4 Lessons the Desert Can Teach Healthcare Marketing Professionals

Nov 14, 2016Marketing Strategy, Sitecore

On the heels of the Healthcare Internet Conference in Las Vegas, I was inspired by the desert and how we can relate it to our field. You wouldn’t think the desert relates to marketing, but if you look a little deeper, you can find some very inspiring similarities between the desert and healthcare marketing.


Have you ever spent any time in a desert? Deserts can be both an inspiring and intimidating place, with their unforgiving heat, bone dry conditions and huge variations in daytime and nighttime temperatures. My most recent experience in the Nevada desert got me thinking about how the desert is amazingly similar to healthcare marketing.

No, these thoughts were not purely a coincidence; I was visiting Las Vegas for the recent Healthcare Internet Conference, or HCIC.

As I sat through the various speaker sessions, I began to notice a pattern. The pattern was generally a theme of healthcare marketers lacking.

  • Lacking Resources
  • Lacking Time
  • Lacking Expertise
  • Lacking Infrastructure

This general sense of lacking that we have in healthcare marketing reminded me of the desert. When we think of deserts, we definitely don’t think “abundance” – except for sunshine, at least. We think of the opposite of abundance. I think of the same things when I think of marketing in healthcare and I think many in the field can relate.

We try to do a lot with very little – just like the desert.

The desert can teach us some important lessons about how to be successful in healthcare marketing as well. It can be a harsh environment out there, but we can survive (and thrive).

1) Resources are Scarce and We Need to Prioritize

Nature is an expert at efficiency. If you’re not efficient, you won’t last long in the desert. According to a quick Google search, the average rainfall in Las Vegas is only 4.17 inches per year.

Las Vegas Average Rainfall

I live in Florida and we can receive that much rain in a single day. Needless to say, Las Vegas doesn’t receive much rainfall per year, and yet, the desert that surrounds the city is remarkably populated with plant and even animal life. Those plants and animals in the desert make the most of what they receive from the earth by prioritizing their resources and being super efficient. They don’t walk around outside during the day when it’s hot; they hunt at night. They don’t expend energy when it isn’t necessary. They live an efficient life and prioritize their activities for survival.

In healthcare marketing, we need to prioritize our budget and our people.

We healthcare marketers need to think like the desert when it comes to scarcity of resources. Budgets may vary from year to year, but it’s not likely we are going to have huge windfalls come out of nowhere. We have to be super efficient with our resources and budget.

Prioritization of budget and teams means that we have to plan, and that brings me to my next major lesson from the desert.

2) Planning and Anticipating Need is a Survival Skill in Healthcare Marketing

We only have so much of it – time, budget, staff, even sanity. We healthcare marketers must focus on what matters most every single day. To do that, we have to have a plan. We have to have a marketing strategy that guides us and helps us decide and communicate to others what our focus will be.

Think about the desert again for just a moment. The nature and the desert are masters at planning and anticipating need, even in the most extreme conditions.

Plants and animals can store water and energy for days or even longer. They know it may not rain for months. They have to make due with what they have – sometimes for extended periods of time.

The desert knows the rain will be infrequent, but when it does come, the desert knows how to handle it, store it, and use it later when it needs it.

In healthcare marketing, we need to have a plan and we need to be empowered to stick to that plan.

Marketers have to behave the same way the desert does. We know we’ll experience project overload, campaign season, unforseen “downpours” of effort and similar challenges. If we plan ahead and anticipate things like this, we can minimze the impact. If we have a long-term vision and strategy that guides us and keeps us focused on our priorities we can minimize the reactionary marketing that frustrate so many of us and delay so many of our projects and goals.

Daniel Ruyter - Sitecore Marketing & Technology Pro

Sitecore Marketing Pro

I’m passionate about marketing and love the Sitecore platform and all the capabilities it provides. Learn more about me and my history with Sitecore and don’t hesitate to reach out to talk about Sitecore, digital marketing or any number of topics anytime!

3) There is Beauty in Simplicity

Not much survives in the desert; it’s a very unforgiving place to live. While the desert isn’t a biome that’s full of life, if you look closely, you will find life sprouting out of seemingly unsustainable conditions.

Life in the desert is simple because it has to be. You won’t find large, blooming plants or flamboyant colors on birds or plants like you do in some areas. Life in the desert survives by focusing on simplicity and utility. If it doesn’t perform a function, it’s not necessary for survival and the desert can do without it.

In healthcare marketing, it’s okay to “go small” yet focused sometimes.

In healthcare marketing, we need to be able to see the beauty in simplicity. It’s easy to over-market, over-engineer and generally over-do our efforts at times. Doing too much, unnecessarily, only costs us valuable resources. Those resources may be best used in some other area.

Not every campaign we do needs to be a multi-channel, multi-language, multi-month, multi-million dollar effort. Super-targeted micro campaigns can be successful as well. We need to consider our goals, our audience and their goals in everything we do.

If you can spin up a hundred digital campaigns that get 10 new patients each but hardly cost anything to do, it would be worth it, right?

4) Marketing Technology Infrastructure is Critical

When you’re in the desert, you quite literally live or die by the systems you have in place to keep you alive. Water is a critical element of survival, and if it suddenly dried up, where would you go?

Infrastructure and marketing technologies are critical to healthcare marketing success. It’s the technologies you deploy that allow you to stay agile and flexible in the market. It’s your technology backbone – your content management system (CMS) and customer relationship managment (CRM) platforms that will act as the centerpiece for almost everything you do.

In healthcare marketing, we are only as flexible and as capable as our technologies allow us to be.

Investment in building your technology infrastructure is critical for us to dig ourselves out of the marketing of yesterday and step into the marketing of tomorrow. Platforms like Sitecore, evariant CRM and Marketo can be key components to your long-term success or failure. The time to invest in these technologies is now.

The Story Behind the Photo

Red Rock Canyon, Nevada Desert - Las Vegas, NV

The featured image on this post was taken inside Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area just west of Las Vegas, NV. The park is known for its sweeping views of the desert, just steps from the bustling Las Vegas metro area.

The Nevada Desert - Las Vegas, NV

Are you a healthcare marketer, too?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article, especially if you’re in the same boat in healthcare marketing. What do you see as your greatest challenges and hurdles? Is it lack of internal expertise? Lack of budget? Lack of time? Or something else entirely? Please leave a comment below or feel free to contact me with your thoughts.

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