Digital Word-of-Mouth Marketing for Medical Tourism Industry

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Ask anyone, “What’s the best way to advertise?” “Word-of-mouth” is the typical reply. Consumers rely on the opinions of trusted family members and friends to make buying decisions 92 percent of the time, according to Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising Report which polled 26,000 people in 56 countries.

Think back to the last medical professional visited. How were they found? When a patient has no references available from friends and family they will typically search online and “crowd-source” the task. They are searching for, and listening to, the opinions of a variety of people they have never met. According to the same Nielsen study, they trust those opinions more than 70 percent of the time.

Those are powerful consumer behaviors that should be taken into consideration when creating a marketing strategy. Consider the shopping experience on Amazon for a moment. A major reason Amazon has become one of the world’s most powerful retailers is due to the crowd-sourced review system in place. Most products have multiple reviews from certified buyers making decisions easier for the consumer. These same principles should be integrated into a marketing plan.

Getting Prospective Patients to Know, Like and Trust You

The vast majority of marketing is targeted toward selling something to the 3 percent of people who are ready to buy right away. These campaigns do very little to attract the attention of the other 97 percent. Once marketing gets consumer attention, efforts should also capture email or other contact information to engage and educate them over a period of time, automatically.

Saving money is one of the reasons people are turning to medical tourism, making price clearly a factor. For most patients, however, knowing that the quality of care is world class is the most important factor in a decision.


A marketer’s job is to educate consumers to the point where they decide on their own that they would be foolish to go anywhere else, regardless of price. There has to be a high level of trust in this transaction and using digital word-of-mouth marketing is a compelling strategy to make that happen. The easiest way to accomplish that is by telling stories.

Saving money is one of the reasons people are turning to medical tourism, making price clearly a factor.


No one remembers how many procedures a facility has performed. Instead, they will remember the story about the woman who had successful knee surgery that allowed her to participate in activities with her children or grandchildren. That video has the type of powerful content that gets commented on and shared online all the time. People remember stories.

When a patient first makes an online discovery, they typically don’t know or care who they have found. They are far more interested in learning whether or not they can be helped. Once they have made a determination, then they will do more research about related credentials.


Everything is about their medical problem or issue at this point. Their personal journey of discovery through the sales and marketing pipeline should start with education and include success stories that they can relate to. Be sure to include third-party content that helps to verify and further a storyline, such as articles from relevant high-profile magazines or TV programs.

International accreditation helps reassure the patient that the hospital meets all the standards, but it does nothing to answer the patient’s questions about what their experience will be like. This is where patient outreach comes into play. Using video is a very powerful tool in any social media campaign.


The problem I see with most medical tourism campaigns is they tend to be the type of advertisement that looks like something from the tourism bureau. Although these ads are “pretty,” they do little to educate the potential patient on why they should trust the organization for a procedure.

A fantastic job of selling services can be done without the patient ever feeling like they are being “sold.” What is different or unique about the service offered? Tell the story. The sales funnel should be an educational process where the patient gets to know, like and trust the organization to the point where they decide to make contact directly.


Now they are coming to the business from a more informed position and will ask more specific questions. This will decrease the time required for staff to handle calls which leads to increased booking rates and revenue.

Strategies for Educating Prospective Patients

Once the patient has landed on the website or social media site, free reports or video series that educate about the topic at hand are important to offer consumers. This is not the time to sell and pitch all programs. Give them some valuable free information without requiring anything in return. Then make an offer for more valuable information in exchange for an email address. Information including videos, reports in PDF format, or embedded links to articles from third-party organizations can also be added to social media-promoted posts that directly target demographics.

The Internet is on all the time, so contact points need to be ready to answer questions at any time. Having an easily identified, easy to use website section where patients can contact trained associates immediately via Live Chat or click-to-call is critical. Once the online operator has built rapport, they can offer to send patients more information via email and/or mailing address.


Send them a report (digital or print), such as “The top 7 questions you should ask before getting surgery overseas.” Then move on to an informational DVD or brochure. The initial contact form should be as simple as possible, typically name and email only.


This is where having a chat feature is very useful as that removes all barriers to entry. The campaign should have branding integrated so that the client clearly understands this piece of mail is from the same company they were emailing or chatting with a few days ago.

Another great option for educating patients is online webinars. There are a variety of service providers like GoToWebinar as well as some newcomers like Google Hangouts and YouTube Live which offer free broadcasts at HD quality. Live webinars can even be held inside of Facebook. Using Google or Facebook as a technology platform has the added benefit of associating with well-known, forward-thinking global technology brands.


Businesses promote having the latest cutting edge medical technologies; marketing should convey the same. There are multiple social- apps that allow webinars and videos to be shared, liked and commented on to further the reach of the marketing campaign.

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Webinars can be broadcast live, recorded and then rebroadcast as “evergreen” events or made available on demand. Some of our medical practice clients have been using in-person seminars to educate patients and allow access to the physicians afterward for building rapport.


They are beginning to use online webinars to leverage their time and still educate potential new patients at a time convenient to them.


Digital Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Creating demographically targeted campaigns on Facebook or other relevant social media channels can be effective. On Facebook, in particular, metrics are easy to target for age, nationality or any other characteristic imaginable.


Businesses can even target entire companies’ employees or any segment therein. Setting up and tracking multiple videos in promoted post campaigns is a fairly new capability and should be invested in.


Marketers can even create retargeting ads (people who visit your site are later served your ads on other sites) online and in Facebook.

Using video online to market is nothing new, but few are using the strategy effectively. Multiple videos with different messages and styles of teaching for each topic should be created and split tested for effectiveness across all mediums.


Clickable links in the video that lead to more information or to social media sites are now available. Patients can easily use social sharing of video content to greatly increase your reach.


Providing prospects with an easy way to share and comment will enable your content to reach far more people. Social sharing will only happen if the content is compelling.

Using video testimonials in marketing is a powerful method to increase prospect confidence in a service. In the United States, HIPAA regulations govern patient privacy. Laws will vary, but most nations have a similar requirement.


Seek legal counsel regarding the rules for the countries where business is done; however, count on needing signed waivers for any patients who provide video, audio or written testimonials.

While researching some popular YouTube channels and websites related to medical tourism, I found a common theme. Most of the testimonial videos were of average-to-poor quality with regard to content and production value.


Make sure the subject tells their story and try to keep the videos relatively short; fewer than three minutes per story if possible. There is no need to break the bank on production values; however, a decent location, some basic lighting if indoors, and an external microphone for good audio is a must.


All of these items add to the organization’s perception, for better or worse.

The content provided, no matter the format, needs compelling subject lines and titles to entice people to engage. What is said is very important and most advertising is filled with platitudes that mean nothing. For example, a hospital will frequently quote numbers and statistics that are typically meaningless to the average patient.


Statements like, “We have performed more than 7,500 hip replacements” or “Our group has collectively performed more than 50,000 heart surgeries.” What about a competing group that has only completed 20,000 heart surgeries, but has newer facilities and a better patient experience with superior online reviews.


Which would a patient choose? Most patients want to know, “Can I trust these people with my health?” and statistics don’t do that effectively.

If they have a friend or relative they trust who has been to the hospital and had a successful outcome, they are far more likely to follow in their footsteps. The problem is that most people seeking treatment internationally are blazing their own trail because they don’t know anyone who has received similar care.


This is where sharing a story through digital word-of-mouth can greatly boost results. Crowd-sourcing word-of-mouth makes experiences easier for patients to share with others online. Like it or not, patients are talking about you online.


Reputation management is a whole other discussion for another day, but it is vitally important to track and respond to what is being said about your company online.

Social media sites and search engines are making due diligence easier than ever for patients. In a globally competitive world, marketing the same way as everyone else is no longer acceptable. Most advertising is centered on how great the company is.


This is not the best approach. Advertising needs to be patient centric in order to increase the number of people who decide to trust a facility for their surgery.

Marketing campaigns should be set up in a way where the prospect receives offers for more information from every medium. The content in all of these materials is critical. Continue to tell the patient stories and successes. Integrate all of the mediums into a campaign that furthers the story and compels people to share them.


The lifetime value of these patients to the company is very high, so educating, acquiring and offering follow-up services should be a top priority.

About the Author

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John Cote is the award-winning author of the  Amazon.com #1 best-selling book, “Mobilize Your Customers.” His company, Rocket Social Marketing, creates growth strategies, marketing campaigns and lead capture systems for businesses and organizations of any size. The scientifically based systems they employ have been effectively used in more than 350 industries globally to dramatically increase sales.

A voracious reader, John invests a great deal of time researching the cutting edge trends in technology, social media and marketing. He is a frequent speaker and panelist on these topics as they relate to increasing revenue and customer retention. His forthcoming book, “ONWARDS! Master the Power of Accelerating Technological Change and Dominate Your Marketplace,” with co-author Ron Phillips, will be published this fall. www.facebook.com/dedesindelar and www.linkedin.com/pub/dede-sindelar/1a/b62/374.