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Breaking news – healthcare advertising changing for the better.

You don’t often see the topic of healthcare marketing covered by the popular media, so this Orlando Sentinel article about hospital advertising caught my attention.  Basically, the premise of the piece is that smarter consumers (thanks to the Internet) aren’t buying doctors in white lab coats – they’re looking for the right information to support consideration, selection and use of healthcare services.  I trust that’s not a surprise to most marketers.

What I do hope is that we’ll stop seeing the stereotypical images of three doctors in white lab coats pasted on billboards and other advertising vehicles, and start applying smart thinking to the art and science of brand building.

As Orlando Sentinel reporter Marni Jameson put it:  “These are not your typical hospital ads, but they soon may be. What distinguishes the two 15-second TV spots featuring Nemours Children’s Hospital is not what they show, but what they don’t.  Gone are the white lab coats, the cliché stethoscopes and the high-tech imaging machines with their colorful jagged lines — images that are going the way of the mercury thermometer.”

Read the article:  Hospital ads take off the white coat

Close encounters of the patient kind

handsThis morning while watching the horrific news about three young women recently freed from ten years of captivity and unspeakable abuse, I recalled an encounter I had with a young abuse victim early in my career as a hospital marketer.

The ER charge nurse called and asked if I had a camera (I did) and could I bring it immediately to the ER as they needed to capture pictures of a patient’s injuries.  When I pushed through the double doors leading to the patient care area, she led me aside and said, “I’m sorry to ask you to do this but we need  photos of a child with some pretty bad injuries.  Do you think you can handle that?”

Now, I wasn’t the squeamish type, but I was young and pretty naive.  I’m thinking car accident or some other mishap and was not prepared to see a young child wounded by the purposeful, cruel actions of an adult.

Walking into the exam room, a tiny girl, maybe four or five years old, was curled up under thin blankets on the exam table. Deep bruises were evident on her arms and legs, cuts and blood trailed along her hair line. She shrunk into the bedding as I approached.  “Hi there,” I said softly.  “I’m going to take your picture.  Have you ever had your picture taken?” She shook her head ‘no’ and I slipped the Nikon from around my neck and sat it on her bed.  She picked it up, looked it over and, when trusting that it would not hurt her, handed it back to me and smiled.

At that point, I wanted to cry, but lifted the camera and began the process of recording the wounds inflicted by her abuser.  The ER attending pointed out the injuries he wanted photographed.  Bruises, cuts, cigarette burns and others too atrocious to mention.  When finished, I removed the roll of film from the camera and handed it to the charge nurse who would turn it over to the police once they arrived.

“Thank you,” said the nurse when we were back in the hall.  “This isn’t her first visit here but, God and the legal system willing, we’re hoping it’ll be her last.”

“Who would do such a thing to an innocent child?” I asked.  “Her mother,” she replied.

Back in the office, I shut the door, turned out the lights and sat in the dark.  That was the first direct encounter I’d had with a hospital patient and it left me shaken, sad and angry.  In the years to come, I would meet many more patients and family members at the most scared, painful, hopeful and sacred times in their lives – the grandmother saying goodbye to her dying 19 year old grandson, new parents showing off their healthy triplets, moms and dads rushing to the ER to find their children okay after an early morning school bus accident, the middle-aged man with a new heart and years yet to spend with his loving wife and family, the grieving mother of the heart donor.

I don’t know why this is weighing heavy on my mind today.  Whatever the reason, it’s reminded me that this business of healthcare is important work.  Our doctors, nurses, emergency responders and others on the frontline witness the ravages of evil more often than we care to admit.  But they also see the good and, occasionally, the miraculous.  And for that, I’m grateful.

Loss, Redemption and the Power of Love

This past year was one of great loss and sorrow for our family.  Tragedy came in waves, one after another bringing debilitating illness, death, separation and passing of our dreams.  The future we imagined and looked forward to disappeared with a cosmic roll of the dice.  Each new event set us back on our journey through grief’s messy and painful terrain.  There were days when it was almost too much to bear, and I had to remember to just keep breathing.

The story of Easter reminds us that without suffering there is no salvation.  Without death, no resurrection.  We witness the cycle of life all around us.  The first green seedling that breaks through charred ground after a devastating wildfire.  The crocus that blooms through snow.  The crisp, blue sky after a hurricane’s fury.  The burial of a loved one, and conception of a new life.

In my work, I frequently advise clients that they have to let go of what is to make room for what can be. These are difficult conversations, sorting through and determining what needs to be released, divested, allowed to die.  In medicine, we are driven to fix things, to restore health, to save lives.  Death is defeat. What we practice at the bedside carries over into our vocation, into our ego. 

And so we resist it.  Shock and disbelief give way to anger.  In the heated squabbles I tried to have with God, he refused to engage.  I wanted explanations.  God just sent love.  I wanted our old life back.  God’s grace arrived on a rainbow.  In a dark hour, I surrendered.  There were no answers, only experiences.  Only love.

Acceptance is bitter medicine.  Without it, there can be no healing. 

Death, in all its forms – loss of youth, loss of health, loss of life, loss of spouse, loss of self – is a messenger of resurrection, and can lead to a new covenant between oneself and the universe.  Rebirth is simply letting go of what was once important to make way for new blessings.  But, there are few things more terrifying than trading the safety of what we know for the possibilities of the unknown. 

An open heart is all it takes.  Through it, we emerge from the darkness.  We radiate love.  We receive miracles.  We witness the sacred in everyday occurrences.  And we begin again. 

Today, I know that my blessings are more bountiful than my sorrows.  I have a loving and wonderful family.  Friends, colleagues and clients that enrich my life in ways too plentiful to count.  And even though our family is still traversing the harrowing twists and turns through a dark and seemingly haunted forest, we are bound by love in our journey.  There is no turning back.  Our treasures are here in this moment and with every step we take forward.

Thank you dear readers for letting me tell this difficult story.  Whatever your faith, I wish you the miracle of rebirth on this Easter morning.

The Healthcare Marketer’s Declaration? Not All Projects Demand Equal Attention.

Part 3 of Prioritizing Marketing Resources Key to Return on Investment Goals.

We’ve all been there.  That place where we’re executing carefully crafted marketing plans, launching highly targeted and creative strategies, balancing both the over-stressed marketing team’s time and the under-resourced budget to make it all work when someone (e.g., administrator, doctor, service line leader) marches in with the marketing demand du jour.  Without a methodology for focusing activities and budgets on strategy-critical projects with the best potential for return on investment, every new demand takes on equal importance and, in the end, sabotages marketing performance.

Marketing resource allocation planning is the process of determining how returns on marketing investments are optimized.  It’s a multi-dimensional decision process encompassing priority services, markets and segments, the marketing mix, and marketing operations and infrastructure investments. 

Part two of this series (The Healthcare Marketer’s Dilemma?  Too Many Projects.  Too Few Resources. posted November 29, 2011) described the first decision point – determining those programs, products, markets, segments, initiatives with the greatest potential for growth and ROI.  Once the decision of which programs and service lines to grow has been made, you will then need to determine how time and budget dollars are allocated against the marketing mix.

Investment considerations that come into play at this point include:

  • Research and development to build, expand and enhance the mix of service offerings
  • Service line planning, clinical program development and patient care experience design
  • Building brand awareness and stimulating demand in target customer segments
  • Cultivating and strengthening access channels, physician relations and referrals
  • Sales, third party contracting and pricing
  • Advertising, promotions, marketing events and co-marketing partnerships
  • Digital, social and mobile strategies and tactics

Marketing goals and strategy decisions should clearly guide these choices. The secret to success in marketing resource allocation is to know where investments return the biggest bang.  Consumer influenced or directed services such as bariatric surgery, plastic surgery or sports marketing require more investment in direct consumer marketing, events marketing and call center support; services and procedures influenced more by physician referrals should be more heavily invested in sales, physician relations and new clinical program development.

SCALING ACTIVITIES TO INVESTMENTS

The scope and scale of marketing activities should be matched to investment levels and expected return on investment.  In the example below, Tier One priorities (those most important to strategic and financial goals) receive the majority of marketing resources whereas activities and resources for Tiers Two and Three (those with modest to no return on investment potential) are scaled back considerably. 

This may seem like a no-brainer but too often, the marketing team’s time and budget are compromised by squeaky-wheels, pet projects and deep-seated needs to keep everyone happy. (I think the misguided concept of ‘internal customers’ is also to blame, but that’s an entirely different post to write).

CRITICAL QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

  • For Tier One initiatives, do we have adequate research and market intelligence to discern strategies and methods to more effectively attract consumers, increase physician referrals and move volume and market share from competitors?  What additional information do we need?
  • By service line, what segments are most attractive in terms of growth and profitability?  How are those segments likely to be influenced (e.g. consumer marketing, physician referral development, program design, hours of operation, etc.)?
  • What improvements/innovations at the service interface (e.g. scheduling, registration, access, patient navigation, web appointments, MD hotlines, etc.) differentiate and add value? What do we invest to create these programs?
  • How can we leverage existing communications channels and tools to provide effective but lower investment support to lower tier programs?  Should we provide tools, templates and information to program managers to support their marketing efforts?
  • Do we have an adequate balance of activities and investments across research, product development, web, advertising and sales activities?
  • How will we track the effectiveness of these initiatives and when do we regroup to change course? 
  • What marketing constraints, risks, etc. exist and how will those be addressed?
  • How will we gain consensus for resource allocation decisions and cultivate support for that focus?

Gaining consensus is critical to keeping the organization focused on the marketing plan and investment decisions.  Not that every bright shining object can or should be ignored – some may very well offer significant opportunities – but distractions can be minimized.  The keys to effective marketing management are the discipline of focused execution, ability to discern when course corrections should be made, and capacity to seize new on-strategy opportunities.

In part four, I’ll discuss investments to build marketing infrastructure and capabilities.

A ‘Can’t Miss’ Event – The 15th Annual Greystone.Net Healthcare Internet Conference

The 15th Annual Greystone.Net Healthcare Internet Conference will be held November 7 – 9, 2011 at the J.W. Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes. This year’s theme, The Convergence: Marketing and IT Collaboration – The Time is Now, is one of the reasons this annual Greystone.Net event has become a ‘must attend’ priority for me.  With Convergence, Greystone.Net is introducing a new section focusing solely on the collaborative and innovative strategies and technologies transforming healthcare.  The keynoters and featured presenters are topnotch experts in the realm of web, social and mobile trends, innovations and practical applications.

I’m also excited for the opportunity to present with with Sentara Healthcare’s digital marketers, Lee Gwaltney and Jessica Carlson on the topic of “Digital Brandscaping: Extending Your Brand Across Web, Social and Mobile Sites.” We’ll be addressing the importance of a proactive, focused and purposeful approach to brand management across web, social and mobile sites as well as with patient and provider portals, and with clinical information systems such as electronic health records.  Our session is scheduled for Monday, November 7 at 4:15 p.m.

While there, drop by the Brains on Demand booth in the Exhibit Hall.  We’ll be there with our Brains on Demand partners Brand =Experience, Klein & Partners and Eruptr.

Can you believe it’s the 15th year for the Greystone.Net conference?  It’s a terrific event that just gets better every year.  Hope to see you there!

The Future of Healthcare Marketing

I had a chance to talk with Bill Moschella Co-founder & CEO of eVariant about the future of healthcare marketing at the SHSMD conference this past September.  Here’s that interview.  What advice do you have for marketers seeking to improve marketing performance and build future ready marketing operations?

Improving CV Volumes, Revenue and Operations

Join Art Sturm, president & CEO of SRK, by webinar on Thursday, October 20 as he discusses how top heart programs are benefiting from the “strategic halo effect” in growing volumes and improving business performance for cardiovascular service lines. You’ll learn strategies and tools for growing CV service line revenue and improving collaboration across multiple specialties. Key topic points include:

  • Growing new and returning patient revenue.
  • Optimizing resource utilization, including physician alignment.
  • Developing strategies to build collaboration among multiple service lines.
  • Streamlining operations by creating a common view that focuses the enterprise.
  • Tracking revenue and cost performance of individual service lines and individual physicians.

The Strategic Halo Effect also addresses the essential question: how to thrive in this new era of healthcare reform? 

Follow the link below to learn more about this complementary webinar.

The Strategic Halo Effect:  the Science of Improving CV Service Line Volumes, Revenue and Operations; Thursday, October 20, 10 AM Pacific, 12 Noon Central, 1 PM Eastern.