Sunday, January 28, 2018

Hospital Marketing Appears Random and Unconnected, Says the Insured Healthcare Consumer

The eye rolls commence from across the industry at the sight of the headline with everyone thinking; I have a marketing plan. We are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media channels. We even have the annual wellness calendar telling us when it’s time to be doing things.  And on and on.

I don’t know about you, but I consider myself an insured healthcare consumer.

So, what has this got to do with anything in the headline?

A lot.

Because of the insured healthcare consumer, it’s all random noise that is not connected. And it is random in part because there is no sustainable or continuous market presence.

For example, the other day I received a direct mail newsletter from a hospital. Well, saying “I received” is probably misleading. Whomever the person that lives here named Resident is the one who received the mail. It was the first time I had heard from that provider in years.


Out of the blue comes a direct mail piece. Which by the way, though nicely produced, did not engage me in any meaningful way? Oh, you do surgery and have a new shiny MRI? Big deal, so does all the other hospitals. I am supposed to choose you because of that?  Hmm, try again.

The random advertisement is running once or twice. The cable TV spot on a couple of channels. The occasional update on the Facebook page. Look, there’s a billboard. Heard that sports radio program sponsorship.  But none of it is connected or sustained.


The insured healthcare consumer is omnichannel. The insured healthcare consumer is wired to the omnichannel Internet of Things. The insured healthcare consumer expects to be communicated with on their terms in a meaningful way that engages them on a personal level. The insured healthcare consumer expects that it is all about them and not all about the hospital.

It’s not about the hospital marketing plan and showing the activity of doing random things that appear coherent on paper. It’s about how you consistently use those activities and channels with a sustainable market presence to bring measurable value that engages the insured healthcare consumer.

And you can’t engage or demonstrate a meaningful value proposition to the insured healthcare consumer when your marketing is so random in appearance to the consumer.

Healthcare changed in a way unimaginable from a few years ago, but hospitals seem to be living in a bubble in many ways acting like the consumer healthcare market hasn’t changed.  I know that this isn’t easy but my goodness, at some point hospitals must get their go-to-market strategy figured out and start meeting the insured healthcare consumer on their terms.

The insured healthcare consumer understands that they only need a hospital for three things, emergency care, intensive care, and care for acute complex medical conditions. 

Even though marketing budgets are constrained, it is the responsibility of marketers for figuring out the strategy for a continuous and sustainable market presence in an omnichannel world. Senior leadership and Boards need to come to grips with this reality as well. It’s not about you anymore, and it hasn’t been for a very long time.

And your first step is to bring the marketing voice back to the senior leadership table as a vice president position reporting to the CEO.  Without that voice at the table and the respect that comes along with it, not much changes. 

Your hospital marketing is random and unconnected to the healthcare consumer. Stay that way, and it will be like a crime scene, move along, nothing to see here.

Michael is a healthcare business, marketing, communications strategist, and thought-leader.  As an internationally followed healthcare 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.  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. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Don’t You, Forget About Me. Hospitals Risk Fading to Black.

Don’t you forget about me
Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t
Don’t you forget about me

Will you recognize me?
Call my name or walk on by…..

Simple Minds, Don’t You (Forget About Me) written by Keith Forsey, Steve W. Schiff, Copyright ©Universal Music Publishing Group

And the hospital risks fading to black for many reasons, but a major contributor is due to the lack of a consumer-oriented value proposition, successful engagement strategy, and an unwillingness to be transparent in delivering meaningful value to healthcare insured consumers on the buyer's terms.

Don’t you forget about me? Is this the future of hospitals?

An individual only needs a hospital for three things- emergency care, care for acute complex medical conditions, and intensive care. Not for diagnostic x-rays. Not for rehabilitation. Not for most surgeries. Not for lab testing. Not for outpatient testing. All of this and more can be done in a far more consumer-friendly, convenient, accessible, affordable, and higher quality setting.

And the hospitals answer to the changing markets? Mergers and consolidation are claiming great insured healthcare consumer benefits due to economies of scale, cost and quality improvements, and elimination of duplicative services. Which, from all the studies completed over the years, confirm these reasons as less than truthful to the government regulators, the public, and the media. None of those claimed benefits have ever materialized.

On a side note, it would be helpful if the media did some research, fact-checking, and real journalism on these claims. Then maybe they wouldn’t be so gullible in carrying the hospitals or health systems message on the benefits of the merger.

A change is for survival.

The change that is needed in hospitals must be transformational.  Transformational in focusing on the healthcare consumer and not themselves. Transformational in operations and to stop killing over 250,000 patients a year from preventable medical errors. Transformational with informational transparency to the healthcare consumer. Transformational in strategic organizational vision.

But first and foremost, the most important change is becoming totally and completely healthcare consumer-centric and focused. It’s about alerting the DNA of the hospital and health system, which in turn will drive a completely incredible transformation.

And this is how.

There is no checklist of “if I do this and this, I will be a customer-focused hospital or health system, and the healthcare consumer will think so too.” The answer to the question of how comes in a two-part answer. And a hospital cannot arrive at the promised land of being a customer-focused healthcare enterprise unless it accomplishes part two of the answer. 

Part One- The Health Care Consumer

Think of one’s own experiences when interacting with a customer-focused company.  One is engaged and highly satisfied. Interaction with the company in gathering information is easy, accessible, and understandable across any of the platforms of your choosing. 

The experience from the first contact to the last encounter is seamless, meaningful, and integrated.  Proactive recommendations are sent and tailored to the individual healthcare consumer’s needs be that educational or preventative care.  During the engagement process, trust is built, and in the case of previous utilization, trust is reinforced and enhanced.  The brand promise is delivered every time. And most importantly as this is perceptual, there is an emotional connection that all that matters to you is “me.”  At no time do I feel or have an experience that’s it is all about the hospital and health system, making me secondary to what is taking place. The organization is responsive. Satisfaction scores exceed normalized standards.

A note regarding satisfaction. Because the healthcare enterprise may have high satisfaction scores, remember that it only measures the customer's perspective during the process of care.  It does not measure external influences or needs. High satisfaction scores while important do not make a customer-focused enterprise. Satisfaction is only one indicator of customer-centricity.  Satisfaction is a process that can be studied, manipulated, changed, and improved. See  “How to Use Patient Satisfaction Data to Improve Healthcare Quality”, Ralph Bell Ph.D., and Michael J Krivich. It is available on

Part Two- The Healthcare Enterprise

Sometimes, one must look at the lessons of the past to find the solutions of the future, as healthcare continues the evolution into retail medicine, a consumer-driven business model. So here is some reading homework:  MARKOR: A Measure of Market Orientation, Ajay K. Kohli, Bernard J. Jaworski, Ajith Kumar,  Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Nov. 1993), pp. 467-477, American Marketing Association; Harvard Business Review, “To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple”, Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman, May 2012; And  McKinsey & Company, “The consumer decision journey”, David Court, Dave Elzinga, Susan Mulder and Ole Jergen Vetyik, June 2009.

Becoming the total healthcare consumer-centric enterprise requires two things. First is outward market orientation. The second is the culture and behavior to support all levels of the organization the customer-focused business model.

Customer centricity in its pure and simplest form is a matter of market orientation. “Market orientation refers to the organization-wide generation of market intelligence about current and future needs of customers, dissemination of intelligence within the organization, and responsiveness to it.” (Kohli, Jaworski & Kumar, 1993.)

To become the consumer-focused healthcare enterprise, and there are 20 indicators in the MARKOR scale to measure market orientation.  Three of the indicators are considered to be the most important first steps:

Intelligence Generation 
1.       Meeting with customers to understand current and future needs  
2.       An in-house market research department or the availability of external market research resources 
3.       The ability to detect changes in customers preference  
4.       Annual surveys of customer perceptions which are different than satisfaction measurement

Intelligence Dissemination 
1.       Regular interdepartmental meetings on market trends and development 
2.       Important developments within the market or with key customers are shared quickly 
3.       Regular dissemination of satisfaction and perceptual data at all levels of the enterprise

1.       Recognition of changes in customers product or service needs  
2.       Alignment of product or service development efforts with customer needs 
3.       Regular, interdepartmental planning to respond to changes in the business environment 
4.       Responsiveness to customer complaints  
5.       Making a concerted effort to modify products or services to fit customer needs

According to Walker Research and the Walker Index, these characteristics are some of the key differentiating elements of customer-focused companies that are most likely to produce a significantly better long-term performance.

Systems to gather the intelligence to be an evolving customer-focused healthcare enterprise is one thing.  Culture and behavior are another. These are the potential critical stumbling blocks in hospitals and health systems becoming customer-focused.

The culture and behavior of the healthcare enterprise influence and ultimately determines success.  And just because the healthcare enterprise completes all 20, one or more of the MARKOR attributes, or only a select few, that in and of itself doesn’t make the healthcare enterprise customer focused. It only works if the culture and behavior of the organization are in alignment with the underlying organizational beliefs and values.

Customer-centric organizational culture and behavior fall into four areas:

Senior management 
1.       Committed to and takes action on being customer-focused 
2.       Drives business and financial planning based on the needs of customers 
3.       Utilizes market data in decisions 
4.       Business development is externally focused on meeting the needs of customers  
5.       Marketing is a member of the senior team, trusted and is involved in all decisions 
6.       Has a high level of tolerance for change 
7.       Accepts innovation and has some tolerance for failure 
8.       Low tolerance for and eliminates “sacred cows.”

Interdepartmental relationships 
1.       Interdepartmental cooperation takes place at all staff levels 
2.       Formal and informal connections to departments 
3.       Openness to ideas from other departments 
4.       Focus is on meeting the needs of the customer 
5.       Interdepartmental barriers to meet the needs of the customer are identified and eliminated 
6.       Seamless handoff of customers between departments

Organizational systems 
1.       A balanced approach to organizational structure  
2.       Market-based incentive structures that focus on long-term company health 
3.       Low level of “office politics.”  
4.       The mechanism is in placed to share customer-related data 
5.       Continuous evaluation and training of organizational customer centeredness 
6.       Strict standards regarding customer service competency skills for all positions 
7.       All touch-points of the customer experience are integrated and seamless

Organizational Culture 
1.       Organizations core values are widely shared and intensely held  
2.       Senior management establishes norms of customer-focused behavior by their actions 
3.       There is a culture socialization program for new employees 
4.       Conveys a sense of identity 
5.       People-oriented 
6.       Team oriented 
7.       Outcome-oriented 
8.       Fosters behavioral consistency

Customer centrality cannot be marketed into existence with campaigns and forays into the market with “customer-centric messages” or internal declarations of customer focus.  Sooner or later the healthcare consumer will figure it out.  Employees will see it as the flavor of the day and wait it out until the next grand leadership vision comes around. 

As in a previous post, the customer-focused healthcare enterprise is a way of life that permeates the hospital or health system with a singular focus. It is outward-looking and responsive, not inwardly focused, and unresponsive.

Are you up to the task of changing the DNA of healthcare enterprises?  The customer-focused healthcare enterprise is hard to create and takes a lot of work. It’s not a box on a checklist and is not just satisfaction. But in the end, as healthcare evolves into a consumer-centric retail market, it is the only way that the healthcare enterprise can survive. Cutting costs and going lean will only go so far in retail medicine.

And that Simple Minds song, Don’t You (Forget About Me) is in your head now too, eh? You’re welcome.

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