How to Market Everything on a Limited Budget

Posted on February 2, 2010

Sounds crazy, but sometimes it's how we marketers feel.  The fact is, we can't and shouldn't try to market everything. In terms of determining where and how to allocate marketing resources, there are some clear-cut criteria to consider and list by priority and weight.

In healthcare, every service line or physician group thinks it's the most important and deserves the biggest piece of the marketing budget pie. Yet we know that not all should be treated equally.  Some advanced services - such as neurosurgery, cardiac surgery, cancer care and trauma - likely fall better in a general branding strategy.  Services like urgent care, sports enhancement, cosmetic surgery and sleep medicine could benefit from a direct-to-consumer strategy.

So how do you pick and choose? It's easier than you might think.

For starters, realize that it's about more than the money.  Even with unlimited resources it would be foolish to market everything because there are only so many messages that can be communicated before we create confusion in the marketplace. Remember that you are not only up against your competitors, but also every other industry that is trying to get their message across. Don't make it more difficult by having four ads in Sunday's newspaper and three different radio ads in the same buy.

Good marketing plans don't have to revolve around new business growth.  Sometimes maintaining your market share is even more important. Let's say your competitor opens a new cancer center and is heavily marketing it in your community. There's no reason to try to outspend your competitor.  Instead, make sure your referring physicians know your capabilities so they don't forget about you. If you can find a way to spend far less yet maintain your market share, you've made a huge impact to your bottom line. Plus, you'll be able to spend those additional dollars saved on other services that have true opportunity to grow.

Be sure to use your organization's strategic plan to help guide you. That doesn't mean you simply support the business plan with marketing tactics around each goal.  Instead, use the plan as a lens that you look through so you don't lose focus. As you build your marketing plan, make sure that your recommendations are true to the long-term strategy.

In smaller organizations, the marketing plan is the business plan.  If so, then take the opportunity to truly impact your organization. For example, if you know that improved customer service is vital to your company's long-term success, recommend a service promise in your marketing plan that the leaders endorse. Present the media plan and messaging and a plan to roll out the initiative.

Finally, make sure to track your efforts.  While it can be difficult to show direct ROI for every tactic, many times it's possible.  It'll come in handy when your next budget season approaches.  After all, what happened when you approached your CEO or CFO for an increased marketing budget without sound ROI data?  Could the answer have been different if you had?

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You don’t need research to tell you what you already know.

Posted on February 9, 2010

You know better, but how many times have you heard this statement in the C-Suite? First of all, you need reliable research to set the baseline for developing marketing objectives. Secondly, if your research is really only telling you what you already know, you're not using research effectively.

Strong market research should be used to help you analyze the experiences, opinions and preferences of those who live in a designated geography. By combining quantitative and qualitative research methods you should be able to get an in-depth detailed flavor of your marketplace.

What you do with that information is what really counts. It should lead you to make specific marketing and operations recommendations that can impact both the short- and long-term success of your organization.

Yet too many times leaders will say "I already know that we don't have great awareness of our cardiac services - that's why we need to advertise it" or "I know the research says people don't like our nursing care - but they're wrong!"

The truth is, by making assumptions of what consumers think and believe - or not believing the statistically sound data they are provided - leaders fall victim to the reason they aren't being successful in the first place: failing to listen to their customers.

Research can be equally important from a messaging perspective - whether it be a public relations campaign, brand advertising or a targeted service line promotion. Before spending thousands on high reach and frequency, shouldn't you make sure that the message is persuasive and impactful? If consumers don't believe what you're telling them, you aren't changing their perceptions.

Did you include marketing objectives based on research in your 2010 goals? Were your marketing plans built around closing gaps in consumer preferences or awareness? If not, it's never too late to start down that road.

Can you make marketing decisions without research? Yes. But take another look at that question. It's missing an important adjective; that being, "informed." When you know what consumers are actually thinking (i.e., not your own biased perception of what they think), it greatly reduces your chance of making a poor or ineffective decision.

Constantly remind yourself - and the leadership team - that without proper research, it will be difficult to focus precious marketing dollars in a way that positions your hospital or clinic competitively in the market. And when you aren't using sound research to guide your communications, you're simply hoping to impact the bottom line.

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Are reporters lazy?

Posted on February 16, 2010

Well, they can be.  But more likely, they're just very busy and don't have time to fully scope out the news behind what you're pitching.  There are some strategies to employ that will increase the likelihood of garnering positive news coverage.

For starters, get to know them.  It might sound simple, but with the high turnover seen in many newsrooms it can be difficult to just keep track of whose coming and going.  You need to take it well beyond names and numbers and e-mail addresses. That doesn't mean you need to be best friends - just have a professional relationship. Start with where they went to school, what their favorite hobby is, where they grew up, whether they're married and if they have children.  Keep a log of this information because in a larger media market it's impossible to keep it all straight.

Keep in mind that this isn't the type of detailed information you're going to pick up in a five-minute conversation the first time you meet a reporter.  Of course by then you will have done your own homework - which at a minimum means reading their company bio, seeing if they have a Facebook or LinkedIn page and what comes back in a basic internet search query. Use what you learn to establish some common ground that goes beyond what's in your news release.

If you do whatever you can to make reporters' jobs as easy as possible, they'll remember.  That might mean a little extra work on your part before pitching the story, but it also could secure a prime placement instead of a three-paragraph brief. Instead of telling them where to find the public information, build the spreadsheet for them.  Rather than pointing them to a website with background info, pull the key info and provide it.

You'll also want to watch the stories they cover and be sure to let them know if you liked one in particular - even if it wasn't about your company. And if a reporter does a fair and accurate story that you're involved in, don't stop with a thank-you note to them - make sure you let their boss know as well.

Working with reporters is a two-way street.  There will be times when they will need access to the sources you provide when it isn't convenient.  They'll call on deadline or after "normal" office hours.  All I can say is find a way to make the interviews happen - at least the first time.  After that, you can explain what might work better the next time you work with them.

Of course, whether you place a good story goes well beyond the relationship you have with reporters.  There are layers above you and in the newsrooms that need to be navigated as well - but that's fodder for another day.

In the end, the relationships you build with reporters need to be built on mutual trust and respect - and by the fact that you need each other to succeed.  I shudder when I hear a media relations pro call a reporter his or her friend.  So where do you draw the line?  Is it okay to have a cup of coffee with a member of the media and not talk about work?  What if you run into a journalist at your favorite restaurant bar - do you offer to buy them a drink?

What do you think? We welcome your comments!

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How to market an unmarketable doctor.

Posted on February 23, 2010

Like it or not, whether it is cars or health care, people buy from people they trust and like.

That's why there is more to marketing health care providers than talking up their skills and knowledge.  After all, most people assume doctors are smart - otherwise they wouldn't be doctors, right? And while we all know that some are better than others, many large practices have been built more on personality than through persuasive marketing.

So what do you do when asked to promote a provider who just doesn't have much more to offer than that medical degree?

We quickly discover that few medical programs take the time to teach public speaking or mass communications.  If upon meeting the provider you have been asked to promote you think you have a dud, it is important that you have the courage - and proven track record - to recommend media training or a personality implant.

Seriously, if the product isn't marketable, it's our responsibility not to waste our precious resources trying to force growth. Get new providers involved in the community by talking to a local civic group or handling a media interview.  Make sure existing providers have acceptable patient satisfaction scores before investing in raising their profile.  You just might find that consumers already know all too much about the provider you are trying to force upon them.

Many health care systems use physician practice building kits to introduce new physicians or to jump start struggling ones.  These kits include multiple tools from bio sheets to internal training resources to traditional advertising. While some look at these basic tactics as nothing more than proof that the physician exists, I would suggest that the proper mix can be the starting point toward building an emotional connection with potential new patients.

That is not to suggest that growing a physician practice is as simple as landing a media interview or holding an open house. Rather it's about making sure that the product - in this case, a health care provider - is truly marketable before proceeding with any tactics. Anything else would be a waste of time and money - both of which are scarce these days.

Can you think of any examples outside of health care where good marketing resources were used to promote a bad product?  Let's share some here and remind ourselves what not to do in our world.

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