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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.


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.


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!


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.


Healthcare Marketing: How to Use Social Media to Deal with a Mistake

Seven suggestions on how to use social media to help deal with mistakes.

Every brand makes mistakes.  And in a consumer-driven environment it rarely goes unnoticed.  Consumers use social networking to air their gripes and get it off their chests.  And out into the marketplace. Everyday we hear of another brand faced with mistakes they’ve made which are exposed on social networking sites.  Some respond very well.  Others only make matters worse.  It’s treacherous.  And it’s not an exact science.  Social interactions and engagements never are about science.  It’s about listening, learning, adjusting, adapting, and being sincere.

Rupal Parekh and Edmund Lee recently wrote an article in Ad Age providing pointers on how “to effectively apologize to customers and turn a potential headache into a winning display of customer service, served up social-media style”.

Their pointers are right on.  And they can be very helpful to all hospital marketers.

1. One is many – When it comes to social media, whether it’s one or many, consumers are empowered.  Every customer can influence your brand’s reputation.  Just one person can affect many others.

2. Engage immediately – Never stay silent. Even if you don’t know the answer,  just say so.  But respond….immediately.  Silence allows the negative message to be circulated and re-circulated and to gain momentum.

3. Be honest and take responsibility – Don’t blame someone else.  Don’t pass it off as a glitch.

4. Lose the corporate-speak – Apologize.  Sincerely. Use a personal tone.  “Advertising gave brands a voice, but social media gave brands a personality”, stated Mike Germano, president and creative director of new-media marketing agency Carrot Creative.

5. Put a face on it – When apologizing or addressing a problem don’t use the corporate account. Response should come from an actual person.

6. Let the fans talk – Develop a strong fan base for your brand before a crisis happens.  Cultivate customers so they will become brand advocates.  And when they do, let them go.

7. Learn from it – Tell consumers how you will prevent the problem from happening again.

Every brand makes mistakes.  They are unavoidable.  The challenge is to use them to enhance your brand and not harm it.  We have seen how brands have done both.  These straightforward suggestions should help your brand rebound when mistakes occur.


Healthcare Marketing: Think Consumers Click off of TV Commercials?

Research indicates the vast majority of consumers do not change channels during TV commercials.

A commonly held belief is that consumers have the remote ready and click to other stations when commercials come on.  But a recent study conducted by the Council of Research Excellence , an independent research group created and funded by the Nielsen Company indicated that 86% of viewers stick with a given channel during commercials. The study was conducted using live TV-consumption habits of 376 adults across 750,000 minutes.

As reported by Michael Malone in Broadcasting & Cable , the study showed very little change in viewer habits during programming and during commercials.  About 12% of the viewers changed channels during the regular programming and only 14% changed during commercials. The study followed only live TV viewing and not DVD viewing.

The study also indicated that television advertising reached 85% of adults each dayAnd the average consumer was exposed to 73 minutes of real-time TV commercials or promos each day.

So for those who say television advertising is dead or almost dead – perhaps not.  This is the first real study of viewers’ habits during commercials and certainly discounts the assumptions by some that viewers don’t watch commercials.

Television is still an extremely effective medium and this just proves that a large majority of Americans are watching television daily and are not clicking out of the commercials. So despite the recent impact of new media and social media, television still delivers!


Healthcare Marketing: A Strong Brand is Strong Indeed

When a brand is really strong and established, it can endure even during difficult times.


Sometimes it’s argued that brand building is not so important.  It’s more about promoting service lines, driving business, and proving ROI for marketing expenditures.  Some say brand building cannot be justified; only those activities that create specific direct response and a measurable return on investment have merit.

However, brands that are strong, have a very positive position in the consumer’s mind, and have grown over time, show great resiliency and staying power.  Without a strong brand reputation, you’re only as good as your most recent promotion or offer.  With significant brand equity however, a brand can stand strong – even in the midst of controversy and bad PR.


Al Ries in an article in Ad Age cited six examples of strong brands that have endured missteps and even bad PR.

1. Tylenol – When seven people died from cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules in 1982, the brand’s obituary was pronounced by practically everyone.  Yet today, Tylenol is the No. 1 over the counter brand.

2. Tiger Woods – Before the Masters, Woods’ online reputation was 51% positive and 49% negative. After the first day of competition Woods’ positive rating went to 69% and the negative rating fell to 31%.

3. Toyota – Despite all the bad publicity Toyota has received, in March when Toyota was pronounced as being in deep trouble, they sold more vehicles than any other brand in America.

4. Mercedes-Benz – In 2007, Consumer Reports rated Mercedes last in predicted reliability among 36 automobile brands.  That year Mercedes’ sales went up.

5. Bill Clinton – Despite being impeached in 1998, Bill Clinton survived and still has a strong brand.

6. Martha Stewart – In 2004 Martha Stewart was convicted of lying to investigators about a stock sale and spent 5 months in prison.  Today, she is in her fifth year of  “The Martha Stewart Show”,  her magazine, Martha Stewart Living, is doing well and she has major deals with major retailers.

What do all of these examples prove?  A strong brand is hard to dethrone.   Even when things go wrong, when it is ambushed with difficulty and negative PR, a strong brand can endure, survive and even thrive.

The message to healthcare marketers is there is great value in building a strong brand reputation.  All the work that goes into creating brand equity is not wasted even when it’s difficult to measure it in ROI.  Brand building is a long process.  It’s hard, sometimes tedious work.  But the enduring rewards are great indeed!



Healthcare Marketing: Patients’ Media Habits Increasingly Challenging

Media consumption is rapidly changing.  Some marketers are responding with shorter ads while some are going to longer format ads.

Marketers face acute challenges with changing consumer media habits.  Particularly with younger demographics that have shrinking attentions spans.  The Kaiser Family Foundation has found through research that media consumption is actually increasing.  It has gone from an average of six hours and 21 minutes in 2004 to seven hours and 38 minutes today.  But today there is more multitasking and media becomes more fragmented.  Rupal Parekh in an Ad Age article reports that the Kaiser Foundation in fact estimates that because more people are using more than one medium at a time, consumers are actually managing to pack 10 hours and 45 minutes of media content into the 7 and one half hour.

Shrinking attention spans have dictated the shrinkage of media ad segments from 60-second spots to 30, 15, 5 and even 1-second spots.   But some marketers are going the other way.  They are investing in longer format ads.  These longer ads provide the opportunity to entertain, which engages the viewer.

Lady Gaga’s music video “Telephone” is nearly 10 minutes long.  In just a few weeks it had garnered over 28 million views on YouTube, over 500,000 views on and either shared on Facebook or tweeted directly from the pop star’s website over 150,000 times.

Marketers are trying all kinds of different ways to effectively reach consumers.  The variety can be seen from the extremes cited above.  Consumers have varying media habits with shorter attention spans and are flooded with media stimulation.  All of which make the job of marketers more and more difficult. It’s increasingly difficult to break through the clutter and hold the attention of consumers who may be consuming more than one medium.

The challenge requires creativity and the willingness to try different methods.  It demands accepting risk and even failure sometimes.  No one has a certain answer on how to most effectively communicate to a complex marketplace.  Probably there are multiple ways that are effective.  We just need to keep experimenting and never stop learning.


Healthcare Marketing: It’s the Real Relationships that Really Matter

It’s not so much about building relationships with brands; it’s about using brands to build relationships.

All the talk these days is about relationships.  Relationships are king. It’s the coin of the realm.  Everything is all about building relationships.  But the interesting thing is that relationships are often discussed in the context of technology, social media, Web 2.0, apps, metrics, analytics, demo-psycho-socio-geographics, social networking, blogs and a thousand other buzz words.  But when I step back it’s all so odd.  All of those terms are so very impersonal.

We talk about building a relationship with a brand, a product, a service.  Yes I do it too.  Everyday.  But have we forgotten that real relationships are human? Can I truly have a relationship with my toothpaste, my jeans, my iPod, my microwaveable food, my gym, my computer, my car ?  Well yes I can have a relationship with all of those things, in a sense.  But not a real relationship.

Real relationships are human. It’s the touch of someone you love.  It’s holding a child or grandchild close and squeezing hard. It’s enjoying a family trip.  It’s working together with coworkers to achieve a common goal.  It’s striving together with others for something noble and right. It’s being with friends talking and laughing and just hanging out.  It’s crying with someone you care about who’s hurting.  It’s shedding tears when someone dear is no longer here.  It’s sharing life with someone.  It’s always a uniquely human experience.

This is not to discount all the wonderful new technologies, techniques, methods and knowledge that help us communicate.  But none of these can be a substitute for real relationships.  And we must not forget it.  We are so busy talking about and “building“ relationship in so many artificial ways but sometimes we forget that relationships are human. They involve the body, mind and soul.  They include the heart and emotions, which cannot be explained or adequately described.

Doesn’t it make more sense to instead of trying to build relationships using a brand or product, or service, or institution; we talk about how those things can help build true relationships…with other humans?  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Relationships are indeed king.  But real relationships are about human relationships.  We don’t need to get lost in faux relationships but rather use technology and communication tools to communicate how our brand or service or product can help create and build and sustain and improve real relationships.  The kind that is human.  The kind that can’t be reduced to analytics and research.  The kind that really matter. The kind that makes life truly worth living.


Healthcare Marketing: Facebook Surpasses Google

Facebook has surpassed Google as the most visited site in the US.

Facebook had flirted with it on several previous occasions.  Facebook was the most visited site on Christmas Day, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.  And Facebook took the top spot during the weekend of March 6th and 7th.  But according to Hitwise, the week ending on March 13 was the first full week Facebook was the most visited website.

And to indicate Facebook’s rapid growth, the marketshare of visits to increased 185% over the same week in 2009. While Google’s increase was only 9%. and accounted for 14% of all US internet visits during the week.

Until recently no one could conceive of any site taking over the top spot from Google.  It is quite remarkable that Facebook has done just that. It is yet additional proof of the popularity and power of social networking.

And it emphasizes that any healthcare marketing strategy must include serious consideration of social media. Despite the fears, pitfalls, worries and concerns healthcare marketers have for social media, it cannot be ignored. There is just too much traffic and too much engagement on Facebook to dismiss.

Of course participation on Facebook by a brand is not necessarily easy.  Just to be there is not sufficient. The nature and use of the social media site requires marketers to use different strategies. It requires engagement, conversation and participation.  It also requires brand confidence and perhaps some courage too.

But when done right, the rewards can be significant. Marketers are trained to go to the marketplace…where the consumers are.  And they are certainly gathering on Facebook.