How to Talk About Healthcare Marketing Strategy, Not Just 'The Thing'
Does this seem familiar? A chief of service has been difficult to reach but then suddenly calls and wants to sit down to talk about "marketing." At the meeting, it quickly becomes clear that all she wants is a brochure or an ad or a give-away item, not a marketing strategy. How do you respond?
Is Marketing Just for the 'Fun Stuff'
For many in healthcare, "marketing" is the department that produces fun stuff. This reputation was well-deserved because healthcare marketers had been slow to pivot to data-driven, consumer-oriented methodologies used in other industries.
Once, a senior leader remarked I had "the best damn job in the whole place" because of all the fun he imagined we must be having in the department. He went on to describe a commercial where people avoided meetings with finance and operations but looked forward to going to marketing meetings because of the music and dancing. At the time I laughed outwardly and grimaced inside.
This legacy lives on. It persists despite the remarkable shift in healthcare marketing to research, strategy, technology, audience-based messaging, consumer journeys and understanding the operational and financial elements needed to generate ROI.
The problem is that expertise is hard to see, while a brochure is in plain sight. So internal customers will still call you for "the thing." You can choose to view "the thing" as an albatross or an opportunity.
3 Ways to Change the Conversation
Now you're seated around the table and realize they are using the term "marketing" very loosely. All they want is a specific type of deliverable. Do you fulfill the request? Do you interject a more accurate description, "oh so you are looking for a promotional piece"? Or do you try to steer them toward a bigger picture perspective? Ideally, the answer is all three.
Mentally you need to frame your approach as "yes, and..."
- "Yes, we can do the brochure. And this gives us an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of your audience and their concerns, so we can address them here and on the website. That would help increase the number of new patient appointments."
- "Yes, we can produce the give-away item for the conference. And we can also put together a nurture program that communicates with your audiences before and after the conference, so they keep you in mind for referrals."
- "Yes, we would be happy to do a promotional plan for your department, and if we included that as part of a broader marketing plan, we could help grow service line volume and show a positive Return on Investment."
These responses can open the door to market research, audience cultivation strategies and less comfortable discussions about appointment wait time, revenue and contribution margin, and the patient experience. It may not work every time, but it conveys the actual value you can bring and positions your team as more than the ‘department of stuff.'
Michael Crawford became interested in healthcare listening to the conversations around the patio table as his parents and their colleagues talked about work. For the past 30 years he's used his marketing expertise to help medical groups, hospitals and health systems connect with consumers, physicians, employers, brokers and health plans. He advocates for a strategic approach to marketing, audience-based communications, coordination between marketing and customer service functions, and early inclusion of the marketing discipline when planning services. His work has earned more than a dozen awards over the past few years. He’s no stranger to healthcare reorganizations or healthcare reform, from the failed effort during the 90s to the implementation of the ACA to today’s efforts at repeal. His blog, Healthcare Marketing Survival Guide, offers advice for B2C and B2B healthcare marketers trying to chart their course during uncertain times. Connect with him via LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @health_crawford.