Why hospital marketing must be rethoughtBy Tom Dougherty
Why hospital marketing must be rethought
A long time ago, hospitals were bastions of solidity. They belonged, at least in public mindset, to the citizens of the communities they served. Few thought of themselves as competitive businesses.
Regarded instead as indispensable utilities. Places that resolve emergencies and cure disease. Therefore, they never thought about hospital marketing as being akin to any other type of consumer marketing. And hospital rebranding seemed extreme. Hospital rebranding was only an afterthought after an acquisition or merger.
Now, everything has changed.
Just a decade ago, phrases like census, reimbursement and revision surgery existed but were unimportant. Today, every hospital administrator obsesses over census.
Revisional surgery is a reimbursement nightmare. And reimbursement dictates treatment. It seems the battle for talent, qualified staffing and profitability consumes the new world of hospital administration.
There is no way out of this marketspace. Just hold onto that thought. It is the entryway to hospital rebranding and the keystone of hospital marketing.
Marketspace is the key word in hospital rebranding
Like every business category, hospitals and medical centers fight for revenue in competitive marketspaces. Even if most hospital marketing doesn’t reflect it right now.
A bed taken in the competitor’s center is one less in your census. Every procedure must pass the administrator’s pen as well as the surgeon’s scalpel.
Life-saving procedures and latest technology acquisitions have business ramifications. Everything seems related to bottom line considerations.
No charter, no matter how lofty, can escape the crucible of balancing the books. No matter how large the endowment, administrators and board members recognize that reality of economics. Watch the bottom line or risk bottoming out.
The world of institutional medicine today is a cutthroat business model.
So how has hospital marketing coped?
Not well. Many hospitals have recognized the need for better hospital marketing, hospital rebranding and advertising. But, because advertising agencies are stuck in the 1990’s, the messaging does little to increase preference.
This is not the fault of hospital marketing departments. They must move mountains with barely a shovel and wheelbarrow. Despite knowing that competitive businesses require marketing budgets, even the most forward-looking administrators have difficulty balancing marketing dollars vs life-saving expenditures.
Advertising agencies fail the hospitals. Everything they propose is trite, meaningless and predictable. And they don’t understand a rebrand, let alone a complicated hospital rebranding.
You know the drill. Place billboards on well-travelled roadways. List your hospital’s top 10% rating in US News and World Report. Tell the community your cardiac surgery is in the top 10% of medical centers in your region.
Speak to positive outcomes.
Or, even worse, place a live billboard on the highway that minute-by-minute shows the waiting time in you emergency room. (We will come back to that idea in a minute.)
When all that hospital marketing fails to build preference (and it will absolutely fail), the agency will propose spending money on social media. Post YouTube videos and promote your Facebook page. It seems cheap compared to more traditional media. In this case, we all recognize you get what you pay for. They won’t even mention the possibility of hospital rebranding.
Sure, the ad agency can count LIKES. But research demonstrates that LIKES do not make a brand. They don’t translate into higher census counts. The competing medical center with the most likes is not a sure winner in the battle for patients. We do it because, in the utter exasperation of failure, it is something we can at least count. But because we can count it does it count? Nope. It’s just the agency’s way to increase billing.
What is missing?
How about a compelling hospital marketing message? Something that positions your hospital as different and better than the competition?
If everyone claims world-class departments, how does your claim to the same make you preferred? This is why hospital rebranding makes sense. It provides permission to be seen as new but builds on your important past.
Think about banks for a second. They run around telling potential customers that they are safe, been around a long time, have competitive rates, free checking, convenient locations, friendly employees and lots of ATMs.
Is not that the definition of a bank? Who would place money in a bank they believed was not safe? Which bank advertises high fees, miserable employees and inconvenient locations?
The values they claim are the bare minimum of what it means to be a bank. The result? In the banking market, less than 3% of the population changes banks. Of the 3%, almost all change only because they have moved to a new home.
Hospitals do the same
Hospital marketing and most hospital rebranding only promotes what a gambler calls table stakes. It is the minimum you must wager at the blackjack table to play. Anyone with the minimum is a player.
Patients expect great outcomes. They expect your cardiac surgical unit to be top-shelf. They expect your oncology department to treat all types of cancer. Successfully.
Your emergency room does not build preference. Everyone has one. They all treat emergencies. Even patients have heard of triage. They understand that no matter how busy an ER, if you are bleeding out, the ER will treat you immediately. Same for a stroke or heart attack. Waiting lines are for non-critical needs.
So why advertise your ER wait times? Because some advertising executive thought it was a clever idea? No one is out for a drive, sees a three-minute wait time and speeds to the ER.
No one who needs an ER would drive further. It’s just silly. The only message it conveys is bad news. Long wait times.
There are no pat answers when it comes to effective hospital marketing and hospital rebranding. Every hospital and medical center’s market is different. For that reason, we always field projectable market research as part of the strategic development. Without that research we would not recommend hospital rebranding either.
We are not talking about focus groups or self-selecting patient satisfaction studies. The afore mentioned are not projectable to the community.
We field double-blinded projectable market research that lays bare the needs and wants of the physical and, most importantly, the emotional triggers.
We build your messaging on that research. Our process has effectively repositioned many large and small hospitals. Others covet our medical expertise as well.
Medtronic, Abbott, Integra LifeSciences and Wright Medical utilize our skills at persuasion as well.
But it’s not our hospital experience that you should covet. Your current advertising agency claims that.
We are experts in persuasion. We ask the right questions. As a result, our small firm in Greensboro NC with a small office in NYC have clients all over the globe. Our success speaks volumes.