By Tom Dougherty
Census is down. Competition is up. What does this mean to hospital marketing?
Reimbursement has become increasingly difficult to navigate. Government healthcare laws are becoming more complex. Insurance carriers are more dictatorial.
Hospitals like yours are dealing with many arduous issues like a juggler tossing knives. With those in mind, what’s a hospital to do? How is a hospital to increase revenue and keep its beds filled? What role should brand play?
The answer to those questions and more:
Stop what you are doing right now for your hospital business.
We have no doubt that right now you are marketing one message or marketing a lot of things – Short waits, being top-rated, or being a caring group that is a vital part of the local community.
None of them matter.
Not only are those messages unemotional, they are undifferentiating. Most hospitals scream those same messages, which is reason number one for them to be ignored. In addition, they are all about the hospital and make you no different from other hospitals in the eyes of patients and influencers.
Stop being a cliché. (Read our market study of associations, groups and organizations here)
Pick out one competitor.
This means thinking like a business, not just a caregiver. Whether you are profit or non-profit, someone is looking to steal share from you. Rebranding a hospital is the cornerstone of stealing share. Don’t confuse this will choosing a new name. We are talking about meaning here.
For example, if the main competition talks about caring, you talk about doing. Caring is a table stake, the ante you need to even play in the game, but it is not a reason to choose because audiences already believe hospitals are caring. That is a definition of a hospital. Rebranding a hospital is more complicated and meaningful then that.
But an “action” hospital is something else. It tells audiences that you are the hospital that gets things done. You are into doing, tapping into that emotional intensity that people just want get out of the hospital.
The only way to be preferred in any market is to be a true choice, even emotionally. If you look and sound like any other hospital, patients (and their influencers) will be willing to travel elsewhere to get the best treatment.
Talk about treatments no one else is.
There is a treatment being talked about everywhere but from hospitals. That’s diabetes. Even Tom Hanks and Paula Dean are talking about it.
Diabetes has become more widespread because there are more of us who are older and more of us who are overweight. Yet, in the midst of hospitals chattering about other procedures, they have been largely silent on diabetes.
Hospital marketing specific therapies is never the best way to go if it’s not covered by a brand (such as an active hospital). But you must say what treat or people will not believe that you can’t. At least talk about one that no one else is addressing.
Don’t be all about yourself.
If you consider the decision tree of a prospective patient and referring physician, the hospital decision is made at the point of “failure.” That is, when the patient is sick or in need of care/procedure.
Yet, you are not competing as an emergency room. Those that need you for that service have no choice and little preference unless you are in a major metropolitan area with many hospitals.
If you look at hospital marketing as it stands today, the point of failure is where hospitals play. By talking about services and expertise, you are placing your brand only at the point of failure.
However, to gain true preference, you must make your mark earlier in the decision tree. To do that, you need a bigger story to tell than just about what you offer.
This is key. To be preferred, you must be more about the patient. Then you are positioned earlier in the decision tree so, which is where preference is determined. When the point of failure arrives, the decision has already been made.
Your hospital must tell a story that’s not about what your hospital does or offers, but what makes your patients different.
Hospitals are in a rut, which is partly the result of being overwhelmed with the changing nature of the healthcare industry. Therefore, they are in purely reactive mode, rather than being pro-active.
They are not much different from gasoline service stations that have ignored brand preference for location convenience. So, the brands increase preference by building more service stations. It does not solve their real problem but it does give them a bigger share of those who simply drive by.
Is profitability delegated to outsmarting the system? Are you finding beds for patients under observation rather than admitting them as a means to manage re-hospitalization penalties?
This sort of thing is not a substitute for a brand strategy. It is a reactionary course (smart though it may be in the short term).
Most hospitals wait to make changes until they are forced to make them. If you see a loophole in the current policies imposed by the government, you know that it will eventually close that hole. That means making plans now, something that takes advantage and is strategic. Too many times hospitals get caught flat-footed by change because they are simply waiting for (and hoping against) change to happen.
Make changes ahead of the competition. Rebranding the hospital is where you need to start. The last one that crosses the finish line loses.