Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Is Meaningful Differentiation Lacking in Healthcare Marketing?

The other day, I was reading my local community newspaper, the Herald-News and a national publication, The Wall Street Journal. Yes, I am kind of old fashion that way, reading a newspaper where you actually have to touch and turn a page, and move your head to read a story. In both papers, I saw several healthcare advertisements and a placed story.

Normally, one would probably would scan the ads or the story, make a fast determination of usefulness, and move on. Especially, if you don't need that particular service or clinical capability at the time. The placed story led with "A spa like atmosphere". Really.

But when looking at all the placements, I asked myself, what were the distinguishing differentiation characteristics, that separated everyone? What was the brand promise? What were the key messages? And most importantly, what, as a healthcare consumer, did you expect me to do?

Sadly, I could not find any clear and unambiguous differentiation.

This is not a challenge to be overcome, to be politically correct. It's a marketing problem. Period.

And it goes on in markets all across the U.S.A. on a daily basis.

What it reflects, is an old way of doing business. In a dynamic and rapidly changing healthcare market, where the consumer, is beginning to assert more control over the decision-making process, healthcare providers need to begin paying more attention to what they are, and are not saying. Just saying we provide quality care, have the best physicians, treat you with the latest high-tech toys, or provide an exclusive hotel-like experience doesn't work.

Those messages do not differentiate you. Everybody is saying the same thing.

The healthcare consumer of today, is looking for meaningful information upon which to make a reasonable and rational decision.

They are looking for answers to such questions as:

Why should I choose you?

What makes your doctors different, from the physicians in the other hospital, office or clinic down the street, who by the way, practice medicine in your hospital, and as your physicians do, admit to that hospital too?

How are your high-tech diagnostic and treatment tools, so outstandingly different from the ones in other settings. How do they make an outcome difference?

Do you really think that I care that you have a "spa like setting", big screen HD TVs, or internet access and will use that information to make one of the most important decisions in my life?

There are no easy answers.

The answers do require, that healthcare leadership and many marketing departments, begin to admit, and recognize, that the old way of healthcare marketing doesn't work anymore. Your brand messaging and advertisements, direct mail, web site, social media efforts etc., will have to become clearer. Much more clear on the benefits of, and reasons for, choosing you. That means treating the new healthcare consumer not as an idiot, but as a partner in the decision-making process. It means becoming transparent and open about outcomes. It means educating the healthcare consumer, about what the value is of an award is and what that award means to them.

It means changing attitudes toward, and practice of, marketing in your organization. Understanding that the old ways of healthcare marketing just don't work anymore.

To the major health system, that ran the cardiovascular ad in the Wall Street Journal, placing the Thompson Reuters Top 100 logo for excellence in that service-line, pay attention. The date on the logo of the award is 2008. It's 2011.

Since that award is bestowed annually and it's two years old, do you think that maybe the consumer, is asking what happened the last two years that you didn't receive the award?

Never let a consumer think of, or ask a question you don't want to answer.

Repeat after me: Brand. Price. Value. Differentiation.

You can continue the conversation with me on:

For more information, or to discuss your strategic healthcare marketing, customer experience management, marketing/sales integration or start-up needs, you can learn more at my web site the michael J group; email-; or phone by calling me at 815-293-1471.

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