Out with the old and in with the new. This is the mantra of many with regard to personal and professional goals at the beginning of a new year. And it needs to be true for healthcare marketers. If consumerism was not enough to shift your approach, the Affordable Care Act provides yet one more reason to seriously assess the value of current efforts and refine them to better achieve your hospital’s strategic goals.
I recently read a book designed to support hospital marketers in throwing away old habits and embracing a brave new world. In his book Joe Public Doesn’t Care About Your Hospital, author Chris Bevolo does a nice job of providing a brief overview of the discipline of hospital marketing, which didn’t really begin until the 1980’s, and the market factors contributing to the need for the changes he recommends. Based on 2008 research by the Center for Studying Health System Change, Chris estimates that at any given time approximately 25% of people are in the market for a physician or hospital service. That’s only a quarter of your market. That means that the other 75% of people really don’t care about what you have to tell them about your hospital – not what services you offer, what satisfaction scores you received, what physicians you have added, what new buildings you have opened, not what new technology you have acquired – none of it!
Having been on the hospital side for most of my career, and now as a public relations executive providing strategic counsel to hospitals and health systems, I read this book and found myself nodding and laughing, sighing and hoping that 2012 will be the year when hospital marketing turns the corner. How do we stop the “look at me, look at me” advertising and instead engage with our patients in a meaningful way about their health?
Yes, there will always be a need to build awareness of products, services and physicians. But unless you have a strategic brand platform and an integrated plan for all public relations, marketing and advertising, you will most likely default to the same old tactics and achieve the same limited results. Additionally, unless you invest resources and embrace the powerful role that digital communications can play in helping you target and engage people in their health, you will continue to develop print ads to a dying readership. And unless you educate your executive team, clinical leadership and key physicians that branding is about how people experience your hospital, and not what you tell them about your hospital, you will continue fighting battles with physicians and CEO’s about billboards.
There are limited dollars to spend, and the Affordable Care Act has created a limited window of opportunity to make the shift from pushing out mass information to building relationships through targeted engagement. If you were to attach a Marketing GPS to your plans for 2012, the best thing you could hear would be “recalculating!”