Cleveland Clinic’s Customer-Centric Approach Creates Content Marketing Success

By Juliet Stott  |  July 9, 2017

phone, computer, and tablet

Since Amanda Todorovich joined the Cleveland Clinic in 2013, she has launched its Health Essentials blog, taking it from zero visits to 4.5 million a month. She and her team of 25 have fully embraced the concept of “becoming publishers” and she now oversees two blogs, several print titles, and 2,500+ content projects a year.

Todorovich’s work was recognized in 2016 when she was named The Content Marketing Institute’s Content Marketer of the Year for her role as director of content marketing for the non-profit academic medical center.

Here Todorovich talks to Juliet Stott about the essential ingredients for growing a successful blog, why content should be customer centric rather than about the brand and why content distribution is more important than content creation.

Congratulations on being named Content Marketer of the year. How did that make you feel and why do you think you were selected?

That was probably the most amazing moment of my career because not only did I win the award, but because the event was held in Cleveland where I live, they were able to bring my daughters out on stage to present it to me. As a healthcare marketer in an industry that often gets a bad rep for being conservative or a little bit behind others, it was really amazing to have recognition for what we’ve achieved.

We are not doing any more content than we were in 2012 when the blog launched. We still publish the same amount—three to five articles per day—consistently. But we’ve really gotten a lot smarter with distribution on every platform.

Good content marketing begins with a good strategy. What do you include in yours? What advice can you give to others who are drawing up theirs?

A content marketing strategy has to start with your customers and potential customers. You have to understand what their day-to-day work is like and how you can be relevant to them every day. Think about how you can help solve their problems, and become their go-to resource. Our aim is to engage with our audience almost daily, so the strategy has to consider how to be relevant to their lives.

For us, this means knowing that people make healthcare decisions from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed. We know that they are thinking about what to eat for breakfast, whether to work out or not and whether to go for that walk at lunchtime. We know that most people also have a health condition they are living with, so we are trying to provide them content that is not about Cleveland Clinic but about helping them take care of themselves and their family.

Whether you’re a marketer in a B2C environment or B2B, it doesn’t really matter, your strategy has to be about putting your customer first and being helpful to them.

The Health Essentials Blog doesn’t mention the Cleveland Clinic at all. How were you able to persuade your board members to let you adopt this approach?

It’s been a long journey. In the beginning, it was a much harder thing to do. When we first started there was a little bit more about Cleveland Clinic in there, but now it is not there at all. We had to demonstrate that the unbranded content was resonating with our audience, and had to use data to show how the content was working. By doing that, we were able to weed out the brand-related content and stick to our strategy.

Part of what has enabled us to stay true to creating unbranded content, and being really strict about it, is that we have developed partnerships with other organizations, and we’ve been accepted into the Google News Network. If we write content that’s promotional, those kinds of opportunities go away.

The Cleveland Health Clinic blog has been named the most visited hospital blog in the entire country. How have you achieved this? What are the vital ingredients that have led to this blog becoming so popular? Is it the writers, the topics, data-informed content, or how you market the blog?

I don’t think I can isolate any one of those things. It’s really about that perfect recipe. We have stuck to a really consistent approach and a consistent volume. So it’s not about more, but it’s about smarter, more sophisticated distribution—that’s how we’ve grown the blog over time.

We publish three to five articles a day; content that’s helpful, useful and relevant to our audiences. We think about how to get the most return on investment with the content we put out there. We think about how we can utilize that content on social, on email, in native advertising and we look at opportunities to reuse that content across our other marketing and communications channels.

We have created a lot of evergreen content that we can repurpose, repackage and reuse all the time.

Every single channel that we use to distribute content has its own schedule, which has evolved over time based on data and content performance. For example, we may publish three to five articles on the blog, but we publish 15 Facebook posts a day. We don’t publish something on the blog at 9 a.m., and then distribute it everywhere at 9 a.m., as each channel has its own schedule and audience nuances that we take into account. We really try to put the right content in front of the right people at the right time.

How many do you have in your team, and how many did you start out with?

When I started here in 2013, I was managing a team of three people. We were solely focused on social media and the Health Essentials blog. Today, I’m the director of content marketing and I have a team of 25 people, but we are responsible for much more than just Health Essentials and social. We run another blog for physicians called ConsultQD and we are doing all online and offline content for marketing—we do about 2,500 projects that are not blog posts.

We have brand management, email and print production as well as several project managers. Our creative team includes eight editors and six graphic designers. We do print publications, content and blogs every day.

Sounds like you’re a brand that’s a publisher.

It’s been a fascinating evolution for sure. When I say we grew as a team, we didn’t go and hire 20 more people. We merged with other teams and together we became this amazing content marketing department. We are absolutely acting like a publisher, and we are actually generating revenue from our blogs too.

Marketers are turning their attention to creating very personal and hyper-relevant content. How do you do this? What advice can you give to others striving for this?

We don’t do a ton of personalization, but we are trying to manage people’s preferences, give them opportunities to sign up for things like newsletters, or through our marketing automation techniques—If they have opted in to receive something—we are adding them to certain streams and serving them up some additional content on that topic. And that’s really as far as it goes for us right now.

There’s definitely technology that enables us do personalization, but we are trying to be super sensitive to people’s feelings on their healthcare journey.

Just because someone’s a cancer patient, doesn’t mean they want to be served up a whole bunch of cancer content; there’s so much more to their life, and we know that.

Many people say content creation is only part of the battle, the real effort is in content distribution. What tactics do you use to distribute your content and how do you make the most of the content you have?

I agree with this 100 percent. Content distribution is equally if not more important than content creation. Creating content is very resource intensive and you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of the content you’re producing.

I wouldn’t say we have a formula because it’s so dependent on the topic and the content. We really look at each piece of content and talk about how to optimize it—where else it might make sense or how else can we repurpose it. We’ve done work on personas, so we try to be smart and sophisticated with each platform we publish content on.

Data is a part of every conversation—piece by piece we work out where it belongs and where it makes sense to publish it. We always start by asking, “Why are we even creating this content in the first place? Who is going to get a lot of value out of this content?”

How much do you rely on organic discovery to reach your audience and how much do you rely on paid tactics?

We’ve invested our paid dollars in growing our audience, so we’ve created a lot of follower acquisition campaigns, but we’ve done very little on promoting posts on Facebook primarily because our content performs very well organically.

We view our investment in followers like annuities because we can put content in front of them repeatedly. People like it and share it. So we have done very little in terms of paid promotion on social media. We’ve invested in tools like Outbrain to drive traffic because they help us to reach new audiences.

This helps us achieve our ultimate goal of increasing brand awareness nationally and internationally, as well as promoting the clinic’s reputation globally.

Read next: Content Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference, Again?

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