in store but also generate increased interest in the carrier, simultaneously boosting the store's basket ring, average ticket, and overall incremental revenue. 
Leaders Deeply Engaged with the Community 
Before Heinrich, I worked with a large academic healthcare system on the Front Range. When opening locations in new markets, the leadership team’s involvement in the community through local events as well as nonprofit boards was a huge arbiter of success. That kind of work helps build leaders’ personal reputations and the organization’s as well as one that is invested in giving back to the local community. 
Why You Should Work with an Agency 
Working with an agency partner can help you establish the strategy, align key stakeholders and not only develop the creative, but help you execute it. Agencies can leverage their experience in other industries to help influence external stakeholders and position the grassroots marketing effort as a win-win. For example, Heinrich works with both a Medicare Advantage carrier and a national grocery retailer, which means we can help position in-store tabling events to both brands. 
A fully integrated agency is especially helpful when it comes to in-house print production. Your creative team may come up with the best event activation idea in the world, but when it comes time to think about fulfillment, it’s over budget or items are backordered for weeks. With an in-house print production team, creative and print can work together to come up with the most creative, realistic solution in line with current trends that also arrives on time and on budget. Heinrich’s print department, for example, is deeply involved in the creative process, bringing innovative solutions from print vendors to the creative team.  
It’s Time for Healthcare to Embrace Grassroots Marketing 
Healthcare is on the precipice of massive change, thanks to technological and scientific breakthroughs and a shift to true prevention at a population health level. Grassroots marketing can be the conduit for these changes to be shared with the community and to re-build the trust the pandemic broke. Now’s the time for healthcare to take the grassroots marketing spotlight from sugary, unhealthy drink brands that claim to support health and fitness but actually undermine it. Now is the time for healthcare to lead, not follow.