Traditional industries such as insurance have proven that pushing the boundaries — and profiting — is possible. Companies such as State Farm and Progressive continue to make their target markets find car insurance entertaining and the threat of accidents relatable.
However, because healthcare companies are more concerned with appearing reverent than creative, marketers have resorted to pushing out generic boilerplate campaigns. But as competition within the healthcare realm stiffens, marketers need to take a page from more innovative companies or risk losing the trust and dollars of a vastly growing market.
Where Healthcare Marketing Ails
Currently, healthcare marketing tends to revolve around a hospital’s cutting-edge technology or expertise, resulting in sterile, unimaginative campaigns.
While patients want to know their doctors are experienced, hospital trips also have an emotional component that marketers cannot overlook. Today’s consumer seeks personalized care and doesn’t want to be treated like a number on a spreadsheet. However, instead of empowering nurses and other patient-facing professionals who could help forge powerful human connections, healthcare companies defer to outsiders who have never even held a tongue depressor.
As a result, the classic image of the family doctor no longer resonates with a more cynical population that spends more time talking to the billing department than the physician. Only by showcasing the faces and personalities behind the hospital can healthcare marketers begin to reclaim consumer trust.
To start, healthcare providers need to stop thinking about marketing from a supplier’s standpoint and adopt the perspective of a modern customer-facing business, especially with their marketing campaigns. The time they waste with bureaucracy and layers of approval could be better spent streamlining messaging and outreach.
Rather than starving this essential department of resources and spending frivolously on competing with other hospitals, they should focus on building trust with patients and improving the quality of care. By continuing to fear change, conform to the norm, and push out emotionless campaigns, hospitals will be left to heal self-inflicted wounds of consumer distrust and skepticism.
The New Face of Marketing
The healthcare marketing strategies of 20 years ago will no longer work in today’s environment. With Baby Boomers reaching retirement age and frequenting their doctors’ offices, the competition to secure these patients is fiercer than ever. Because Millennials are skilled at filtering out inauthentic information, reaching them with traditional messages will be fruitless. Marketers have to find new ways to tap into these key demographics or risk losing them altogether.
Until the recent healthcare reforms, providers could sit back and wait for patients to find them. People now have options. The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey holds organizations accountable by assessing community outreach and PR. Because of this, CFOs have to focus on efficient reimbursements, readmission rates, and practicing what they preach. When the message doesn’t match the product, word spreads quickly across social media and healthcare review sites.
People today want more than facts; they want authenticity and transparency, and they know when they’re not hearing the whole truth.
How Healthcare Can Catch Up
CMOs who want to regain consumer confidence must have the courage to initiate sweeping changes within their organizations through a few key actions:
1. Don’t Chase the Dollars; Bring the Dollars to You
A heavily layered bureaucracy comes at a high cost. Studies have shown that it’s expensive and complex, and it forces hospitals to look outward and chase money to support their internal structures. Focusing on finding profitable sectors causes hospitals to neglect their internal assets, such as doctor performance and patient satisfaction. By making marketers focus their efforts on high-profit areas, hospitals waste and neglect valuable internal resources that could bring them more money in the long run.
Take a good look at the actual value the healthcare system provides, and measure it with real data. Analyze patient volume, doctor performance, patient satisfaction, and other relevant metrics to understand where and how your current strategy succeeds and fails. Then, take the results to the CEO to fund the change in direction instead of involving him from the start.
2. Monitor Your Online Presence
Social media and physician-rating sites may not be the most reliable resources for choosing a physician, but more than 40 percent of patients use social media to make healthcare decisions. Take a vested interest in your company’s online image by responding to reviews from disgruntled patients and highlighting glowing ones. Hospitals like Boston Children’s Hospital have benefited from making their web presence more emotionally invested. They’ve created a community of brand advocates and, more important, a network of support for patients and their families to share their own experiences.
3. Stand Up to Legal
Some situations require the legal department’s judgment, but a great CMO should push the marketing agenda on behalf of his team. Taking a proactive message to market is not the same as arguing with a patient while litigation is pending.
Saint Thomas Health challenged the status quo by inserting its beliefs into a thoughtful campaign, and the organization is only continuing to grow, recently opening four new locations.
4. Listen and Learn
To reach more patients with an effective message, CMOs need to come out from behind the desk and talk to actual healthcare practitioners and patients. As with doctors, providing an ivory tower diagnosis almost never works for marketers, either.
A few leaders in healthcare today already know the value of staying connected to the doctors and patients working on the front lines, but how can CMOs engage in campaigns when they’re not connected to the user experience their services are providing?
Companies that can connect with consumers in more meaningful ways will win their loyalty, and healthcare is no exception. In fact, receiving medical care is inherently emotional. By capitalizing on the human component of healthcare and treating it as a business with heart, marketers can revive the industry’s rightly earned integrity.