It’s less than a week into the new year–which means you still have more than 51 brand-new weeks to be a great healthcare marketer in 2013. Here are five things to keep in mind that can help you stay focused on making this your best year ever. (Best year as a healthcare marketer, anyway. When it comes to your love life, you’re on your own.)

1. Think about what your patients want and how they go about looking for it. 

Too often, healthcare marketers are hell-bent on leading patients into digital funnels that “personalize” their experience, but that actually limit what they can do. “We want to help guide the patient’s experience and lead her to the information she really wants,” is how the theory goes. The idea is to create more of a “concierge” experience for web visitors, as opposed to a “browsing” experience. It’s all quite well intentioned. A concierge is a friendly guide, and browsing through a huge stack of information seems intimidating.

Except that “browsing” is exactly what people do on the Internet: they open their web browser and engage a search engine to find the information they want.

Don’t be afraid of the freedom your patients have to do whatever they they want on the Internet. By all means, make things easy for them to find; that’s something a smart digital partner (ahem) should be able to help you do. You don’t have to lead them into content funnels, and you don’t need to always be selling. Trust them to find their way to the stuff you want them to see, and give them plenty of opportunity to connect with you and find out more. The digital world is wide open. That’s one of the reasons people like living in it.

2. Remember all the people who don’t need health care today. 

Especially if your marketing budget is getting tighter, you may be tempted to devote all your efforts to reaching people who need care today. If you can market to people who are looking for a new doctor, contemplating joint replacement surgery, in need of a mammogram, or dealing with an unusual rash, you can show actual return on investment. And that helps you justify and protect your marketing budget for the future, right?

Yes and no. Yes, it’s a fine idea to market to people who need your services now, and direct response marketing certainly should have a place in your plan. Trouble is, most people don’t need your services today.

But all of them will need health care sometime in the future. How are you reaching them?

Traditionally, “brand” or “image” advertising played a big role in fostering top-of-mind awareness for a broad target audience. These days, a digital content marketing strategy may be more effective and is certainly less expensive than television advertising. Your prospective patients are looking for health information online, and you certainly have a lot of that. Figuring out how to get them great health content can help you expose them to the great health care you provide when they’re in the market for it.

3. First, get attention. 

A doctor talking to the camera. A kindly nurse smiling at a patient. Some sort of high-tech imaging device that’s supposed to impress us with the quality of your care. How many times have you seen these images in healthcare advertising?

Plenty. We’ve used them ourselves in healthcare advertising, multiple times.

And just because you’ve seen them before doesn’t make them inappropriate or wrong. But the first rule of advertising is that you have to get your prospect’s attention before you can interest her in anything. If you’re using the same, old tired images and the same, old copy with vague promises about “quality” and “great care close to home” and “cutting-edge medicine,” you’re going to bore everyone; your advertising becomes invisible. What are you doing to actually differentiate yourself in your market? To communicate the real differences that give people real reasons to choose you over your competitors? Remember: your administrators and doctors aren’t your market (refer to #1), and making them look good on camera is not your job. Your prospects are exposed to scores, maybe hundreds, of marketing messages a day. Make sure yours stand out.

4. Take some risks. 

Do you know what’s going to happen in the digital space this year? Do you know which new social medium is going to take off like a linebacker after a quarterback–and which is going to flop like a striker in a World Cup final? No? Me neither. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Reddit: are they all going to be around in five years? If so, are they going to look and function the way they do today? Would you bet on it?

How about apps? Is the future of digital content more app based than web based?

We’re in an age in which new ideas are being launched in the digital space faster than we can keep track of them. The people who create these ideas have some notion of what they’re good for. But their utility evolves with use; it’s doubtful, for example, that when Jack Dorsey made his doodles on a legal pad, he had the slightest inkling of the news-and-entertainment monster Twitter has become.

This fluid, uncertain environment can be unsettling for marketers, who crave predictability and clear ROI. But it can also be exhilarating. You have all sorts of new platforms that are potentially great places for marketing messages–and you should try some of them.

Will they all work? Of course not. But neither, eventually, will sticking with the platforms you know today.

My advice: try some stuff. Take some risks. Experiment with new media and new messages. And give them a little time to work. We had more than one client who, five years ago, said, “I don’t think the Internet has anything to do with how people make healthcare decisions.” Today, that statement sounds more than a little silly.

5. Have some fun. 

Life is short. Healthcare marketing is difficult and stressful. But it’s not brain surgery; no one’s going to die if that brochure doesn’t get printed by next Tuesday. Remember that your role in the delivery of great health care is important. Ultimately, you’re helping people get access to products and services that can help them lead healthier lives. Be proud of that–and have some fun doing it. It’ll make your 2013 a whole lot happier.