Dare to Be Adequate: Hospital Advertising That Fails (and What to Do Instead)

By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer

Man in suit holding a sign up with "Failure" crossed out, "Sucess" underneathWe’ve noticed a disturbing sameness among some hospital and medical advertising. Fortunately, it’s not everyone or even most healthcare advertising, but there are all too many instances when the message of one organization is monotonously similar among competitive facilities.

Regrettably, being “the same” is not a leadership message. Nor is it compelling, or even interesting. An “also ran” approach squanders advertising resources, fails to produce meaningful results, and does little to reach, inform and help the patient/consumer.

Many forms of advertising simply describe a feature, but are silent about or merely imply the actual benefits to the audience. Then there are advertisements that answer other ads or tout one-upmanship with the competition. Some facilities duel with patient satisfaction numbers, compare ER wait times or claim “fewer re-admission” rates.

There could be occasions when these themes are useful, but more often healthcare advertising takes a misdirected approach due to any of several, more subtle, reasons.  It may be that…

  • Providers and facilities are scrambling to find a solid footing on a constantly changing industry landscape. The nation’s healthcare delivery system is reinventing itself almost daily and the only certainty is that it will continue.
  • If feels safe to be the same. There’s a certain comfort in being among others, even if they are the competition. Besides, who wants to risk the budget on being different?
  • The competitor’s claims always demand an answer from us.  If we stand by silently it concedes the point, and perhaps the game, to the other guy. We’ve got something to say about that, too.

This line of (faulty) reasoning can be powerfully compelling, but it is not a sound basis for planning hospital or medical practice advertising that produces measurable results.

A few things to do instead…

Speak first to the audience, not to the competition. Even seasoned healthcare marketing professionals can find themselves so immersed in what’s important to the process that they neglect what’s important to the prospective patient or consumer. Competitive influences are important considerations, but answering a need, delivering a benefit or providing a solution is driven by what the audience dictates, not by the voice of competition.

Leaders, not followers, win races. Advertising that follows what others are doing or saying provides little or no distinction for the prospective buyer. Healthcare decisions—normally serious choices for the consumer—are seldom for a “good enough” or “they’re all the same” selection. If you are not the obvious leader and the clear choice, you are invisible to the patient.

Be disruptive in your thinking, planning and marketing. In the business world, the winning formula for many companies—especially in the hi-tech sector—is to deliberately shatter the old and familiar with a radically different product concept. (The Apple iPad introduction a few years ago was disruptive, making tablet computers a viable, and now highly competitive, category.)

Healthcare and hospital marketing should be so budget-blessed as Apple, but there is nothing exclusive about originality, creativity or innovation. Disruptive marketing, according to Chris Boyer at North Shore-LIJ Health System, is an opportunity for hospital marketers to contend with industry challenges. [His disruptive post is online here.]

The tongue-in-cheek challenge of “dare to be adequate” only jokingly reminds us that successful healthcare marketing and advertising does not simply copy, follow, mimic or answer what everyone else is doing.

For more on this topic, read our previous posts: The Purple Cows and White Coats of Medical Practice Advertising, and Creating a Powerful Brand to Stand From Your Competition.
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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