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9 Worst Medical Marketing and Advertising Mistakes

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

"Fail" stampThe secret to “getting it right” in medical marketing and advertising is essentially two-fold. Regardless of size—multi-location health system, hospital, doctor group practice, or individual provider—the challenges involve many, constantly moving business considerations. And in the end, "it ain’t easy” to get it right…and produce measurable marketing results.

One side of the coin is the application of professional experience to create an ethical medical marketing plan that attracts the patients and cases you want, extends your reputation and brand, and grows the profits of your business. We know from our experience in working with healthcare marketing clients throughout the US that every situation requires a unique and proven approach to achieve closely defined marketing goals and objectives.

Then there’s the ancient “do no harm” challenge…

Physicians, surgeons and virtually everyone in the healthcare industry appreciates and respects the concept: “First, do no harm.” Translating that idea to the principles of marketing means and methods, the other side of the coin might mean: “Avoid the self-defeating mistakes that neutralize your careful plans and good intentions.”

OK…ancient Greek text is tough, and that might not be a precise translation. But it’s still sound advice for healthcare providers and communications professionals. Even the best of marketing and advertising efforts can suddenly become a waste of time and money if you don’t recognize and avoid the harmful blunders.

Here’s our starter list of some of the common-to-classic medical marketing and advertising mistakes that we’ve encountered over the years.

False assumptions make for non-starters…

Anyone who has been in business or in a medical practice for any length of time can be prone to making false assumptions that undermine the purpose and objectives of an otherwise well-considered marketing plan. But if you’re not building on a sold base, the work that follows can easily sink or topple. You’re broken before you begin. Watch for, and avoid, these signals:

“I’ve been in practice 10 years and I know my audience.” You might be right; experience is a good thing. But, with due respect, the marketplace for healthcare services has changed dramatically in the past decade. Consider the Affordable Care Act, patient consumerism, the proliferation of the Internet, mobile devices and online advertising techniques, shifting community demographics—to name a few significant influences.

“Everyone knows me; patients and colleagues alike.” Recent or existing patients may have some insight about what you do (or did for them). Your colleagues probably have a taste for your professional/clinical reputation. But, for the greater purpose of marketing outreach, your need is to reach people that don’t know you, or those who should know more about you.

“I went to medical school with all my competitive colleagues.” The practice down the hall or down the street is a small slice of the dynamic competitive environment. Take the time to understand your competition and appreciate the impact of new and aggressive practitioners, the consequences of practice rollups and consolidations, and how hospitals now employ more doctors and/or own once-independent practices. Plus, contemporary competition now includes big-box stores, drug store chains, and other industry newcomers. Know it or not, the competition is drinking your milkshake.

“We don’t need to ‘do marketing.’” Sustaining organic growth registers between “wishful thinking” and “no one meant to lie to you.” Simply being a good doctor does not guarantee practice growth or success. Everyone in business is doing marketing and/or advertising in some form; actual growth follows a deliberate plan.

“Our professional referrals come in automatically.” There’s no upside to taking your referral stream for granted, or for neglecting its value and importance. For the entertainment sake, let’s say your doctor-to-doctor referrals are “fully automatic” today. But, considering competition (above) and the changing world of healthcare providers, let’s also ask how badly would your business be damaged if your life-blood stream of professional referral sources suddenly defected? If you have a good referral stream, the wiser assumption is that it’s a ripe target of opportunity for the competition.

Even more classic healthcare marketing mistakes…

Insufficient (or excessive) budget. There’s nothing more wasteful in hospital or doctor marketing than expecting a grand ROI payback from an inadequately budget. The “too-little” money, time and effort is squandered, and the non-existent results are opportunity lost. Conversely, a needlessly lavish budget is wasteful from the start, steals from other plans, and that instantly erodes ROI. Take guidance from experienced professionals and be prepared to adjust your budget, either up or down, for greatest efficiency. If you’re not measuring, you’re probably not marketing.

Tracking is as important as doing. Advertising and marketing efforts are not a business expense. If they have a plan and a purpose, they are an investment that requires tracking and a quantifiable Return-on-Investment (ROI). Before you launch any strategy and tactic in your healthcare marketing plan, create a system that carefully accounts for results. How are you tracking the number of new patients, for example, or the change (hopefully the increase) in revenue for specific cases or procedures? Without a measurable ROI you’ll never know what works or doesn’t work.

Failure to test first. Even the best of plans and marketing projects can encounter unanticipated obstacles upon rollout. And among several advertising options, one or two might have the potential to significantly outperform the others. Testing your creative and advertising tools can provide answers, anticipate performance and reduce financial risk. Whenever possible, use an A/B testing regimen to identify strengths and weaknesses before your full-force (or large scale) medical marketing or advertising rollout.

Being with the end—not the means—in mind. Effective marketing and advertising will specify the goal, the strategy and the tactics in that order. A common mistake—one that we hear all too often—is the request “to create a brochure,” or “I need an ad for local TV placement,” or some similar declaration that puts the marketing means ahead of the desired outcome or results. If you have not closely defined the purpose, you’re using blind luck to identify the proper tactic. Odds are heavily against a correct guess.

Learning from—and avoiding—painful mistakes…

Any of these pitfalls can do serious damage to your otherwise-carefully-considered plans. On the other hand, these mistakes are relatively easy to avoid or correct. Producing measurable results—the quantifiable product of professionally guided medical marketing and advertising—is challenging at best.

Successful people learn from their mistakes; the most successful people learn from the mistakes of others.

Let us know if you’d like an independent review. Learning from and avoiding some of the worst of mistakes answers the “first, do no harm” challenge. Contact us today; give us a call—phone or video conference—and let’s talk about how we can help.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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Marketing a healthcare organization can be challenging - even painful if you don't approach it with the right knowledge, tools, and guidance. By reading about mistakes and lessons others have learned the hard way, you can boost your marketing effectiveness and take a shortcut to success. Discover how to avoid these "Seven Deadly Sins". Plus, join over 30,000 of your fellow healthcare providers with a free subscription to our Insight Newsletter.

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