Saturday, January 25, 2014

How can healthcare marketing become a blue ocean strategy?

Simply put, a healthcare blue ocean marketing strategy is one where you redefine a market and dominate. By finding your blue ocean marketing strategy one can leap ahead of competitor's swimming in a blue ocean free of competition, instead of swimming in the bloody red ocean of undifferentiated services.

With healthcare moving to a semi-retail model where experience, price and quality transparency weigh heavily on the healthcare consumer with a  higher economic stake in care decisions, a healthcare provider at this time anyway, has the opportunity to break the mold and innovate along these dimensions and clearly differentiate in the market.

So how does this apply to healthcare marketing?

Healthcare is undifferentiated and for all practical purposes may be in danger of becoming a commodity where purchase decisions are made based on price, in this case the healthcare consumer’s out-of-pocket expense.  Hospitals, health systems, physicians and other providers have similar programs and services, have the same managed care contracts, share physicians etc., etc., etc, across multiple competitors. 

In an environment of multiple payments methods adding to the confusion from being paid for the production of care with the “heads-in-the-beds” to keep the healthcare consumer out of the hospital in the least expensive care setting, a blue ocean marketing strategy based on experience, price and quality transparency is just what the doctor ordered. Pun intended.

Now that being said, it is a tall order for an industry that has traditionally not been transparent regarding price and outcomes to make that change overnight.  But it is one of the few remaining changes that can provide a good head start on market dominance.  And in all honesty, whether or not survival is at stake, healthcare organizations need marketing innovation to change the competitive dynamics of the market.

The semi-retailization of healthcare is accelerating even more so now with the entrant of non-traditional providers who are competing on price, experience and access, which is a deadly combination for traditional healthcare providers who are slow to change.

Just because an organization packages the mouse trap differently than others, doesn’t mean it’s any different.

Developing what I call a blue ocean marketing strategy in truth stems from becoming a blue ocean strategy organization. Marketing leadership and marketing organizational transformation at its best and you have a formula for success. Be the blue ocean innovator and show healthcare marketing as proactive rather than reactive.

As the Disney character Dory in Finding Nemo says, “Keep swimming, keep swimming, keep swimming.”

Saturday, January 18, 2014

I am a healthcare consumer. Do you know what I need?

I am a healthcare consumer and spending more out of pocket than I ever have in the history of healthcare.  I see the data on price and wonder why it’s so different when you won’t tell me why? I have seen the quality data but wonder if I will get sick from a hospital acquired infection, have an accident or get the wrong medications?

I am a healthcare consumer and see the nice advertisements and billboards for the hospital or health system with shinny trophies and award logos, but I don’t know what that means. The hospital or health system claims world class care but how do I know that is really true? I see what people are saying about the hospital or health system in social media circles.

I am the healthcare consumer who is newly insured because my employer sent me to the marketplace to buy my own insurance, or my policy was canceled due to ACA. I am the healthcare consumer who never had insurance before so why should I use you?

I am the healthcare consumer.

I read an interesting article published by Healthcare Finance News, Healthcare 2.0: Patient as consumers the other day and it caused me to pause by catching my attention. Then I started thinking what does that mean for healthcare marketing?

As healthcare evolves to a semi-retail environment difficult choices and decisions by hospitals and health systems are on the horizon.  And hiding behind the “we’re healthcare and we are different” won’t make those choices and decisions go away.

Granted, healthcare will never be a fully consumer driven market in the traditional sense. Some healthcare treatments, screenings etc., are needed by patients because they just don’t know about those services but that doesn't mean decision-making any longer without consumer market research.

Healthcare providers need a deep understanding of who the healthcare consumer is, what their needs are both perceived and unmet.  Now that being said there will always be services that need to be offered, but if you are communicating with a 25 year old, should you really be taking to them about colon cancer screenings or the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse?

This market dynamic is really transformational. Market research to achieve a deep understanding of who the healthcare consumer across all you market segments is needed like never before. That includes a voice of the customer program as well. And marketing needs to be at the table in this discussion and playing an active role. It is no longer I think this is the right way because the Board, doctor’s, senior management or the clinician’s had an idea. It’s now I know this the right decision in program design, communication messages and market approach because it’s based on facts.

And these are topics I have been writing about for the past several years now.

I am the healthcare consumer. Now what are you trying to sell me?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Is healthcare ready for native advertising?

The other day while trolling around the internet in the world of healthcare, I came across an interesting social media infographic: 41 percent of patients say social media affects hospital choice courtesy of  I thought that factoid was pretty interesting.  Then I started thinking about the connection of this factoid to native advertising.

If you not familiar with the term “native advertising”, the simplest way to explain the concept is that it’s online advertising that seeks to gain attention by providing content in the context of the social media or online user’s experience. Native advertisement fits the form and function of the user’s experience in which it is placed.

Now given that 41 percent of people are using social media to choose a hospital and that number will grow over time, native advertising offers healthcare providers a large target audience rich environment to reach with relevant brand content woven into the context of the user experience. I am assuming of course in this statement that social media utilization by healthcare marketers is becoming more diversified, creative, and contextually appropriate to their brand.

That assumption may be debatable, but if a healthcare provider is ignoring social media and using the medium solely as a billboard for the warm fuzzy quality and we’re the best messaging when the market is evolving to a semi-retail model based on price and quality, well, they are missing an opportunity to build brand and revenue.

But I digress. So what does native adverting look like? Let’s start with what it is not.
Native advertising is not advertorial advertising. It is not an ad box. It is not automated.

Now let’s look at what native advertising is. Native advertising integrates high quality content in the user experience. It is delivered in stream and does not interrupt the user experience but adds to that experience. It is selective, remaining true to the brand in the context of the user experience.

If you are looking for examples of native adverting take a look at Facebook, The Washington Post, and the NY Times.  Oh and I would suggest that you hire an agency. Native advertising is not easy and is the next big wave in 2014 to come crashing down on under-resourced healthcare provider marketing departments.

You will need to do the market research to understand the social media habits of the particular healthcare audience segment in your marketing plan. One will need to segment the social media native advertising efforts because one size does not fit all. The content that is developed may fit in and work well on Facebook, but not on Google+ or LinkedIn as an example.

It should be remembered that native advertising should be used in an integrated fashion within the marketing mix of the organizational efforts with direct mail, trade shows, programs, thought leadership, advertisements, public relations etc.

Native advertising offers the healthcare provider the opportunity to standout within the context of the use experience.  And when so much time and attention is given to the healthcare consumers experience, shouldn’t that be extended to the advertising experience as well?

I leave it up to you to decide if healthcare provider's are ready for native advertising.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Why not engage the healthcare consumer with email?

Email marketing on the consumer side is a staple of any B2C marketing operation. Email marketing can be an effective way to engage the healthcare consumer, enhance the experience and build brand preference.  It also provides a mechanism for continuous content presence to build/enhance relationships, as well as being one of the more cost effective marketing channels available for communication. In the semi-retail environment of healthcare with information flowing to the healthcare consumer along price, choice and outcomes, market presence is everything.

Gone are the days when someone uses your healthcare organization, walks out the door and they never hear from you again until they initiate the next medical encounter.  In between medical encounters, email marketing can keep you engaged with the healthcare consumer. And isn’t that what engagement is all about, a continuous method of communication that focuses on the needs of the healthcare consumer aka the patient and not just a response to an episode of care?

The topics are virtually limitless and can be tailored to meet the specific needs of an individual or group of individuals.  From diet and exercise tips, to medication adherence, wellness programs, clinical service offerings, appointment reminders, test follow ups, etc, email marketing can help to engage and enhance the experience with the healthcare provider or practitioner.  What you choose to communicate is really only limited by the market research you need to accomplish to understand the needs of your audience to respond accordingly with the right engagement information at the right time.

There is some resource investment capital and human, but it will pay dividends in the long run. Email marketing is driven by data and analysis of that data. Sending an email is an activity.  It’s the outcome of those activities- open rates, unique visitors, unsubscribed, click though rates, calls in response etc., that is important to measure and track for a variety of reasons.

Beyond the obvious of needing to collect patients email addresses, you will need a email marketing automation system such as Eloqua, Marketo, Constant Contact  or one of the many other fine systems in the marketplace. These type of systems will assist you in meeting the can spam law requirements as well. This isn’t collecting some email addresses, make a distribution list and send from Outlook type of program. It’s about meaningful content that speaks to and engages the individual in a very personalized way. Part of that is driven by market research and A B testing of your message to learn what works and what doesn't. This is moving the organization forward in a new environment where the consumer is king and cost is everything.

Email marketing pre and post healthcare experience is an acceptable and desirable method to engage the healthcare consumer, build a relationship, strengthen your brand and maintain a continuous market presence.