Hospital Marketing is Not the Same as Other Marketing

After a lunch-and-learn about branding, and a "red paper" from SPM Marketing, I'm seeing an intersection of the ideas. Hospital marketing can learn so much from marketing in general, in how they reach their audience, and the ways they do it effectively. BUT, and this is big: people don't want to go to the hospital. (I want to buy some Sugar lip gloss and a Dyson vacuum cleaner, to name two ads that reached me today.) But still, you are marketing to them in many of the same ways: online, on billboards, mobile ads and magazine spreads with friendly yet competent-looking doctors, and they still don't want your product! 

That's why I think that branding is the most valuable tactic. Because when they do needto go to the hospital, it will be the sum total of all their impressions about your facility, doctors, emergency room and staff that tips it one way or the other (your competitor's nearby hospital.) In his fantastic book, "Joe Public Doesn't Care About Your Hospital,"author Chris Bevolo gets it. Being a marketer in this space is hard. Everyone thinks they know what patients need.

I am a big believer in asking patients what they need. And in general, that works for doctor's office and specialty care, and maybe even lifelong health care like skilled nursing and rehabilitation. In those cases, you may want to use some marketing tactics used in other industries. But for emergency room care, it's an emotional decision. That means branding needs to appeal to our deep need for life-saving; our hope that we'll get the smartest doctors and the most compassion nurses. In surgical care, they may have more time to make the decision, but it may also be an emotional choice based on what you've built your brand on. 

Health care is essential. That doesn't mean it doesn't need to be marketed, but it must be marketed differently than our earbuds, lip gloss, paper towels and vacuum cleaners.

(Originally published on Linked In March 16, 2016)

The Art of Yellow Shoes

As a bona fide extrovert, I love going to conferences. But, apparently not everyone does. There's a psyching up that needs to happen. At the most recent conference I went to (#SHSMD2015), I found a brilliant marketing idea. I was in line for a drink with two gentleman, and I of course started talking to them about their names, my favorite topic. But then I noticed they were wearing yellow Oxford shoes. Both of them. 

Not only was this a great way to have an instant ice breaker with the thousand-plus attendees, it tied in to their booth in the exhibit hall, also full of bright yellow accents. The entire staff had yellow shoes: pumps, moccasins, sneakers. So, on brand, attention-getting and unique. A brilliant plan for standing out in a sea of competition. Nice work Lift 1428!

SHSMD 2015

It's great to be here at the American Hospital Association conference for the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development. While these are "my people" since I work mainly in hospital and health system marketing, I've met some people working in interesting niches. Like those people who just work in planning and strategy -- like all day, every day. I love that these roles exist. I think one of the biggest gaps in corporate health care right now it that everyone is trying to be good at everything -- and it's not only a huge waste of time and money, it's drains energy from what a truly focused organization could be achieving. Values matter, and you need to unearth a ton of extra stuff to get down to that bedrock of what you value and your strengths.

Another big theme I'm seeing is value over volume. The keynote yesterday mentioned this huge industry shift, and it's part of the reason there's so much churn in health care right now. How can we turn a group of care providers, facilities, systems, support staff and practices the metaphorical size of an aircraft carrier? How can we turn back time to when patients were eating healthy and exercising, before they started pairing soda with every SuperSized meal, before their blood pressure rose and their waistlines ballooned. 

There's a lot happening and it's exciting to be in the middle of discussing it, in depth -- that's the value of breaking from the everyday work to sort out what we know and add to what we don't. 

Once You Are in the Forest...

There used to a store in my town called London's. It had a bold font for the logo, with a kind of British flag motif behind it. I knew where it was (near my favorite lunch place) but not what they sold. Their slogan was: Love London's! They did a short radio ad that included their name and location...but not what they sold! You know what finally got me in to the store? Their going-out-of-business sale. Turns out, it was a British soap, lotion and tea shop. 

To me, this illustrates one of the most common failures of marketing -- forgetting that while you are extremely excited and proud of your business, other people don't know what you do. Sometimes when you are so deep in the forest, you think that what you do is self-explanatory, or that you've already explained it. But potential new customers are always passing by at different times. Your name, logo, slogan and location should be engaging, but not mysterious (unless that is your specific strategy!)

One of the ways that I'm able to provide value to my clients is to point out that patients don't understand medical jargon, or a standard process, or even how to get around the campus of the medical center. Once you are inside, you forget that the quirky elevator buttons are confusing. (Floor 00 or Floor 0?) You might not realize that the visitors don't know to check in at the lab first, or that they need to give the valet their keys. This is the added value of using outside consultants -- they can tell you what people coming through the forest will need to know! 

It's also helpful to go somewhere else and try to navigate it yourself -- take a trip to a hospital in a different city and see how you fare, or go see a doctor in a different health system.  Get out of the forest! 

I heard Peter Shankman call it...(6 years ago.)

I've been following Peter Shankman since I saw him speak in Williamsburg, Virginia six years ago at a Public Relations Society of America meeting. He said "I believe that in the next 50 years we’re going to see PR becoming less about ‘public relations’ and more about ‘personal recommendations’." (Just like he says in this recent article.)

He is absolutely right that the word of mouth marketing that marketers are always trying to bottle is now "social word of digital opinions." A recent vacation dinner with my cousins was nearly decided on a Yelp vs Google Places debate, until someone piped in with actual experience of having been there. Bam! "I was there" weighs more than "this review says..." any day.  

Additionally, I am part of an online moms' group and we regularly share how something ACTUALLY worked for us, not how it was advertised to work. With the expense and proliferation of parenting gadgets, I want to hear how it worked for you...the cost, the instructions, the colors, the durability, the functionality (and often, the washability. Gross.) 

Today's successful companies should always go back to authenticity. I very much like the return to "artisan" items because I believe we can't be good at everything. Pick your niche and own it. Even if I'm not into mead or handcrafted saddles, I will admire your gusto!