4 Steps to Creating a Great Hospital Marketing Campaign

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As increasing patient volume becomes tantamount to staying financially viable, hospitals must think about how they market their services to potential referring physicians and patients. Dan Weinbach, executive vice president with The Weinbach Group, discusses four steps hospitals should follow to create an attractive marking campaign for a set of service lines.  

1. Conduct market research. Before you start deciding how to market your hospital, you need to know what your competitors are doing and who your audience is. For example, if your hospital is located just down the road from Cleveland Clinic, arguably the hospital providing the best heart care in the country, it might be difficult to market your hospital as a cardiology leader. When your board looks at patient volume for a particular service line and feels dissatisfied, they need to benchmark that data against national and local hospital data to determine how effective a marketing campaign will be. "You may discover you have 95 percent of the market in our particular service line, so your expectations for growth need to be mitigated against what you can get out of the market," Mr. Weinbach says.

Market research should also look at the needs of your community. What are the greatest care demands in your community, and how does your hospital plan to meet them? If your community has a high incidence of heart disease or diabetes, you might start a campaign to market your cardiology line or diabetic care program. If your patients are primarily frustrated by their inability to get an appointment, you might market your hospital's "same day appointment" policy. Mr. Weinbach says hospitals often get too caught up in advertising the assets that the hospital values rather than those the customer values. "Your hospital might be proud of a specific clinical technology, but sometimes those aren't the things that matter most to patients," he says.

Your research should also examine how your hospital is currently perceived. "Once you have information on how [the market perceives you], you can start setting goals for messages and decide whether the campaign will repair [negative] conceptions or amplify [positive ones]," he says. If the public views your hospital negatively, you need to either make changes in your hospital or plan a marketing campaign to correct misconceptions.

2. Prioritize marketing goals. Once you have conducted market research, you need to take a systematic approach to marketing as opposed to a reactive approach. "You shouldn't engage in a campaign to promote cardiology services because the chair of the department has asked for a campaign," Mr. Weinbach says. "Marketing service lines should be [based on] empirical studies." Instead of allowing every physician and administrator with an agenda to prioritize for you, base your decisions on tangible factors such as:

•    How much capacity does a particular service line have?
•    What does the service line contribute to the hospital's bottom line?
•    What is the market potential for growth in the service line?
•    What technological resources can the service line offer patients?

In deciding which service lines to market, Mr. Weinbach says hospitals should look to the advice of David Ogilvy, the father of advertising: "Milk your winners and kill your losers." That doesn't mean eliminating service lines, necessarily, but you should focus on service lines that are generating demand and increasing volume. If you have service lines that haven't received as much attention but have great market potential, those lines are also candidates for a marketing campaign. The lines that you shouldn't focus on are those with little room for market share growth, little contribution to the hospital's bottom line and few relationships with referring physicians. Focus on those lines that can really make a difference to your revenue and physician relationships.

3. Figure out your budget. Once you've decided which service lines you will use for your campaign, you need to plan your budget. This may mean tweaking your service line decision somewhat depending on finances. "You may discover you don't have the budget to market five different service lines," Mr. Weinbach says. "The budget and your priorities are very reliant on each other." When you set the budget, you need to make sure you provide room to market for three audiences: referring physicians, internal audiences and consumers. Prioritize the budget for each audience based on how much volume each campaign might drive. "If you think about it, one healthy physician referrer can translate into literally hundreds of patients," Mr. Weinbach says. "You may determine you can get more mileage out of your budget by focusing on service lines that have a strong physician referral component."

Several decades ago, Mr. Weinbach says marketing budgets were determined based on a percentage of total revenue that was relatively similar from hospital to hospital. Now "the budgets literally cross the gamut," he says. In the recent trying economic times, he says many hospitals have made cuts to their marketing budgets as a way to save money — a move Mr. Weinbach says is a mistake. "Marketing is not any more disposable than human resources, accounting and finance and food services," he says. "Even if marketing doesn't have a direct correlation to patient care, a hospital without patients can't provide good patient care."

4. Create a tactical plan. Once you have a strategic plan in place detailing the service lines you will target, you need to create a tactical plan to figure out the "nuts and bolts" of your campaign. "That tactical plan will be repeatable steps, like print ads, direct mail pieces, TV campaigns and radio campaigns that are influenced by your strategy," Mr. Weinbach says.

This means going back to your budget and deciding how you will target each audience. "The internal marketing team or an outside healthcare marketing firm can determine the best approach for each audience," he says. "You might want to send direct mail, do TV campaigns, do radio campaigns or put up billboards, but it all depends [on how your audiences receive the majority of their information]."

He says the tactical plan is essential for when physicians and other staff members approach you with requests for additional campaign material. "In hospital environments, we're constantly being barraged with requests from departments, physicians and administrators for specific support for programs and doctors and technologies," he says. "If you don't have a plan to wave in someone's face, the more likely they are to yell louder about their needs and the more likely you are to say yes."

Learn more about The Weinbach Group.

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