Maintaining Equilibrium: How The NHS Stays Relevant At 70

by Shannon Lynn Figaro Digital

NHS Blood and Transplant are embracing digital innovation as part of their marketing strategy. They have realised the need to constantly evolve with the times and are hoping to implement AI and chatbots as part of their targeted outreach to donors.

As 2018 marks the 70th birthday of the NHS, Figaro Digital caught up with Gareth Humphreys, Head of Insight, Strategy and Innovation at NHS Blood and Transplant, to see how their digital strategy has evolved. The National Blood Service was formed in 1946 by the RAF after the Second World War and continues to supply blood to hospitals in England. Every year around 200,000 new donors are needed to maintain the supply of blood to hospitals and research indicates that many young people have a neutral attitude to blood donation so regular marketing campaigns are needed to recruit new donors. Gareth discusses some key ways that his team ensures that donating blood remains relevant in a digital age.

FD: With the NHS turning 70 this year, how have NHS Blood and Transplant updated their marketing strategy to operate in a digital age?

GH: Our marketing strategy evolves over time. You can see how it has moved on if you look at our database, which was first introduced in the 90s and designed to just send out letters. Now, we are looking to incorporate voice and chatbots into our strategy. Also, where we advertise is changing, there’s less on TV and radio. We are focusing more on digital adverts and social media posts; often they are cheaper, create less operational issues and reach a larger audience than traditional press releases.

When we first started moving towards a more social plan, we were trying to market to everyone. Now with segmentation, we have to adapt so we are not just recruiting everyone, but ideally targeting young, black men, who are a very difficult, but in demand, segment to reach. Our strategy is constantly evolving and we are trying to use the right channels on social media to target the right people.

FD: As blood is always in demand, how do you manage to keep your content relevant and ensure that awareness is sustained?

GH: Seasonality is key. New Year is a very good time to get people thinking about donating blood because it’s quite an easy New Year’s resolution. We conduct market research with focus groups made up of our donors to see if our messages are getting through. Our campaign this year has done okay and we are hitting our targets, but we feel like there’s always more we can do. We were weighing up whether to do even more market research, or start working with a small agency to measure our adverts and do some tests online. We have a test and learn approach and we’re trying to shut out the noise and filter out what’s working, so that our content is always relevant.

We always have to keep messages on to sustain awareness. We know how to generate a lot of coverage and awareness, previously we have appeared on This Morning. From exposure like this, we can get massive interest, but it can also cause huge operational headaches. If too many people want to sign up or book an appointment at once, it could cause our website to crash. The mass media will drive people over a short period, but it can be better to keep everything constant. You’ve got to strike the balance between always on and spamming and giving too much. As with everything it is important to create a balance.

FD: Would you say that social media is the biggest way to engage and outreach to the younger generation?

GH: Yeah, definitely! However, it isn’t just for the younger generation. Again, it’s about getting the right channel for the right people. We know our younger audience tend to be more on Instagram than on Facebook. Facebook is more where people my age tend to be (40+), so it’s brilliant for targeting existing donors. Whereas, Instagram is very much a place where we are able to talk to young people.

Social media is becoming a popular place for donors to ask questions. Eventually, we’d like to have a bot to answer straightforward questions like: can I donate if I smoke? At the moment we have a call centre answering those kind of questions, but using a chatbot could really speed up the process. WhatsApp and instant messaging are areas that we would like to focus more on.

FD: How would you like to see digital transforming the public healthcare sector in the coming years?

GH: For us as an organisation, we have a lot of data and there’s a lot we can do with chatbots. Especially if we implemented machine learning or AI to ensure that our messages are well crafted. We’d love to get down to a segment of one marketing approach. It would be great if we had a spare slot at a donation centre and were able to contact someone in the area to attend the appointment.

I think if we had more AI and machine learning powering our technology, instead of relying on human systems, we’d be able to contact people by a channel they respond well to. We’d be able to target people from the right blood group and with a time slot they favour. Increased targeting is definitely something we are moving towards. I think the key thing to remember is that things are constantly changing and we try to adapt as fast as we can. You’ve got to make sure that content is constantly hitting the mark as everything changes so quickly. You don’t just go digital and stay there, you keep evolving and keep moving.