Tag Archives: health systems

Straight talk about the state of healthcare marketing

chief revenue officerEarlier this week, I sent an email to a group of long-time and much respected healthcare marketing colleagues with a rather innocent request:  one of our health system clients is recruiting a director of marketing and seeking candidates for the position.  What followed was a firestorm of comments – about the lack of qualified candidates, murky state of healthcare marketing, unattractiveness of healthcare to people that want to practice “real” marketing – countered by a few expositions on the societal flaws that brought us to this state.

So here are my two cents.  By and large, healthcare executives do not really understand the marketing discipline. And I’m not just pointing fingers at the C-suite; as marketers, we’ve made our own beds, so to speak.  In nearly every other industry, marketing is considered a strategy-critical, revenue-generating core business capability.  But if we’re honest, in healthcare, marketing is still very much structured and primarily resourced around communications activities that are not designed nor hardwired to significantly impact customer acquisition and retention.

Holding on to a narrow view of healthcare marketing as simply promotions wastes marketing investments and sub-optimizes performance.

Changing these dynamics requires straight talk from the chief marketing executive, CEO and other C-suite leaders about what it really takes for marketing to drive revenue growth, build brand equity and improve financial performance.

Let’s get that conversation started:

  • How is competition changing and what will be required of the health system to compete effectively? Is a plan in place and are actions underway to effect those changes? If not, why not?
  • Is the marketing department structured, staffed and resourced to achieve revenue targets, build brand equity and improve the organization’s competitive leverage? If not, why not?
  • Are financial, business and market analytics driving marketing planning, and the decisions for where you focus marketing activities and investments?  If not, why not?
  • Do you have the right people with the right skills sets and the right tools in place to execute marketing strategies that drive patient acquisition?  If not, why not?
  • Are you investing full speed ahead in web, social, search, mobile, CRM/PRM and other marketing systems and capabilities required both now and in the future? If not, why not?
  • Do marketing and operations work collaboratively, and are they held mutually-accountable for customer acquisition, customer experience, and customer retention outcomes? If not, why not?
  • Are you measuring marketing performance?  If not, why not?

I’m sure there are other questions, but you’ll probably need to order in lunch just to get through these.  Tell me what you think.  And, if you know a good candidate for that director of marketing position, please give me a call.

In times of change, healthcare leaders turn to internal communications experts

CommunicationHealthcare leaders recognize the importance of internal communication experts when it comes to creating awareness, understanding and support for organizational change. And it goes without saying that “change” is the new watchword of the healthcare industry.

From development of accountable care organizations, to cost reduction initiatives, to implementation of health IT systems and EMRs, to the creation of new ventures and partnerships, the magnitude and rate of change for healthcare workers are significant.

But not all of the messaging is getting through.

“We’re putting out more and more information, but seem to be getting less and less support for what we need to do,” declared a hospital administrator. And therein lies the problem. One of the most common traps we fall into is confusing information sharing with communication. The act of telling someone something does not necessarily equate to information received or understood.

So how do health system executives rally the troops to gain support for large scale change initiatives?

The answer is strategic internal communications, a purposeful approach to translating corporate strategy, activities and issues for the workforce, and developing messaging, methods and channels to reach, engage and rally support from internal audiences.

To get the most out of internal communications functions, healthcare executives as well corporate communications leaders, must first define the role of internal communications beyond that of simply disseminating information. Best practices demonstrate focused alignment of internal communication initiatives to corporate goals, engagement of managers at all levels as linchpins in the communications process, and expert communications professionals that serve as strategists and counselors across the health system.

5 Areas of Strategic Focus for Internal Communicators

Focused, strategic internal communication initiatives can build a strong sense of identity, purpose, values and culture among employees; facilitate strategic transformation and change; and engage leaders and staff in meaningful and productive ways.

The operative word is focus. Communicators must discern the difference between nice-to-do activities and mission-critical communications strategies and tactics. For most healthcare organizations, strategic internal communications will yield the most impact when focused on five core areas:

  1. Corporate Strategy – informing, engaging and building commitment to the health system’s vision, strategy, goals and major initiatives.
  2. Brand Alignment – creating a unified internal identity, sense of purpose, values-driven culture and brand experience.
  3. Change Management – informing and educating staff about major changes and the impact on jobs, work flow and processes; facilitating adoption of new practices.
  4. Issues Management – informing, rallying support for, and managing critical issues and unplanned events that impact staff, affect employee relations and damage reputation.
  5. Workplace Culture – engaging employees in major events, recognizing and celebrating staff achievements, and creating a sense of pride in the work and the workplace.

When Trust is Established, People Become Active Participants

Leadership is tested most during times of organizational transition. And nothing can derail progress like a workforce that is at best disengaged, but all too often just plain mistrustful of management’s intent. A well-developed, focused internal communications strategy and capability can change that – and facilitate organizational transformation by engaging employees in change management, inspiring staff to live and deliver the brand, and building commitment to mission, vision and goals.

The bottom line – and the impact on the bottom line – comes from realizing that better communications, not just more information, will drive success.

Expect Modest Growth in Health Spending through 2013

New estimates released by CMS project aggregate health care spending in the US will grow at an average annual rate of 5.7 percent for 2011 through 2021, or 0.9% faster than the expected growth in GDP.  The health care share of GDP by 2021 is projected to rise to 19.6 percent, from its 2010 level of 17.9 percent.

These projections indicate an increase in spending over the near historic low growth rates of recent years. Growth in consumers’ use of health services remained sluggish in 2011. And the slow economic recovery, modest growth in disposable personal incomes, insurance coverage, and employment rates will continue to limit expenditures through 2012 and 2013.

If the coverage expansions associated with the Affordable Care Act kick in, the growth rate for health spending is projected to increase 7.4 percent in 2014, with notable increases in spending on physician services and prescription drugs by the newly insured. Throughout the latter half of the projection period, incomes are expected to be higher, and a large number of baby boomers are anticipated to be receiving coverage under Medicare.

By 2021, government spending for health care will reach nearly 50 percent of total national health expenditures.  The federal government will account for two-thirds of that share.

Learn more at Health Affairs.  The full article provides an analysis of how Americans are likely to spend their health care dollars in the coming decade, with projections for spending by different sectors, payers, and sponsors.

What is Your Health System’s Marketing Philosophy?

Marketing departments differ from health system to health system. Some are expansive, core business functions with strong growth accountabili­ties aligned to strategic planning, business development, clinical operations and financial management initiatives.

In others, marketing is configured more functionally to support the development and deployment of marketing tactics aimed at research, promotions and sales.

And some have not evolved far 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,  making it difficult to link marketing expenditures and activities to business outcomes.

Why such a difference? An organization’s approach to marketing is shaped by a variety of factors including strategic focus, growth objectives, culture or even leadership’s understanding of the marketing discipline.

Which of the following describes your health system’s approach to marketing?

  • Product-driven.  A product-driven marketing orientation assumes that as long as a health system has excellent outcomes and a top notch safety record, business will find its way to the front door. Performance improvement, leading edge clinical technologies, physician talent and development of clinical centers of excellence are core areas of focus. Awards and recognitions (such as “Top 100” designations) reinforce the organization’s quality achievements. Physician influ­ence trumps consumer choice. The clichéd expression “build it and they will come” is an entrenched belief, as it the assumption that clinical quality alone will create com­petitive advantage.
  • Sales-driven.  Sales-driven health systems primarily view marketing as a tactical tools to drive volume to clinical programs. Filling beds, getting appointments, and securing contracts are primary goals. Consumer pro­motions, physician referral development and managed care contracting are core capabilities. The focus is on more volume for existing services. These are all good things, but a purely sales-driven organization may miss opportuni­ties to discover new niches, create new products and lines of business, or enhance points of differentiation that grow overall revenue potential.
  • Market-driven.  Market-driven organizations place greater emphasis on market research to better understand customer needs and discover market opportunities that can be addressed in unique ways. Designing and developing services, programs and access points to attract key customer segments are priorities for the marketing operation, making R&D a core competency requirement. Marketing planning is more strategic than in sales-driven organiza­tions, encompassing segmentation and targeting, product positioning and design, pricing, promotion and channel strategies – and is a more integrated process through which value is created. Because growing overall market potential and profitability is as important as growing market share, marketers must have a strong P&L mindset.
  • Relationship-driven. Customer-driven organizations place significant emphasis on mass customization as a competen­cy to create one-to-one relationships, enabled by sophisti­cated, enabling CRM technology that recognizes, supports and delivers customized messages, offerings and solutions for valued customers. Today, some of these capabilities are embedded in call center and CRM systems, but new advancements, such as the widespread implementation of electronic health records and growth in social media communities offer health systems unprecedented opportunity to better understand and predict the needs of patients and customers – and proactively design the marketing strategies, tactics and programs that stimulate and drive demand.
  • Market-DRIVING.  Market-driving companies are those that re-set the rules of competition through value innovation – radical, disruptive moves that create new markets, transform customers into fans, and build such distinct points of competitive advantage that they are dif­ficult to duplicate. Think Apple, which continually breaks its own sales records, most recently having sold over 1 million units in the first 24 hours of the iPhone 4S launch. Innovation is the core competency – and success comes from developing deep insights into core human desires, discovering unmet needs, and bringing creative, profitable ideas to market.  Who are the market-DRIVING health systems?

One approach is not necessarily “right” where another is “wrong” – what is important to understand is that each path requires a specific configuration of core competen­cies, staff capabilities, processes and investments.  Misalignment occurs when management wants to achieve significant improvements in strategic growth, for example, but has a production-orient­ed marketing operation.

With all of the change going on in the industry, this is an ideal time for marketers to assess their marketing department structures, capabilities and investment priorities. 

So where do we start?