5 healthcare marketing lessons from the ALS ice bucket challenge

I first learned about the ALS ice bucket challenge earlier this month when a friend posted a video of herself on Facebook accepting the challenge in honor of Peter Frates, credited by many as the mastermind of or inspiration for the campaign. He happens to live in my hometown and suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease.

I was intrigued by her 30-second video, which challenged my other friends to dump ice water on their heads or donate $100 for ALS research. Within days videos began to pop up all over my news feed, on You Tube and on local TV news.

This grassroots campaign quickly spread across the nation--even the world--as businesses, celebrities and political leaders continue to take on the challenge and come up with clever, fun videos and donate money to this worthwhile, but--until now--little-known cause.

In less than a month, donations from the ice bucket challenge totaled $94.3 million--the ALS foundation raised $2.7 million during the same period last year. The campaign not only raised awareness about the disease, it has raised some serious cash for research for a cure.

"It is a brilliant concept because it does what great branding and smart marketing execution are supposed to do: Give people something they value in an authentic, immediately tangible and share-worthy way," Jonathan Salem Baskin writes in Forbes.

While the viral campaign demonstrates once again the power of social media, the ice bucket challenge also offers several marketing lessons for hospitals and healthcare leaders. Here are just a few:

Keep it simple. The ice bucket challenge asks people to dump ice water on their heads and donate $10 to the ALS Foundation or donate $100 to the charity. The objective and message was clear and easy to understand, writes Garbrielle Boko, executive vice president of marketing at Safe North America in Entrepreneur.

Add immediacy to your message. The campaign worked so well because the challenge requires people to act within 24 hours. "By giving your audience a deadline, the initiative will become a greater priority," Boko writes.

Make it an obligation. The campaign worked because it trapped the person nominated, writes Savannah Marie in Tech Cocktail. If you didn't join in, you faced a penalty. Plus your friends were waiting for your video so you didn't want to disappoint them. "Getting wet didn't get you off the hook, it just softened the blow, and it likely generated a donation out of individuals who otherwise would not have given anything," she says.

Educate your audience. The viral campaign drove awareness about ALS but the videos didn't necessarily educate and inform people about the horrific disease. Healthcare marketers should remember that it's vital to educate consumers with information in any campaign, Lauren Ingram, media relations specialist for Clarity PR, tells the Guardian.

Use video in your marketing strategy. The challenge demonstrates the power of video, especially now that smartphones make it easy to create and share videos, Joe Edwards, digital and social director for MOI, a global marketing company, also says in the Guardian piece. Video must be at the core of your digital strategy as you seek ways to engage patients and their families via the medium, he says.

What other marketing strategies will your organization take away from the ALS ice bucket challenge? Let me know in the comments below. Ilene (@FierceHealth)

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