One of the curious dynamics with hospital marketing is that it often tries to achieve a “top-of-mind” position with the consumer. Meanwhile, the consumer doesn't care.
Consider that, at any given time, the majority of the general public is relatively healthy. And until the moment that a pressing or serious medical need arises, the consumer routinely invests zero interest in your hospital or service lines.
To make matters even more challenging, various forces—broadly labeled “health are reform”—are continuously disrupting the playing field and revising the rules of the game in mid-play.
Further, intense competition among general hospitals and other providers increases the continuing need for marketing. Also, multiple demands stretch precious (sometimes shrinking) marketing resources and the bottom-line expectation to deliver measurable and quantified results.
Notwithstanding this complex operating static, hospital marketing is a vitally important means to achieve new business, patient satisfaction, quality of care, physician relations and many other critical performance goals.
Here is our list of critical process steps that can help you navigate these challenges and produce a successful hospital marketing campaign or project. Most of these steps are appropriate for ongoing hospital SEO and marketing efforts as well as for large campaign efforts, advertising initiatives or community special events.
Prepare a detailed and goal-driven plan. Invest a lot of advance preparation time in defining the objectives, and show how they align with—and directly support—the broader goals of the organization. Define timing, responsibilities and most importantly the expected results in quantifiable and measurable terms.
Calculate a realistic budget and ROI estimate. Correlate the project goals with the anticipated investment and the anticipated Return on Investment (ROI). Understand the cost requirements of media placement, including both traditional marketing tools and Internet media.
Get executive buy-off on plan, goals, budget and ROI. Have a clear understanding and approval for the details and expectations. (Hint: Executive approval—and resulting performance review—is weighted not on the activity or effort but, rather, on the results that are produced.)
Win internal support. Top-down support is essential. But even with executive buy-off, success also relies on winning the support (hopefully enthusiastic support) of opinion leaders and your internal audiences. This includes, for example, the marketing and communications team, hospital departments and their leadership, physicians and staff—everyone who is directly or indirectly involved.
Assess and assign internal/external resources. Realistically determine which tasks or assignments can and should be done with available internal resources. At the same time, determine which services require outside professional help. Depending on the nature and scope of the campaign, does it make sense to outsource portions of the hospital marketing effort?
Interview vendor resources. Consider whether you require an all-in-one solution or prefer to deal with multiple vendors.
Devise, install and test reliable tracking systems to measure results. Actual performance must be defined and measured in quantifiable terms that relate to the project goals. Because this is a critical element, determine a means to test the tracking system and ensure that it is accurate and dependable. (These are the numbers that connect to the “executive approval” step above.)
Training is vital to prepare the people who answer the phones, greet patients, etc. A classic and common break in the marketing cycle is when a particular effort generates the desired response—inbound phone calls, for example—but the people answering the phone are unaware or unprepared. This is an essential part of the campaign effort.
Prepare the creative work that is required. This step is often outsourced well in advance of the project launch. Internal resources are seldom prepared to create and produce special materials. What’s more, experienced and professional assistance in the creative phase—even for a short term—is valuable insight, often delivered with a fresh, original and effective approach.
Prior to the official launch, promote the new campaign internally. In short, a wide, pre-launch “unveiling” throughout the organization provides internal awareness and inspires enthusiasm. This is an extension of the “internal support” step above.
Launch the campaign. Schedule this far in advance, allowing sufficient time for all the necessary preparation and production steps. Note that this may roll out in phases, and some elements may require a long advance lead time. (Media placement, for example, might require final creative materials to be in the hands of the publisher weeks or months ahead of circulation.)
Monitor results and make adjustments. Keep in mind that “results” don’t suddenly appear at the end of the ballgame. A reliable tracking system will produce useful information—both good and bad—as the marketing effort unfolds. Monitor these indicators closely, and be prepared to make adjustments. Where possible, make modifications that “push the winners,” and adjust for any underperforming elements.
Continue to communicate internally, including the results. If you have properly informed and engaged your internal audience, they have a vested interest in the campaign’s progress and achievements. Keep everyone informed and share the success. (Winning internal support will likely be easier the next time around.)
Successful hospital marketing is the product of careful planning and budgeting, selective use of internal and external hospital marketing resources and proactive efforts to communicate, train and engage the hospital’s leadership and staff.