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The Push and Pull of a Winning Hospital Ad Strategy

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

social media marketing block letters with little stick figures standing on top of themAs of today, only a few hospitals in the United States have ventured into “the new frontier for health ads,”—using Facebook or Google online ads to attract new patients. (By one estimate, a lonely few of 150 hospitals out of 6,000 have ventured out to this digital edge.)

With 97.5 percent of the nation’s hospitals still on the sidelines, there’s a strategic and early opportunity for success for healthcare facilities and hospital marketing. The big caveat—a really important one—is not to waste resources experimenting, and to structure it correctly from the start.

At the top of the “get it right” list is understanding the important distinctions between Facebook and Google as social media advertising channels. (Both sell ad space, but they are different beasts.) And further, “PUSH Marketing” and “PULL Marketing”—as the names imply—operate in different directions. (More on that in a minute.)

First, here’s the background story about the “new frontier for health ads: Online outreach.”

“A growing number of US hospitals,” according to a story by Kaiser Health News and the Philadelphia Inquirer, “are incorporating Facebook, Google and other websites into their advertising campaigns as they seek to attract new patients.”

The Kaiser/Inquirer report spotlights the University of Pennsylvania Health System’s online ad campaign—via Facebook and Google—seeking lung transplant patients. At a cost of $20,000, the online advertising effort exceeded administrators’ expectations.

“More than 4,600 people clicked on the ads and 36 people made appointments for consultations. One of those is now on the hospital’s lung transplant waiting list, and several others are being evaluated, hospital officials say. While the response may seem small, each transplant brings in about $100,000 in revenue.”

Hospital communications professionals will recognize that the Kaiser/Inquirer article lacks much in implementation depth and detail. (Understandable in a piece for the general public.) For example, Google and Facebook are lumped together almost interchangeably. But the distinctions are critical.

Important Distinction Number One: Yes, Google is trying to capture social media activity with its aggressive rollout of Google Plus. But it’s reasonable to assume that most of the online advertising traffic comes to hospitals from its traditional Google AdWords search advertising. It’s important to distinguish between responses that come via Google vs. Facebook or Google AdWords vs. Google+. It’s almost certain most of the responses came through Google AdWords.

Important Distinction Number Two: PUSH vs. PULL is at work here. “Push Marketing” pushes messages to consumers who are not necessarily actively seeking the information. “Pull Marketing” exposes advertising to consumers who are actively pulling information into their lives because of a current need, want or problem. In short they are specifically looking for answers, options, information and/or resources.

Google AdWords and other search advertising exposes the consumer to directly relevant and timely information that is important to their search activity. In this example, “pull” ad response will likely be stronger than from social media “push” ads.

For many US hospitals, online advertising could be a cost-effective alternative to mass media options. And with relatively few hospitals using this approach there’s an open-field competitive advantage for business development. Specific hospital-owned services, procedures and facilities could find self-referred patient prospects and a strong market position.

And for more, read our earlier post, Google Plus for Business.

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