Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Healthcare Advertising in a Consumer-Driven Market

I have been thinking about this topic for awhile now. And it does fit into what I have been writing about in Customer Experience Management. Hospital and other healthcare leadership seem to be struggling with the concept of an empowered, informed healthcare consumer who is making active decisions regarding treatment and care, instead of relying on the provider of care making the decisions.

This is leading to any number of hospitals and others advertising outcomes, satisfaction rates, awards for care, no wait ERs and other self proclaimed measures and for example, using web site clocks that provide real-time ER wait times, etc. Some innovative hospitals have even been cleaver in their ER advertising and other communication channels allowing customers to text a message and get the wait time back. Some ads make claims of being the number one in treatment because of the volume of cases. Some support the brand and brand promise very clearly. Others leave much to be desired.

Most ads are agency quality and well done, while some are clearly created in-house and look it too.

Some no doubt are driven by what CEOs and docs want.

My advice to those hospital CEOs and docs is- don't quit the day job. Hire an agency and get it right. In a consumer-driven market home-grown is not cute. Too many headlines confuse people. Bolding copy is like shouting at them. Too much copy means you have no clear idea of what you are communicating. Those ads are not supporting your brand, brand promise or even at times make any sense at all.

Misrepresentation of the data.

But what I am also seeing is misuse and misrepresentation of data related to quality awards from third parties. It's one thing to advertise that you have earned awards for clinical quality in several areas, who the awarding organization is and the importance of the meaning of that award to your audience.

It's an entirely different matter when you take that award and tell people that if all the hospitals in the nation were as good as you, in those categories, which are not all of the categories of care awarded, that 158,000 lives would be saved annually is flat out wrong and misrepresenting any relative value of what that awards means.

And Tax-exempt hospitals chide their for-profit counterparts for misleading advertising?

Did you tell your audience that you had to pay the awarding organization for the right to advertise those awards?

What you should be communicating.

Which is the experience and how that awards makes you a quality provider of care in that category not all categories. Your messaging and visuals should be reinforcing quality, educating about what that award means , strengthening your brand and brand promise, as well as differentiating you from your competitors. You should be the data and outcomes transparent provider in your community. Create trust and goodwill with your messaging. Listen to your consumers and give them the meaningful data that they want in order to participate in the decision making process.

What you should not be communicating.

Do not use "unique", "world- class", "one-of-a-kind" , or "state-of-the-art" in your copy. What you do is not "unique", others provide the same. Unless someone is coming from another corner of the world to get care, you are not "world-class". And "state-of-the-art" is fleeting because a new service, procedure or technology is already on the horizon. Do not write or say "our medical team" or "staff" and use physicians in that sentence. Nor should you say "our physicians". That will get you drawn into physician malpractice lawsuits under the apparent agency doctrine.

Telling people "you care", when that is already an existing expectation of your consumers is stating the obvious. If anything, those types of messages only raise a red flag to consumers and are seen a pejorative.

This a critical component of Customer Experience Management.

In most cases your advertisements and other channel communications are the primary contact that a consumer has with you that starts the customer experience process or even considering changing providers. Talk to your audiences in meaningful ways. Educate. Teach. Inform. Change opinion. Tell them why the quality award is important and what it means to them. Frame their expectation and experience. Manage it.

Frame it in terms of the customer experience and you will find a heightened sense of consumer and brand awareness. Data transparency in outcomes and honesty will drive volume and revenue for that category of service. It won't if you incorrectly position the achievement by making wild claims of superiority that no one believes.

In the end, the FTC is watching.

You can continue the conversation with me on:

Michael Krivich is a senior healthcare marketing executive and internationally followed healthcare marketing blogger read daily in over 20 countries around the world. A Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives as well as a Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association, he can be reached at or 815-293-147. Areas of expertise include: brand management; strategic marketing; sales and marketing integration; physician marketing; product launch; start-up launch and revenue growth; tactical market planning; customer experience management; rebuilding and revitalizing marketing operations; integration of sales and marketing team; media relations; and service line revitalizations. Mike is Huthwaite SPIN selling trained and a Miller Heiman Strategic Selling alumni.

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