A marketing manifesto
With better understanding of the human genome, physicians and researchers have opened up exciting new lines of personalized medicine where providers deliver radiation with pinpoint accuracy and tailor treatments to fit a patient’s unique needs. While a highly scientific, very targeted approach is often used to promote improved outcomes, it is rarely employed when it comes time to promote a facility or provider expertise to improve income.
If precision medicine has been shown to work, why not also utilize precision marketing?
A Call to Arms
In his 2011 manifesto for transforming healthcare marketing, “Joe Public Doesn’t Care About Your Hospital,” author Chris Bevolo explored why the digital world had made it possible … and desirable … to change not only the message but also the manner in which it is delivered. His September 2014 follow-up, “Joe Public II: Embracing the New Paradigm,” offered practical strategies for making the move from mass marketing campaigns to much more precise digital and content marketing options.
The norm, Bevolo pointed out, has been to take a shotgun approach via mass marketing. “It really was a call out to the industry to say, ‘This isn’t working … we need to stop this,’” he said of his first book.
Change doesn’t come easily, pointed out Bevolo, executive vice president for healthcare marketing communications firm ReviveHealth. And just as the industry was beginning to get the hang of Facebook and Twitter, the digital landscape shifted again.
“Social media is still important, although we’re beginning to see the limits of what it can do from a marketing standpoint,” said Bevolo. “Instead of a few big players, you’re seeing more and more players emerge,” he continued of the segmentation of social media. “It’s an important supportive tool, but I think there was a time when people thought it would totally revolutionize marketing.”
Instead, it is one device in the bigger picture of digital marketing, which is revolutionizing the way providers and administrators reach their target audiences. Bevolo said ‘search’ should be a primary driver of how customers … also known as patients … find you and your message. Whether by purchasing prime real estate in popular search engines or effectively using tags, it’s certainly a competitive advantage to be among the first few sites that pop up when someone looks for “urologist, Saint Louis,” or “safest hospitals, Tampa area.”
Additionally, emerging technologies allow practices and health systems to really drill down and target specific messages to specific populations in a way that is timely and useful. “It has to be relevant, and it has to be relevant to what they need in the moment,” Bevolo stressed.
Content is King
Bevolo said there is no question that people are facing information overload, and he noted research has shown individuals are hit by thousands of marketing messages daily but can only process about 100 of them.
“How do you become one of the 100 out of 3,000 or 6,000?” he asked. “The key is relevancy.”
Bevolo continued, “That’s the challenge for any marketer, but it’s particularly challenging for hospitals. What they have to offer is not relevant to the vast majority of people at any given time.”
Expecting consumers to hone in on messages that don’t apply to them isn’t realistic, he said. “If you’re not in need of a doctor at this moment, you don’t care about awards, service lines or how great a hospital’s doctors are,” he pointed out. “Yet, we try to do broad marketing. Not only is it silly, it’s a waste of money and time … and you don’t have time to waste, and you don’t have money to waste.”
When patient volume is down, Bevolo said the gut reaction is to believe it’s because not enough people know about you and your wonderful services. The prevailing sentiment is that if you just get a message out there about how good you are, then people will a) hear it, b) care about it, and c) will take action on it. “All three are false, by and large,” he said.
Bevolo continued, “That’s the fundamental breakdown in logic … that telling people how great you are will get people through your doors. I don’t care how good the billboard is, it’s not going to make me run in and have my gall bladder taken out if I don’t need it removed.”
With limited resources, why pay to broadcast to a million people when only 30,000 need your message, he questioned. However, Bevolo was quick to add, targeting the 30,000 doesn’t mean you are giving up on the other 970,000. Instead, he continued, you just have to rethink the messages.
“You’re missing a lot if you don’t focus on people who do not need services today,” he said. “There’s an opportunity to connect with those people around something that is relevant to them.”
Bevolo suggested using digital options such as blogs, channels, websites and apps to share messages about prevention, healthier living and other topical content. A young mother might not care that you are the top joint replacement hospital in the area, but she might really want to learn how to make quick, healthy lunches for her children. A retiree who isn’t interested in how many babies you delivered last year could be eager to learn about fall prevention measures.
“That’s how you resonate with Joe Public … because you are the arbiter of health,” Bevolo shared.
He said to think of consumers entering the system through a large funnel. Whereas hospitals and practices have typically tried to get to potential patients, who reside near the bottom of the funnel (right before they become your patient), the idea is to target them farther up the funnel. “Those people will need care one day; and if you are the resource they turn to when they are healthy, you’ll be the one they turn to when they do need services.”
Of course, Bevolo noted that is often easier said than done. Delivering educational information in a non-sales way requires flipping a mental switch. “The reason it’s so hard is because it is a 180 degree shift from how it’s always been done and how physicians and operational leaders think it should be done,” he said. “It’s not just about marketers changing their approach … it’s about changing a whole industry.”
But When Can We Tell People About Our Awards?
Okay … you are understandably proud of achieving or exceeding important quality, safety and outcomes benchmarks. Those awards do say something about your skill set and are important to specific segments of the population. While a seven-year-old with a broken arm might not care about your top-ranked cardiology program, you can bet it makes a difference to a 55-year-old in need of bypass surgery.
Healthcare marketing expert Chris Bevolo said sharing information about awards as a secondary sales tool is appropriate in several promotional marketing outlets.
Continuing with the cardiology award theme, the first good option would be to include that information in direct marketing pieces where you have pre-identified individuals with heart disease.
Sharing accolades through your website is also appropriate. “If I’ve gotten to your cardiology section, I’m probably interested,” Bevolo pointed out.
A third option is to take advantage of digital searches. Bevolo said it is a smart use of technology to target people through keywords like “top cardiologist.” Locally, you might buy the phrase so your ad would pop up when people in your geographic region initiated a search for a cardiologist. Writing meaningful content about cardiology topics and using tags at the end of your content could also help you pop up on national searches.
And for those wondering about Bevolo’s accolades, there are plenty. The nationally recognized futurist is a frequent speaker on healthcare marketing and strategy. In addition to his “Joe Public” books, he has authored two other books and numerous articles. In 1995, Bevolo founded Minneapolis-based Interval to serve clients across the healthcare spectrum. Last year, Nashville-based ReviveHealth, which O’Dwyer’s ranks as one of the nation’s top 15 healthcare marketing firms, acquired his company. Bevolo serves as executive vice president of consumer marketing for ReviveHealth and continues in his mission to transform healthcare marketing.