What Did You Learn? Episode 6
There’s a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic. As healthcare communicators, we were given an opportunity to come together to solve a huge problem. And we did. We integrated once siloed departments. We used clear language to give audiences the information they needed. Leadership began to appreciate the value of healthcare marketing.
But are we keeping that momentum? And even more important — how are we improving the way we, as a society, tackle social injustice in life outside of the health system as a community?
Those are the big questions on the mind of digital marketer and consultant Chris Boyer.
Watch this episode of What Did You Learn to hear more about Chris’s learnings working as a healthcare marketing consultant during the coronavirus pandemic — and what he hopes will last for years to come.
Ahava: Welcome back to “What Did You Learn?” My name is Ahava Leibtag and I am so excited to be here with my longtime friend and colleague, Chris Boyer. Chris is a digital marketing and experienced consultant, and he is the co-host of the Touch Point Media network. Chris, welcome.
Chris: Hey Ahava, it’s good to see you.
Ahava: It’s so good to see you. How have the last 700 days been treating you?
Chris: 700 days. Is it? Is it? It really feels longer. Uh, not too bad, you know, considering I’m here in Minneapolis and luckily, you know, the beginning it was a little bit cold, but now that the hot weather is upon us, it’s great. We have a lot of outdoor activity which helps keep the sanity. You know, I think like most other people, we’re really itching to get back to normal.
Ahava: So, the first thing I want to ask you, and I know the answer to this, and I want to know why you haven’t gained 700 pounds. But you are an unbelievable baker.
Chris: Well, yeah, a bread baker, and I started this before the whole COVID started, so I’ve been doing this for a number of years. Yeah, um, that is a fun hobby of mine. And you’re right. My wife is always regretful of the fact that I just basically carb-load us. I do like to bake. Ah, but one thing that we’ve really done is been able to kind of, um, meet out our ability to eat bread. Right? So, we just take our time. It’s not like we have bread at every meal. Although I really would love to, because I love bread. But we just tried to, you know, we tried to pace ourselves when we eat it. And we give some away to our neighbors and to our friends.
Ahava: That’s nice. That’s really nice. But your sourdough bread. It just, it looks like it rolled off of a bakery, like an artisan bakery. Like French, you know. Unbelievable. In fact, you consulted with me on Quarantina. Yes. You gave me a whole bunch of tips on how to get my starter going.
Chris: Yes, and she seems to be doing very well doesn’t she?
Ahava: She is. She’s doing really, really well. I’ve got to feed her tomorrow. I’m planning to make bread on Thursday.
Chris: Yeah, it’s like put it on the calendar. So, I have not one, not two, but three sundering in my refrigerator right now.
Ahava: Yeah. So, um and did you learn any TikToks? I did not learn any TikToks. I actually don’t have an account on TikTok, surprisingly enough, I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to be there. I do lurk a lot, but I haven’t. I haven’t learned.
Ahava: And then, um, did you take up any new hobbies?
Chris: I wouldn’t say new hobbies, but I did bring out from retirement some hobbies that I have done. Uh so, the ukulele, which is just right behind me, I’ve been kind of noodling around on that sometimes. And probably not a lot of people know this, but back in college, I was a cartoonist. I used to draw a cartoon strip.
Ahava: I did not know that.
Chris: Yeah, and so I actually have self-authored a number of cartoon books, and I’m working on a graphic novel right now, so.
Ahava: Good for you, that’s awesome. So, what I want to know from you is what do you wish you had known before this started?
Chris: It’s not so much that I wish I would have known. But maybe I wish I would have paid more attention to, prior to this whole pandemic, I thought that consumer sentiment that you know, it would evolve but that it wouldn’t evolve so rapidly. Seeing now how quickly our whole society has been up-turned and changed so quickly and our perceptions, our needs, our wants, our desires have changed so dramatically. Now, looking back, I would have probably spent more time working with organizations to build in, sort of, those infrastructures to keep track of that. Because, you know, I always thought checking in once a week, once a month or whatever or just doing some very light focus groups would get you the information. Man, oh, man, we have become a real time, a real time community, and our needs, our wants, our changes are changing overnight sometimes.
Ahava: One of the things that I’ve learned or have hoped for for a long time, and you and I have talked about this before, is that marketing departments inside of healthcare need to get integrated. They can’t be so siloed. And one of the things that I’ve heard from our clients and from guests that we’ve had is that we’re going to be more integrated now. We’ve learned, we figured it out. We know how to do it.
But then when you look at and in my case it’s always content production, right? I’m like, No, you’re not. You’re spending $1,000 to write an article that you could spend $1,200 to write for a consumer and a physician. Or you’re producing this campaign with this landing page and then leading people to this really old content that doesn’t speak directly to the messages that you’re trying to create in the landing campaign because somebody else is handling, you know, this paid search. And so how can we take this sort of, we had to come together to figure this thing out and keep it driving forward? Because we’re never going to get ahead until we solve that problem. Or maybe you disagree with me. Maybe we can get ahead without solving it.
Chris: No, I definitely agree with you. I’m a big person around change management. One of the big tenants of change management is as you go through some kind of transformative event, you have to keep the momentum going, and I think that at the very early stages of this pandemic we were forced together to respond to, addressing questions around, you know, the coronavirus and trying to be receptive and responsive. And then we quickly turned on things like telemedicine and other things like that, which really gave us a great Petri dish in which we learned how to work together and solve some really heroic, big problems.
But now that we’re starting to become more, I will use the word complacent. We as a society are becoming complacent.
Ahava: Yeah, not in a good way.
Chris: Yeah, but we tend to fall back to our old ways and we’re losing that momentum. So, I think that one of the most important things you can do is introduce processes, introduce things that you could in your day-to-day working where you continually helps you move towards, keep that momentum going to keep moving towards that transformation.
And don’t lose sight of the bigger picture here. But we’re blessed with this opportunity where we had to come together to solve a really heroic, big problem is, how do we address new care when we have to be socially distant from everyone? Now that we’re getting to, OK now they can come back in, we can’t lose sight of that because, quite frankly, the toothpaste is out of the tube, right? We turned all these things on. We’ve got to, we’ve got to keep figuring this out.
And it’s hard because it’s an iterative process. It’s a never-ending process. It’s not like we traditionally want to just do things like a short run. It’s like a short lap around the, but this is a marathon. We have to keep doing this over and over again and reinventing ourselves.
Ahava: Why doesn’t leadership demand that?
Chris: I can answer that in a, that’s a good question, too, because I can answer that in two ways. One. Do we have the right leadership sometimes is what I wonder. Okay, let’s put that out there because there are some people that, quite frankly aren’t, you know, they don’t reward organizations that do that, and quite frankly, it’s not. It’s not something that you get immediate ROI from. It’s not something that you get immediate rewards from. So, when you’re being measured on activity and you’re being measured on these KPIs, that you have to report out every month or whatever it may be. Leadership can sometimes fall into the trap of, Well, let’s go back to our old ways because that’s the way we were able to kind of game the system, so to speak. So, let’s put that aside.
The other thing about it is, is that, you know, as I mentioned, things have changed dramatically, and it’s in some ways we’re in the midst, we as leaders, we as professionals, we’re in the midst of that change too, and we’re not really sure what the new norm is or what the new state is. And so, it’s a little daunting to try to start to adapt to these new models, these new approaches, when you’re not really sure if this is going to be sustainable, if in three months we’re going to still be here or it’s going to be necessary. So, I think that there’s a little bit of both right? Of, you know, like old ways are comfortable and familiar. And are we sure that we’re actually doing the things that are going to be here for the future?
Ahava: So, what do you think the number one thing is that you’ve learned? Because you talked about a lot of learnings here. But to you, like the thing that stands out the most.
Chris: I have learned that as health systems, we are very good at responding to crisis. But one thing we’re not very good at is being able to sustain through ongoing change. And so maybe it’s my roundabout way of kind of underlining everything I’ve just talked about.
But I’ve learned that all of these tools and ways and approaches that I’ve used to kind of build good, sustainable strategies, etcetera. They’re really not strategy tools and processes. What they are, are really good tools or ways to identify problems. Finding solutions is, you know, yeah, it’s not. It’s identifying what’s wrong, not identifying the right way through, and that’s the hard part, right? Is like being faced with OK, now I have all the tools in my toolkit to be able to understand where the problems are and understand where my customers’ needs are. But what is that answer? What is that solution? And that solution is a complex, you know, in many cases, complex, hairy problems, right?
Ahava: Yeah. No, I love what you’re saying, because the way I’m understanding it in my own metaphor is we have a full toolbox, but we don’t always know, we can’t always tell, is this a nail? Is this an, like I don’t really know that much about carpentry. But you know, what am I looking at?
When you and I are talking in five years from now, hopefully we’re back at a conference, we’re not wearing masks, over a cocktail. What’s one thing that as healthcare marketers and being apart of this industry we took with us and we’re still doing it five years from now?
Chris: I really feel that we have, as healthcare marketers, we have glossed over the importance of public health in a significant way, in a profound way. And, you know, seeing the challenges that we have in our society right now and you know, the toxicity that people have around just engaging in simple public health measures. We as healthcare marketers, I really hope that we lean in in a very significant way. And that we can we can look back and say, You know, back then we were talking about you know, prior to COVID, we were focused like digital marketers on driving people through pay-per-click to choose, you know, choose elective surgeries. Now I’m able to use all of these tools in my toolkit. And what I was able to do is actually improve the way we, as a society, live outside of the health system, as a community. And that to me would be the biggest win in my book. And that’s by the way, that’s a very difficult thing to ask.
Ahava: Yeah, I mean what you’re talking about is something that I’ve always been passionate, which is about the literacy movement and the plain language movement — that if we’re going to help empower people to make the most important decisions of their lives, we better be clear. And, you know, the CDC says a pandemic is just as much of a communications crisis as a health emergency. Yeah, and I think that that’s the number one thing we’ve seen here.
I used to do this workshop thing where I would say to people, I want you to figure out how to get a license from the U. S. government to build an oil rig and drill for oil in the middle of the Gulf. And they would look at me and be like, “what?” And I’d be like “that’s how somebody feels when they’re diagnosed with super ventricular tachycardia.” Yeah. And you know, I think now all of our eyes are open to what it feels like to go through a health crisis and not understand what’s going on. And news is constantly changing. Everything you read is different.
And so, I think the trust that health systems can build outside of getting people into the health system like you just said, is extraordinary, there’s a real opportunity here.
OK, now I want to ask you a question, because this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. How important is it for health care organizations, to advocate for social justice, issues that tangentially touch upon public health? And now I’m talking specifically about BLM.
Chris: Yeah, I think that it is significant because in America, if this pandemic has done any, it’s done a lot of things. It also has underscored and highlighted the fact that healthcare is not equitable. Access to healthcare and even public health measures, it’s not equitable at all. And Black Lives Matter is really designed to bring heightened awareness to the fact that, that there are communities that do not regularly have access to healthcare and public health measures. And we need to, we need to rectify that.
But this is not a partisan issue. This is an issue about the health of our communities. And if we really have a commitment as healthcare organizations to supporting our community, we need to open our eyes to how we are contributing to the systemic racism in the way we deliver care.
I could see that in the way health systems that I’ve worked at or have consulted with have built out digital marketing campaigns in a very biased way. You know, they’re trying to attract a certain people. Some of the best health systems in this country have had their leaders come out and say we are only interested in attracting these types of people. And you know, from my perspective, that makes me shudder because what that is, it’s just reinforcing some of the trends or some of the themes that Black Lives Matter is really bringing forward.
I think that we need to open our eyes. We need to be as honest as we are about identifying anti-racism in our public lives and in our private lives, but we need to also do it in the way we actually have structured our healthcare systems.
Ahava: Yeah, I agree with you 100%, and I’ll add something to this that I think is really fascinating. The whole mask debate issue to me really underscores exactly what you’re talking about. Because capitalism introduces selfishness, it’s just part of the system. I’m not saying there’s a better system out there. I’m not saying you should become socialist or, you know, but what I’m saying is that that is one of the unintended consequences of it. And when Fauci says about wearing a mask, “I really don’t know how to explain to you that you have to be kind to other people”, that literally should be put on every CEO of every healthcare system’s office wall because there’s that’s really what it is. Yes, you are the shepherd of financial security of the organization. But you became a healthcare provider because you genuinely believed that you were going to help people. So I agree with you 100 percent.
I have found that the way organizations have come out about BLM were much better than the way they came out about coronavirus. And to me, it’s promising. I think it showed that they learned something about how to communicate during a crisis in a really effective, using very clear language method.
Chris: And another core tenant of BLM is that we have to work with the community to build new systems, right? How do we, how do we open our doors? And I’m not talking about charity care per se. I’m talking about how do we engage with the community in such a way that we could start delivering care through multiple different ways, including what’s in in the community where people can trust and access it much easier?
Ahava: Chris, always dropping mad knowledge. It’s always so good to hang out with you. And you have such great ideas. Everyone who’s listening to this or watching this, please follow Chris on Twitter. Go subscribe to his podcast, it’s incredible, he always has the best guests, and I just thank you so much for doing this. This was really enjoyable for me, so thank you.
Chris: Well, thank you, Ahava, it’s always great talking with you. And thanks for asking very difficult questions because these are important ones.
Watch Previous Episodes
Get caught up on our “What Did You Learn” series! Catch the last two episodes below.
- Episode 1 feat. Amanda Todorovich of Cleveland Clinic
- Episode 2 feat. Ann Handley of MarketingProfs
- Episode 3 feat. Aaron Johnson of Penn Medicine
- Episode 4 feat. Gini Dietrich of Spin Sucks
- Episode 5 feat. Lauren Smith of UT Health
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“What Did You Learn” will feature a new guest talking COVID-19 content marketing every Monday. Have a question you’d like one of our guests to answer? Email us.