Brand and Demand: Kelly Jo Golson on Building a Marketing Organization that Wins Consumer Trust

Scott Davis, Chief Growth Officer at Prophet speaks with Kelly Jo Golson, Chief Brand, Communications and Consumer Experience Officer at Advocate Health about how marketing can build consumer trust to support an organization’s growth strategy.

Kelly Jo Golson is the Chief Brand, Communications and Consumer Experience Officer at Advocate Health where she oversees marketing and consumer experience for a leading healthcare system.

Golson brings nearly 30 years of industry experience spanning consumerism, brand, marketing, digital strategy, public affairs and internal communications. A leader with Advocate since 2007, she previously held roles with Methodist Healthcare System, St. Luke’s Episcopal Healthcare and Memorial Hermann Healthcare.

Scott Davis: With all the shifts that have gone on through COVID and now an economic downturn, what matters the most to you right now as a chief marketing officer leading one of the biggest U.S. health systems?

Kelly Jo Golson: You know, there’s a long list of things that matter, right? But one of the things that keeps coming back to me is credibility. Patients and consumers are bombarded with noise and misinformation. Being the voice of trust and reliability, and the place consumers and patients turn to for accurate information and a trustworthy experience is our top priority.

SD: Do you think healthcare has been fairly or unfairly punished over the last three to five years in terms of breaking consumer trust, or is it just the general environment of everything being highly scrutinized?

KJ: Prior to COVID, it was challenging. Patients often came to appointments with self-diagnoses and information they found online. However, I believe the last three years with COVID have helped healthcare systems regain trust. Our experts provided accurate, impartial information at an uncertain time, repositioning the patient and physician relationship and reestablishing doctors as reliable sources amid the chaos of constantly changing information. That trust and the continuous, end-to-end relationship with patients have become crucial factors in our industry and are something we will continue to lean into to ensure we stay relevant with our patients.

SD: It goes way beyond the physician-patient relationship; it’s the entire 360-degree experience. What challenges do you see in delivering this holistic experience, and how are you addressing them? From a marketing perspective, how are you thinking about these challenges and where do you see opportunity?

KJ: Absolutely. Building strong relationships with patients on both the front end and back end of care is challenging but essential. We’ve made strides, especially with high-acuity patients. However, there’s still a long way to go in terms of price transparency, accessibility, personalized self-service, and meeting consumer expectations.

For me, shifting consumer expectations has redefined my role. I’ve gone from being a Chief Marketing Officer to a Chief Brand Officer and, now more importantly, a Chief Consumer Experience Officer. Understanding and meeting consumer needs and expectations have become paramount. Research shows that an exceptional experience has a higher impact on loyalty and action than the care itself. For example, you may have a world-class cardiovascular program, but as soon as someone realizes they’re at risk for heart disease, they are thinking about how easy it is to get in to see a cardiologist. What’s the wait time? How easy is it for them to receive the next level of care and receive relevant communications? These experiences have become increasingly important as people consider their care options. So, our focus has shifted toward ensuring a seamless experience from awareness to care delivery.

SD: You’ve made a significant shift from patient to consumer. Why was it essential to broaden the frame of reference of who’s walking in those doors or on that telehealth call every day?

KJ: Patient experience is still paramount, but we’ve realized that our patients’ changing expectations, driven by their experiences in other industries, require us to become consumer-first. For years, healthcare has been able to put this on the back burner, but with new entrants entering the space, it’s a critical moment for healthcare systems to rethink how we build loyalty. It’s about creating a meaningful relationship with consumers even before they need care, emphasizing wellness over sickness care. Their expectations have evolved, and we need to adapt accordingly.

SD: I know you’ve worked side-by-side with your CEO; how has the evolution of marketing impacted the growth strategy? How do marketing and long-term strategy work together?

KJ: Our growth strategy is deeply intertwined with everything we do in marketing. I’d say we take a three-pronged approach. We recognize that losing even one patient due to poor experience requires acquiring three new ones to compensate for the lost revenue. Additionally, as we transition into accountable care organizations (ACOs), the continuity of care becomes vital. We aim to keep patients within our system for the entire care journey. Lastly, with cost pressures coming into play across the industry, finding efficiencies that allow us to reinvest in places that our patients are asking for is critical. Marketing plays a pivotal role in facilitating this continuity and efficiency.

SD: In today’s environment, we’re seeing budgets being scrutinized and the need to prove ROI for marketing investments. This leads to a conversation we’ve been having with many CMOs about brand and demand marketing. How do you navigate this constant tension between building reputation and driving demand, especially in times of economic change?

KJ: It’s essential to be agile and adapt to the context. We don’t go all-in on either brand or demand; we continually evaluate the situation. We must understand the economic climate, competitive landscape, and our capacity to deliver on our promises. There is no quicker way to damage your brand if you can’t deliver on your promises. Agility is key to striking the right balance and ensuring we’re meeting patient expectations and delivering value. Something that has enabled this agility is having the right mix of talent on our internal teams to support these moves. Within the digital ecosystem, we must be ready and willing to turn the dial up or down depending on our ability to deliver while also meeting the needs of the business.

SD: Building a modern marketing organization is a challenge for many. How have you approached this, especially in the context of rapidly evolving technologies and consumer expectations?

KJ: We’ve been intentional about modernizing our marketing organization. This includes differentiating and creating a standalone consumer insights department, separating brand and marketing, bringing media buying in-house, and developing in-house creative services. We continuously evaluate our structure and its effectiveness in facilitating collaboration and delivering value to consumers.

SD: Lastly, how are you approaching the use of AI in healthcare marketing? What opportunities and challenges do you foresee in integrating AI into your strategies?

KJ: AI holds immense potential in healthcare marketing, particularly in personalizing content, optimizing search, and enhancing the consumer experience. However, we’re cautious about maintaining trust and credibility. We want to ensure that AI augments our efforts without compromising patient trust. Experimentation and learning from industry best practices will guide our AI integration journey.

About Scott Davis  

Scott is a senior partner and the Chief Growth Officer at Prophet. He brings over 20 years of brand, marketing strategy and new product development experience. Scott speaks at and chairs branding conferences such as The Conference Board and the American Marketing Association and is frequently cited in publications like The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, and Forbes. In addition to helping clients unlock uncommon growth, he is an Adjunct Professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and a guest lecturer at other top graduate schools, including NYU, Harvard, Notre Dame, Medill and Columbia. 

Are you interested in talking with Scott? You can contact him here.


In our new series, Brand and Demand: The Interviews, Prophet experts sit down with CMOs and marketing leaders who are unlocking demand, driving uncommon growth and building relentlessly relevant brands to get their takes on the top trends, challenges and opportunities they face in today’s disruptive world.

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