The Impact of Health Reform on Marketing

To say that healthcare (and therefore healthcare marketing) is in an enormous state of flux is a cliché, for sure. That doesn’t make it untrue.

The current administration devoted much of its entire first year to getting a health reform bill passed. The Republican wave victory in the recent mid-terms will possibly lead to its overturn or more likely death by a thousand cuts over the coming years.

Let’s define health reform as the need to evolve today’s marinade of misery into something resembling an efficient, reasonably well-run industry that includes both the opportunity for profit as well as a high degree of consumer choice, downward pressure on prices and corporate competition. Irrespective of the political landscape, I contend this reform will slowly but surely emerge.

Government-driven change will surely continue to be a critical part of the mix – certainly until, and unless, the Medicare and Medicaid programs are substantially reduced under some future administration (good luck with that!). But we believe that real reform is and will increasingly be driven by other factors as well.

These ’forces of disruption” can be broadly grouped in three areas: demand-driven (consumer expectation, demographic shifts), supply-driven (technology, capital constraints, new competitors) and government (legislation, regulation and financial).

Demand-Driven

The web is proving just as powerful a player in healthcare as it is in almost every other industry sector. Why? Because it resolutely shifts knowledge from the center to the periphery, empowering individuals as it goes. Once upon a time (say 2005), people had little ability to benchmark or measure health-plan value or hospital quality. Today, this is foundational to their/our decision-making process.

In this scary new world, insurers and providers must think very differently about the end users of their products and services. These end users now have knowledge. Increasingly, they’re exercising an informed level of choice as a result. Perhaps for the first time, hospitals and insurers must objectively consider whether their products and services truly meet the needs of the people they’re supposed to serve. They must also consider how they describe and explain these products and services. Our experience is that – with a few honorable exceptions – this is not the case.

Delivering consistent patient and customer satisfaction, based on a basket of value, transparency, quality and outcome measures, will increasingly determine the success or otherwise of plans and providers alike. Embrace it or die.

Supply-Driven

Technology and science march on, oblivious to media angst and political machinations. An optimistic view of healthcare might be that 20 to 30 years from now, science will have outstripped the status quo to such an extent that we pass through some kind of health singularity and the entire existing healthcare edifice becomes obsolete overnight. Maybe. But for now, the disruptive opportunities and threats are many and need to be dealt with.

We believe that change will come faster and faster.  A rolling revolution of new treatments, better forms of patient/doctor communication, more efficient surgical techniques and completely new competitors disrupting profitable service lines will appear each and every year. Marketers must make sure they’re thinking ahead, watching developments and being open-minded about what’s possible and where opportunities and threats lie.

This type of mindset will come hard to institutions that have operated in broadly the same competitive environment for decades. But those days are over. Objectivity and a willingness to exploit first-mover advantage will be increasingly important to success.

Government

While the specifics of dealing with Washington are often a nightmare, the good news for marketers is that what government is demanding is – at least in intent – also what’s in the best interests of plans and providers: transparency, value, wellness leadership, improved information and technology delivery and so on.

The truth is that healthcare is lagging the rest of the economy in terms of how it thinks about and serves its various constituents. Government is exerting pressure on the right areas necessary for change. For example, from a consumer point of view, EMR is a no-brainer. Being able to access, control and comprehend one’s own health reality and make informed decisions based on access and choice is little different from any other retail decision-making process.

Since the dawn of time, a mystique has surrounded healthcare. The idea of the doctor as omnipotent and all-powerful served everyone’s needs for centuries when scientific knowledge was limited and nobody really knew what they were doing most of the time. That’s different today. Marketers need to understand that the role of the healthcare provider is to empower consumers and inspire them to take control of their own wellbeing. It’s still a competitive differentiator and clearly places the enterprise in alignment with what the government is trying to do.

The Patient-Customer

For healthcare companies, as with sector after sector before them, success will depend on placing the consumer (the patient-customer, as we call them) firmly at the center of the enterprise. Plans and providers must shift their mindset from that of a producer to a servicer of genuine need – financial, physical and emotional. And their marketing and advertising plans must evolve accordingly.

Health reform is here to stay. Whether the current players in the industry are around for much longer is up to their leaders and marketers to determine. 

 

Posted in Branding, health, Healthcare Marketing, Integrated Marketing, Marketing, Marketing Technology, Online marketing, Public Relations | 1 Comment

SEO Urgent Care

You may have heard of Google, but has it heard of you?

As a hospital, physician or a surgeon you need patients to find you. The question is will they find you and your website in their search?  Research shows that almost eight million Americans search for medical information online each day. But to ensure that even a small segment of those people make it to your website, you need to increase your site’s search engine visibility with SEO.

An SEO-friendly website is the key to success for any online marketing campaign. An effective medical SEO strategy requires constant care and effort. Here are some tips to optimize your next medical marketing campaign.

Pay attention to keywords

A keyword/phrase refers to the word/phrase that describes the product or service offered through a website. These are the words that a person looking for information types into the search column of a search engine. To make your website stand out, focus on key phrases instead of words. The best way to attract new patients to your website is to achieve high rankings on search engine results pages. These are the results that are listed after you search, or “Google,” a topic.

Build and distribute

Another important and effective way to increase traffic to your website is through link building and link distribution.. Link building is the process of getting websites to publish a link pointing to your site. This is also referred to as “back links.” There are many ways to obtain back links. One way is to submit your website to search engines and directories. Another good way is to find websites that might be interested in publishing a link to your website. You can also distribute links to your articles with the use of marking sites such as Digg. This will not only give your hospital or medical service more exposure, but it will also provide more links to your site.

Be unique

Your website has a better chance of not getting lost in the shuffle if contains content-rich web pages with carefully chosen keywords placed throughout the text. Each of the major search engines scours the Internet constantly looking for the most relevant websites to deliver to their search engine clients. If your website is not well written or has repeated content, it will not receive high placement during searches. 

Posted in Content, Integrated Marketing, Interactive, Marketing, Marketing Technology, Online marketing, SEO | Leave a comment

Promises, promises…

You’ve seen the slick TV commercial dozens of times. The camera slowly pans across a long row of smiling physicians and nurses. Orchestral music swells as an authoritative male voice promises “the latest technology and the most qualified physicians and nurses – Hospital X; we’re here when you need us.” 

Now you do need them. When you call, the phone keeps ringing. Finally there’s a click, followed by a couple of chirps and a beep. Then, a coarse voice – not at all like the confidence-inspiring announcer, says, “Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line or choose from the following menu options…”

You hang up and dial the number for the next provider on the list.

We’ve all had experiences like this – a business overpromises and immediately underdelivers. It is always frustrating, particularly when the shoddy performance is related to something as important as our health. Why do hospitals, physician’s offices, testing facilities and other medical providers so often disappoint us?

In my experience, it’s because the exciting process of conceiving, creating and executing the tools of an advertising campaign too often overshadows the critical, but less sexy, need for effective strategic planning and realistic evaluation of resources. This is frequently the root cause of cognitive dissonance like that created for the caller above.

No matter how clever the campaign, how compelling the selling proposition, or how effectively targeted the audience, promising a level of service you can’t deliver is the quickest path to long-term failure. Consumers are smart. It doesn’t take them long to come to their own conclusions about your organization. Those thoughts, not your radio campaign, will determine their likelihood to recommend you to others – or not.

So, what’s the answer?

First, customer satisfaction is based on their perception of whether the product or service they received lived up to what they expected to get. No more, no less. Think about the last time you stopped for a snack at your local fast-food restaurant. You didn’t get linen tablecloths and an attentive wait staff, but, if the place was reasonably clean and efficient and the food was hot, you were probably totally satisfied. If the person at the cash register was exceptionally pleasant, you might even report that you were extremely satisfied. So when you consider a go-to-market plan for any business, your first question must be “What can we do well?” followed by “What don’t we do well?” A realistic evaluation of your people, processes, culture and facilities might be painful, but it is critical.

Second, keep in mind that as tempting as it may be to try to take market share from your competitors by promising customers the moon, the smarter course of action is to underpromise and overdeliver. Not the other way around. It may seem counterintuitive, but it works. By accurately aligning your potential customers’ expectations with reality, the customers  you do get will be happier and more likely to recommend your establishment. That will buy you time to work on the things that need improvement. That way, when the authoritative announcer on your next campaign claims “the highest patient satisfaction scores in the region,” it just might be true.

Have you experienced exceptional customer service in your life recently? Tell us about it.

Posted in About Wax Custom Communications | Leave a comment

Attention Hospitals: Blogging Is OK, Too!

As recently as November 2010, Ed Bennett, Director of Web Strategy for the University of Maryland Medical System, was reporting via his Hospital Social Network List that nearly 900 hospitals were utilizing some form of social media tool. Here’s the breakdown:

Facebook – 701

Twitter – 662

YouTube – 437

LinkedIn – 431

Blogs – 106

What’s surprising isn’t that Facebook tops the list but that so few hospitals have established blogs as a communication device. Now, let’s be honest – it certainly takes more time and resources to build, maintain and monitor a blog than it does to set up a Facebook page or Twitter account. But let’s look at the value proposition.

With Twitter, you’re limited to 140 characters at a time to relay your message. With blogging, the sky’s the limit. Yes, you can send quick tweets regarding everything from “How to handle a burn?” to your new internship program, but blogging would do that and more.

If Facebook is the best social media tool to demonstrate your hospital’s personality, then what better way to extend that positioning within the community than by a well-constructed, well-thought out blog? During this economic downturn, where consumers are less likely to utilize hospital services because of cost considerations, providing them with useful, free information is a benefit to all involved.

For the 800 or so hospitals who have embraced social media in some form or fashion, but who haven’t taken to blogging just yet, I implore you to reconsider. Building customer/patient relations begins well before an individual enters your doors at a time of need. Fostering a positive, trusting relationship can start today. Become that online resource and voice of healthcare knowledge within your community today… and blog away!

If you’re a marketing management professional for a hospital or hospital system, let us know whether you’ve set up a blog and how it’s been received.

Posted in Blogging, Content, health, Healthcare Marketing, Integrated Marketing, Interactive, Marketing, Marketing Technology, Online marketing, Public Relations, Social Media | Leave a comment