Sunday, July 22, 2012

Have you seen any goofy hospital advertising lately?

I have to admit, this is a pet peeve of mine, stupid hospital advertising. In a day and age where healthcare is experiencing great change, some hospital "marketers" and C-suite leadership continue to treat the healthcare consumer like they are some kind of idiot, incapable of making informed choices.

Do you believe that by offering a massage with a digital mammography, that women will choose to have their mammography at your facility? I would like to see the market research on that one. But then, odds are on that there wasn't any market research.

Remember, when you are marketing to individuals, they don't become a patient until they receive a service from you. So in one-third of the time in their interactions with you, the "person" is only a "patient" during diagnosis and treatment. Two-thirds of the time they are not patients, and most likely are arguing with your billing department about the charges.

And healthcare marketers wonder why no one takes them seriously.

Arguments aside, what should hospitals be advertising to create an unassailable market position, a strong brand, as well as an enlightened and informed consumer?

Is it the, "we are unique and world-class"? Even though The Joint Commission was just there for a sentential event.

Our technology is state-of-the-art. Never mind that a new technology was just introduced and you don't have it.

Another winner; we have the most shiny trophies and quality awards for several services. Oh, and even though we don't have a quality award for all services, if everybody else was as good as us message to go with it, "a 100,000 lives would be saved annually"! Really.

Or, how about the ever present focus on the physicians with messaging about having the best specialists in the region. And just so happens that these same physician practice medicine at the hospital down the street or across town. Hmm, does that make less qualified at the other place?

Then there is the here are the insurance plans we accept, you're the center of our world, followed by the we have big screen TVs and private rooms!

Let us not forget for a new hospital that just opened, "the air in your room is like the clean air in surgery."

I think, that pretty much for the most part, sums up the current state of hospital advertising.

And when several hospitals are staying all of these things at the same time in a market, do you really believe that the consumer is paying any attention at all, when there is so little differentiation, it all looks like "me too" and just shouting for attention?

I am sure it makes the Board, senior management and physicians feel good. All the while your audience receives absolutely no information that will help them make some of the most critical choices and decisions in their life.

And that can't go on any longer.

Time really to stop treating the healthcare consumer like they are some kind of idiot. People are coming to the realization that healthcare is not such the "black box that the consumer can't possibly "understand the complexity of medical care".

Time for meaningful information in the marketplace that will allow the healthcare consumer to become informed, educated and participatory in the care decision-making process. Time for marketing to begin to lead in hospitals instead of being order takers, and talking nonsense in their markets.

You should be transparent and talking about your outcomes. You need to engage in a meaningful dialogue that gives individuals the information that they want and need. The healthcare consumer is hungry for information and are searching the internet and other sources about you and how you perform. They are paying more of the cost. Demanding more say in what goes on. And don't like being treated like they are some small child who can't make a decision.

To use an often quoted metaphor, the wave of change is upon the hospital industry as we move from provider-dominated and controlled decision-making, to consumer and patient-directed, controlled healthcare. Your choice, change, be responsive and surf the wave to success, or be washed over and deposited on the ash heap of history.

Michael Krivich is an internationally followed healthcare marketing blogger with over 4,000 monthly pages views in over 52 countries worldwide. He is founder of the michael J group, a healthcare marketing consultancy dedicated to creating value through strategic marketing for hospitals and health system regardless of payment mechanism, either fee-for-service or value-based to increase market-share, revenue , brand and demonstrate actual return on marketing investment. Michael is a Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives and a Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association.


Anonymous said...

Come on, Michael, you're being a little too hard on healthcare marketers. It's not like most of your complaints cannot be found in other advertising. Look at Coke, or any liquor for that matter, that makes consumers "cooler". Or chips that show you have great taste, or detergents that show how the buyer cares for his/her family, or, well, you get the point.
Your problem with advertising is that you think it has to be real. That may be what decides whether an ad will affect you; however, most consumers/patients are more easily swayed. Indeed, unless a consumer is searching for something specific (problem>solution, which is the most effective and easiest to demonstrate an ROI), advertising is really meant to simply place strong, clear messages that separate the client from its competitors in the viewers' heads and gives them confidence that they are making the right decision by choosing the client/brand. That's it. In essence, most healthcare advertising works like Coke. People have to be told they'll feel good by choosing the product/service.
The lack of "teeth" in this advertising is exactly why COO's hate it. Most of this type of advertising cannot be measured, but we all know there's some value there, including the COO.
Pushing a "caring" brand only works on those who haven't experienced the opposite from the brand. But it's important to say it nonetheless. Sure, everyone expects their hospital to care for them. But the ones who say it often and consistently, and can actually back it up for the most part, have the strongest brands.
So in summary, healthcare advertising is no different than other advertising in that it has to offer a promise from the client to the consumer that is desirable to the consumer for whatever reasons.

Michael J. Krivich, FACHE, PCM said...

To anonymous,

I hear what you are saying, but any COO that is not holding its marketing department to the fire and demanding Return on Marketing Investment gets what they deserve. If there is no clear call to action for the consumer respond too, then why are you doing it? Because the CEO, board member or physician thought it was a good idea?

And from what I have seen working in both the hospital setting and health systems at senior management levels, CEOs, COOs, and CFOs. still don't understand marketing, its role, and how to even integrate it into the operational and financial plans of the organization.

Making comparisons to Coke and others is really comparing apples to oranges in advertising. Coke, Walgreens, pharma to name a few, spend millions each year in consumer market research. They know the consumers needs and desires as well as and how they will react to their marketing before they ever go to market. So you want successful healthcare advertising, do the market research first. You wouldn't be doing much goofy healthcare advertising if the research was taking place. So don't compare what you do to others, unless you have done the research on consumer needs, desires and price point.

Do you really believe that a consumer will choose a hospital because they say they care? Come on, that is so 1990s. Just saying you care isn't good enough anymore. Saying you have the shiniest best hi-tech equipment is not good enough anymore. Saying you have a quality award isn't good enough anymore without context around what it means to the consumer.

A lot of healthcare adverting boarders on misinformation and downright misrepresentation. There are truth-in-advertising laws and FTC regulations, it's just a matter of time before the lawsuits fly.

Oh and next time sign your name instead of hiding behind anonymous.