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Marketing Post-Covid: Natalie Alatriste, Director of Marketing, Kendall Regional Medical Center

Transcript

Brian Erickson:
Thanks for joining the Cardwell Beach Marketing Podcast. My name is Brian Erickson, the chief strategy officer, and partner at Cardwell beach. In this series, we’re interviewing senior marketers across industries to develop a perspective on what marketing will look like in a post-COVID-19 world. Hopefully coming to a world near you soon. Today’s guest is Natalie Alatriste, the director of marketing and communications at Kendall Regional Medical Center in Miami, Florida. Kendall is a full-service 24-hour hospital that was ranked in the top 5% in the nation for clinical quality by health grades. Outside of the hospital, Natalie serves as the environmental chair for the League of Women Voters of Miami-Dade County. Natalie, thanks so much for joining us today.

Natalie Alatriste:
Thank you so much for having me.

Brian Erickson:
All right. Weathering the storm, and we’re over a year into this storm here. So quite a long one, but throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been obviously no industry more affected than healthcare and particularly hospital systems. So I know that you’ve joined Kendall in the midst of the pandemic so you don’t have the before and after to compare directly, but in your experience so far, how has this unprecedented moment changed the way you’ve had to lead marketing communications at Kendall?

Natalie Alatriste:
Well, I think it’s really important to look at every single type of stakeholder involved, right? That includes both internal and external communications and making sure that the communications are extremely clear during times of crisis situations, such as the COVID pandemic, these crisis situations tend to amplify the spread of disinformation. It’s important to be very strategic with the approach and to think through things more thoroughly. Just from that type of communications effort, dealing with COVID-19, obviously that took precedent last year. It’s really making sure that the spread of disinformation is minimal and making sure that every single party has the correct information from anywhere from patients to your internal staff to the fire rescues and making sure that they have the accurate information before they bring a patient to our facility or to assist our facility.

That was definitely something that we focused a lot on, and then also the way people are getting their information, right? It’s so different now than it was before the pandemic. You know, there’s a lot bigger focus on digital. Prior to the pandemic, we were shifting towards a very digital marketing community, but it heightened and amplified once COVID started, with people staying home and all of that. So there’s definitely more of a focus on finding different ways to integrate digital and creative ways that could still engage the brand in the hospital.

Brian Erickson:
Nice. So it sounds like you’ve spent a lot of time just trying to make sure that people who are actively looking for your services and for your help are getting the right information. Would you say the biggest challenge that you faced throughout all of this, more than really proactively just creating awareness and whatnot, is making sure that people have the right information based on a rapidly changing situation?

Natalie Alatriste:
Yeah, absolutely. That could be said not only for COVID-related communications but also vaccine-related communications. We were not one of the many hospitals that were offering the vaccine to community members, and it was important that we were specifying to our colleagues and to everybody involved who would be getting that vaccine. That could easily change at a moment’s notice,so making sure that that information is accurate and in multiple different places. What I was saying is that it’s just so important to have it in all different avenues, right? Not just on social media, but making sure it’s across all the communications that you’re doing, that the information is clear, concise and accurate. It’s definitely something that was very important in the whole communications model that we put out last year.

Brian Erickson:
As information is changing constantly, I’m sure you’re dealing with just old information still being available and people looking at the wrong thing and I think just probably cleaning up behind… But the trail of information you’ve left is probably a big challenge I would imagine too.
Natalie Alatriste:
Yeah, absolutely. Definitely. It’s just maintaining and making sure that you’re on top of all the different avenues in which you’re relaying that information. Right? So anywhere from social media to the actual media, to the website, and everything in between. It could get really difficult when the information does change quickly.

Brian Erickson:
For sure. I guess even beyond your role as a marketing executive in healthcare you spend time thinking about increasing civic engagement through your work at The League of Women Voters. Are there any lessons or best practices that you can share, whether from your work with voters or your work at Kendall that can help us think about new ways of reaching and connecting with people?

Natalie Alatriste:
Yeah. Surprisingly enough, I know that everything kind of went virtual last year, and many people experienced something that we call zoom fatigued, right? Or WebEx, webinar fatigue, where there were just all these different organizations constantly putting webinars on to try to educate or whatever the purpose may be behind it. But I actually think that it’s a really valuable tool that is here to stay. It’s not really going anywhere. The reason for that is, you’re not going to be required to get up, get dressed, or commute to an in-person meeting. You know everything is done virtually.

Natalie Alatriste:
It gives people what I call no excuse to not be able to make it because you could take the call in the comfort of your own home. Whether that is a board meeting that we’re doing, or an educational webinar that we’re trying to give or the community, I think that the webinars are not going anywhere and we will continue to see them throughout even after the pandemic just because of that ease that it brings. The engagement in the comfort of your own home, I think makes it more accessible for people too. So that’s something that I think is here to stay.

Brian Erickson:
That makes sense. In a way, it’s helped us explore those mediums in a more concentrated, focused sort of way since we’re doing it all at once. It’s really pushed the boundaries on what those mediums are in a rapid-fire sort of way. I think there is definitely some good there, and it’ll probably pull back to some degree, but I think there will be a core fundamental shift there. I guess outside of the virtual events and webinars, and just a more of a remote nature of the world in general, for marketers and strategists in the healthcare industry, which aspects of our current marketing strategies will persist in your view into the new normal, and which will revert to a pre-COVID approach?

Natalie Alatriste:
I think a huge thing that we’re going to continue to rely on is the digital media, right? Whether that is social media, whether it is paid digital, paid search, organic search even on Google, everything digital is going to play a massive role in the marketing that we do in the future. One example is, prior to the pandemic, the hospital was doing a lot of in-person lectures for the community where the community can come and listen to an educational talk or learn about a certain disease or whatever the case may be. That has shifted to a more digital approach via Facebook live and virtual lectures. Similar to my point before, that’s going to be here to stay. Also,people could see that at the ease of their own schedules if they miss it, they could catch it on our Facebook later. It actually increases engagement, which is great.

Another thing is, I believe we should be continuing to focus on delivering good and digestible content that resonates with audiences via social media or on the website, especially those feel-good stories that are extremely important for online reputation. Social media is going to continue to play a big role in the marketing done today. A focus on organic search and Google reviews is also something. The trend was already ticking upward anyway in Google searches and utilizing Google searches for finding care near you. Make sure that your online reputation is solid with good Google reviews, so when people do go to put in that organic search and the reviews pop up, you want to see a list of good reviews versus bad reviews. It’s just going to help your marketing cause. That’s important too. Another thing that I think is important to note is that older generations prior to the pandemic were a little bit more easily able to put aside digital and say, I don’t need to learn it because I don’t need to know it.
They made excuses for themselves to not want to learn it, but because of COVID, I feel like they’ve had to learn it. They’ve had to adapt in order to speak with their families, to work remotely, to connect with friends. Any kind of physical advertising or marketing tactics, such as direct mail or billboard, they were already starting to become obsolete and I think it’s just even further heightened that, and the New York times and the wall street journal just came out with new studies showing that working from home is here to stay even after the pandemic. That’s going to eliminate a little bit more traffic on the roads than there was before. So all of those in-person visible in your face advertising tactics, I think are going to be a little bit less and it’s going to be focusing on a shift to digital.

Brian Erickson:
Well, I’ll sacrifice some out- of- home impressions for less traffic, anyway.

Natalie Alatriste:
Wouldn’t we all.

Brian Erickson:
Right. So that’s interesting to think about maybe even the shrinking of generational gaps in terms of communication style. I could definitely see that being something that will just influence communication as a whole and kind of getting people on the same page in a way that they may not have been previously. So that’s an interesting insight for sure. I guess as vaccines are becoming more widely available every single day and the immediate danger of the pandemic starts to fade or maybe were never there depending on where you were perception-wise. How do you think that communications at the hospital are going to change and evolve? Is the approach going to shift substantially in any sort of way that you’re planning for at this stage?

Natalie Alatriste:
I do think that we’re going to have a way more targeted approach to either retain clients or get new clients. One example that I can give you is that there’s actually been a decrease in the amount of admissions that we’ve had for the ER. SThat is happening because more people are a little bit more socially distanced and they’re taking better care of themselves and they’re not gathering in these large groups like they would. Diseases and flu’s and viruses aren’t spreading as quickly as they once were before. So because of that, and also in addition to that, we have seen people who have been a little bit afraid to go to ERs because of COVID. Because of that, we’ve seen a decrease in the admissions that we’ve had for ER, so marketing was a really big part of everything that we did as an organization. We also have, in addition to the hospital, we have two freestanding ERs and different locations outside of the hospital.

ER marketing is really big, but I think now it’s going to switch to be a little bit more targeted to either service lines or people who have individual needs. That’s definitely one way that I think it’s just going to completely shift the way that we view marketing. Another thing is with marketing, I think people will definitely continue. People love events. That’s something that I know everyone is really eager to get back to. We are excited to think about planning more marketing events and just in general hospital events once it becomes a little bit more acceptable to gather in large groups or safer to gather in large groups. That’s something that I think will definitely continue moving forward. Then, of course, as I continue to say, just focus on digital marketing and earn media too. Earn media definitely continues to be important, especially with broadcast TV. For a hospital, especially down here in South Florida, we’re very competitive with other hospitals and being in that earned media spotlight as well.

Brian Erickson:
Makes sense. Obviously, you joined the marketing team in late 2020. So part of these shifts had already started before you became part of the team, but is there anything that you’ve seen tactically that the hospital was doing previously that it’s just like gone up in smoke? Like we don’t do this tactic and we’re never bringing it back. Is there anything that’s just evaporated from the marketing mix?

Natalie Alatriste:
I’d have to say in direct mail campaigns and a little bit more of those physical advertising assets that are marketing assets that we’ve used in the past. So as I mentioned, the billboards, that definitely has been eliminated from the budget and what we’re doing, we want to focus more on what we can do and be a little bit more strategic with the targeting that we do. Obviously, any kind of paid search that we do with Google or targeted ads that we do with Facebook and Instagram and social media channels, we’re deciding to put budget towards that because it’s more impactful at this point versus just the awareness play that was being done before with the billboard when you weren’t really in need, because of that, I think that has been eliminated completely.

Brian Erickson:
Would you say that there’s been a broader shift away from brand awareness sort of tactics and a move more toward performance marketing and things with measurable ROI?

Natalie Alatriste:
Yeah, absolutely. I think that if we’re not seeing the ROI with the dollars, there’s just no point. I know that we’re just shifting completely as a division and making sure that whatever money we put behind or any kind of marketing tactics that we do, it’s showing a return on the investment.

Brian Erickson:
Yeah, I would say that’s a universal shift that we’ve seen across industries. It’s people just really sharpening the pencil and making sure that things are performing and probably a process that’s long overdue because we’ve had that capability with digital for quite some time but it became essential as many things did. If you could give one piece of advice to marketers at healthcare brands and hospitals right now, what would you say is the single most important thing to focus on for the remainder of 2021, as we hopefully get through the end of this?

Natalie Alatriste:
I think it’s about creating good content right now. We’re still kind of in a weird phase where we’re hanging on to COVID still because we’re not fully over the hill yet, but things are looking up and we are able to shift focus a little bit more onto other priorities that are outside of COVID. Right now I think it’s playing that fine line, but continuing to create really good content that resonates with audiences or social media platforms is really important, and then also paying attention to that online reputation. That I think is going to be a game-changer, especially as COVID starts to dissipate a bit more, it’s going to be important to have that really strong online presence. So when more of those elective surgeries pick up and the strategy shifts to being a more overarching strategy, it’s going to be important to have that online reputation.

Brian Erickson:
That’s a very evergreen thing to be focused on, right? Your reputation never goes out of style.

Natalie Alatriste:
Yeah, very true. Very true.

Brian Erickson:
So, obviously, unemployment has been something that’s gone up, gone down, gone left, gone right. And we’re not where we were pre-pandemic. The situation is definitely improving, but regardless, there are a number of people, quite a lot of people in marketing and digital positions that find themselves as free agents and on the job hunt right now. So give them that advice of focusing on the reputation for brands and making sure that you’re showing up and having that positive spot and getting searched. How can digital and marketing executives in healthcare best position themselves and their skill sets for this moment?

Natalie Alatriste:
I think the pandemic has exacerbated a bit of certain niches within marketing. Some people have come out on top and others have struggled to be relevant. If you’re considered, or if you’re a marketer and you focus more on advertising tactics or PR tactics that are more earned without a focus on digital, it’s going to be important for you to catch up and understand the importance of digital and how it plays off everything you know. So making sure that you’re more well-rounded and there’s plenty of resources available for that. Google gives classes, you could take online courses to keep yourself informed.

Natalie Alatriste:
Things like that, I think, are going to be really important for people in the job market. I think it’s important that you detail out your experience and then show those quantifiable results. I mean, that never goes out of style. I think, as you mentioned, I think it’s really important for you to show results of your work and make sure that you come prepared with case studies, with the impact of the marketing that you’ve done in the past. That could apply to whether you’re applying for a new position or you’re getting a new client to consult. All of that is going to be really important in the way that you market yourself.

Brian Erickson:
I definitely agree with that. I think there’s a balance between the world changing so rapidly. COVID aside, technology is continually evolving. You’re really faced with the challenge of either constantly be educating yourself about new tactics or try to find some of those evergreen areas that you can really stick with for a long time and realistically, it’s probably a mix of the two, but I think that’s some really great advice to stay current and look at how your skill set impacts business because that’s ultimately how people at an executive level are looking at hires for marketing roles. For sure.

Natalie Alatriste:
Definitely. Definitely.

Brian Erickson:
Great. Well, Natalie, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I appreciate it.

Natalie Alatriste:
Thank you so much for having me on. You could keep in touch with me by following me on Instagram at @Natalie.ala or you could find me on LinkedIn. If you search me in the search box, I am Natalie Alatriste. A-L-A-T-R-I-S-T-E.

Brian Erickson:
Awesome. Well, again, thanks so much. This is Brian Erickson with Cardwell Beach. Thank you for listening. Please make sure to check back for more senior marketers during their perspective of what marketing will look like in the post COVID-19 world.

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