In a Contest of Opinions, You’ll Lose — Research in Healthcare Marketing
How do you know?
It’s a question difficult to answer and defend without supporting data. That’s why research is so important to healthcare marketers.
Healthcare is a field used to working with data. Physicians use it when considering treatment options. Administrators use it for assess performance and trends in financials and patient satisfaction. Insurance companies rely on it to gauge claims risk and establish premiums. So, a healthcare marketer who doesn’t use data as the foundation for strategy, messaging and tactics faces an uphill effort.
There’s a growing risk to marketers who don’t conduct research. When resources are constrained, leadership looks to marketing to demonstrate ROI. If marketing only relies on taking internally popular messages or assumptions to market, the audience response rate may be underwhelming.
Marketing strategies and campaigns need to be based on the attributes, values and preferences of the intended audience. The only way to gain that level of insight is through objective, third-party research.
Why third-party research? Because it’s easy to unintentionally incorporate biases in the wording of questions, the sequence of questions, the scale that captures feedback, the population being included in the survey, and reporting of statistical significance and findings. An experienced research firm can probe for insights using a methodology that stands up to scrutiny, creating a credible foundation from which to start. The only thing worse than not doing research is to conduct it and have someone point out flaws in its methodology.
Thought it’s tempting, research shouldn’t be conducted to advocate a pre-existing position. It’s to obtain insights that allow you to better advocate for how the organization can go to market most effectively. My recommendation is to do quantitative studies first, to give you hard numbers, and then do qualitative research among a subset of the same participants to provide emotional context and verbatim quotes that illustrate your quantitative findings.
There are several types of research you might consider based on your needs:
Awareness, Usage and Preference (AUP)
This is the most common type of market research. It should be conducted to set a benchmark and repeated either after a major campaign or on an annual schedule to track changes. Its objectives are to measure unaided, aided and total awareness of your brand within your service area, how those numbers compare to competing brands, perceptions of all brands based on various attributes, and the likelihood of yours being chosen over others. You might conduct this for your Masterbrand, a facility or a service line.
To get an accurate picture of what the market thinks, a great deal of thought should go into screening criteria for who you include/exclude from the survey pool, the quotas to set based on demographic criteria, the geographic dispersion of respondents and total sample size. These criteria should be stated whenever you report results.
Drivers of Choice
One of the hardest marketing challenges is determining what to emphasize in messaging. This can be the subject of internal bias and fierce debate. Whether it’s a short online video ad or a 60-seond radio commercial, there’s only so much information you can include. And you already know, as a marketer, that the more you pack into a message the more likely it is to be forgotten. A ‘drivers of choice’ study sheds insight on how the overall market ranks certain attributes or features when considering a choice.
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.