Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Consumers Buying Journey & Hospitals, the Marketing Starting Point

As the provider market for the healthcare consumer continues to consolidate through merger, acquisition, liquidation or disintermediation, there is one clear outcome. Fewer providers mean heightened competition within hospitals or health systems in a bid to stay atop the food chain. With the consumer's growing realization that they need a hospital for only three things, the ER, ICU and medical care for complex acute medical conditions, they are more in control with their physician of the buying process than providers want to admit.

To become part of the consumers choice for healthcare, successful providers will recognize that understanding the healthcare consumer buyers journey is the new way of thinking about marketing, how it impacts growth and can drive the organization in a better direction that is more customer-focused and responsive to their needs.

 Customer Buyer Journey

In this environment, providers are already losing meaningful differentiation. Marketing campaigns for example with messaging that we care more, we have the best facilities, we have the best technology, or better yet, our doctors care more, are meaningless when the data available shows most care is too expensive and average at best.  In essence, all hospitals and health systems do the same thing. How they communicate with little variations on features and benefits across the continuum of care may be different, but still at its most basic level are substantially the same. 

Of course, brand reputation can be a powerful influencer but where some providers struggle is when they don’t have a considerable brand reputation or more than basic customer understanding. Just because you have developed personas doesn’t mean that you fully understand the customer or their buying journey.

Now that being said, this discussion is not for the highly successful hospitals or health systems that are already using buyer’s maps and building customer evangelists along the way. In successful hospitals marketing is highly integrated, and leadership has set the strategy, vision and executes on a nonnegotiable customer-first strategy. But when you find one tell me!

What is the change that is required?

The requirement is to move from an overreliance on features and benefits marketing to an organizational customer focused culture and strategy. The marketing operation becomes highly integrated and shifts to inbound marketing. Marketing’s job is now to provide the right content, at the right time, in the right healthcare context during the customer's buying journey.

Influencing the costumer’s journey is about highly effective marketing.

When hospital marketing understands the buying processes, then marketing becomes far more useful. Marketing moves from putting the heads in the beds or focused on brand or image in the hopes that they are not resources, to a defined process that enhances growth.

Next steps

Creating a buyers map takes time and resources. Let me be clear that this is some heavy lifting needs to happen. No shortcuts are allowed.

There are many different ways to map and a search on the IoT will provide one with all the templates necessary. But at a minimum, the following information is essential to the process and understanding.  Keep a singular focus as one gathers information on the buyer stages of Awareness, Consideration, and Decision. 
1.       Initial moments that lead to the first contact. 
2.       Process steps the buyers take and conversations they engage in to find solutions. 
3.       The flow of the process steps and experiences leading up to purchase. 
4.       Items associated with purchase and consumption.  
5.       Ongoing experience and reactions to the purchase.

After all, if you want to survive, thrive and grow in turbulent shrinking markets, then you must understand the healthcare consumer, aka the patient and the buyer's journey like never before.

Michael is a healthcare marketing business, marketing, and communications strategist and thought leader.  As an internationally followed healthcare marketing strategy blogger, his blog, Healthcare Marketing Matters receives over 20,000 page views a month and read in 52 countries.  He is a Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives, Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association and HubSpot Academy- Email Marketing, Inbound Marketing & Inbound Sales Certified. Post opinions are my own.

For more topics and thought leading discussions like this, join his group, Healthcare Marketing Leaders For Change, a LinkedIn Professional Group.

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