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)

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! 

Call Me Old Fashioned...

Managing health care for my family of five is sometimes challenging. Between us, three of us see an allergist, two a dermatologist, two a chiropractor and we all see the dentist and our primary care doctors (3 different ones!) Amidst all the industry rhetoric about metrics and big data, I find that once again in delivering excellent care and service...just keep it simple. 

Here's an example, drawn from real life. My oldest son sees an allergist and we have a multitude of forms for fill out for his inhaler and Epi-Pen before school starts and when school lets out, the same forms again for summer camp. (It's a royal pain.) We've waited the allotted 7 days from when they were dropped off for the doctor to sign the two papers.  On Friday, my youngest son had to go to the same office to get a Lego removed (Don't laugh. Apparently, this is a rite of passage for parents.) My husband was in the waiting room for three hours. It would have been delightful for the front desk staff to realize that Child 1 and Child 3 are related and hand the paperwork over, right?

Well, no amount of cross-referencing metrics and data would work nearly as efficiently as the magic of...recognition!  All it would take is for a front desk staff member to recognize that both patients were members of the same family and confirm that we were waiting on paperwork. Sure, you could look at the last name but it's in the top 10 most common. You could look at the insurance card, but who does that? Having someone who sees someone they know,  thinks about it and takes initiative is what it takes. Could've happened, but didn't.

 in my opinion, the quality and longevity of front desk staff is a gap area in most medical practices. They tend to be young and inexperienced or older and unenthusiastic. (I'm sure there are exceptions!) But these are the front lines of the health care experience for patients. Sometimes it's you, at the sliding glass window, interrupting someone in the middle of a takeout container full of Chinese food. Other times, it's you waiting to be weighed by two gossiping young ladies who seem oblivious that they are being rude (both to you and if they have been talking about another patient, you might fear the same treatment later.) 

This is a missed opportunity for improving patient experience -- providing cold drinks, up to date magazines, health education, (germ-free) toys for kids and information about what to expect during the appointment would all be appreciated.  But that takes conscious effort and I rarely see that anymore. 

Practices with well-trained, enthusiastic and competent frontline staff can manage a myriad of problems behind the scenes. After all, patients are spending hours in the waiting room...