[Video] Aaron Johnson of Penn Medicine: The Evolving Role of Digital Strategy in Customer Experience

What Did You Learn? Episode 3

Modern day hospital marketing is more than just earned media, content, and digital strategy. It’s intertwined with hospital operations by helping to fuel the customer experience. That’s one of the biggest learnings to come from the COVID-19 pandemic for Aaron Johnson, Senior Director of Digital Strategy at Penn Medicine.

On this episode of “What Did You Learn?”, Aaron and I discuss the uphill battle Penn Medicine faced as it used content to dispel false fear created by media outlets, the need for urgency in marketing initiatives, and much more.

Watch the video or read the transcript below.

Ahava: Hi. Welcome to What Did You Learn? I’m really excited to be here with my good friend and colleague Aaron Johnson, who is the senior director of digital strategy at Penn Medicine. Aaron, welcome.

Aaron: Thank you. Good to see you.

Ahava: So how’s life been during quarantine?

Aaron: Oh, it’s been, it’s been a challenge. I’ve got two little ones at home and, you know, just adjusting to work and homeschooling. I’m sure a lot of people out there can relate.

Ahava: Absolutely. So tell me, with two little ones at home, how many tea parties have you made?

Aaron: I’ve personally only made about half a dozen tea parties. My daughters made about a dozen or so tea parties, so between the two of us, maybe around 20 total.

Ahava: And have you guys, that’s a lot of tea parties, that’s a lot of tea. Have you spiked any of that tea?

Aaron: I have spiked a little bit of the tea, yes. I think it’s technically illegal because my daughter’s only four, but, uh.

Ahava: You could just spike your tea cup.

Aaron: Well, we’ve got to get them down at night somehow, so it works out.

Ahava: And did you bake anything?

Aaron: I did. I I, uh, was a bread baker before this. A lot of French bread, some wheat bread, uh, homemade pizza dough, uh, banana bread, all of that sort of stuff, rolls, a lot of good stuff.

Ahava: Awesome. So let’s jump into what you’ve learned. So what do you wish you had known before this started?

Aaron: Yeah. I thought about this question and I kind of struggled with it. You know, my immediate go-to was that I wish that I would have known exactly what was kind of to come. As time goes on, you kind of take it as it comes. You take it on a day- by-day basis or a week-by- week basis. So, having that advance knowledge, I don’t think would have done me too much good.

Ahava: So, this is probably the crux of the issue that your audience wants to know: What did you learn?

Aaron: Through this, I found myself voraciously consuming information, doing calculations on the back of envelopes about what’s the case fatality rate for people of my age, my parents’ age and all that sort of thing. And so, having gone through this as a human being, as a parent, as a son, has kind of given me a little bit more, a lot more of the perspective of what people actually go through on an emotional level, just on a day-to-day level, dealing with the anxiety and uncertainty of an illness.

All of us at healthcare organizations really around the world are sort of rowing against the current of what, at least at the onset in particular of COVID, people were seeing in the media. For example, footage of overwhelmed emergency rooms in Italy. Those images were used to describe situations outside of Italy as well.

Ahava: A news station out of New York used B-roll of an Italian hospital to show what was going on in New York hospitals, when it wasn’t at all what was happening in New York hospitals. It was footage from Italy.

Aaron: Yeah.

Ahava: I think that story is a perfect example of that, sort of rowing upstream against what the public thinks is going on and what’s actually really going on.

Aaron: We’re here competing with a whole lot of powerful information that people are getting, and so we were kind of starting at a deficit in terms of trying to persuade people that these places are safe.

Ahava: I think you’re going to find that people aren’t going to come back as fast as we had hoped they would. I think you know, there are the fearless firsts and then there are the people who are the positive pragmatists. And I think that they just need a little more education about what we’re doing to make sure that they’re safe.

Aaron: Rationally that makes a lot of sense. But it’s fear, and you can’t overcome fear with a rational argument. And so, as communicators working for scientists and people who are, you know, trained in analyzing numbers and can prove it with numbers, that the people for whom fear is the driver, numbers have limited ability to work for some of those people.

Ahava: Where’s your headspace at about what you hope to hold onto from the things that you’ve learned, and not just part of being the patient and thinking about that. But all of what you’ve learned.

Aaron: Whereas the digital strategy has sometimes found itself couched in marketing in a lot of organizations, now the digital strategy is going to extend beyond and take on more of sort of a UX customer experience, where you’re going to align things like your SEO practices with digital access for a telemedicine employment, for example. So, in the same Web session, you’ll see people who are “shopping” based on a healthcare need they have, and in that same Web session getting an appointment and finishing that appointment within the same Web session. That’s another incredible opportunity I see as a digital strategist and a communicator is how to integrate marketing and digital strategy with the operations in a much tighter way than it is today.

Digital strategy has found itself couched in #marketing in a lot of organizations; now it's going to extend beyond & take on more of a UX/customer experience approach. @aaronin140 Click To Tweet

I think that the crisis has really been a catalyst for rapid change. So at Penn, we worked with Google to stand up a chat bot in a couple of weeks. We’ve been talking about getting a chat bot for many, many months, if not years, and then the crisis made us realize, Hey, get all of the barriers out of the way and we’re going to get that up really, really quickly. One of the things that I hope persists is this urgency to get some of these things done that can kind of cut through a lot of that.

One opportunity I see as a #digitalstrategist & a communicator is how to integrate #marketing & digital strategy with operations in a much tighter way than it is today. @aaronin140 Click To Tweet

Ahava: It was great to have you, Aaron. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. And, um, maybe we’ll catch you some other time when you can tell us what you’ve learned from the next crisis.

Aaron: I hope not, but you’re welcome, my pleasure.

Ahava: Thank you.

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About Ahava Leibtag

Ahava Leibtag, MA

Ahava R. Leibtag has more than 20 years of experience in writing, messaging and marketing. She is a well-recognized content expert and writes thought leadership about content strategy and content marketing. Ahava is the President and owner of Aha Media Group, a content strategy and content marketing consultancy founded in October 2005. She... More >