As leaves change and temps fall, healthcare organizations that begin their fiscal year in January are finalizing budgets for 2017. With most hospitals grappling with flat or declining admissions, it’s now more important than ever for marketers to select the most impactful budget priorities. Fear not – PadillaCRT has outlined three priorities that should be on the radar of every hospital marketer.

1. Deliver ROI with Your Digital Strategy

Only 14 percent of 2015 healthcare marketing budgets were allocated to digital activities – significantly lower than almost any other industry. There isn’t necessarily a good reason for this, other than the fact that hospitals tend to be late adopters. Search engine marketing, social media, and geofencing are some of the most efficient, nimble and measurable marketing approaches.

We know that more than 72 percent of U.S. healthcare consumers have gone online for health information in the past year. Ensure that your organization is top of mind by being in the right place at the right time. The right place might be choosing the right keyword to promote or sharing a patient story on the right social channel or promoting the right service while they are surfing on their mobile phone while waiting for a prescription at the local pharmacy. The key is realizing that traditional media channels aren’t necessarily the best way to reach your target audience anymore.

2. Be Prepared to Protect Your Brand

It seems like every week we hear about another healthcare organization that has become the victim of a cyber attack. These attacks are costly – with an impact of roughly $6 billion a year on America’s hospitals, according to a study from the Ponemon Institute. Cyber attacks can be just as costly to an organization’s reputation.

Organizations with a comprehensive cyber breach communications plan react smarter and faster. Demonstrating that you took every possible step to help prevent the crisis, from encrypting data to developing a comprehensive plan, moves the organization from villain to victim and helps to fend off any potential criticism.

3. Become an Expert Storyteller

Nearly two-thirds (73%) of U.S. hospitals are already engaging in content marketing, and an additional 19% plan to start this year, according to recent research from True North Custom.  Are they doing it well? That depends if they start with the consumer in mind. Hospitals have the opportunity to be a resource to consumers, who are already looking for reliable answers to their health questions. For some consumers, it’s most important to hear the story of someone who has had a similar experience. Others may want to connect with an expert who can offer valuable insights.

Invest in developing these resources. This starts with story mining sessions to identify stories on a regular basis. It continues with the development of a content calendar that maps out a steady drumbeat of relevant and interesting content across multiple channels. Quality, not quantity is the key. Think visually-engaging tools such as video and infographics that are easy for consumers to digest and share.

The average marketing operating budget for a U.S. hospital is $4.1 million. It might sound like a big number, but we know that it is quickly absorbed, especially with large traditional media buys. If you are still using the same budget allocations that you were using even a few years ago, now is the time to re-evaluate your priorities and make sure that you are getting the most bang for your marketing buck.