Podcast #90

Building Trust and Brand Loyalty in Healthcare: Insights from Vicki Luttrell

Join us for an engaging episode of Ignite as we explore in-person events, AI-driven brand building, and the intricacies of healthcare marketing. Hosted by Cardinal CEO, Alex Membrillo, this episode features a special guest, Vicki Luttrell, a seasoned expert with over two decades of experience in communications and marketing. So tune in to discover the power of in-person connections and learn valuable insights on aligning your marketing, PR, and communications teams to craft a unified brand message that resonates with your target audience.

Episode Highlights:

Vicki Luttrell: “In order to build brand trust, you have to have brand identity. What is a company’s mission, vision, values? Then how do you start really building some consistent messaging around that brand to build trust in the brand, to get folks to realize who the brand is and what it means to them in their market, and then bringing them in?

Really building strong relationships with the community, building strong relationships with the media, using and relying on social media and content marketing is how you get the end result. Whether it is building trust, whether it is educating, whether it is bringing new patients in, they all tie in together.”

Episode Overview

Join Cardinal CEO Alex Membrillo and special guest Vicki Luttrell to dig into why real-world events and AI matter in healthcare marketing. They talk about building trust and keeping a clear message to both attract and retain patients.

Discover how to balance online and in-person events, taking into account your target audience’s preferences and the ever-evolving dynamics of the market. Learn how to make smart choices between in-house work and outsourcing SEO or PPC, and give your healthcare brand a fresh boost by leveraging your existing team and available resources.

Related Resources

Announcer: Welcome to the Ignite Podcast, the only healthcare marketing podcast that digs into the digital strategies and tactics that help you accelerate growth. Each week, Cardinal’s experts explore innovative ways to build your digital presence and attract more patients. Buckle up for another episode of Ignite.

Alex: What’s going on, everybody? We are going to have fun today because we’re going to talk about something on this podcast that we don’t often do, and that’s in-person events. We’re also going to be talking about building a brand using AI and healthcare marketing. We’re all going to hear from somebody that’s actually been in-house running her own team and been around the block in marketing for many, many years. Won’t date Vicki, but Vicki, thank you. Welcome to Ignite all the way from Delaware. What’s up?

Vicki Luttrell: Alex, good to be here. I’ll date myself too when you’re ready. [chuckles] Yes. Good to go.

Alex: Don’t worry. I won’t ask you how long you’ve been in marketing. Tell us, where have you been lately? What have you been up to? Then let’s dive in. Give everybody a little 30-second background on Vicki.

Vicki: Cool. Actually, I have more than two decades of experience in communications marketing and public relations. I’ve split my career, actually, between healthcare and the energy industry. In the healthcare side of things, most recently ran corporate communications or strategic communications and public relations. Also have headed up marketing for a healthcare system in Delaware in my past and have done some patient education and engagement at a children’s healthcare system in my past.

Alex: Okay, so most recently at Luminis Health, correct? Tell us, what is that?

Vicki: Sure. Luminis Health is a healthcare system in Maryland. It operates primarily out of the Annapolis area and out of Prince George’s County serving about 2 million people in the state of Maryland and ranks pretty high in US News & World Report and some other organizations that look at healthcare systems across the US.

Alex: I love it, I love it. The best crab cakes in the world are in Maryland. You go and you get this giant lump, there’s no filler, no breading, no nonsense, and I’ve been chasing a good crab cake like that around the country. You can’t find them. Not only can you get good crab cakes, you can get good healthcare. Okay. At Luminis and other places you’ve been accustomed to running the whole comms VR marketing efforts.

That’s a very much a hospital thing. We’re not used to that. Most of us, what we work with is feedback, multi-site provider groups. Comms and PR, I really think so. I’m very interested to hear from you. How do you help build the demand and impact bottom of the funnel patient acquisition campaigns with all of the comms and PR stuff that you were doing? Was that the imperative there, was to build patient acquisition or you generally wanted to educate the patient base and prevent readmissions and all that kind of fun stuff?

Vicki: Good question, actually. I honestly think that they feed each other, right? The goal is– part of it is education and prevention, but part of it, and the bulk of it, I would say, is really building brand trust. In order to build brand trust, you have to have brand identity. What is a company’s mission, vision, values. Then how do you start really building some consistent messaging around that brand to build trust in the brand, to get folks to realize who the brand is and what it means to them in their market, and then bringing them in?

Yes, ultimately, marketing does come down to patient acquisition. It always comes back to the money. Really building strong relationships with the community, building strong relationships with the media, using and relying on social media and content marketing is how you get the end result. Whether it is building trust, whether it is educating, whether it is bringing new patients in, they all tie in together. I know we’re going to talk about this more in a minute, but all three of those fields, communications, public relations, and marketing, have to work hand in hand to be successful.

Alex: I can’t wait to talk about bringing the community together. We’ll talk about in-person events in a second. What is an underrated method for building brand awareness? Everybody knows billboards and stuff like that, but what are some tricks up your sleeve that you’ve seen work really well for getting patient loyalty?

Vicki: For me, and I know we’re going to talk about this more too, and I’m excited about this, but the whole concept of when you’re in healthcare, you are meeting people at the worst time in their life. They’re either receiving some of the worst, most scary news they’ve ever received. They’re at their most vulnerable point in their life. Or on the other side of that, they have had the best experience of their life.

Think about things like women giving birth. Think about people having just accomplished something in physical therapy or occupational therapy where they never thought they’d be able to walk again or do some type of movement that they can now do. Here’s my thing. You are then seeing these people at one end or the other of the spectrum. Really having that in-person connection to people is what they really need and want. It’s what makes them feel good about a brand.

We’re talking about healthcare, and I know we’re going to talk a little bit about artificial intelligence in a few minutes, I’ll introduce it now even. As we look at that as a tool for us, it can be a tool, but it’s not something that we should rely on. Because people really do want to feel and have that personal connection, again, when they’re at their most vulnerable and they’re most vulnerable on a positive side as well.

Alex: Still vulnerable either way. I remember having– I have too many kids, but every time one of them comes out, they are very vulnerable. “Don’t send me home. I don’t trust myself with this thing yet.” I have a lot of them, so it’s awesome. It’s either the happiest or the saddest times. You’re right. That’s awesome. Talk to me about in-person events. What does that mean? That is so foreign to me. Is that like for IBF, you bring people in to learn about fertility? How does this apply?

Vicki: In-person events, okay. In my past, years ago, pre COVID, let’s just get that out on the table as well. Pre-COVID, there were a lot of in-person events where we might have seminars that talk to people about topics like hip replacement, knee replacement. We might talk about IVF. Since you brought that up. We might talk to people about– I helped actually run and conduct an orthopedic symposium annually here in Delaware where it was actually bringing together experts in orthopedics.

They’re learning about the most recent trends in treatment options, for example, in surgeries. Those are the kinds of things that we used to bring people in person together for. COVID changed that a little bit now. Because for a while nobody was getting together at all, but people still wanted that educational information. We started doing things like these online, Facebook live chats or virtual seminars and things like that.

What we have now seen and what I’ve seen very successful in the last year or two, as COVID was petering out and moving into today’s stage of COVID, because we really flipped the script a little bit, we used to use electronic marketing to get people to in-person events. We might send email blasts out, we might use social media to blast out events. We were wanting people to come in in person to hear about these lectures and these seminars to learn about different topics in healthcare.

What we’ve seen now some success with is actually flipping that. We’re going out to in-person events that already happen in the community. Faith-based organizations, when they get together, civic associations, community organizations, creating speakers bureaus that can go out and talk to people where they already are, and having them then come onto virtual events to talk to our experts about those same topics.

In-person events, I think, have shifted a little bit, and there’s some of both right now in the market as we’re working through COVID and what’s happening there. The purpose of in-person events, whether they’re on the front end or the back end, is still that personal touch. It’s building trust in your brand where you’re saying I am the face or you are the face of the organization. Again, when you’re at your most vulnerable on either end of that spectrum, there is someone here that cares about you. There are human beings that are the face of the organization that can provide you the information that you need and want to be successful in whatever path you are on.

Alex: Vicki, do you recommend that provider groups, hospitals run both virtual and in-person event? I know you said latch on where the events are already happening. That’s smart. If you’re going to do your own, does virtual work well for conversion or now that COVID’s subsided, it’s still mostly try to get people’s butts in seats in person? What is–

Vicki: I think there’s a mix. This is my take on this. There are so many generations in the target audience that we’re aiming for in healthcare right now. There are so many generations. Depending on the generation and depending on the person, everybody wants something different. There’s an old saying in communications and marketing and PR that you hit people seven times seven different ways.

I think that’s still true in that some people are on the go, some people are working in the office full time, they don’t have time to go to these in-person events. They have kids, they’re doing activities after school. They might want to dial in and listen to a podcast on their way into work in the morning. They might have time to dial into a virtual event because it’s 30 minutes long.

They can meet their potential surgeon for hip replacement, get the information. There are also other generations of people out there whose children perhaps are graduated. They’re full-blown adults out in the world themselves, and they might be the ones looking to meet in person to see who it is that would do a hip replacement surgery for them. Who they can talk to about bariatric surgery, for example. Those are the types of people that still want to meet in person.

I think there is something to be said for both sides of the spectrum. Yes, virtual, there is success in virtual. There is also success in in-person and brand building and relationship and trust building in person. I think you have to see what fits best in your market where you are, whether you’re in an urban setting or a rural setting might make a difference as well for your healthcare system and weigh those things out. You have to try and be able and willing to pivot and experience new things while you’re going through that as a marketing and communications team as well.

Alex: Yes. What’s the best way to word? You mentioned email. Anyone that came in for a PIP evaluation, you’re obviously going to email. You can’t call, though you have the patient-based [unintelligible 00:10:40] social ads. Does that work best for driving awareness and registrants?

Vicki: Again, I would say let’s split that, right? Of course, you have social and there are different platforms that, again, target different audiences. You might be using Facebook more for events than you would use LinkedIn for events like hip replacement if we’re talking that. Also, again, if you’re looking at hip replacement, you might go out to some civic or some senior centers. Let’s talk about that for a minute. You might go out again to those in-person gatherings that already exist and talk about a virtual or an in-person event at some places in your community like senior centers, again, civic associations and churches and other faith-based organizations. I think there’s something to be said for still hitting people both in-person and electronically.

Alex: Yes, that’s going to hit them every single which way. What about direct mail? Okay, I’m just thinking about that.

Vicki: Direct mail, you’ve got an expense that nowadays you may not need to have as much as you did in the past. Before social media was a big thing and before people were really going out to civic associations and faith-based organizations, then you did have those mailers. I’m not getting as many of those mailers at my house nowadays as I was 10 years ago, let’s say.


Alex: That’s good because they end up recycling. We got to care for the environment because the weather is crazy now. I love the in-person. That’s for the high acuity, more of the educational events. I like it. The age rates will depend on the kind of service that we’re talking about. You’ve had teams everywhere you’ve been. How do you facilitate? You’ve got to get comms, PR, marketing all on the same side because comms has to put out a brand message that resonates with the patient [unintelligible 00:12:20] service lines. How do you get these teams, provider groups that’ll have a brand person that are creative and they’re with comms? It might be a little different than the team that the hospital has, like you did at Luminis. Tell us, how do you get everybody on? You have a weekly stand-ups, they’ll have to report to you, not a PR. What is the magic sauce here to get teams for it?

Vicki: Yes, another good question. I’ve been in organizations that have had both, really good coordination amongst the communications PR marketing team and organizations that don’t have that and really have that siloed. I think for me, the best organizations that I’ve been part of focus on a couple of things. First of all, there is clear direction. Again, I start with the company’s mission, vision, values. I think there’s an organic up, bottom-up, and then there’s a top-down on how you build out their strategies under that.

For me, coming from the top-down, you start with the company’s mission, vision, value, and then you’re going to build your communication, marketing, PR team strategy around those mission, vision, value goals. Then from the bottom up, you’ve got your team of people that are building out smart roles that are really individually, each task that they are responsible for then tied into the department’s goals. Then those are then rolling up to the company’s operating plans or, again, the mission, the vision, and the values. I am a big believer in not having a team of all generalists where everybody does a little bit of everything.

For me, there is some value in hiring the right people to do the right job. You may have somebody whose specific focus is on media. Let them go do media because that’s their expertise. You might bring in somebody whose expertise is in fully communications and brand ambassador awareness. Let them go do that work. You might bring in specific marketing people. You get my point here. Where everybody has a job to do, they all roll up to the same set of departmental goals and the company’s operating plans and mission, vision, values, and then everything they do day in and day out ties up the chain. Everything they’re doing, they’re seeing a connection.

There’s also then a clear line of who’s responsible for what. I think that helps in bringing cohesion to the group so that you’re working together, you’re meeting, like you said, maybe you’re having a weekly huddle or a couple of times a week you’re having a huddle. You’re also having larger monthly or every other week content planning calls where you’re looking down the place so that everybody has the same content in mind when they’re going out, whether it’s internally, externally, social media, senior executive communications and things like that. I think things line up better when you’ve got those experts in place, you’ve got the specific content lined up, and you’ve got a solid brand that everyone is rallying behind.

Alex: Let me ask you a weird question. It may not be happening. I’ve always wondered, how do I staff my internal team? What are the most important core functions to have in-house? What do you think is best outsourced? Yes, what needs to be in-house if you have a decent size provider group or hospital? What do you think?

Vicki: First of all, I’m a big believer in a media strategist. I think that media can go two ways. It can be earned media, it can also be paid media. Somebody who is great at relationship building, somebody who understands what are current trends in the market, what is the media interested in covering as far as topics, and then being able to go out and get those experts within your healthcare system and get the patient stories and the patients that are willing to talk about their experiences at your healthcare system. For me, that’s one really important position.

I think employee communications and having a specific employee communicator is also critical. Employees are your number one best brand ambassadors. You have to arm them with the mission, the vision, the values and what you want them to say about your organization and then send them off on their way to do the same thing that you’re paying your team to do from a different perspective. Having a person who understands how to reach their target audience and understands the content that needs to go to that audience, critical.

Obviously, a marketing person or marketing people depends on how big your organization is. You have to have somebody who understands strategy behind who your target audience is, what that demographic is, how do you reach that audience in that demographic, and then how do you really build a strategy around that. Then I think from there, you can get into some others if you have additional funding, right?

A social media strategist these days probably right up there near the top of my list as well. Somebody who understands analytics for social media and, again, those target audiences that can be paid and unpaid. You’ll have your own channels for social media and then you can also do your social media advertising with that person. Then I think other analytics people can be added on to the team from there, as you might have funding and as you need to be able to prove to your senior leadership what return on investment you’re bringing to the organization.

Alex: Yes, it’s not worth anything if you can’t prove it. Employee, comms, media, first and very important, analytics, social, otherwise, yes, I would agree. Don’t in-house your SEO or PPC, guys. That is best left to an agency. You just got to go find one. Okay, thank you. I did not walk you into that. All right, so we talked about the planning team. You love AI and you’ve got some cool ways you’ve been using it. We get this question all the time. What is it? How would you use any AI, Luminis or otherwise, like any cool stuff?

Vicki: A couple of things about artificial intelligence and ChatGPT specifically for me as well, I’ve been playing around in there quite a bit lately. It can really help you with some first drafts of great content. Things like blog post, social media, copy, whether that’s actual post or captions, things like that. It can do first drafts and news releases, press releases for you. It can generate ad copy. We’re hitting all the spectrum here of communications, public relations, and marketing. It can also be a great idea generator for you. You can actually type things in like, what are the top five most talked about topics or trends in healthcare today?

You can drill down into ambulatory care or primary care or specialty care areas, and it will spit back a bunch of ideas that you can then drill into one by one. I think it can also provide you some customer engagement and support. It can draft things like frequently asked questions and answers. It can provide some basic information. It can give you some initial troubleshooting assistance. It’s really great for that first draft. Like you said, type in what you want. If it doesn’t give you what you want, ask it for something slightly different. Make this more picky, make this more trendy, make this more 2023. I think there’s a lot of different cool inputs that you can give to artificial intelligence to help create what you want.

I think there are some things to be careful about, especially in healthcare with artificial intelligence. First of all, again, let’s go back to what we started this podcast with, which is talking about you’re at your most vulnerable in a negative or a positive. I don’t know about you, but I’m just saying if I’m in either those scenarios, I don’t necessarily want a chatbot telling me.

Alex: I know.

Vicki: I shouldn’t be doing that.

Alex: You have a 10% chance of living through this surgery. [laughs]

Vicki: Right. It’s the same thing as today. I’m guessing I can say this on here. It’s the same today, is if you google, you don’t want to google ‘I have a skin rash on my arm that looks like X, Y, Z,’ because God knows what kind of response you’re going to get from Google. It’s the same. You have to be careful. Like I said, it can be used to generate some of these initial blog posts and social media copy and content, but it really does not– it is not a medical expert.

Where I think it can be beneficial, though, especially for communications and marketing teams, is sometimes the hardest thing to do is either to start writing something yourself, or to turn it over to a subject matter expert within your healthcare system and ask them to start writing a blog post. They may not know how to write and you may not know the content. You’re not the subject matter expert.

How do you get that first thing on paper? Go ask, go ask ChatGPT or whatever that artificial intelligence tool or software is that you’re using. It can be the thing that gets that first, the first pen to paper for you. You can then adjust it and tweak that to your own brand voice, and then share that with your subject matter expert to give something to them to bounce their ideas off of.

Is it good? Is this not good? I come to you, Alex, and say we’re talking about hip replacement here. ChatGPT has written this. I can put in my own brand. Alex, you as this surgeon, as the orthopedic surgeon, I want you to take a look at this. Is this what you want to be saying? Where do you need to adjust from here? Can you expand on these types of things? Where can you add in your own personal comments and quotes and things like that?

Alex: Yes, I love that. It can be used as like a starter and an idea generator, but then go get MDs to put in a real medical twist. Also, you’re going to have a lot of trouble ranking as everybody enters the ocean of sameness through AI. Everyone is doing programmatic SEO, so basically, it’s just a bunch of ChatGPT content. Put the voice of the whatever group you’re with, mission, vision, values type stuff. Get an MD to give their thoughts. Also go to the MDs and say what are people coming in wondering about? There’s your FAQ right there. Vicki, one more question. What’s your favorite patient acquisition strategy?

Vicki: Let me answer it in a slightly different way and see if you like my answer here. One of the things I most recently did at Luminis Health is we were looking at relaunching the Luminis Health brand, and that is about patient acquisition.

Alex: Good.

Vicki: Instead of leaning on an outside agency and spending potentially millions of dollars to create or recreate the brand and launch that, what we did is we actually used the experts that we have hired in our own marketing and communications team, and we set up three buckets, internal and external but executive level communications. Executive communications, board of trustees communications, and some elected officials and high level organizational executives. How do we communicate to them? How do we reach them? What brand message do we want to tell them?

Another bucket was employee communication. How do we build those brand ambassadors? What’s the elevator pitch or speech that we want our employees to be saying to their neighbors, their friends, and their family about the organization? Then the third is then that external component, and that’s paid and unpaid. It’s media, it’s advertising, and it’s social media. We let the team pick which of those three groups they wanted to work on. Everybody got their first choice. It pretty evenly divided up amongst the three amongst the team, and we set our own team group to say how do we do this?

The team, in three months, came back with some outstanding ways to reach those three sets of target audiences, and then we spent about six months at building those tools, and channels, and content, and messaging. Then we started hitting the pavement running. I think something you’d asked earlier maybe is around how do you be scrappy? For me, that’s one way to be scrappy, is to use the experts that you hired. You hired them. Let them go do their job and trust them to do that job, and so far it’s been really great.

Alex: Yes, because think about what a branding agency does. The first thing they do are focus groups with your employees and patients. You can just go ahead and do that with yourself. Go get branding by dummies and it’s going to tell you that, and then just follow the steps and you have it there. You don’t need a fancy-schmancy agency. Save yourself a quarter million. Smart, I love it Scrappy Vicki. Scrappy Vicki not silly. I love it. Thank you so much, Vicki. Thank you for joining us on Ignite. Vicki, if someone wants to go get some advice on how to run a great marketing, PR, comms team, where can they find you?

Vicki: They can find me on LinkedIn for sure. I’m on all social media channels, but actually on LinkedIn I’m listed as Victoria Luttrell and would love to connect with anybody out there who’s interested. I’m always interested in learning more myself, so if some of these tools and tips don’t work for you, I’d love to hear what does work for you.

Alex: I love it. We need to start, we’re going to start the Cardinal community– I’ve got to work on it, but we got to start a healthcare performance marketing community is what I’m getting at. [laughs] We’re not doing it.

Vicki: I’m in.

Alex: All right, Vicki, so first of all, I’m in. Who’s going to be number two? All right, we’ll find out who number two works for. Vicki, thank you for joining us on Ignite.


Announcer: Thanks for listening to this episode of Ignite. Interested in keeping up with the latest trends in healthcare marketing? Subscribe to our podcast and leave a rating and review. For more healthcare marketing tips, visit our blog at cardinaldigitalmarketing.com.

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