Got a cough? Forget the doctor. Go to a grocery store.
That’s right. Medical clinics are springing up in supermarkets, mass-merchandise outlets and drug stores, and they are handling simple diagnoses for walk-in patients.
But think carefully about how you might use them as a promotional channel. They are careful when choosing marketing partners.
Founded seven years ago, MinuteClinic is the oldest and biggest chain. It has 149 clinics in 18 states, and is planning “aggressive expansion” through 2010, says Stacy Hintermeister, the chain’s vice president of marketing.
The chain had been distributing product samples, but that slowed down when it was acquired by CVS in October. It is now talking with Johnson & Johnson and Wyeth Labs, for these firms “share our passion for healthcare education,” Hintermeister says.
As for other brands, “I’m just waiting for one of them to come up with some really great ideas,” Hintermeister says. “First you have to pass our quality mandate.”
Take Care has 36 clinics in Walgreen’s and Eckerd drug stores, mostly in the Midwest, and plans to have 250 clinics by the end of the year. But it has decided that it won’t hand out drug samples, and it’s still figuring out how to handle other marketing requests.
“Many companies are interested in reaching the patients we reach, but we’re focused exclusively on providing the best healthcare and information,” says Kate Ferris, chief marketing officer for Take Care Health Services.
“We’ve had discussions with other brands, but not doing anything with them now.”
RediClinic, on the other hand, is gearing up for widespread sampling of OTC medicines. This winter, clinic visitors were given a free cough-and-cold survival kit containing tissues, a thermometer strip and samples of Triaminic, Theraflu and Alka Seltzer.
Among other things, this test allowed the chain get its feet wet before going systemwide, says William Melendy, RediClinic’s director of marketing.
How does RediClinic hook up with OTC brands? Through Interfit Health, a sister company that handles health screenings and immunizations in schools and corporate campuses. In addition, it has a marketing staffer researching CPGs to find “mutually beneficial” partnerships, says spokesperson Jennifer Friedmann.
But RediClinic won’t co-market with pharmaceutical brands. “There’s a fine line with product endorsements, so we’ve stayed away from partnerships with pharmaceutical companies,” Friedmann says.
The firm has 32 units in Wal-Mart, H.E.B., Duane Reade and Walgreen’s stores in several states. But it plans to add another 500 clinics by 2009.
Clinic, Heal Thyself
Even as the chains sort out their policies for brand marketers, they have to build awareness for themselves and for retail clinics in general.
How do they do it? MinuteClinic, Minneapolis, is testing everything from TV and radio to print ads.
“We’re looking at what offers drive traffic and awareness,” Hintermeister says. “We need a combination of those to really make the model work. Because we’re inventing the category and building the brand, there’s quite a bit of consumer education going on, plus building trust.”
The chain also hopes to spur word-of-mouth among moms. “That’s one of my most powerful marketing tools,” says Hintermeister, who came to Minute Clinic as a customer nearly three years ago.
Take Care relies on local print, TV and radio targeted primarily to women age 25 and over. The chain hosts health fairs, and has begun running promotions to drive traffic. This month, which is Heart Health Month, it will give patients get a pedometer, Ferris says.
Ferris says the clinics also use “fun branded things” like Band-Aids, tissues and hand sanitizer, via Milwaukee premiums shop Wild Impact.
RediClinic, meanwhile, has sent postcard mailings to households with kids in a three- to-four-mile radius of each clinic. The promotions tend to be seasonal.
For example, a New Year’s Resolution promo offered a blood pressure check, blood test and body-mass index measurement, with a coupon for $10 off get-well services, Melendy says. A March mailing will focus on coughs, colds and allergies, and the spring campaign will highlight camp physicals for kids.
One thing’s for sure: The field is growing. There should be 500 clinics operating by the end of this year — up from 160 five months ago, according to Managed Healthcare Executive magazine. Consumers can visit them in malls, supermarkets, mass-merchandise outlets and drugstores.
Of course, seasoned marketers sometimes have trouble translating medical terms into Mom language.
Ferris, who joined Take Care when the company formed 18 months ago, had been a brand manager for Tylenol, and still the terms confused her. “I said to these guys, ‘When you say ‘acute care’ to me, that means it’s very serious, like your arm is hanging off,’ and they said, ‘No, ‘acute’ means the sniffles.”