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When Doctors Say They Want Marketing (But They Really Don’t)

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Animated 3D stick figure deciding between a green "win" dice & a red "lose" diceOK…let’s be frank about this. If they had a magic wand to change their world, perhaps eight out of 10 doctors would rather not be concerned about marketing. Their inner being wants to devote all their professional time and attention to doing what they trained to do… being doctors, practicing medicine, and helping people.

But, like it or not, that’s not the real world. Marketing executives in hospitals, medical practices and throughout the healthcare industry—even physicians themselves—recognize the need to communicate with the public and attract prospective patients.

Some doctors will say they want marketing, but (at some level) they really don’t.

Marketing in healthcare is relatively new, and until recently, activists were rare among doctors. Health care has changed, competition has increased, and the business side of medicine is ever more challenging.

Among any group of practitioners—in private practice or within a hospital setting—some doctors will be marketing advocates, some “neutral,” and still others either don’t know or passively don’t object.

The question is: How do you get doctors onboard with marketing, advertising and public relations? Communications executives, administrators and managers all recognize the need to win agreement among their internal doctor-public...be it one or 100. Their buy in, acceptance and participation—from an informal community project, to ongoing social media, to a major branding campaign—will fuel success.

Some of the concepts that can help win support and grow consensus among busy physicians include:

Results Matter: Professionals respect professionals, and in the science-based world of physicians, they respect data, and ultimately, they respect results. Presenting and “selling” marketing efforts based solely on their intrinsic “creativity,” or that they are “fun ideas” will fall on their face if you ignore quantifiable results. Invest your time in results-based planning, in building a case for best practice approaches, and in demonstrating measured outcomes.

Evidence-Based Case Examples: Standalone anecdotes about marketing success are easily dismissed as an anomaly. Doctors are trained to consider solid case studies, and they are likely to consider (and perhaps endorse) plans that reflect the weight of evidence-based experience. Provide documentation, analytics, and Return-on-Investment data that illustrate a convincing pattern of outcomes from many healthcare marketing campaigns.

Reputation Matters: Doctors in a digital world are well aware that their public, professional persona is no longer a matter of “word of mouth.” Physicians more immediately relate to the marketing message and objectives when the compelling value proposition supports and extends personal visibility and professional reputation.

Easy Does It: Not surprisingly, busy doctors are highly protective of the demands on their time. In our experience, an unstated (and the real) objection to marketing ideas is actually a matter of managing the demands of their schedule. Time is expensive. When you want to win support or endorsement for a social media or advertising idea, present it with a willingness to handle the details and/or provide resources. Calculate the ratio of the upside benefit vs. the little time investment.

Ambivalence is nothing new, and it’s likely to continue. While many doctors will offer lip service to the benefits of marketing and advertising, often it is not a high priority. Conversely, practitioners who decide to embrace the goals, to take a leadership role, and to aggressively move forward are the successful ones.

For related articles, read: Doctor Marketing: Patients Are Always Judging You, and A Rose by Any Other Name: When Healthcare Marketing is a Thorny Label.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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