eTip #36

Marketing Diagnosis for Healthcare Professionals

Just as each patient needs a specific procedure for treatments, healthcare professionals also need a thorough diagnosis first to figure out how they should approach marketing. In this eTip, we interviewed Steve Patti of Polarity Inc., on the topic of how healthcare professionals should examine marketing.

BMC: What is your experience in engagement-marketing and how did you get started?

Patti: After leaving a Fortune 500 marketing organization in 1995, I began to reflect upon the traditional methods of creating awareness with prospective customers (PR, advertising, sponsorship, etc.). These tactics were out of sync with how people really communicate in their everyday lives. Specifically, we prefer to engage in dialogue with others — not listen to a monolog. With the emergence of CRM platforms by the end of the 1990’s, it seemed that the only way to build CRM insights was to engage prospective customers in a value exchange (dialogue) — and traditional advertising is not well suited to do this.

BMC: What are some of the challenges you see healthcare providers face when it comes to marketing?

Patti: First, the lack of marketing expertise – that is, doctors don’t know what they don’t know, so they tend to put an office administrator in charge of marketing.

Second, the office administrator now in charge of marketing confuses advertising for marketing — so they allow ad agencies to sell them on the idea of interrupting people with print ads, outdoor billboards, etc. despite research showing that consumers don’t select healthcare providers based on advertising.

And third is the fact that we find most healthcare providers (like most other industry companies) resistant to investing time to engage in relationship marketing — despite the fact that medicine is a relationship business. It’s easier for them to spend $100,000 on outdoor billboards that will fail, than to invest 40 hours of time and perhaps $5,000 in grassroots marketing that could yield 20 new patients with a ROI of 400%.

BMC: What steps should they take to overcome these challenges?

Patti: First, think about the nature of a healthcare decision — it’s highly personal. That is, the opportunity cost of making a poor purchase decision for a new cell phone is pretty low. If you don’t like the phone, you’ve wasted $199. However, the opportunity cost of selecting the wrong healthcare provider (particularly for a surgical procedure or life-threatening illness) is huge. People take this decision seriously and therefore turn to friends and family for advice and to gain comfort. A billboard or magazine ad is unlikely to sway a person’s choice of oncologist or ENT specialist — this is just not the way consumers make this type of decision.

So, physicians, hospitals, insurance providers, etc. must become intentional about changing their approach to engage patient populations. It starts with obtaining a proper strategy for engagement and measurement.

BMC: What are the three most common mistakes healthcare providers make when it comes to marketing?

Patti: As mentioned above, it starts with the lack of engagement strategy. You’ve heard the old saying “Fail to plan, plan to fail”. So, without a strategy, they commit the second mistake — executing tactics in search of a strategy. That is, random programs and advertising that fails to integrate or create engagement (thus, no CRM benefit). The third fatal flaw is the lack of metrics — largely because broadcast advertising doesn’t produce great metrics. So, the healthcare provider lacks the ability to correlate between marketing investment, ROI, and drivers of their business. We see this routinely across many industries — but particularly healthcare due to the lack of marketing staff expertise.

BMC: Last words of wisdom on marketing for healthcare providers.

Patti: Resist the urge to keep up with your competitors’ silly spending on tactics in search of a strategy. If you see your biggest competitor spending on lavish billboards and infomercials, then assume they’re probably not engaging prospects in your target communities — and this is an opportunity for you to outmaneuver them.

Get professional help and build a strategy that specifically identifies targets, engagement tactics, quantitative & qualitative metrics, and budget requirements to be successful. If you get pitched by an agency to spend money without a strategy, metrics, or CRM goals – run!

Steve Patti is a strategic marketer based in the Texas Hill Country, and He has developed and executed marketing growth strategies for Fortune 1000 and start-up clients in technology, banking, consumer goods, and health/wellness markets – both in North America and Europe. Steve holds a BBA, MBA, and has been recognized with both business and community service awards in Dallas.


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