Boyden Executive Search

Boyden’s Steve Nilsen asked Ascension’s Nick Ragone, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, for his take on healthcare marketing today.

By Steve Nilsen
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Healthcare providers are increasingly interested in branding and marketing activities, and consequently marketing talent. The obvious reasons are internal – consolidation into larger groups – and external – populations becoming consumers of healthcare services rather than simply patients.

Ascension is the largest Catholic and non-profit healthcare system in the country, with $22 billion in revenue and 150,000 employees in 24 states. 

Boyden’s Steve Nilsen asked Ascension’s Nick Ragone, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, for his take on healthcare marketing today.

Nilsen: Let’s start with the brand. Ascension has gone through a major rebranding the past couple of years. What inspired that and how is it going?

Ragone: About four years ago, Ascension evolved its business model from being a holding company – a loose confederation of hospital systems essentially – to an integrated, operating company. We call it our “One Ascension Journey”. As part of that journey, we decided that we needed to have an integrated, national brand identity so that we could make it easier for consumers to connect the dots between our 2,700 sites of care across the country. 

We also believed having a unified identity was critical to having a unified brand experience across all our sites of care.  It’s been the largest rebranding ever in the provider space and has gone exceedingly well.  

It’s helped us connect our clinical care, made patient navigation across our sites of care much easier and more convenient, and has served as ‘true north’ for us delivering on a consistent brand experience no matter the state or site of care. 

Nilsen: What are the rewards of being a marketer in healthcare that you don’t get elsewhere?

Ragone: What I most enjoy about being a Chief Marketing Officer in the healthcare space is the opportunity to improve people’s lives through providing better care. As marketers, part of our role is to educate consumers and patients about their best care options, and to ensure that they have a wonderful experience. Providing great care, delivering a positive experience, and empowering consumers to maintain a healthy lifestyle gets me motivated every day!

Nilsen: What are the unique obstacles/challenges to marketing in healthcare?

Ragone: The biggest challenge in healthcare marketing is to make it more consumer-centric. A few years ago, it was perfectly fine as a marketer to focus on broad qualitative awareness through TV advertising, billboards and sponsorships, but in today’s world where consumers have more information at their fingertips and are more engaged in their own care, our marketing needs to cater to an “N of 1” as I like to say. Meaning, our brand promise needs to speak to the specific individual needs of each consumer.  We can do this through targeted, data driven marketing and smart analytics that allow us to create better predictive models on what will motivate and persuade a consumer to visit one of our sites of care. Marketing in the healthcare space is rapidly evolving to this “N of 1” model.

Nilsen: Does the industry currently hold the talent it needs to make the leap into a “patient as consumer” reality, or does it have to be imported from other industries?

Ragone: Part of this evolution to “N of 1” marketing requires new skill sets in the Marketing function. Often, I’m asked by colleagues or graduate students what they should focus on for a career in marketing, and I always tell them the same thing: data. Understanding how to gather and glean insights from mountains of data, and effectively incorporating it into a marketing model, is the bedrock for this “N of 1” marketing approach. We need more quants and data experts in healthcare marketing.

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