April 8, 2019

8 Lessons in Health Care Marketing

Over the course of the last 32 years, Franklin Street has worked with hundreds of health care leaders to shape their brands, market their service lines, and develop unique brand experiences for patients, employees, and physicians. Here are a few lessons we learned along the way.

1. DOCTORS KNOW THEIR PATIENTS, AND YOU KNOW CONSUMERS.

When it comes to marketing, everyone has an opinion. When physicians, administrators, and service line leaders offer input on creative executions, the approval process is cumbersome and the final creative sometimes vanilla. But there is a better way; building consensus around consumer insights early and often tends to keep all the players focused on the consumer problem.

What to do next: Consensus-building. We host Discovery Sessions with physicians and other key stakeholders at the start of new strategy development. In addition, we explore consumer insights in a variety of ways to keep the consumer perspective front and center. These are opportunities to build consensus and set criteria for key decisions. Give your physicians a sounding board to share goals, ideas, and concerns but keep the strategy focused on consumer needs you are trying to fill. Visit our Insights section to download our tip sheet on the 6 Ways to Help Health Care C-Suite Perceive Marketing as an Investment.

2. SERVICE LINE MARKETING CAN ALSO BUILD THE BRAND.

In the Population Health model, a well-trusted hospital brand is priceless. But if you don’t have the capital to invest in your organization’s brand campaign, you can still deliver your brand promise through service line marketing. Many highly recognized health care brands have built their reputation through one or two high profile service lines. It creates a halo effect in which consumers expect a similar level of care from all of the brand’s services.

What to do next: Reinforce your brand positioning in your service line marketing. All service line marketing and advertising should be created through the lens of your brand promise. Look for ways your brand uniquely delivers clinical service. Visit our case studies to see how a well-positioned orthopedics campaign drove market share and built an organization’s brand.

3. QUALITY AWARDS MATTER…INTERNALLY.

Most consumers don’t understand the implications of quality awards and certifications. If consumers don’t know the hard work and diligence that goes into gaining this recognition, the awards don’t work very hard to support a brand or service line. But that doesn’t mean awards don’t have their place in your toolkit.

What to do next: Third party accreditations can have an amazing impact on employee pride and morale—your brand ambassadors. Promoting these distinctions within your facility reinforces to patients and family members they “came to the right place,” even if the accreditation being promoted is not directly relevant to their particular service.

4. KNOW WHAT MAKES AN EFFECTIVE POSITIONING STRATEGY.

The simple formula for effective brand positioning is to share what’s most differentiating and authentic about your organization. This requires insights about what is most appealing and credible about your brand to both internal and external audiences.

What to do next: As you develop a brand positioning strategy, include a research budget. Uncovering unmet needs and expectations from both current and potential patients will provide buy-in on your brand strategy and make emotional connections with these audiences.

5. YOU CAN’T BEAT A GIANT PLAYING ON THEIR TERMS.

Chances are, your brand is up against a larger competitor with deeper pockets and better brand recognition. As David proved to Goliath, the way to beat a giant is to play by your rules, not theirs. This may mean forgoing a costly media budget if your competitor has a history of outspending you.

What to do next: Focus on “blue ocean” strategies to reach audiences where the giant isn’t, or to innovate service lines to provide patients a distinct, world-class experience. Remember, the Achille’s Heel for many giants is they are slow, conservative, and more worried about losing what they have than making gains.

6. PATIENTS ONLY WANT ONE THING: EVERYTHING.

It may feel like all patients are demanding more personalized service, the latest technology, more amenities, and better communication all while trying to pay less for their health care. It can be overwhelming to try to be all things to all people. But if you understand your customer segmentation, you will find they actually need and want different things. One size does not fit all.

What to do next: Study some key factors among your current patient mix. How do they approach health care engagement? Some segments want to be told what to do while others want to be educated to make well-informed decisions. Some want hand-holding and patience, others want confidence and strength. Ask key questions to learn your own patient segments and determine how patients want to be treated. It then becomes much easier to meet or exceed their expectations.

7. BRAND IS A LONG-TERM PROPOSITION.

To significantly grow market share, you need to build a strong brand. But it doesn’t happen with an ad campaign or a new website alone. It requires all departments understanding your brand promise and being vested in trying to deliver that promise every day. The marketing department can’t build a brand in isolation.  

What to do next: If you have a well defined and articulated brand promise but are not delivering the experience throughout your organization, it may be time to include clinical and operational leaders in the conversation. If they want to own a strong brand in the market, they will need to support operationalizing the brand promise internally first.

If you don’t have a well defined brand promise, you will need to build a case with your leadership that a strong brand will drive patient volume, margins, and market share as well improve recruiting and retention.

8. THERE’S NO SILVER BULLET STRATEGY.

Despite the oracles pronouncing the “next big thing”, there is no master strategy or tactic that will do everything you need to grow your brand and market share. But you already knew that.

What to do next: Identify your short and long-term plans and execute the strategies and tactics to the best of your ability and resources. Measure, monitor, and reapply. Shift dollars from print to digital if you get a better return on web-based marketing (or vice-versa). Market only the top 2-3 service lines that drive the most profitable patients to your brand. Make your Stop Doing list larger than your To Do list.

Do your best, every day—and remember that failure is only feedback to guide your next, winning move.

Are you making the right promise?

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