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Episode 23: Sandra Mackey, CMO of Bon Secours Mercy Health, Part 2

Hey everyone, this is Rudy Fernandez from Creative Outhouse. This is Part Two with Sandra Mackey, the Chief Marketing Officer of Bon Secours Mercy Health, a large nonprofit hospital system that’s in seven states. We’re entering a whole new era of hospital business and hospital marketing. And these two episodes address them. In Episode Two, we talked about how hospitals can become the Center for Community Health, what competition from companies like Walmart will mean and how you can use marketing to improve patient experience. And of course, how you do all this while maintaining patient privacy. Anyway, check it out. Welcome to Marketing Upheaval.


Rudy Fernandez  0:51 

What do you think are some major changes in terms of how a brand like let’s say Bon Secours Mercy Health brands itself? What’s changed? In terms of how you engage people with that brand,


Sandra Mackey  1:04 

So Bon Secours Mercy Health is the parent company of two brands that sit underneath it. One is Bons Secours. The other one is Mercy Health. And so we look at sort of the individual attributes that those two brands bring. And again, we start with research and understanding what drives consumers. What are their current perceptions? And where do we have an opportunity to influence those perceptions of services that are provided by the health system. And so for starting there, and truly unpacking the things that drive consumers, it helps us to market to consumers in a way that is about engagement, rather than what we think they want to hear that will move the needle. And one example of that is I think, in the industry, it’s been a long recognized practice in the industry that there’s promotion of awards, “we’re the best in this”, “we’re the number one in that.” We don’t say one of how many, by the way – it could be one of a thousand..


Rudy Fernandez  2:09 

Yes, no, the chest thumpy stuff. Yes.


Sandra Mackey  2:12 

Yeah, exactly. In the top three…of three. You know, there’s a lot of self promotion around the health system that has occurred over time that I think consumers have gotten used to, based on research that we’ve done, consumers express fatigue around that type of marketing. Because there are so many of those awards recognitions out there. And I think that consumers start to question what does that really mean? Does that translate to a better experience? You know, who’s taking these surveys? Lots of questions that come up in their mind. And at the end of the day, what we have learned from that type of research is that those awards and recognitions are more about the health system than they are about the consumer. We have a shift in that philosophy. And we have really, you know, taken a completely new direction in the way that we engage with consumers. And what a concept we actually talk about the consumer, not about ourselves. Yeah, we want to be able to demonstrate that we understand what their greatest needs are and where they’re coming from and what they have gone through before they get even come through the door. And so our approach to branding has really taken on more of a consumer voice, I’d say than then we’ve ever done within our health system.


Rudy Fernandez  3:43 

We’ve talked about this I think where, I’ve always said that a lot of hospital say advertising your marketing is always been either it’s all about us or it’s all about you. Where “it’s, it’s all about us” is you know, like you said, the top of this or one of the five best whatevers or “it’s all about you”, which is a testimony. Which is, which is also nice. But you know, every hospital has a successful case study, hopefully, or you not going to keep your doors open. So, you know, there has to be something that connects and is more genuine than, you know, maybe in between those two. I’m glad, I’m glad somebody finally said that, because I’m still seeing a lot of either A or B, wherever I look.


Sandra Mackey  4:23 

Sure, and that there is so much of that A and B. And so I think, in so many circumstances, it really is about differentiation as well. And so we found that to be a success factor for us.


Rudy Fernandez  4:38 

You had talked about being a bigger part of the community that you serve. What are some things hospitals can do to be a larger part of the overall community that they that they’re part of?


Sandra Mackey  4:49 

Our stake in the community is represented by all of the dedicated professionals that work throughout our organization to live in the communities where we serve. So we’re serving them, their families, we’re serving the broader communities. But we’re also making what we hope is a deeper impact through community benefit. We commit more than $2 million a day, back into the communities to support the needs of the community. And that really is part of our mission. It’s something that we all believe in. It’s not a gesture. It’s part of the very fabric that represents Bon Secours, which is a Catholic health ministry. And I think it’s the commitment that people make when they walk in the doors to come and work at Bon Secours Mercy Health.


Rudy Fernandez  5:39 

So it’s more purpose driven.


Sandra Mackey  5:41 

It’s very purpose driven.


Rudy Fernandez  5:43 

What are some of the things that $2 million goes towards?


Sandra Mackey  5:45 

Some of the highlights in my mind when you think about them and look at them might not seem directly related to healthcare. But they are things like how supporting housing programs in local communities, Those are all things when you look at the social determinants of health. We like to partner with others that are are, are committed to providing resources and help build up communities as we are, they may take on the form of uncompensated care. But they also may take on the form of housing programs. You know, we have some examples of that great examples of that in both Baltimore and in Cincinnati, and in communities everywhere in between.


Rudy Fernandez  6:39 

Well, I’m really happy to hear you say that because I gave a talk about this a few months ago. We help clients talk about their purpose. And hospitals in particular have never had to do that in the past, primarily because people assume they were there to help heal people. But part of my presentation was no, hospitals need to take a larger view of what health is. And part of that is housing. Part of that is hunger. There are some community health based initiatives that aren’t directly tied to orthopedics or heart disease. It’s tied to the community’s health. So when you say it’s not directly health related, I believe it is absolutely health related. The things you talked about.


Sandra Mackey  7:22 

Oh, I, I agree. I would say it’s not health related in the traditional definition of what we put under the health umbrella. But that definition has expanded greatly.


Rudy Fernandez  7:35 

That’s fantastic. One of the big things happening in healthcare is that there are new players entering in the arena. You know, you see you look at Aetna, CVS, you know, they’re offering some healthcare, Walmart’s going to offer healthcare super centers, large companies like Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, they’re starting to try to form their own healthcare solution. How do you think that’s going to disrupt the traditional healthcare hospital structure as we know it?


Sandra Mackey  8:04 

I think it’s going to be extremely disruptive. But I would say disruption is a good thing. When we think about innovation, and ways to meet consumer needs to build healthier communities. The industry needs some disruption, for sure. You think about those companies not healthcare related, but companies that never felt it was necessary to innovate and where they are today. Companies ike Blockbuster like Kodak, maintaining the status quo is not a way that we can truly meet the needs of our consumers. And those needs are constantly evolving. And so some of the strategies and technologies these large companies are bringing to the healthcare space, I think are challenging and good for us to look at as best practices, some best practices, some areas, but I also don’t think that healthcare systems can rest on their laurels and think that this innovation should solely sit with those companies. In fact, this is where I think healthcare really has the edge. We have the experience, the providers, the provider networks that really complete the puzzle in terms of how consumers access care. And so while I think it’s challenging when you look at these organizations with deep pockets, for the most part, they’re looking at the commercial pain patients primarily, and focusing on ways to optimize and monetize those communities. Yeah, and the nonprofit healthcare system, our purpose goes a lot deeper than that. We are branching out extensively into innovative technologies, and I think we’re definitely turning the corner on that. What we also do is look at the whole person, and recognize there’s an opportunity for an untapped market. And that is the most vulnerable in our communities, the poor and the underserved. And there is not much scrambling for those patients. And from our perspective, that part of our whole mission is to really focus on on how to help those communities and that demographic of individuals to access quality care as well. This is not something that is a commercial business, and that can be fully commercialized, unless you think about entire populations.


Rudy Fernandez  10:44 

Yeah, that’s true. Somebody like Walmart doesn’t have that obligation. I think they were more looking at – I think they have something like more than 2 million employees, and they’re trying to figure out a way to control costs in terms of health care. You remember at the beginning of this call, we weren’t recording it. You had mentioned that a lot of the things that I wanted to talk about were exactly the things you wanted to talk about. The funny thing is that some of the things that you said, including the Blockbuster reference where part of that same talk I gave a few months ago, where I said, you know, Blockbuster, you know, they were on top, there was no competitor, really, they had contracts with all the studios, and they, they were in on every corner, just about they own the market. And now they’re gone, because they failed to listen to their customers. And they failed to adjust to it to evolving technology. And everybody looked at me like I had eight heads. So thank you for saying that.


Sandra Mackey  11:41 

Yeah, and again, this is the scenario, Rudy, where competition is a good thing. Competition, and innovative technologies will never allow you to rest on your laurels. Yeah, it will always challenge the next thing that you need to be focused on. In order to better service your communities, and if you’re serving your consumers in your communities, well today, realize that this constant evolution in healthcare can create change tomorrow. And so you always have to be thinking about not just the generations that you’re predominantly serving, but the next generation and how they will access care as well.


Rudy Fernandez  12:24 

Here’s what I love about you’re saying: in the old days it was a hospital saying we have this sort of treatment, we do these sort of things and whatever it is that they’re trying to advertise or market in the hopes of someday when you have this condition, you will come to us. It’s really more about an ongoing conversation about your health and not have when you have a heart problem come to us. It’s more of here’s how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. And then of course, if you have a problem, we’re here, but hopefully you won’t have that problem. I think what hospitals need to be. They need to be a platform for health within their communities, and not just a place you go when you’re sick.


Sandra Mackey  13:04 

I completely agree. And again, this is really the monumental shift that has occurred in the evolving healthcare landscape. When you think about what consumers need and how they need to access those services, it should not be on an on-demand basis. This should be more of an ongoing relationship that is focused as much on health as it is on acute care.


Rudy Fernandez  13:32 

Yes. And that gives an opportunity for marketing to not just do to have a constant conversation with communities as opposed to “we’re going to run something in the fall. We’re going to run something in the spring.” It’s an ongoing conversation with your community.


Sandra Mackey  13:49 

I totally agree. And if you think about some of the services consumers access most right, think about the relationship that you have with your cell phone provider. Right. I don’t just hear from them when the bill shows up at the end of the month. I hear from them constantly. They’re constantly demonstrating the value that they could bring to me. They’re talking about new features on my phone that I wasn’t aware of. They’re talking about ways to be able to access the latest in technology, which that’s code for spend more money and get the newest version. There’s this constant engagement with them, not just at the time when I’m considering a new phone. There’s ongoing dialogue taking place before I’ve even decided that a new phone is needed. So when that time comes that I need a new phone, of course, I know where to go. And I’m not necessarily shopping around for another provider. Because I’ve educated myself on what I need when I need it. And I know how to get it.


Rudy Fernandez  14:58 

Yeah, and speaking of technology and evolution, the last year broke a record for the number of venture capitalists dollars that went into healthcare technology, which the previous record was set the year before. Now I have a feeling this year is going to break last year’s record. So there’s a lot of technology investment. And most of it is how do we do a better job of communicating with patients, essentially, is what billions of dollars are going into and how do we create a more of a relationship. And that’s that part’s exciting to me.


Sandra Mackey  15:33 

Oh, it’s very exciting. It takes a lot to crack the code. But I think that’s not a reason to sit still and wait for this perfect solution to come to your door. It is a time to take some calculated risk in terms of how you test and invest in technology that really can enable that a dialogue between you and your consumer.


Rudy Fernandez  15:57 

It’s always tricky because we’ve also you know, worked on healthcare apps. And the trickiest part with that compared to other apps you develop is creating something that’s useful, but also balancing that with audience data and patient privacy. How do you balance those things with your marketing?


Sandra Mackey  16:14 

One word describes how we balance it: carefully. Again, we’re not in a retail world, we’re in a very sensitive world where patient data in particular, is well protected by the laws that govern how healthcare providers can use that data – and rightfully so. It is an area of privacy that has been well-defined over time and oftentimes defined not by the things you do right, but by the things that you have done wrong and get publicized. What I will say is there’s a different mix of individuals that now, in my mind has to make the marketing team. And whereas at one time you could look only at the technical skills, do they understand how to write the marketing plan? Do they understand how to drive engagement, etc. So, are we really exercising all of our muscle in all of the traditional areas that make up marketing? The answer is, most times, yes. But there’s one critical element that we as marketers have to consider in the space that we’re operating in, especially as we delve into technology. And that really is understanding the rules of engagement, about protecting privacy, and really having a dedicated focus on your team that there’s always if not a person dedicated to managing understanding and educating the rest of the team, but that you partner with teams of experts throughout your system, that have those advanced technologies and capabilities around assessing data privacy. It has to be something that’s a critical part of every conversation.


Rudy Fernandez  18:12 

Yeah. So when you look at the landscape, so many pressures for hospitals these days, government being one of them, of course, and the rhetoric that’s going on, and laws and but then changing consumer mindsets, changing technology, as we haven’t even talked about the physician shortage, you know, all the things that are coming: what are some things that you see that excite you the most, and that concern you the most?


Sandra Mackey  18:39 

The same things that excite me also concern me and I think that’s a very healthy balance, to be honest with you. And it is digital technology. It is fascinating. It is an area that certainly for our health system we have delved very deeply into understanding the effectiveness that can be created around some of our digital technology stack. As much as that’s exciting, the same things can be concerning, because we have to strike an appropriate balance between how much is automated versus how much is humanized from a from an execution perspective. And so that’s a very fine balance. Do we step up and develop and manage and really execute on system strategies based on lots of technology, or are there some distinct areas where technology can be an enabler, but it is also as much of a threat.


Rudy Fernandez  19:51 

So how are some ways you’re using the digital technology now that is exciting, but yet scary?


Sandra Mackey  19:57 

For using digital platforms, that we have not been in the past patient engagement, understanding the patient journey, and really being able to personalize the experience with patients. Those are some of the technologies that are just so exciting. And when you think about other industries that use similar technology, they really have been enablers to engagement. I think the fact that we’re leveraging those in the healthcare space and certainly, within Bon Secours Mercy Health is incredibly exciting. What comes along with that, though, is the risks that that poses and one of the risks that we’ve identified is privacy, and at what level and what technologies require human engagement versus machine learning engagement.


Rudy Fernandez  20:51 

Yeah, that’ll be the ever-present problem and question as we move forward. Well, Sandra thank you so much. I’ve enjoyed this. I always enjoy talking to you and can go on and on. We probably will after I stopped recording.


Sandra Mackey  21:07 

Oh absolutely happy to go on with you always, Rudy. It’s my pleasure to have been here and I’d love to join you again. I think I just like to end with giving a nod. We can think when a marketer’s hat on for so long. There are things that humble us and I just like to share a quick experience of how I was recently humbled. About a year ago, I was on vacation and I got onto a four wheeler for the first time in my life and I’m not the most athletic, agile person when it comes to that level of activity. I jumped on a four wheeler, didn’t give it another thought and came flying off that four wheeler and separated my shoulder. So I was in Mexico, I came back to the states and got treated within my own healthcare facilities. And I will tell you for every marketer, that’s out there, a staunch reminder of why we do the things that we do will be in your face when you become a patient. I would just like to give a nod to every one of those providers who, who took care of me in my most vulnerable state. Because I think that was, again, one of those jolts that I have about the importance of the patient experience. Certainly, from my perspective, providers deserve an A plus for the way that I was treated. So for any of them and listen to this, I’d like to say thank you.


Rudy Fernandez  22:36 

Well, I’ll tell you you just hit on the reason I love healthcare and why I’m healthcare nerd is it has especially from a creative point of view: People are never more vulnerable than when they’re in in your care. You know, because that’s, does it matter how rich or successful or in shape or good looking – when you have a serious health problem, you know, you’ve suddenly are at someone else’s mercy. And there’s so much emotion in that. There’s so much that you have to take into account when you communicate those things that that’s why I love doing it. And it makes a big difference. And we’re all going to be patients at some point.


Sandra Mackey  23:17 

Yeah. Not by choice, but we’ll all be there.


Rudy Fernandez  23:21 

Yeah. Not by choice.


Sandra Mackey  23:22  

Again, what it takes – the tenacity and the strength that our healthcare providers have, and treat our patients every day. It is unmatched in terms of profession and I’m incredibly grateful to be surrounded by people like the people here at Bon Secour Mercy Health.


Rudy Fernandez  23:42 

Yeah, well said. Thanks again, Sandra. I really have enjoyed this.


Sandra Mackey  23:46 

Thank you.


Rudy Fernandez  23:49 

Hey, thanks for listening to Marketing Upheaval from Creative Outhouse. To learn more about Bon Secour Mercy Health, check out their website at BSMhealth.org or check out Sandra’s LinkedIn page. For show notes, previous episodes and previews to upcoming episodes, visit Creativeouthouse.com/podcast. And if you liked this podcast, give us five stars. Subscribe, share it with all your friends. Our producer is Susan Cooper. Special thanks to Gopal Swamy and Acoustech Music for creating our earcon and to Jason Shablik for his audio advice. Well, that’s it for this episode of Marketing Upheaval. And remember, if the current state of marketing has you confused, don’t worry, it’ll all change. See ya.


Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Podcast credits:

Host: Rudy Fernandez

Producer and Cover Art: Susan Cooper

Earcon sound design: Gopal Swamy

Audio Consultant: Jason Shablik

Post production provided by: Music Radio Creative

Hosting provided by: Buzzsprout

Transcripts by: https://otter.ai