Hospital Advertising: Longer ER Wait Better?

January 11, 2010

Hospitals should be careful advertising wait times for their ER.  It could be misleading.

Some hospitals are now advertising wait times for their ER.  Such tactics are receiving much publicity and attention. Hospitals are using digital billboards or referencing websites where patients can see current wait times. On the one hand, these hospitals should be applauded for communicating relevant patient information and for being aggressive with their marketing.  But there are some points that should be considered before advertising wait times.  

Wait times at a hospital’s ER are always fluid.  Circumstances can drastically change wait times. Serious injuries that are presented at the ER will take precedence over less serious ones. Should that happen, the patient could feel seriously misled by the information advertised. A person with chest pains could think they would have to wait a certain length of time based on advertised times and not realize they would receive treatment priority regardless of wait times.

“Frankly, my opinion is that it’s a very bad idea to put waiting times up on a billboard,” stated Dr. David Seaberg, an American College of Emergency Physicians board member and dean of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Chattanooga for an article in the Los Angeles Times.  “When you get seen is a very complex process….To put out a number can be misleading.” 

A few hospitals are also buying a service that allows a patient to go online and for a fee, reserve a time to be seen.  This is a bit risky because a patient doesn’t always know how serious their condition is.  While they had rather wait at home instead of in an ER, they would be much safer in an ER in case complications develop or conditions worsen. Additionally, in essence, to “sell” appointment times seems a bit inappropriate for healthcare organizations. 

Again, marketing aggressiveness and a hospital’s efforts to be transparent and communicate helpful consumer information is to be commended.  But a hospital has the obligation to act responsibly and to do what’s best in patient care.  It can be questioned if advertising ER wait times is fulfilling that obligation.

When it comes to advertising ER wait times, perhaps the best thing to do is wait?

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Healthcare Marketing: Niche Marketing Your Niche?

January 11, 2010

Relying on niche marketing may cost you the opportunity to reach a new audience and grow your brand.

Mass marketing is becoming more difficult due to fragmented media.  Mass marketing often means paying for wasted exposure…exposure that is not effective for your brand.  And mass marketing can be more costly.  So the current trend is to niche market.  To narrowly target audiences.  To allocate time and resources to reach a narrowly defined audience of current or highly potential audience.   And there are valid arguments for such a marketing approach.

However, there is a significant downside. You may be missing the opportunity to develop new customers and new markets.   Advertising has the ability to expose consumers to new ideas, new options and choices.  Consumers may never know they would want to try a product or service without advertising that exposes the consumer to that product or service.  Consumers may not know they have choices without exposure to advertising.

One of the great attributes of advertising in a free enterprise system is its ability to create a mass market by creating awareness for the product or service. In an interview in Forbes of  Susan Credle, U.S. chief office of Publicis Leo Burnett, Chicago, Credle states it very well, “Unlike a lot of people who claim advertising pushes products on people, I’ve always believed advertising exposes people to choices. Advertising might show me something that I’d never thought about before, something that might make a difference in my life. And on the business side, brands might find people they never knew would love them. When I was in high school I saw a Chanel spot shot by Ridley Scott: Share the Fantasy. Was I the target? Absolutely not. Did I go out and buy Chanel No. 5? Yes. And do I still buy Chanel products today? Yes. All because of an ad I never would have seen if they were narrowly targeting”. 

Niche marketing has it advantages.  But so does mass marketing.  To solely rely on niche or narrow marketing, you could be missing the opportunity to attract new customers and create new markets.  It could limit your customer base to a niche and never reach a potentially strong and profitable market.  

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Hospital Marketing: More Patients Turning to Social Media for Advice

November 29, 2009

Hospitals should be proactive in using social media to connect and engage patients about their healthcare issues and concerns.

As much as healthcare officials are concerned about privacy and protocol, it’s not stopping patients from using the web to gather information concerning their health issues.  A Pew Internet  and American Life Project study shows that 61% of adults indicate they look online for health information.  Most of these e-patients go online to gather information about specific health conditions.

The study also indicates that as many as 20% of adults go online and use social media sites to gather and share health information.  “The Internet is now not just information,” says Susannah Fox, with the Internet and American Life Project.  “There is a social life of information online.  And people are using these tools to connect with friends and family, to connect with health professionals.  And they are accessing a much deeper level of information than they were five years ago.”   

As consumers take to social media and use it more, it’s only natural that they will use it for their health concerns.  Patients will reach out on social media sites to find others who share common experiences and learn from others.  There is a great sharing of information about symptoms, treatments, side effects and results.  And there is great encouragement by sharing experiences with others who are having similar experiences.

Hospital marketers perhaps can learn from this to establish Facebook pages and/or Twitter accounts for patients in a local area to share and gather information.  It would provide a great service to the patients and also extend the hospital’s brand to these sites as a facilitator and a sharer of pertinent information.  It’s not a place for the hospital to push it services or “advertise” but a place that allows patients to honestly share information with others and the hospital to provide helpful medical and health information.

There could be Facebook pages or Twitter accounts set up for special interest groups like diabetes, cancer, maternity, young mothers and children of parents who are aging.  The list is almost endless.  Where ever there is a health condition where patients seek to gather and share information, there is an opportunity to use social media.  There could be social media uses for just about every patient support groups that already exists so patients can do online what they do in periodically face-to-face meetings.  And medical specialists in those areas could provide frequent and pertinent information that would be useful to those who visit the social media site.

Such efforts would provide a very useful service, build engagement and loyalty while enhancing the hospital’s brand.

Joseph Shapiro writing for NPR on November 16,2009  quoted Jamie Heywood, who established Patients Like Me, “The amazing shift is that we’ve pushed out this concept of sharing.”  She continued, “you can find another patient who knows what you are going through, someone who is on the same treatments, is dealing with the same side effects…. whatever variable matters to you at the moment.  To find out whether your concerns are justified, they make sense, whether you’re doing the right thing – that’s the transformation.”

There are great opportunities for hospitals to use social media to connect and engage consumers as well as provide useful and meaningful information. Consumers will find each other and engage in conversations. Shouldn’t hospitals join in that conversation?


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Hospital Marketing: Competing with Smaller Ad Budgets

November 29, 2009

Social media has leveled the playing field and made it possible for marketers with smaller budgets to compete effectively.

There is a lot of talk these days about brands that have large budgets being threatened by competitors with much smaller budgets.  Some believe scale is losing its effectiveness because social media is having a leveling effect.  An article in Advertising Age  on November 17, 2009 by Jeff Neff outlined the discussion recently held at the Association of National Advertisers in Phoenix.  National advertisers, due to their large marketing budgets, who could overwhelm smaller competitors are now taking notice that those competitors are making headway in the battle for consumers.

Brad Casper, CEO of Henkel’s U.S. business stated, “New  media, social media, has been the great equalizer”.   He cited the successful launches by Purex Natural Elements and Dial Yogurt body wash that have gained significant share despite significantly lower budgets, by using PR, digital and social-media components.  Neff also referenced Colgate-Palmolive who has built or maintained market share in categories such as body wash, oral care and laundry against competitors who have spent much larger amounts in measured media.

What does this have to do with healthcare marketing?  There are many hospitals that compete against much larger hospitals that overwhelm them with ad spending.  What can a hospital do with a much smaller budget?  If the packaged goods industry can teach hospital marketers anything, it’s that smaller budgets can be strategically utilized to compete more effectively. Larger hospitals are often very slow to adopt digital and social media strategies.  If that is the case, as it is with many large packaged goods brands, hospitals with smaller budgets can begin to penetrate the competitor’s market share. 

They can compete by:

  • Having a rich, useful and consumer-friendly website
  • Advertising on popular local websites
  • Concentrating on paid and organic search optimization
  • Establishing appropriate Facebook pages
  • Advertising on Facebook by matching services with highly targeted audiences
  • Using Twitter to communicate with healthcare special interest audiences

It’s a new form of guerilla marketing.  Digital and social-media can effectively be used to make a strong impact and create a stronger voice within the market.  Measured media is not to be discounted.  Some level of traditional media must be used.  But it can be supplemented with “new media” strategies that can help level the playing field that has been heavily weighted against the smaller marketer.

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Hospital Advertising: Americans Still Reading Newspapers

November 29, 2009

Newspapers provide strong reach as large numbers of adults access news either in print or online.

Many have written newspapers off.  It’s not considered to be a viable advertising medium by some. Newspaper advertising revenues, down 45% in the last four years, seem to support this.

However, Scarborough’s latest Integrated Newspaper Audience study revealed that 74% of American adults either read a newspaper or visit a newspaper Web site at least once a week.  Even though the Audit Bureau of Circulations  shows a 14% decline in audience of the 125 largest newspapers since 2004, newspapers still reach 171 million Americans.

Erik Sass reported in the November 17th issue of MediaPost that newspapers deliver even higher readership among the well-heeled and well-educated.   He cites that the Scarborough study indicates that 79% of white-collar workers, 82% of adults with household incomes over $100,000 and 84% of college graduates have read a newspaper in the past week.

It must be noted that a growing number of adults access the print medium online.  A Nielson Online study for the Newspaper Association of America indicates that unique monthly visits to newspaper websites have increased from 41.1 million in 2004 to 71.8 million in 2009.

So even though there is much written about the death of American newspapers, they still provide a great reach opportunity.  With the combination of space advertising and online advertising, newspapers can still be effective at reaching a large audience, especially among the more affluent and well-educated.  And in smaller markets, community newspapers can even provide stronger audiences.  Newspapers still have a place in the media plans of local hospitals.

Americans receive their news in new and various ways.  Certainly this affects media strategies.  But newspapers can’t be written off.  Either in print or on the web, it’s still “read all over”.

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Healthcare Marketing: Video and Social Media Not Good Together

November 29, 2009

Research indicates that video enhances online ads and emails but is not effective when used on social media sites.

Online video has proven to be a very effective tool increasing the engagement levels of online ads and emails.  But according to a study conducted by Eyeblaster, online video is not very effective when used on social sites.  Mike Shields, writing for the Nov 18, 2009 issue of Mediaweek, cited the research reporting that online video increases both Dwell Rate and Dwell Time when compared to other forms of online advertising but it performs better when adjacent to content or email.

Eyeblaster examined data from thousands of campaigns encompassing millions of impressions over the past year measuring user engagement (Dwell Rate) and the length of the engagement (Dwell Time).  They found that consumers browse social sites differently than they do websites and emails. “What we found is that people browse social networks really quickly”, stated Ariel Geifman, research analyst at Eyeblaster. “People spend a lot of time in social networks, but it’s not on the same web page”.

Even though the use of video on social sites has significantly increased, consumers browse social sites very quickly and do not take the time to view video.  This is in contrast to content rich websites where consumers stop and linger and become more engaged. “It’s the browsing habits”, added Geifman who concluded people have more time to look at an ad and become engaged when searching content oriented websites as compared to social sites.

As healthcare marketers experiment with social media, it’s important to learn as much as possible about consumer online habits.  Although maybe not obvious at first, the research from Eyeblaster makes sense.  People browse social media quickly and therefore are less inclined to take the time to view video as compared to content oriented sites where consumers are searching for information and therefore are willing to spend more time and become more engaged.  

Video has proven to improve the effectiveness of websites.  They increase Dwell Rate and Dwell Time.  But videos have a smaller chance to be effective on social media sites where consumers quickly browse to get caught up with friends and gather quick bits of information.     

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Hospital Advertising: TV Viewership Up – Mobile Marketing Down

November 22, 2009

Television viewership is up but mobile messaging is viewed less favorably.

With all the talk of the death of traditional advertising and the advent of new media, which some argue to be far superior, some recent trends dispel prevailing attitudes. Nielsen Research recently reported that TV viewership is at an all-time high.   And the average time spent watching television per day has increased to four hours and 49 minutes. Even though primetime viewing is relatively flat, it is at the highest levels since 1991.

On the other hand, Mark Dolliver reports in Adweek  that a BIGresearch study indicates that since June 2008, the percentages of people who don’t like mobile marketing has increased.  More specifically 67 percent don’t like text ads compared to 64 percent last year.

While new media offer unique opportunities, the rush to abandon traditional media for new media may be a bit premature.  Certainly hospital marketers should utilize new media to reach new consumers and to target specific audiences.  But to discount traditional media is a mistake.  Traditional media used correctly is still very effective.

Of course, the optimal approach is to combine traditional and new media for a well balanced and coordinated advertising strategy.  To ignore social media is like putting your head in the sand and refusing to recognize the unique opportunities it provides.  But to get carried away with the newness or novelty of something and forsake what has been consistently reliable is an equally severe mistake.

A strategic, coordinated advertising plan that takes advantage of each viable medium, both traditional and social options, is the best way to maximize effectiveness.               

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