Should You Go All-in on Brand Marketing?

Healthcare systems across the country seem to be jumping back on the branding wagon. They are hiring marketing vice presidents from consumer brand companies and engaging multinational advertising agencies. The idea is to create a pull strategy that causes consumers to demand your healthcare system. That, in turn, gives you leverage when negotiating insurance reimbursement rates.

But will new logos and television ads alone create that demand?

Probably not.

Designer team sketching a logo in digital design studio on computer, creative graphic drawing skills for marketing and branding (own design elements on the computer screen)

Creating and maintaining a strong brand that’s recognizable and desirable is important. When it comes time to needing healthcare services, you want your healthcare system’s name to be at the top of the list. But research shows that people tune out messaging unless they are in the market for that product or service at the time they see the ad. And they’re much more likely to “demand” a product when they’ve experienced it in the past.

Think of Lexus. The carmaker was named No. 1 in brand loyalty for luxury cars this summer by J.D. Power. While the company spends plenty on advertising its brand, its true brand value comes from previous owners who know they can depend on the car for years without needing repairs. “When a brand can connect emotionally with owners through the vehicle’s content, capabilities or prestige level, owners are much more likely to come back and purchase that same brand again,” says Tyson Jominy, vice president of data and analytics at J.D. Power.

The same is true in healthcare. Just knowing your name or hearing a great story is not enough to make consumers demand your healthcare system. They need a positive experience–either one of their own or one of someone they know.

And that’s where volume marketing comes in.

Brand vs. Volume Marketing in Healthcare

Brand marketing involves establishing an identity or personality for your hospital or healthcare system that’s instantly recognizable. One that people trust, feel connected with, and ultimately loyal to. Branding is long-range marketing. It requires consistency and commitment.

Volume marketing, on the other hand, is focused on filling up tomorrow’s appointments today. The goal here is short-term lead generation.

Think of it this way: Brand marketing tells a story about how your hospital performed a miraculous organ transplantation. It establishes your system as a leader in complex medicine. It’s impressive enough to leave a memory when it comes time to choose a healthcare provider.

Volume marketing, on the other hand, is immediate. Get patients in the door for a mammogram or colonoscopy and you’re likely to help find and treat cancer in its early stages—a win-win for you and the patient.

Brand marketing is typically conducted through mass media advertising. Volume marketing is conducted on the ground. Brand marketing tends to be expensive because it needs to reach a lot of people over and over. Volume marketing can generate immediate ROI.

In an ideal world, you’ll invest in both brand marketing and volume marketing to ensure you have patients today—and tomorrow—for your healthcare system.

Funnel generation people office workers team characters. Successful business concept. Vector flat cartoon graphic design

Finding the Right Mix

It’s easy to get wooed into focusing only on brand marketing. After all, that’s what the big hospital systems like Dignity Health and AdventHealth (formerly Adventist Health System) are doing. It also might be what your C-suite is asking for (“We want to be the Johns Hopkins of South Dakota!”). But make no mistake, those same executives will come looking for you if volumes and revenues take a nosedive at the end of next quarter.

So, you know you need to do both brand marketing and volume marketing. But what’s the right mix? There’s no correct formula because it all depends on your unique situation. Here are some questions to get you started:

  1. Do you have a strong brand in place that consumers can differentiate from other hospitals in your area? Can consumers recall your name? More importantly, do consumers say they prefer to be treated at your healthcare system? (Speaking of consumer preferences, when was the last time you conducted a meaningful consumer survey?)
  • Do you have a C-suite that understands and supports (by voice and by budget) long-term brand marketing and short-term volume marketing? Is marketing at the table during discussions about contracting and revenue projections?
  • Does your community skew younger or older? Demographics and health needs play an important factor in deciding the mix between branding (long-term) and volume (short-term). 
  • Do your physicians have the capacity for new patients or are they working six weeks out? If you create demand, can it be met?
  • Have you recently opened new services or facilities? Are these in geographic locations where people already know your brand, or are you an unknown player?

These are just a few of the questions you need to research during your strategic planning. Once you know how your healthcare system is positioned and its greatest needs, you’ll be on your way to understanding how to best apportion your resources.