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The Challenge of Being Transparent in Hospital Marketing

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Hospital marketing professionals have a range of inordinate challenges before them when it comes to promoting a facility or system in an effective way.

These challenges stem from a variety of causes: healthcare, in today’s world, has become increasingly political and polarizing; consumers largely view healthcare as a commodity and facilities as interchangeable; consumers feel detached from the healthcare process beyond self-diagnosis and choosing a doctor; the labyrinth that is medical billing overwhelms, confuses, and discourages patients.

Transparent communication in hospital marketing can alleviate many of these problems, but that poses a challenge in and of itself. How can hospital marketing pros be more transparent in their communications to earn the trust of their target audience and communicate differentiating quality?

The Obstacles to Transparency

Being transparent and clear about a hospital’s benefits and offerings can be difficult for facilities for a few reasons:

  • Many hospitals don’t want to “pull back the curtain,” so to speak, on medical billings, including cost of services
  • Healthcare in general has become politicized
  • Hospitals offer a wide range of services to a wide range of people
  • Consumers aren’t always willing to talk about their health
  • Costs become difficult to comprehend, especially when insurance companies are in the discussion
  • All services and physicians are not created equal

 

There are also many different stakeholders in the process. It’s not just the patient; it’s the patient’s family, insurance company, physicians and employers. These agents can interfere with clear, open communication.

Creating Transparent Communication

The most effective hospital marketing strategies overcome transparency issues and offer differentiation when it comes to their competition – even if they operate as a de facto monopoly in a given area.

One suggestion for perhaps being more transparent is being open with statistics and conveying them in a direct, easy-to-understand manner. For example, be honest about infection rates, medication error rates, and any other statistic about healthcare that your target audience would be interested in. Do so in a clear way without using jargon. Saying, “A typical post-surgery infection rate is one in 1,000” is acceptable, but it’s not quite as good as saying, “One out of every 1,000 patients who undergo surgery will get an infection.”

One might think that being forward with such knowledge could be negative, but the opposite may be  true; it is a positive way to establish trust and differentiate a facility from the rest.

Another suggestion for transparency is to be clear and open about what the hospital truly excels at – the hospital’s competitive advantage. This is not to imply that a hospital is “bad” at other areas, per se, but it does state, clearly, that consumers have one main choice when it comes to quality care in this particular area. By focusing on strengths, a hospital can begin to set itself apart in a meaningful way.

Additionally, a hospital can be open about the process it uses to bill and charge patients for their services. Many hospitals are loath to reveal specific costs and pricing information, which is understandable. Even if that’s the case, though, finding a compromise or middle-of-the-road path can reap benefits. Consumers are far more likely to choose a hospital that at least makes an attempt at clarifying the billing process and revealing the nature of costs and prices for services.

Having that particular conversation is, in a word, frightening for many in the healthcare profession, but it needn’t be. Transparency ultimately wins the hearts and minds of a consumer, and the more transparent hospital marketing professionals are, the better their results will be.

Consult with a hospital marketing agency like TotalCom to learn more about how you can expand transparency and deliver more effective messages.

 

Healthcare Marketing: 10 Tips for More Effective Social Media Marketing

Scientific research indicates that certain proven strategies can enhance social marketing efforts.

Healthcare marketers are striving to improve their social media efforts.  There are a lot of varying strategies espoused, making it difficult to know which ones are most effective.  Social networking is certainly not a proven scientific endeavor.   There are some basic competencies required, but it also involves some degree of art, intuition and luck.

Dan Zarrela describes himself as an award winning social, search and viral marketing scientist.  He is the author of several books and numerous articles about social media.   He is a noted student of social marketing and is recognized as a knowledgeable expert.

Zarrela posted an article discussing how to make social marketing more scientific. His points are excellent and are the basis of the ten tips listed below:

1.  Experiment with different strategies to discover what works. Conduct your own research.  Try different things and learn what is most effective for your hospital.

2.  Audience size is important. Certainly you want a quality audience but quantity is very important.  Hospitals need engaged followers but also need a large number of them.

3.  Find and target your influencers.  Among your fans/followers there are key influencers.  Usually it’s those who were early adopters of social media.   Extra attention and care should be given to them.

4.  Bigger and louder works – to a point. It’s possible to yell over the social media clutter but only for a limited time.   If you yell too much, you will be tuned out.

5.   Personalize the conversation with your audience.   Make it personal and authentic.  Everyone likes hearing his or her name. And to be the center of attention. Know that!  And use it to your advantage.

6.  Avoid link fatigue.  Don’t wear your audience out with too many links.  Your audience will grow tired and lose interest.

7.  Make your brand cool. I know that’s somewhat difficult for hospitals but find ways to help your audience improve their reputations and status by being associated with your brand.

8.  Avoid information voids. Rumors and misperceptions form when there is a lack of information.  Always get out in front of every potential crisis.

9.   Don’t talk too much about yourself. Take it easy on yourself.  No one wants to be engaged in conversation with someone who talks about himself all the time.   How boring is that!

10.  Use call-to action.  As is true with every type of marketing, you ultimately want your audience to take action. Compel your audience to do so.  And make it easy for them to do so.

Healthcare marketers are  still learning when and how to do social marketing effectively.  And we are learning more and more everyday.   Trial and error and experimentation will teach us a lot.  But learning from those who  have experience and who are avid students of social media can certainly improve our learning curve. That’s why tips listed here are so very helpful.

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Healthcare Branding: Leave Good (Marketing) Alone or Change?

The strongest brands are the ones that hold a consistent marketing message year after year after year.

In marketing we like to tinker.  Tinker with ideas, messages and positioning. Update the logo,  change the commercial, freshen the copy, etc. And sometimes we make wholesale changes.  Tinkering is necessary from time to time but unless our brand position is entirely flawed it rarely needs major changes. It’s not uncommon for brands to make radical changes year after year.  We somehow think changes are necessary.  But are they really?

Take Fed Ex as an example.  They positioned themselves as the overnight carrier.  Remember, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight”?  They branded that message in our brains.  There was no doubt who they were and what they stood for.  As a result they became very successful.  Can you tell me what their brand position is today?  What do they stand for?  Why did they think they had to change from that brand position?  They were highly successful, why did they need to change?  If you’re like me, you remember their initial brand position and the funny television spots that supported it.  I can’t tell you any of the various other brand statements they’ve had since.  In my mind they are still the overnight carrier.  That is still their market advantage regardless of all the other positions they’ve tried to take over the past decade.

Remember “Pizza. Pizza.”  I bet you can tell me what brand is associated with that positioning statement.  Little Caesars.  They had a simple brand position: two pizzas for the price of one.   With it they rose out of obscurity and became the number two pizza chain in America.   What is their brand statement today?  And what is their market position today?  As Al Ries outlines in an article in Ad Age, Little Caesars evolved from that one simple concept to trying to be other things with multiple brand messages.  They emphasized delivery and then “Big” pizza and abandoned the “Pizza. Pizza.” message.  Now, Little Caesars’ sales have declined 42% and they’re a distant fourth in market share.   They had a simple, solid concept and a strong brand message.  But they felt the need to change it.  Can you tell me what their positioning is today?

There are many other brand examples that could be cited but the point is clear I think.  Those brands that have a strong and effective brand position and stick to it usually become stronger. But brands get tired of their position.  The market says they need to change and evolve.  Marketers feel like they need to change to justify their jobs.  And so we change for all the wrong reasons.  And more often than not, we end up with multiple and diluted messages and no strong brand position.

Sure, sometimes market situations require a change.  But not nearly as often as we think.  Can you say Fed Ex could have a more powerful message today that “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight”?  Or that Little Caesars could have a more relevant message in the marketplace than “Pizza. Pizza.” – two pizzas for the price of one?

For brands, change for change sake is not a good thing.  For healthcare marketers, we need a strong message, a story that resonates with the consumer, a brand with a promise.  And we need to stick to it.  Continuity ad consistency with one simple, and powerful message will make our brand grow stronger and stronger over time. We must resist the change for change sake.


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Healthcare Marketing: Boomers Spending Big on Technology

Baby Boomers are into technology, spending more money on technology than any other age group.

Technology and social media are ways to reach the younger generations.  Right?  Not so fast. Baby boomers might be the real target.  The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that baby boomers have fully embraced technology.  They are the biggest spenders on technology according to Forrester Research’s annual benchmark tech study.

Think about the boomers you know.  The typical boomer has a desktop computer at work, a laptop at home, are on facebook, have a smartphone, have multiple accounts on the internet, DVRs their favorite television shows and is wishing for an iPad. If they don’t already have one.

“It’s actually a myth that baby boomers aren’t into technology.  They represent 24% of the population, but they consume 40% (in total dollars spent) of it”, stated Patricia McDonough, senior VP-analysis at Nielsen and reported by Beth Snyder Bulik in Ad Age.

Baby boomers are not early adapters but they certainly pile on.   Ten years ago only 25% of boomers went online daily.  Today 70% go surfing everyday.   And examine these stats about baby boomers:

  • 47% use social media
  • One in five use social media every day
  • A full 66% use their cell phone for texting
  • 91% use email
  • 88% use search engines
  • 78% use the internet to research health information
  • 74% get news from the internet

Baby boomers are aging and have become huge users of health services and that will grow tremendously as they age. To healthcare marketers they are a huge and critical target audience and if we think they can only be reached by traditional media we are making a critical mistake. Technology and social media have been embraced by boomers and have become a very common and pervasive part of their lives.  Technology, new media and social networking are effective ways to reach, communicate and even build relationships with those 45-64 ears old.

Boomers are the greatest spending generation.  And they spend their money and their time on technology.  It would be a huge disconnect for healthcare marketers to assume otherwise.

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Healthcare Marketing: Newspaper Decline Tapering Off

The decline in newspapers’ paid circulation is slowing down and online views of newspaper sites are continuing to increase.

Newspapers have faced a strong decline in paid circulation over the past several years.  It has been a great cause of concern for the industry and has lead to the death of several notable dailies.  And it has been a concern of advertisers as well.  Previously a mainstay of any advertising plan, its reach and effectiveness has taken a serious hit.

But it appears the decline in readership is finally slowing. In an article in Ad Age , Nat Ives reports that the Audit Bureau of Circulations indicated an 8.7% decrease in circulation during the latest reporting period compared to 10.6% in the previous period. Newspapers’ Sunday paid circulation fell 6.5% compare to 7.5% in the previous period. However, with the decline there are still nearly 100 million adults who read a newspaper every day, according to Scarborough Research.

The good news is that newspapers are attracting more and more viewers to their websites. Nielsen Online data indicated that newspaper websites have over 74.4 million unique visitors per month, more that a third of all internet users.

Healthcare marketers have traditionally relied on newspaper advertising as a key component of their advertising plan.  With the continuing decline in circulation, the medium has become less and less effective.  Advertising rates should reflect the decrease in readers.  The negative effect has been less dramatic in smaller markets where consumers have fewer sources for local news.  And newspaper websites are becoming more and more attractive as an advertising medium as more and more consumers go online for their news.

The advertising landscape continues to change.  It presents unique challenges and new opportunities for marketers.  Trends in reach and frequency and impact must continue to be monitored and allocation of dollars must shift appropriately to assure maximum effectiveness for our advertising expenditures.

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Healthcare Marketing: Are We Training Unhappy Customers/Patients to Whine on the Web?

Unhappy customers are often finding that using social media sites to complain gets faster and better results than ordinary customer service venues.

A disgruntled JetBlue customer was slapped with a $50 fee for checking a box containing a fold-up bicycle, clothes and some cheese. The box met the height and weight requirements for free baggage but JetBlue’s policy for checking a bicycle called for a $50 fee.  The angry customer called the airline’s customer service center but was repeatedly told the fee was company policy and there were no exceptions.  But then the customer went online to social media sites and complained. It was soon on Twitter and within three days JetBlue called the cyclist to tell him his $50 charged had been reversed.

In the past, a customer complaint was handled usually with a phone call or maybe by email and the matter in question was handled either satisfactorily or unsatisfactorily.  It was done quietly and just between the customer and the company.  But now, consumers have at their disposal, social media.  Now a dissatisfied customer can let the world know about his complaints.  And companies now monitor those online comments and in their desire to stop the flow of bad blood and demonstrate their responsiveness will quickly satisfy an angry customer.  Companies are much more likely to give a favorable response to a customer who has broadcast his complaint over the internet than one who follows the traditional lines of customer service.

Michael Bush addressed this issue in an article in Ad Age.  He cited the above incident as an example of how companies are training customers to take their complaints to the web.  He concludes that those who publicly flog a company on the internet by using social media get faster and better resolution to their issues.

He quotes Pete Blackshaw, EVP of Nielsen Online Digital Strategic Services. “The consumer sees two completely different faces, and ultimately that kills credibility, erodes equity and more.” As a defensive measure brands are much more likely to favorably satisfy a customer complaint that comes through the web than through traditional means and that is creating a huge credibility problem with the brand.

Perhaps companies are training consumers to whine about them on the web.  Why shouldn’t they?  They get a quick and favorable response.  But that is a dangerous precedent. Complaints that come through traditional customer service channels should receive the same treatment as those that appear in social media.  Otherwise we are inviting unhappy consumers to take their dissatisfaction to the web. It’s much better to address and resolve consumer (and patient!) issues in private through traditional customer service channels than to be unresponsive and read about it, on the internet.  Along with the rest of the world.

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Healthcare Marketing: Have We Lost Our Marketing Way?

Today’s emphasis on social media, analytics and ROI has taken the place of the “Big Idea.”  And brands are weaker because of it.

When you scan the topics of marketing conventions, examined the titles of webinars that are available everyday and study what marketing subjects are most tweeted, you will find the marketing landscape is covered and dominated by new processes and platforms.   All the talk is about social media, digital platforms, analytics, market segmentation and targeting, lead generation and tracking and ROI.   Where is the discussion about  “big ideas”?  About creativity?  About speaking uniquely to the consumers’ hearts and minds?

Now all of these things are important and create exciting opportunities.  But none of them really matter absent the right, break-through idea.   Where is today’s equivalent of Volkswagen’s “Think Small”, DeBeers’ “Diamonds Are Forever”, “The Absolut Bottle” or Avis’ “We Try Harder?”   Oh there are currently some great campaigns but it seems we have too often substituted creativity for things we can compute and measure.

Brands benefit from savvy marketing tactics and superior media planning but great brands are built with great ideas.  Sure there are some new powerful media platforms but they cannot make a bad idea good.  Or a build a great brand from mediocre concepts. All the best new communication platforms and the analytics that go with them can’t capture the heart and soul of a brand.  Or the critical position in the consumers’ minds.

Maybe our first question should be “what” and not “how”.  An architect conceives a great structure before deciding the tools and materials to use.  An artist has an idea for a subject before deciding on the techniques and colors. And a composer hears a grand symphony in his mind before deciding the instruments to use.   And as marketers, we should have a great concept, a big idea, before deciding where to place it.

New tactics and processes can make us more efficient but great brands they do not make.  Great brands come from breakthrough ideasMarketing should be less about analytics and more about inspiration. Less about measured results and more about creativity.   After all, great brands are created and transformed by big ideas.

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Healthcare Marketing: Online Ads Have Better Recall and Likeability

Recent research indicates online advertising has better recall and likeability than traditional television ads.

In a study of over 14,000 surveys, the results indicate that online commercials have better general recall, brand recall, message recall and likeability than traditional television advertising. The survey results were reported in the MediaDaily News in an article written by Wayne Friedman.

Online video ads had a 65% general recall compared to 46% general recall for television.  Brand recall online was 50% to TV’s 28%; message online recall comes in at 39% to TV’s 21%; and online likeability was 26% to TV’s 14%. The study was conducted by Dave Kaplan senior vice president pf product leadership at Nielsen IAG and Beth Uyenco, director of global research at Microsoft.

There were three primary reasons online video advertising was more effective:

  • Internet video viewers are more engaged and attentive.  This is partly due to it newness as a media.
  • The inability to skip ads.  About one-third of U.S. viewers of traditional television has the ability to skip ads.  That ability does not currently exist with online videos.
  • Reduced advertising clutter.  Online videos have about 4 minutes of advertising per hour compared to 15 minutes for traditional TV.   However the frequency of online ads is increasing.  Advertising’s sweet spot is six to seven minutes per hour.

The study indicates online video advertising is superior to traditional TV advertising but based on the reasons for the online’s superiority, it may be short-lived. The newness of the medium will wear off and advertising clutter online will certainly increase as the demand for goes up.

But for now, there appears to be distinct advantages for online video advertising. This is important information for healthcare marketers.  Opportunities to purchase online video ads should be seriously considered.  Although currently there may be few opportunities in local markets, we should remain on the watch for possibilities.

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Hospital Marketing: Customer Satisfaction Scores Decline in Healthcare and Energy

Hospital customer satisfaction levels declined in the past year, joining the energy sector as the only two industries whose scores declined.  And this in spite of a strong emphasis on patient satisfaction by hospital CEOs.

Times have been tough in this economy.  For almost everyone.  And it’s true for hospitals as well.  It has led to implementation of various cost saving initiatives in most hospitals.  And in some, it has necessitated layoffs.  It appears the result has also caused a decline in patient satisfaction.  According to American Consumer Satisfaction Index, which measures consumer satisfaction for ten economic sectors, hospitals’ satisfaction scores fell 5 % over the past year. Only the energy sector joined hospitals with a decline.  It’s clear why there was a decline in the energy sector but both surprising and troubling there was a decline with hospitals.

The results were reported by Philip Betbeze in HealthLeaders Media.  Overall hospital satisfaction dropped 5% with inpatient satisfaction recording the largest decrease.  This is especially interesting when more and more hospital leaders are stating they are placing a stronger emphasis on patient satisfaction.

In fact, Betbeze reports that in the 2010 HelathLeaders Media Industry Survey, many leaders are making patient satisfaction their number priority.  Over 38% selected patient satisfaction as their top priority and it was near the top in most of the other surveys.

Hopefully, this increased emphasis on patient satisfaction will turn the tide and lead to significant increases in future surveys. It needs to.  Declining patient satisfaction will lead to trouble in many other ways and will certainly negatively impact our hospitals’ brands.  When that happens there are long-term effects.

Sure there is great pressure in hospitals to cut costs in the face of a struggling economy, decreased reimbursements and an uncertain industry environment.  But as Betbeze correctly states, “investments in patient satisfaction require more commitment than cash. In fact, relative to other investments hospitals have to make, such as high-tech imaging systems, new patient towers, and new operating suites, patient satisfaction improvement is instead based on clean rooms and hallways, better, hotter food, better service, and more eye contact, among other, seemingly simple fixes. Those things improve with culture”

It is certainly disheartening to see satisfaction scores decrease while management makes it a top priority. Hopefully it means there is not just lip service to the problem but the results just haven’t been fully manifested and thus not appearing in the survey results yet.  It is certainly a necessity to stop the decline and improve satisfaction scores.  So much depends on it.  There are many things in healthcare that management cannot control but a patient-centered culture and a commitment to patient satisfaction is one that can be impacted.  It must be!

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Healthcare Marketing: Social Media Requires Defensive Tactics

It’s not all about being aggressive in the use of social media.  In a consumer-driven marketplace, we must also defend our brand and our brand’s reputation.

From every corner, we hear that hospitals must get in the action, embrace social media and be active using all of the social networking tools.  It’s being drilled into our brains.  I don’t necessarily disagree.  I have advocated the use social media by hospitals and healthcare organizations.

But there is another side to the issue.  You might call it the ugly side.  In a consumer-driven environment, every brand is vulnerable.  Any brand can come under attack and sometimes half the world will know it before the brand manager does.

Pete Blackshaw wrote a very sobering and highly relevant article recently in Ad Age.  He offered “The Pocket Guide to Defensive Branding”. He suggests, “Sandbag before you sell. Protect before you promote.  Defend before you dance.  Self critique before you self-destruct”.

We have all witnessed social media road kill.  Brands that have come under attack by one or thousands who use social media to attack and proliferate the scorn.  Sometimes the criticism has been warranted, other times perhaps not.  Twitter and Facebook “like” pages becomes a complaint desk.  And with the internet, a brand can never rid the populated highway of the messiness.  It’s there to be googled forever. The issue is how do you protect your brand against such an onslaught.

Blackshaw offers several suggestions for building a defense against an uncontrollable offensive attack.  Here are a few of his suggestions:

  • Listen first, answer next, engage last. Monitor and listen.  Don’t always be the one talking.  Listen carefully.
  • Give your brand the “torture test” before your consumers do it for you. Know your vulnerabilities.  Think like your worst critic.
  • Master the “Six Drivers of Brand Credibility” – Trust, transparency, authenticity, listening, responsiveness and affirmation.
  • Know the  ‘talk-drivers”…the thing(s) most likely to ruffle the feathers of consumers.  In hospitals it’s usually employees.  That is your vulnerability. Know what motivates them.
  • Know all the facts.  Get them into the right hands.  Even before an attack occurs.
  • Put yourself on the front lines. Open up the feedback channels, promote them and pay attention to them
  • Unify and engage brand stakeholders before a crisis occurs. It requires honesty, openness, responsiveness and organizational agility

Social networking can help establish brand awareness and build strong brand equity.  It can also bite you and cause great harm to the brand.  It is indeed a two-edged sword and both sides of the blade are sharp.  In addition to exploring how we can use social networking to enhance our brand we must also be building a strong defense readying ourselves for a possible attack.  And usually it’s a strong defense that wins brand championships.


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