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Semantics of Successful Healthcare and Hospital Marketing

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

"Sales" and "Marketing" wooden street signsAs we were talking with a prospective client about their marketing situation, it became evident that they did not recognize the difference between "marketing" and "advertising." Unfortunately, using these terms interchangeably is a common mistake, especially where the healthcare provider or a key staff member is just beginning to tackle the apparent complexities of medical marketing.

That exchange reminded us that there are important nuances and distinctions in the vocabulary of marketing, advertising and sales. It's true for healthcare, hospitals, medical corporations or virtually any provider situation.

What follows are a few thoughts about choosing and using terms for more effective marketing and in some cases help to communicate with non-marketing colleagues.

First, a brief aside to clarify:

Although most readers appreciate the difference between "marketing" and "advertising," they have distinctly different meanings. Cousins perhaps, but not twins.

Marketing is the broader term that includes many things. It's a systematic plan of specific business activities that collectively work to attract and retain individuals who are in need of your services or products. (It may or may not include advertising, depending on the mix of strategies and tactics needed to achieve defined goals.)

Advertising, on the other hand, is just one of many communications tools that might be part of the marketing plan. Typically it's a persuasive message directed to a specific audience, usually qualified prospects or potential buyers, customers, clients or patients.

Marketing vs. Sales

Yes, we appreciate that the word "sales" does not resonate with some healthcare providers, so if you prefer, substitute "business development," "case acceptance," "guided discovery" or another euphemism.

With "marketing vs. sales," the semantic distinction can be subtle, but it's not a trick question. Marketing is part of the sales process, and while marketing embraces many things, its purpose is to set the stage for and lead into that which becomes the sale or sales transaction. Think of it as a funnel where marketing steps qualify and attract prospective buyers who are open to learning more, understanding and accepting the benefits, and ultimately making the purchase decision.

Vocabulary lesson: Marketing and sales—which are sometimes regarded as separate entities or departments—need, in the end, to work closely on achieving the same goals and objectives. Neither function performs well without the other, and here the whole is greater (and more successful) than the sum of the parts.

Buyer vs. Customer

Some business enterprises—particularly in the retail sector—are geared to "making the sale." In short, their objective is to turn the next prospect into a buyer with a quickly concluded sales transaction. (Ka-ching. Thank you. Next, please.)

That's a mindset that may be suitable to some businesses, but in healthcare and service industries, the concept of winning a customer is a significantly stronger business model. By "winning a customer," the process is focused on delivering patient satisfaction. In addition to achieving the immediate "sale," it establishes a relationship between the provider and the buyer (patient).

The satisfied patient is likely to consider themselves as bonded to the provider practice or facility, they are likely to return when additional or future services are needed, and they are likely to make referrals of family, friends and colleagues.

Vocabulary lesson: A "buyer" implies a one-time transaction, while a "customer" has invested in a current and continuing relationship. Win customers.

Service vs. Need

In virtually all aspects of healthcare, the patient buys a solution to their need or problem. In short, they're looking for happiness...a pain eliminated, an improved appearance, a return to health. Conversely, they will not seek or buy what they don't need.

Vocabulary lesson: First, clearly understand the individual's problem. It doesn't matter what service you can provide until or unless it answers the person's need. Sell happiness.

Engaging vs. Engaged

Social media differs from traditional media in facilitating two-way interaction. Content, therefore, can be more than simply informative. It's an opportunity to make connections, build bridges and inspire conversations. When content is interesting and provocative, it is likely to be engaging. All followers, fans and/or friends are not necessarily engaged, and generally will not feel engaged or sustain interest without help. Be engaging, and listen closely to what's being said.

Listening vs. Hearing

Social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, are dialog platforms to exchange information and ideas. Assuming that your social media marketing efforts engage individuals, a two-way communications process should follow.

Vocabulary lesson: The difference between listening and hearing is in understanding what the patient or audience is communicating. And the value of understanding is in meeting the need of the customer/patient. Listen for understanding.

We've written previously how healthcare marketing and advertising can appear daunting. But the steps for success are embraced in fundamental building blocks. Click through here to read about The Six, and Only Six, Ways to Market Any Healthcare Organization and the new normal for medical and hospital marketing in tough economic times.

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