A blast back into reality

Posted on July 6, 2010

I hope you had a great July 4th holiday weekend.

If your company runs on a January-to-December budget cycle, take the big bang of this past weekend's fireworks as your signal to move 2011 planning higher up on your priority list.

Larger organizations with dedicated planners are constantly preparing for the next 12 months, three years, decade, or whatever cyclical timeframe they prefer. But many smaller organizations rely on their department leaders and consultants to handle the annual budget and strategic planning process.

Each method has its strengths and weaknesses.  Regardless of which you use, there are some things you should be doing right now to prepare for the planning season.  Here are a few ideas to consider:

1)      Gather information.  Don't wait until everyone else is asking the data police to run reports.  Request and study July-to-June data for the past several years as you look at market share and other financials that will be in high demand come budget season. You can always update your reports with updated numbers later on.

2)      Review last year's plan.  This is something you should be doing anyway, but the truth is sometimes planning documents become dust collectors.  Get it out, review the goals and see how you're performing.  The answers should help you form next year's goals and strategies.

3)      Get some face time.  Meet with service line managers, business development specialists and appropriate senior leaders. Most of this time will be spent looking at adjustments you can still make in 2010 and asking questions about their plans for 2011 and beyond. Basics include new services or providers, but don't let the discussion end there. Make sure to look at untapped markets and cross-selling opportunities that can be easily captured.

4)      Study the competition.  Take a stab at outlining their marketing goals based on what you've seen in their advertising.  Look back over several years to see any patterns or forecasting that might help you identify services that were once strong but have fallen or desired additions that never came to fruition - either could be an opportunity for your organization to consider targeting.

5)      Review the research.  Consumer preference scores are just one indication of how successful your marketing is, but when crossed with market share data it can be extremely valuable in identifying services that need protecting or abandoning.  You can also see if you're moving the needle in the right direction with your existing creative.

Will any of these help you get a few steps ahead of the planning/budgeting process?

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You can learn a lot from a 14-year-old

Posted on July 12, 2010

After coming home tonight from my daughter's soccer tournament in Blaine, MN - and reflecting on what I've seen of the  FIFA World Cup over the past several weeks - it hit me that we in healthcare marketing could apply some of the same principles of soccer to what we do.

1) Set lofty goals. When Andres Iniesta made his game-winning kick some 116 minutes into Sunday's title game, he made sure that Spain achieved something the other 207 eligible teams did not: winning the World Cup. Despite having never won one, we can only assume that was the team's goal.  Many others might have set more attainable short-term goals like making the 32-team pool play tournament or advancing through pool play. I'd like to think that those teams have long-term strategies that have winning a World Cup as the primary goal.

2) Create a plan. Not sure what your World Cup is?  It might be time to figure it out through a strategic planning session coordinated by someone outside your organization.  Getting that external viewpoint might just help point you where you never thought of going. In watching my daughter's team advance to the semifinals this weekend, I certainly saw strategy taking place every game. Even 14-year-olds recognize weaknesses in an opponent and take advantage. Do you do the same?

3) Just do it. There's only so much planning you can do.  I'm sure the World Cup teams tired of long practices and strategy sessions, but without that preparation they'd certainly lose.  At some point, the coaches stop coaching and the players start playing.  In our world, that means know when it's time to push the tactics instead of strategizing.

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Open enrollment around the corner

Posted on July 20, 2010

Sometime this fall after the cool winds blow and the leaves change color, thousands of Wisconsin insured employees will face their annual Open Enrollment period.

Many healthcare marketers choose to ignore this opportunity to communicate with existing and potential new patients, relying on the human resources personnel at each company to accurately explain the benefit changes. The truth is, only something positive can come out of being proactive with both employers and employees. Here are a few things you can do to prepare for the upcoming Open Enrollment period:

1) Know the insurance plans. In some organizations, this might be the marketing department's responsibility; in others, there is a separate development department that does so. Regardless, someone in your organization needs to know exactly which plans are in your marketplace and whether your physicians and services are included. Make sure the data is updated annually - it'll serve as your roadmap.

2) Evaluate the changes. Remember that data from the previous item? Use it to uncover opportunities. The most obvious will be any that move from an exclusive panel to an open one.

3) Work cooperatively. If a major employer suddenly includes your providers after years of being out-of-network, start by connecting with the benefits specialist and see if you can provide any brochures or attend their benefits fair. Ask to provide health columns for the company newsletter. See if you can hold a lunch 'n' learn health education program on site.

4) Get creative. Did you find out there are political reasons your providers were out-of-network for all those years? Remember that some of those employees are probably waiting for this news so make sure they get it. Consider newspaper or radio advertising. Maybe it's time to rent the billboard that every employee drives past to get to work. See if you can sponsor the placemats at nearby restaurants or the gas station toppers at the gas station across the street. Major changes will impact your company's bottom line regardless of what you do - but consider the return on investment from acquiring new patients who will stay with you as long as their insurance allows them to. You might not see immediate results, but remember this is about building long-term relationships.

Open Enrollment can open the door to new opportunities for your organization. Opportunities to strengthen existing relationships. Create new ones. And build brand awareness. It happens every fall, so be prepared to make the most of it-every year.

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