Summarizing SHSMD 2018 – One Story at a Time

“We are wired through stories. When we hear stories and can relate to those stories, we begin to connect to both the people in the story, as well as the people telling the story.” This quote from Christi Zuber, the closing keynote of last Tuesday’s SHSMD Connections2018 sessions, sums up my takeaways from my first SHSMD conference perfectly.

I’m going to tell you a story of my own, but I’m going to rewind to Sunday, October 7th– the first day of the SHSMD conference.

I’ve been in the healthcare marketing industry now for over eight years, and I’ve been trying to make my way to the annual SHSMD conference ever since I first heard about the Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development. Finally, I was given the opportunity to attend on behalf of the Wisconsin Healthcare Marketing and Public Relations Society (WHPRMS).

As I traveled to Seattle (it was also my first time visiting the city) very early on the morning of the 7th, I knew I would leave with many takeaways, but I never imagined I would also make so many memories.

After spending some time exploring the Pike Place Market, riding the Seattle Great Wheel at Pier 57and getting a birds-eye view of the city from 902 feet up at the Columbia Center Sky View Observatory, I headed to the Washington State Convention Centerto catch the opening keynote of #SHSMD18: “Inspiring Customer Loyalty and Innovation” with Johnny Cupcakes (@JohnnyCupcakes).

Yes, the name may fool you into believing that Johnny Cupcakes makes cupcakes. Actually, he does not. He created the world’s first T-shirt bakery, and has since made a name for himself as one of the top innovators in retail. No, his keynote presentation was not geared directly toward healthcare marketing specifically, but his themes resonated with the audience, regardless of the industry. He reminded us all how important it is to take a step back and spend time doing the things that bring you joy. No matter what it is you want – if you stay positive – you’ll find a way to make it happen.

He explained the pillars of successful business ventures are:

  1. Stories and sales
  2. Leadership and education
  3. Marketing and advertising
  4. Customer experience
  5. Product development
  6. Social media.

I found it interesting that his number one pillar was stories and sales. He shared that, “Your story is your brand’s DNA,” and if you have a good story, people will connect with it and want to interact with you, whether you’re in retail or finance or healthcare. He shared all the ways that his company has connected with its audience – from events to social media stunts all the way to storefronts that literally have people lining up around the block to buy t-shirts (NOT cupcakes).

Most importantly, he explained that, “The human connection is what matters. Forget B2B or B2C, it’s all H2H – human to human.”

If you connect with people on a human level, you’re destined to succeed.

This mantra was repeating itself over and over in my head as I networked during the welcome reception in the exhibit hall later that evening, all the way into the opening session on Monday morning: “Forget Patient Experience: The Time for Marketers to Drive the Consumer Experience has Arrived.”

This discussion was led by two of the industry’s top minds, Chris Bevolo (@ChrisBevolo) of Revive Healthand Matt Gove (@gove) of Piedmont Healthcare. They continued the story theme, but through the eyes of the healthcare brand.

To set up his portion of the presentation, Chris Bevolo referenced his book, The End of Hospital Marketing: Joe Public IIIby saying, “100 years ago – even more recently – marketing was considered unethical in our field. But it’s a new day.” Now, great hospital marketing can just be called great marketing.

Marketers now own the entire experience and can see the entirety of an organization’s consumer touch points. Bevolo’s six new imperatives for healthcare marketing are as follows:

  1. Digital dominates
  2. Marketing as a business driver
  3. Data-driven marketing
  4. Changing the experience
  5. Building health brands
  6. Low threshold leadership.

During his section of the presentation, Matt Gove talked about brands being nothing more than the sum of the experiences you provide to consumers, and marketing is in charge of that brand. The sum of experiences could also be considered your story. You own the story; therefore, you own the experience. Make it unique to your organization! You have consumers’ trust, so reach them at all points of the healthcare journey by using data to understand them and anticipate their needs. Your touch points not only need to reach consumers within the walls of your hospital during the procedures and treatment phase, but they also need to (especially) reach them during all other phases!

The three key takeaways from this presentation were to:

  1. Lead the experience – if you’re not already, you should want to
  2. Find internal champions and resources
  3. Measure your progress.

Following that presentation, another Monday morning session took the idea of storytelling from being able to articulate your organization’s brand, to being able to articulate your need for budget dollars in front of the C-Suite.

During, “Lessons from the Shark Tank: Pitching your Strategic Marketing Growth Plans and Budget Needs to Senior Leadership,” Rob Rosenberg (@RobRosenberg) of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, Ltd.and Paul Szablowski (@PaulSzablowski) an independent consultant (formerly Senior Vice President of Brand Experience at Texas Health Resources) let the audience know that in order to get the budget you need, to need to speak the C-Suites’ language.

Their five lessons for healthcare marketing from the shark tank:

  1. Know your role – lead marketing, define objectives
  2. The pitch vs. the dialogue – ditch the pitch. Provide a solution and what’s in it for them
  3. Know your numbers – ROI, lifetime value of a patient
  4. Differentiation – having a defined value proposition, positioning as timeless and relevant
  5. Answering tough questions.

First, you should shift from calling these expenditures “marketing expenses”. They are marketing investments. You are an asset, not an expense. Marketers are word specialists. When pitching your marketing investments to the C-Suite, make it a dialogue, present solutions and let them know what’s in it for them.

Relevancy today is more important than differentiation. In order to know your audience, serve them up personalized content that applies directly to them. Finally, know your organizational WHY. Know why you’re doing what you’re doing when developing your value proposition and sharing that with senior leadership.

The three main takeaways from this presentation:

  1. Expectations for marketing professionals have changed
  2. A marketing pitch needs to reflect growth goals and new patient acquisition
  3. Knowing key definitions and performance metrics will improve your chances for success.

While the rest of Monday and Tuesday were filled with more informative sessions, the final session that hit home for me was Tuesday afternoon’s keynote presentation of, “Empowering Change Agents through Design.”

Christi Zuber (@czuber) told us all the inevitable – if there is one constant it’s change, and in order to succeed in the game today you have to be willing to shift with the tides. She put us through an exercise that forced us to not only network and interact with our peers at our tables, but also to take a good hard look at the current challenges we’re facing at our organizations and actually draft solutions to those through the use of storyboards. We had to explain to our table neighbors – through story – what we’re struggling with now and what we think we can do to improve it.

It was Zuber who said the quote at the top of this piece, “We are wired through stories. When we hear stories and can relate to those stories, we begin to connect to both the people in the story, as well as the people telling the story.” It was also Zuber who brought strangers together to connect with one another through stories – the whole point of the SHSMD Connections conference.

I could tell you a lot more about my SHSMD adventures in Seattle – from teambuilding at MoPOP, to a client dinner at Blueacre Seafood, to seeing the Space Needleand Chihuly Garden and Glassat night, all the way to singing karaoke at the Capitol Hill establishment Hula Hula – but that’s another story altogether ; )

To learn more about the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD) and their Annual Conference, visit

Becky Goplin
2018 WHPRMS President