S2 #9: How To Leverage The Power Of Continuous Engagement Models With Tom Hileman

Super excited to welcome Tom Hileman to the show! With a unique take on health care marketing, he’s helping transforming the way many medical organizations reach their target audience. So come along for the ride to learn about the health care flywheel and how it can kick start your digital health marketing.


Tom’s career began in the sciences with degrees in physics and mathematics. After that, he started his own marketing company helping health care organizations connect with consumers whether patients, physicians, or B2B audiences.

Currently, 70% of Hileman Group’s clients are in health care and the other 30% are B2B focused businesses. Needless to say, Tom interacts with a lot of key players on the medical scene, giving him a lot of in depth knowledge about marketing as it plays out in health care.

Tom Hileman

What is a flywheel?

The concept of flywheel marketing is borrowed from Amazon - the consumer-oriented giant. By creating infrastructure and services, the flywheel builds continuous momentum over a long period of time.

Most marketing within health care, on the other hand, relies on narrow campaigns and limited engagements with consumers. What medical organizations are missing is a continuous flow of interactions that ends up turning into a single narrative.

Sections of the flywheel circuit

The goal of a flywheel is to put customers at the center of every interaction. For our purposes, Tom focused on the flywheel as it applies to patients, but he uses it in a variety of other health care businesses, too.

And, remember, even though I’m going to mention the key points of the flywheel in a list, these sections are technically a cycle - each one playing off the other and leading into the next phase.


Acquiring new patients is a major focus of many in health care. This could involve raising brand awareness through search advertising. For instance, you can target people who show interest in your product or service. Sometimes acquisition also includes things like risk assessments or building awareness of a new provider.

Here’s what you really need to remember though - acquisition is about finding and targeting the people who need to know about your product or service.


In most industries, when you buy a product or service, you get immediate access to what you purchased. Health care, however, is different. Patients often have to wait for their appointment - sometimes months, sometimes years.

The goal of the activation stage is to keep them informed and up to date throughout the waiting period. It could include things like what to be aware of or how to prepare for their visit.


As we consider patients, the encounter section refers to when they actually meet with their clinician. It also includes patient interactions through specialist referrals, surveys, and post-appointment instructions.

Tom explained that a stack of papers isn’t the best way to get patients to follow through on wellness goals or enable prevention. Instead, a digital follow up with bite size information makes those details easier for patients to digest.


Health care is interesting because even though it’s one of the most personal, high-risk industries, it’s also the only industry that doesn’t routinely thank their customers. That’s why the followup includes things like a post-appointment thank you or a chance to rate the physician.

Another important facet of this stage is access optimization - helping patients find the right place to get care after their appointment. Should they go to an urgent care? Primary care? Or do they have telehealth and virtual care options they should know about? All of these are included in the followup of the flywheel.


Sometimes Tom likes to start with this section for health care companies because many in the medical scene don’t know how to stay engaged with patients on their journey. This section includes an emphasis on wellness and prevention as well as how to get care for the best price. The goal of nurturing is to then guide patients back into the acquisition section of the flywheel.

Why would health care companies want to do this?

One of the reasons Amazon is so successful is that they have EVERYTHING and are EVERYWHERE. However, the problem is that if everything’s available, then nothing’s available.

The way Amazon has solved this conundrum is through their continuous engagement model - a model that self-reinforces the longer it’s used. From Prime Video to app notifications, related search items to “Deals of the Day”, they seamlessly keep the conversation going with consumers.

Just like Amazon, health care is woven into our everyday lives. Our national GDP is eaten up with health care funding, for crying out loud. So those in health care need to learn ways to spin the flywheel.

Do those in health care struggle with this mindset?

According to Tom, the number one issue he faces with many health care companies is that they like to think in terms of episodes or acute care. And much of their marketing is designed the very same way. For instance, we’ll think about breast cancer awareness in October. However, in reality that’s a 24/7, twelve-months-a-year issue.

That being said, consistent flywheel outreach needs to be pinpointed. It can’t be mass spamming of your customer base. Instead, a flywheel relies on being personalized and customized to the consumer’s concerns.

Is this just the marketing person’s job?

A flywheel needs to be integrated with the organization. You need to include the clinical perspective so that your content stays relevant and accurate. On the other hand, you’re going to need tech support to measure the data and rank your success.

But you also need the business side involved. They understand what’s important to the organization. In addition, they can help establish how to measure flywheel success. Will it be based on ROI? Value numbers? Higher numbers of patients?

All of these key players add an element that the others can’t. As a result, your flywheel will be very effective at acquiring and retaining customers.

Who’s knocking the flywheel out of the park?

As we’ve seen, the flywheel can be a daunting marketing strategy to fully implement. Achieving these goals takes time and patience. That being said, there are some organizations who are successfully implementing particular sections of the flywheel.

Cleveland Clinic

According to Tom, Cleveland is doing a phenomenal job with acquisition. Their campaigns are targeted at specific audiences, emphasizing things like primary care or specialty care. They also geared their campaigns around specific service lines such as heart services, cancer, orthopedic, and digestive disease.

The thing that sticks out about Cleveland and acquisition is how well they’ve integrated across all forms of technology. However, there’s plenty of room for them and others to keep going around the flywheel circle.

B2B facing organizations

Tom also mentioned that several organizations are great at implementing across B2B. In particular, they’re thriving with the nurturing and follow up phases of the flywheel. Some specific ones that he highlighted are Baylor, Scott and White, and Vanderbilt.

What are the first steps towards implementing the flywheel?

The first step is to decide where you’re going to start. Most organizations like to start with either the nurture or acquisition sections. Acquisition is very popular because gathering new customers is an organizational goal. Therefore, it’s easier to convince management of it’s worth.

Once you’ve decided where to begin, you need to make sure you have the right tools in place. For one, you need measurement tools to prove the value. You also need marketing automation tools such as Marketing Cloud or Hubspot to conduct outreach.

Most importantly, Tom said you need compelling and valuable content driving this outreach. Sure, you can always add more to these first three steps like integration, testing, and optimization, but the above three steps are where you should start.

Most common mistakes

The first and most common mistake Tom sees is the “one and done” strategy. These one time targeted campaigns that companies run without integrating to other channels and without followup. Because this content isn’t tied to a larger solution, you won’t get great results from this approach.

The second mistake Tom has witnessed is bad content. People commonly think that content is easy to create, but that’s just not the way it goes. Good content isn’t easy whether it’s blogs, infographics, or videos. The good news is that if you invest in solid content you can get a lot of use from it over time.

Must-read book

Tom’s top recommendation is Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The concepts in this book have been life-changing for Tom, and he’s also found them to be highly applicable for marketing. For instance, in marketing we need to begin with the end in mind to be effective.

Want to connect with Tom? Find him here:


LinkedIn: Tom Hileman

Twitter: @HilemanGroup

Email: tom@hilemangroup.com

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