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The Purple Cows and White Coats of Medical Practice Advertising

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Animated purple cowThe medical marketing landscape has changed dramatically over the past decade.

Although some physician, surgeon and provider markets will differ somewhat, we find this to be true across the board. One key difference would be how sharply the competitive forces in hospital marketing and medical practice advertising have shifted and intensified.

More than ever before, you're either remarkable or invisible. Here are some of the reasons:

  • The competition has shifted. The dynamics of healthcare reform have disturbed the landscape, with many doctors drawn to hospital employment. Others have elected to retire, join hands with other physicians in a medical group practice, or to take an aggressive new marketing position in the marketplace.Ten years ago, a solo or group private practice competed mainly against other solo or group practices. Today it might now find itself in an advertising faceoff with a major health system. Or hospital-employed physicians might find themselves among one of several departments or service areas, each competing for a slice of the hospital advertising pie.
  • The competition has intensified. A once relatively stable marketplace continues to change almost daily, it seems. Those healthcare providers and medical facilities that remain are more aggressive in their efforts to capture and retain new patients and market share.And what makes this even more challenging is that the rules of the game are changing. Reimbursements are down. Patients are more selective or scarce. Even the vocabulary has changed. Only a few years ago, the terms "Accountable Care Organization" and "Bundled Payment Initiative" had yet to be invented.

Although everyone's marketing landscape and dynamics differ from the next, change is a common factor to all.

Purple Cows and White Coats

Within this turbulent environment, only a few healthcare providers, hospitals and other medical entities make headway. The successful ones are the Purple Cows. They distinguish themselves from all the White Coats.

Seth Godin's book, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, is nearly 10 years old (from 2002), but the analogy fits. Godin is a best-selling author of business books about marketing. If you substitute "service" or "healthcare" where he writes about a "company" or "product," many of his core ideas hold valuable lessons for medical practice advertising today.

Your choice: be remarkable or invisible.

"Cows, after you've seen them for a while, are boring," Godin writes. "They may be well-bred cows, Six Sigma cows, cows lit by a beautiful light, but they are still boring. A Purple Cow, though: Now, that would really stand out. The essence of the Purple Cow-the reason it would shine among a crowd of perfectly competent, even undeniably excellent cows-is that it would be remarkable. Something remarkable is worth talking about, worth paying attention to. Boring stuff quickly becomes invisible."

Godin defines a Purple Cow as anything phenomenal, counterintuitive, exciting...remarkable. Every day, consumers [patients and prospective patients] ignore a lot of brown cows, but a Purple Cow...now that would be something."

OK. Perhaps the metaphor isn't the most elegant imagery for a sparkling, clinical healthcare environment. But in contrast with our sea of "white coats" it makes the point that creating and marketing a consistently remarkable product, service and brand inspires notice and wins new business. It's your choice. You can be remarkable or you can be invisible.

We've written previously about the reasons that branding is vital in healthcare to a professional practice, a hospital or a provider. Our top reasons distill to these:

  • People prefer to buy brands because they reduce perceived risk
  • People buy brands for status
  • People refer more often and more passionately to a brand they like and trust
  • You can build and accelerate your reputation through branding
  • You can attract more of the cases you want through branding
  • Branding will give you a competitive advantage
  • A branded practice will be worth more that a non-branded practice

What's more, in the increasingly competitive and constantly changing healthcare environment, a strong message of differentiation in medical practice advertising attracts positive notice, inspires name recognition and recall, and enhances professional reputation. It also provides a stronger footing for making any business or personal changes that might be appropriate to your situation.

In fact, fitting in and being just like every other white coat may be the most risky course in a dynamic period. In a crowded marketplace, Godin reminds us, being the same may seem like the safe course. In fact not standing out-in a positive and remarkable way-is the same as being invisible. If you are seen as a commodity and interchangeable with everyone/anyone else, you are not seen at all.

The Purple Cow concept does not focus on healthcare, but it includes case examples from business about making and marketing remarkable products. (There's an excerpt here.) Many ideas-although not all-also apply to healthcare and service businesses.

For more about differentiating your healthcare branding and medical practice advertising, there is a related article on our website here. Or if you'd like, talk with us about effective strategies for coping with change and a competitive marketplace.

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