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How Healthcare Marketing is Like Drilling for Oil

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

There's a five-step process that makes for best practice success.

Healthcare marketing is very much like drilling for oil. Success requires a proven system not a shovel.

Here's an analogy that I presented to a client recently.

Suppose you want to drill for oil. You can begin making random holes in your backyard, or you can use a method that's based on knowledge, experience and the right tools. (Hint: Oil exploration in the US is a $250 billion industry that uses science and engineering.)

You could begin looking for oil by randomly drilling in your own backyard. Then you try your friend's backyard. And then you start buying properties until the zoning commission shuts you down. It's highly unlikely that you'll hit a gusher, but some people try.


You can hire a geologist to locate land with a defined set of characteristics that have proven to yield oil. The first field you try may or may not be fruitful, but over time, you are much more likely to find a gusher than if you go out haphazardly and start digging - like most people do when it comes to marketing. (You also gain the perspective that if the first hole is dry, it doesn't mean that oil drilling (marketing) doesn't work.)
Even though there is always an element of risk in marketing, you vastly improve the probability of sustained success with a well-considered, best practices approach.

It turns out that there are only five key steps in drilling for oil. It's a page from heavy industry that transfers nicely to successful healthcare and medical marketing. And the comparison is useful to medical practices, healthcare organizations, hospitals and others who want to minimize risk and maximize results.


It's wasteful to drill where there isn't any oil. Marketing is not about being everything to everybody. It's about answering a specific need with a specific solution. Geologists look for the right conditions for oil. Market research helps define the audience (demographics, psychographics, geographics, etc.) and the products and services that are in demand or will appeal to this target. You also define the media that communicates with them.


A 12-month marketing plan sets strategies, tactics and budget in place to achieve defined goals. What considerations (and possible adjustments) are needed for seasonal variations, operational steps, facilities and equipment? Is everyone aware of the plan and goals? And properly trained for their role? And, perhaps just as important, have responsibilities been assigned?


Experience counts; you need the right tools to get the job done. The creative make-ready steps define your compelling message and produce the professional marketing tools (ads, brochures, billboards, broadcast, online) necessary to reach the oil - ah, audience.


Drilling operations begin with a starter hole; it's the marketing equivalent of testing, tracking and making any necessary adjustments in advance of roll-out. Do the test results validate the preparation assumptions? Is the media mix right? How about the price or the offer? The testing cycle further reduces risk and expenses, and increases the prospect of bringing in a gusher.


Gushers are a great visual for movies, but are actually wasteful. What you really want is a reliable, producing oil well that delivers results consistently. If one well pays off, the oil industry knows to drill additional wells in the same field. In marketing, you grow with reliable and repeatable results. When you've got a producing marketing formula, drill again. And then repeat the steps in this process for continued growth and success.

Random oil drilling is worse than a crapshoot; the professionals don't do it that way. It's also true for marketing in healthcare, hospitals, pharmaceuticals and provider practices. There's no reason to guess. And there's every reason to get professional marketing help right from the start.

For more about How Oil Drilling Works visit HowStuffWorks. For more about cost-effective healthcare marketing that works visit Healthcare Success.

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