Marketing Myth #2 — Women make all healthcare decisions

Posted on September 6, 2010

Study after study shows it. Do you believe it?

Marketing experts preach it. Should you really be listening?

A stroll through your local shopping center validates it. But are you looking in the right places?

Is it possible that men are the new drivers of healthcare decisions?

Without question, women continue to have great influence over most household purchases and key family decisions, including all aspects of healthcare from choosing doctors to scheduling appointments.

But men are taking on increased responsibility when it comes to their family's healthcare and your marketing efforts need to be adjusted accordingly.

Here's why: It's estimated that more than 75 percent of the job losses in the past two years have affected men, and nearly 60 percent of college graduates are women.  That means men are getting more involved in running the household - either as a stay-at-home dad or as a double-income family with joint responsibilities.

If you don't recognize this, you could potentially alienate an entire market segment, costing your organization dearly.

Do you doubt that this shift is occurring? Take some time to find out whether there are any signs within your organization. Have the pediatrics and imaging areas track whether it's mom or dad or both bringing children to the clinic or hospital.  Have the switchboard log who is calling your facility and for what.

If you see signs of the male influence in healthcare, make sure you're ready to adapt to their needs. Obviously men and women hold varying values, get their information in different ways and make very distinct decisions. It would make sense to ask the question, "How do men make decisions about healthcare?" And, if they are becoming more involved, "Do we have the capabilities in place to help them in their new role?"

A good reason to consider these questions is the potential benefit to your bottom line. Identifying and engaging emerging markets can help you get a step up on the competition-a big step up.

You'll still want to have a strong emotional connection with women, but you also will want to focus more on quantitative measurements like cost and quality that might appeal more to men. Whatever you do, don't let the "women drive healthcare decisions" belief become a crutch that prevents you from exposing your messages to all potential patients.

If your competition fails to do the same, it will be a huge advantage for your organization.

Do you agree or disagree?  Do you see any trends that would challenge us to think differently?

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Marketing Myth #3 — OB services aren’t worth promoting

Posted on September 15, 2010

Many rural hospitals close their birthing units every year, unable to sustain the ongoing losses incurred from around-the-clock staffing for a unit that is empty more often than it is filled. Before your organization reaches this same agonizing decision, consider beefing up your OB promotions instead of cutting back.

I get why it's difficult: How do you rationalize spending precious marketing dollars promoting your OB services when there are profitable service lines that need the attention?

The answer might be to step up your community relations effort instead. Here are a few ideas:

1)      Host a mom's group at the hospital where they can meet other moms, share parenting tips, learn about women's health and simply have some adult time. Don't have the physical space to pull this off? Start a social network site where they can do much of the same.

2)      Hold monthly potluck birthday parties for babies born at your hospital. You just provide the invites, space, refreshments and a branded gift for the youngster.

3)      Sponsor youth sports teams.  Whether it's t-ball, youth football, soccer or gymnastics, make sure that you are seen as a promoter of healthy activities for kids. You can save money by purchasing larger quantities of t-shirts or water bottles.

For many young couples, having a baby will be their first real health care experience. If they have a positive experience with another system - even if it's more than an hour away - they might become loyal patients for years to come.

The problem rural hospitals face is that many big-city hospitals not only offer the reassurance of a neonatal intensive care unit, they also have hotel-like birthing suites complete with room service and whirlpool baths.  In addition, the days of mom and baby staying in the hospital for a week following birth are long gone, replaced with stays of as little as two nights. That means it's an easier decision to choose a hospital that's an hour or so away from home for the big moment.

While it would be impossible to compete dollar-for-dollar with those larger hospitals, I think birthing services need to be a part of every rural hospital's annual marketing plan.  In many ways it sets the tone for your image and reputation.

After all, if couples aren't comfortable choosing your hospital to deliver their baby, they might not come for other services either.

Many of those larger hospitals recognize the role a solid OB unit plays in a comprehensive women's health program and dedicate appropriate marketing dollars to promoting it as such - and rural hospitals need to consider moving theirs up the priority list.

Remember, you are building loyal followers who will recommend your hospital to their friends and neighbors - and that's worth more than any advertising.

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Health care marketing myth #4: Advertising overcomes operational issues

Posted on September 21, 2010

Sometimes it's easy to think that advertising is the answer to everything.  And as an advertising agency owner, it'd be really easy for me to be the first to agree.

But the truth is that there are many internal, or operational, problems that not even the best ad campaign can overcome - and all health care leaders need to consider the following before insisting on waving the magic advertising wand:

  1. Never overpromise. We all know that advertising can influence behavior and buying decisions. So what happens when your ads convince consumers to try a service at your facility only to have them leave feeling underwhelmed or deceived?  They likely won't come back - and they'll be sure to tell their friends and neighbors about the experience. Make sure your ads portray the reality within your walls.
  2. Meet the demand. Once again, your ads have worked - too well it turns out.  When your potential new patient calls to make an appointment, she finds out the next appointment is available in three months.  By then, she will have gone to your competitor - for the same service you just spent money convincing her she needs. Before the ads hit, verify that there is enough capacity to handle the demand it creates.  You'll also want your media buyer to be creative so you have time to track the campaign before over-committing.
  3. Service is king. No ad campaign can overcome poor customer service.  Sure, great quality care will be enough for some patients, but in the long run your entire team - from the customer service reps to the nurses and the doctors - need to live your service promise.  Before building your next ad campaign, invest in customer service training that can truly differentiate your organization from the competition - then promote what it means to your patients.

While advertising can help you build brand, broaden market share, increase profitability-all these essential things and more-it can't do all of the work for you. Marketing can help get consumers to call you but it can't answer the phones. It can help increase awareness and build credibility but it can't schedule appointments or set a broken arm. You get the picture.

Keep in mind that opportunities can morph into problems-if they aren't handled correctly. That's why it's important. Scratch that. That's why it's imperative to have everyone on your staff up-to-speed, onboard and prepared to live up to the service levels and expectations your marketing promotes.

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