7 Healthcare Marketing Stumbles and Blunders

By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer

Stop sign with a handprint and "risk" text against sunny skies backgroundPhysicians, as a rule, tend to be risk adverse. The science base of healthcare, combined with training, continuing education, and experience in practice, can make medical risk manageable.

Doctors—who are also owners, entrepreneurs, and the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)—tend to be especially risk adverse on the business side of healthcare. Success in marketing and advertising, for example, can be more of an art than a science. The rules of the game can be less precise, and their education and experience in healthcare marketing is still growing (slowly).

That said…risk and marketing mistakes are inescapable. Even trained and experienced marketing professionals don’t miss all the potholes and mistakes happen. Sometimes these are small, sometimes they are costly, but the prudent path is to learn from mistakes (of others), and avoid healthcare marketing blunders.

The classic marketing mistakes…

“You Don’t Know Me.” Mistakes connected to Target Audience are a category of their own. The obvious risk is, if you don’t know WHO you are talking to, your marketing or advertising message will never connect, communicate or engage. Instead: don’t guess, assume: Carefully define your “ideal customer persona” in precise detail.

“Listen before you speak.” Success in marketing occurs when the problems, needs and concerns of the audience are intimately understood, and the provider delivers solutions and answers to those needs. Listen “with both ears,” as the saying goes. Use research, social media, surveys, market data and other tools to actively and perceptively understand needs first.

Other stumbles and blunders…

Don’t challenge your assumptions. Everything about the nation’s healthcare system has been changing rapidly. Whatever you thought to be true this morning has likely changed by the end of the day. Competition among medical providers and institutions is a significant example. Private practices are rolling up into medical groups, physicians and groups are being acquired by hospitals and health systems, pharmacy chains are making a play in primary care, and the health insurance industry is reinventing itself on most of these same fronts. Don’t rely on old data, last year’s assumptions, or intuition. What has been true, or what has worked in the past, has changed.

Just get your name out there. This would the branding corollary to “everyone, everything” mistake. Trying to be everything to everyone gets traction with no one. Attempting to win new business from a generalized, non-directed name recognition effort alone is hugely wasteful and unproductive. Follow this course if you have deep pockets, low expectations and thick stomach lining.

It’s safe on the sidelines. A wait-and-see strategy is seldom useful in the long term. Creating and following a proactive plan provides you with more control of risk (and your own future) than trying to duck and cover. Indecision and inaction can be fatal. Unless you’re already on your way to the showers and out of the game, sitting on the bench is no strategy at all.

Put all your chips on one number. Traditional, and familiar marketing methods (print advertising, broadcast media, etc.) has been so overshadowed by digital media (online advertising, websites, blogs, social media, etc.) that some would have you believe that “traditional” is dead. Successful marketing plans are never cookie-cutter, nor will they rely exclusively on one means, method or media. Effective marketing will use a combination of the best tools (traditional or digital) to produce the desired results.

Above all, don’t track. Marketing without measuring effectiveness and results is…well, it’s not really marketing. Create a reliable, real-time system that quantifies results as a comparison to goals. Tracking is the only way to know Return-on-Investment, what’s working, make adjustments, and measure meaningful results.

As a final thought, “The only real mistake,” Henry Ford put it, “is the one from which we learn nothing.” You may not be able to avoid making any mistakes, but when you can avoid many, or learn from them, it’s a step toward greater success in healthcare marketing.

For more on this topic, read: Money-Wasting Marketing Mistakes That Doctors and Hospitals Make Everyday.

Author: Lonnie Hirsch

Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Success
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Success, one of the nation's leading healthcare and digital marketing agencies. Over the past 20 years, Stewart has marketed and consulted for over 1,000 healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to multi-billion dollar corporations. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. As an author and expert resource, Stewart has also written for many leading industry publications, including the 21,000 subscriber Healthcare Success Insight blog. Stewart also co-authored, "Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow & Perfect Your Cash-Pay Healthcare Business." Stewart began his career with leading advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, where he marketed Fortune 500 clients such as Wells Fargo and Bally's Total Fitness.

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