Healthcare Marketing: Five Deadly Marketing Sins for Hospitals

Sometimes healthcare marketing cannot only be ineffective but could do more harm than good.

Deadly Sins of Hospital MarketingHealthcare marketers work very hard to craft a message and effectively communicate to consumers.  And getting it right is an art.  We want to influence consumers and affect the choices they make.  But sometimes in our efforts we can do more harm than good.

Five deadly sins of marketing are outlined by Jonah Sachs, founder of Free Range Studios and author of Winning the Story Wars and summarized by Minda Zetlin  for Inc Magazine.  And each is appropriately accompanied with a story.  They would be worth noting by healthcare marketers.

1. Vanity

The ancient Greek story of Narcissus illustrates this sin, Sachs says. Narcissus, the handsomest hunter in the land became so entranced with his own reflection in a pool that he either remained immobilized there forever or fell in and drowned, depending on the version of the story.

For modern-day healthcare marketers there may be an even bigger risk: being ignored. “It’s hard to tell a story when you’re the main character and everything else is a background for your character’s greatness,” Sachs says. “You’re going to sound largely irrelevant to audiences who hear 3,500 marketing messages a day.” A better approach, he says, is to create a story where the customer (or someone just like him or her) is the hero.

2. Authority

In the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen, the emperor relies on the authority of his tailors who assure him he is clothed in cloth so fine only the wise can see it. Too embarrassed to admit that he sees nothing there, the emperor eventually finds himself nude in front of all his subjects.

The problem with relying on authority, whether subject matter experts or facts and statistics is two-fold, Sachs says. First, experts have been so flamboyantly wrong about so many things (remember the doctors who swore in the 1960s that smoking was safe?) that the public is instinctively mistrustful. Worse, by relying on facts you miss the chance to make a more heartfelt connection with customers. “If you can reach people on emotion and values, that’s a more powerful way of getting them marching toward you,” he says.

3. Insincerity

Remember the story of the wolf in sheep’s clothing, one of Aesop’s fables? A wolf that comes upon a sheepskin, puts it on, and hides within a flock. But the disguise works too well and the shepherd, mistaking the wolf for a sheep, slaughters him for his own dinner.

For modern healthcare marketers, the big risk of insincerity is getting found out or people knowing better. With the internet, Twitterverse, Blogosphere, and so much social media out there, it’s fairly difficult to fool anyone for long. And with so much data now available about hospitals and physicians from independent sources and patient reviews it’s very difficult trying to be something we aren’t. You want to reach out to a new audience but you must deliver on your promise.

4. Puffery

The down side of pretending to be bigger than you are is displayed in this unforgettable line from “The Wizard of Oz”: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

“The idea is that we can speak in the disembodied voice of God and have people listen, rather than finding our unique and human voice,” Sachs says. “Finding that human voice is a step that healthcare marketers so often miss. Consumers particularly want to see the human beings behind the brand.

5. Gimmickry

Sachs illustrates this sin with the tale of King You of Zhou who repeatedly calls out his warriors on a false alarm to coax a laugh out of his hard-to-amuse trophy wife. You can guess the rest: The kingdom actually does come under attack so he lights the distress beacons but the warriors stay home, believing it to be another gag.

There’s nothing wrong with being clever, Sachs says, but trying too hard can backfire–which is why, he says, most Super Bowl ads aren’t very effective at selling their products. It’s great to try to be clever to connect with your audience.  But you can run the risk of undermining your message and your brand.

These are not the only mistakes marketers make but one that can be deadly for our brands.  Clear, concise, honest massages told in ways that connect to our audiences are always the best approach.

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors

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