Marketing departments emerged in health care organizations in the early 1980s when prospective payment methodologies made it evident that certain clinical programs were more profitable than others. Hospitals began to compete for patients for those services and procedures that produced better financial outcomes. Many of these early marketing programs were administered by existing public relations or community relations functions, and had a strong communications focus. Over the next two decades, marketing practices matured to include other aspects of the discipline such as research, sales and referral development, segmentation, product development and brand building.
Today, marketing management systems differ significantly across health care organizations. Some are expansive, core business functions with strong growth accountabilities aligned to strategic planning, business development, clinical operations and financial management initiatives. ROI expectations center on overall growth, profitability, brand equity and creation of sustainable competitive advantage.
In other health systems, marketing is configured more functionally to support the development and deployment of marketing tactics aimed at research, promotions and sales. Success is measured by research metrics such as increased consumer awareness and preference, by response metrics such as increased call center or web traffic, and by sales metrics such as referrals, ER visits and procedure volumes.
Some hospitals, however, have not evolved at all from those early days when marketing relied on a narrow set of tools (e.g. press releases, health fairs, advertising, newsletters) to promote programs and services. The marketing department orientation is production – number of news releases, advertising campaigns, circulation – making it difficult to link marketing expenditures and activities to business outcomes.
Why such a difference? It can largely be explained by an organization’s approach or orientation to the market which is shaped by a variety of factors including strategic focus, growth objectives, culture or even leadership understanding of the marketing discipline.
In an upcoming post, I’ll describe different marketing orientations and the configuration of competencies, staff capabilities, processes and investments that are characteristic of each.