The Nuances of Marketing for a Children’s Hospital

By: Hileman Group  | 06/15/2022

Healthcare marketing can sometimes be a delicate balance between affinity and action. That is especially true when marketing for children’s hospitals. While no one wants to think about children needing care, you do want parents and guardians to choose your hospital system if and when they do end up needing you. How do you effectively manage the two? The most important thing is to remember that children’s healthcare marketing is not—and should not be treated—the same as traditional healthcare marketing. Here are 4 nuances of children’s healthcare marketing.

1. Knock Knock. Who's There?

One of the greatest differences between marketing to children versus adults is the buyer persona. According to our friends at HubSpot, a buyer persona is a “semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.” In a “traditional” healthcare marketing scenario, the persona would be the patient. But, because children don’t make decisions when it comes to their health, children’s buyer personas are typically the caregiver (parent, grandparent, guardian). Instead of focusing on how the patient might be feeling, the demographics, concerns, motivations and goals are that of the caregiver and their decision making.

Additionally, the needs for children’s health are much more targeted by age group. Whereas an adult campaign’s persona could have an age range of 20 years (e.g., 25-45), children’s ranges are much smaller given the nature of their constant development. The attributes and health concerns of a child from 0-3 can be vastly different than those of a child from 13-17. Healthcare marketers need to know how to differentiate the way they talk to new parents versus seasoned veterans. Which leads us to our next point.

2. Know Your ABCs

Since the actual person you’re marketing to differs in children’s healthcare marketing, so will your messaging approach. Caregivers can only imagine how the patient feels. To add to that, the child is someone they are supposed to care for and protect. And when they can’t, caregivers feel helpless. Hospital systems need to recognize these feelings and be empathetic in their messaging.
Moreover, healthcare content is typically written in different levels of sophistication, based on the needs of the caregiver and the child. A few examples include:

  • Healthy children. For less motivated caregivers—those with children who are healthy and have no real need for a specialist or hospital—health systems need to focus their messaging on building trust. The goal shouldn’t be to convert; instead, the hospital should influence future choice by providing useful, everyday advice for caregivers wherever they are in the child’s health journey. A weekly or monthly newsletter is the perfect way to stay top of mind with the caregiver without “selling” them anything.
  • Mostly healthy children. This demographic includes parents of children who have a minor illness or been recently diagnosed with a condition that needs proper maintenance. These caregivers are starting to do their research. Health systems need to be there for them, providing the information they need to make informed decisions for their child’s care and well as provide emotional support for them through their care. So, the goal is to be where they are when they’re researching online. According to a report by HubSpot, 68% of marketers said that paid advertising is “very important” or “extremely important” to their overall marketing strategy. Responsive search ads allow you to appear on search engine results pages (SERPs) when the caregiver is searching for “pediatric leukemia” or “stomach pain”. This then (hopefully) leads the user to a landing page, where they’ll complete a form to be entered into a nurture campaign specific to that illness.
  • Sick children. Specialty care and condition-specific messaging is typically much more emphasized because caregivers of sick children need to act. They’ve done their research by now, have already engaged with the hospital’s content, possibly through a nurture campaign, and now need actionable content to make an appointment or find a doctor.

3. What's Up, Doc?

The relationship between a caregiver and their child’s primary care pediatrician cannot be overlooked. This audience is critical given the trust the caregivers and patients have in their primary care pediatrician.

Healthcare marketing doesn’t always target the end consumer. Research shows that 1 in 40 pediatric visits result in a referral. How can health systems take advantage of this important discovery? By marketing to the referring physician, you establish trust between patient/caregiver and doctor—and, in turn, the system—a different way.

To meet the needs of the referring physician, hospitals must provide different information. The referring physician wants to know how their patients will be treated while in the care of the specialist. They are interested in learning more about the specialist’s capabilities, outcomes and other physician-oriented information. The communications tend to be more technical and clinical than what consumers see.

4. Sharing is Caring

According to the Giving Institute’s Giving USA 2021 annual report, charitable giving to health organizations totaled $42 billion in 2020. Because most children’s hospitals operate at a deficit, given the financial constraints on pediatric care, they look to philanthropy to support their on-going mission.
When launching a new philanthropy campaign, consider the following:

Landing page/Microsite

This should clearly outline the who, what, where, why and how. You want to pay particular attention to illustrating where the money goes. Your online presence should include:

  • Patient stories – Nothing tugs at the heartstrings more than a powerful patient story. Videos are particularly persuasive when sharing stories of hope.
  • Donor stories – Don’t forget to thank the generosity of others.
  • Statistics – Your annual report should highlight the research, the people conducting the research and the outcomes.


Most importantly, your health system should have a philanthropic reason for being. Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio recently announced their most ambitious strategic plan, a “$3.3 billion commitment to transform the health outcomes for all children.” By introducing the end goal upfront, donors can get excited about—and want to participate in—the journey to get there.

In The End, it's All About the Children

Healthcare marketing in and of itself has its own unique set of challenges: HIPAA, KPIs, measurement and marketing attribution among them. And children’s healthcare marketing is no exception (think of it as the sullen teenager of marketing). But whatever children’s healthcare has in common with traditional marketing, it has twice as many nuances. By understanding and embracing these differences (like any good parent should), health systems can pivot from their traditional plans and reach a new audience, building an entirely new organizational persona based on experience, reputation and empathy

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