Archive for the ‘marketing’ Category

Thoughtful Thanking Elevates Marketing Efforts

Friday, June 10th, 2011

I was focusing a lot on social media this week when I kept encountering the same frustration by clients and colleagues about thank you’s.  Whenever I hear the same complaint repeated over and over in the same week, it occurs to me that the “Blog Gods” are pushing me to address the complaint.  And being who I am, I must do so head on.

Marketing Is More Than Promotion

The complaint is about tending to the details and thoughtfully expressing appreciation.  Put another way – demonstrating that you care – not letting things “fall through the cracks,” “get lost in the busyness of business” or just thinking it is too much effort to deal with so the detail is skipped.  This may not seem like a marketing issue, but really it is a significant one.  It is one of the elements that can un-do the best service delivery, the smartest pricing and the brainiest promotion strategy.

This marketing issue is about appreciation. Since many of our clients and readers are non-profits, they deal with lots of volunteers – on boards, doing fundraising, and helping move their organization forward.  The last thing you want to do is alienate someone who is helping your organization.  Woe to the organization that frustrates someone who gives of their time and of themselves to help you.

Two Unfortunate Marketing Un-doings

Two examples of poor thanking  execution and sorry to say these are true stories:

1)       For five years, a talented busy professional gave of his time to a small educational organization.  This individual created a novel mentoring program and worked hard to connect kids with families to further their academic success.  This individual went beyond the role of the basic board member and served the board well.  After five years, it was time to step off the board.  How did the organization thank him for his service?  They sent a dismissive email – “oh, yes, thank you “hard-working volunteer” for your help. We will take it from here.”  RESULT:  this volunteer was stunned, spent a weekend talking about it and now the story is circulated around town.  Fortunately, the volunteer does not utilize social networking otherwise his dis-content would be well spread beyond the community.

A well-crafted letter and/or a three minute preamble to a board meeting, celebrating the individual’s impact on the organization, would have moved the volunteer’s feelings in a very different and positive way.  This positive and more thoughtful action would also have celebrated the organization and volunteerism, setting a standard for others to volunteer.  Moving the conversation to the public arena would also gain publicity for the organization.  There is no down-side to a thoughtful thanking.

2)      A small group of business-owners took a half day from work to help another non-profit conduct a telethon fundraiser.  Part of the quid pro quo was that each volunteer would have their name announced and a public thank you over a popular radio station.  Not only did the radio announcer botch the names in his rapid reading, but proper credit was not given.  At one point during the telethon, the volunteers were shushed from being “too loud” while they were taking incoming gift calls.  The volunteers left the organization feeling they would not do any further volunteering for the organization but also somewhat offended and wondered if organizational leadership was slipping.

Whether old volunteers or new, people want to know that you appreciate what they are trying to do for their organization.  If part of the tacit agreement is a name shout-out, then make sure you do this well.  You always want your volunteers to speak well of your organization and to want to return for another volunteering effort.

Don’t let your good marketing efforts be undone through poor management of your employees or your volunteers.  The market will talk to these individuals first because of their presumed knowledge of the organization.  Whether it is your medical practice, your clinic or your hospital, make sure you do everything you can to have all of your emissaries singing your praises.

And like always — marketing is more effective because it is thoughtful and planned!


Sharing Data Points in Hospital Social Media Use

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

The numbers speak for themselves!  More hospital marketing endeavors include social media elements.  I could write a bunch more about this data but I think just looking at the numbers lets us know that the world is communicating differently.  This is not an indictment to drop everything and adopt social media channels but rather a reminder that there are many more tools available to get our messages out and to build community in the health care marketing arena.

All of the data is courtesy of Ed Bennett and taken from his informative blog on February 14, 2010 and May 8, 2011.  Ed keeps a solid watch on hospital social media adoption.

U.S. Hospitals that use Social Networking tools – updated on May 8, 2011

965 Hospitals total

  • 486 YouTube Channels
  • 777 Facebook pages
  • 714 Twitter Accounts
  • 469 LinkedIn Accounts
  • 723 Four Square
  • 120 Blogs

3,289 Hospital Social Networking Sites

This is the February 2010 data:

  • 254 YouTube Channels
  • 336 Facebook pages
  • 430 Twitter Accounts
  • 70 Blogs

Setting and Reaching Your Marketing Objectives — It Still Starts with Your Target

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

We are changing the way we communicate. We might find information from a Twitter post or have an RSS feed with our favorite bloggers or follow the link on our friend’s Facebook page or we may be avid listeners to NPR’s Morning Report. Consider how you used to obtain information a few years ago compared with when and how you get information now. For some of you, the main source of information might still be your local newspaper but it may not be a newsprinted item on your kitchen table. You may have it as your home page on your laptop, you may subscribe to the mobile feed or you may prefer a news aggregator that occasionally lifts an article from that local newspaper.

As organizations that want to reach out to people, the manner and approach is just as meaningful as the message. According to data on the web blog, SocialDoctor, there are 4.6 billion cell phone users in our world, 500 million Facebook users, 190 million Gmail accounts and 140 million people who Tweet. But what this data doesn’t reveal is who is doing what. In my last post, I briefly discussed the value of data in helping to target specific audiences. So, before, you viscerally decide to turn everything in your organization mobile because of all of the cell phone users, do a little more thinking a little more digging.

Yes, I talked about this last week but I really want to drill home this concept. Start with determining your goals. What are you trying to achieve? If you are creating a marketing campaign to develop awareness of your practice and by that you mean increased inquiries leading to more patients, then you have to do a little, old-fashioned thinking first.

If you are promoting a sports medicine practice, then consider the most likely referral sources. Are these other physicians? Predominately primary care? What about sports teams and their trainers? Physical therapists? Personal trainers? Where are these referring sources likely to “hang-out” or get their information? Who are the top bloggers for sports information? Will they be listening to or watching certain programs? The point here is to think about your intended target and determine how you might best reach them. Then consider the message and the budget implications. You don’t necessarily have to do a knee-jerk reaction and develop a social media campaign because that is what everyone is talking about. Most likely, your plan should incorporate a variety of platforms to corral your targets. You might want to use a traditional media outlet (a radio spot on a popular sports program) as well as develop something more social. Perhaps begin a blog presence with one of the orthopedic surgeons to discuss sports injuries.

Start with your objectives, then consider your target audience and think about how you can reach them. Don’t leave it to one method but build a campaign and make sure, as always, that you track your outcomes so that you can refine and retool as necessary.

And like always — marketing is more effective because it is thoughtful and planned!


Marketing Basics — Is That a Remix?

Monday, May 16th, 2011

For a few years now, we have been hearing about “new” marketing or “Marketing 2.0.”  Job descriptions for marketers require “social media skills” and the marketing world looks different than it did when health care organizations first started using the term “marketing” vs. “outreach.”

The guts of marketing still are about garnering attention and reaching out to segments of a market with a message and service that is relevant.  Marketing is about studying your market and knowing it well enough to employ a strategy that will foster targeted market share.  In a sense, the infrastructure of marketing remains the same;  it is the tools and techniques that have thankfully evolved.  And, just like before, measurement and methodology count for a lot but we give them more air time today because we struggle with this part of the marketing mix.

If you are a regular reader, you know that I have been absent from this blog for some time.  While there have been personal reasons (my father’s illness and subsequent demise), I have also taken some time to look around and think about what might be most helpful to write about.  What continues to hit me is the lack of marketing basics being employed by many organizations.  We are caught up in the nuances and the new tools but often there seems to be a significant lack of effort spent on addressing the basics.

What are the basics? Marketing basics begin with having a service or product worthy of notice and the understanding of what a particular “consumer” might need and value from a service.  The next steps evolve into determining how best to attract those interested consumers in that service/product and understanding how different features mean different things to specific segments of the market.  If we tweaked our admissions process, would that be more appealing to prospective patients/consumers?   Pricing, often overlooked in health care because of the complicated reimbursement structure, is also a basic element in the marketing mix.  The basic that seems to get the most attention, is how and in what manner do we communicate or attract that potential consumer?  And the basic, as I alluded to earlier, that gets short-changed is the measurement and analysis of our marketing endeavors in order to constantly push toward improvement.  Trial and error with a conscious, if you will.

So, for the next several weeks, I am going to dwell in the basics. But, I am going to try to make the basics more comprehensible by employing queries:

First up and brief because of my explanation above, is about choosing a forum for you message?  How do you do it?


You have been the marketing engine behind your hospital for some time.  Mostly you spend time on the website and print collateral.  More and more you are being pressed, and are curious yourself, about MySpace, FaceBook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  The only problem is that you have very little time to make a careful analysis and are not ready to re-do your marketing plan because that would take re-generating the planning committee…so let’s get some quick analysis done on  the fly and take an incremental step forward

1) A little testing is good.

Adopting new tools doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” process.  Take incremental steps and investigate and sample the social media water.  Do some research on what other organizations are doing – this doesn’t have to be a deep dive, just spend some thoughtful time looking at organizations you care about

2) Think about what you want to test first – the renovated birthing center?

Start with something that is tried and true in your service mix.  Maybe this is the birthing center or your diabetes clinic.  But, work with something that you have a good understanding of in terms of service offerings and likely users.

3) Who is your target? What do you know about them?

Let’s look at the birthing center.  The target users will typically be women in child-bearing  age.  What zip codes?  What features might they value (focus group, survey analysis, etc.)

4) Determine your test plan – give it parameters and then legs.

While you could move into all social media sites at once, if you are time-strapped, focus one at a time.  So which one for the birthing center?  New stats tell us that Twitter might be utilized by only 10% of the American population.  You know LinkedIn is more about professional connections, so what about FaceBook and MySpace?  Facebook has the following demographics (Advertising Age data):

                                                          FaceBook                            MySpace

Women  ages 21 – 24                     16.6%                                    14.8%

Ages 25 – 29                                  11.7%                                    12.5%

Ages 30 – 34                                   9.7%                                     7.1%

Ages 35 – 44                                  15.4%                                    7.5%

There are many ways to do this and certainly, the more detailed your data and your objectives, the more careful the analysis.  But, I would choose FaceBook over MySpace based on this data alone.  What you don’t have here are economic or educational factors which will impact choices, but going on age alone, you will reach a greater portion of the female market with FaceBook.

Once you have decided to work on FaceBook, you have to go back to what features are women of this age most interested in and start developing a campaign highlighting those features.  Building your FaceBook page and building your community are other crucial considerations, but we won’t tackle those items for now.

And remember – marketing is more effective because it is thoughtful and planned!


Business Plan: Worthy and Necessary for Hospital Marketing

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

If I had a nickel for every person who groans when mention of a business plan surfaces in a conversation, we could eliminate the federal deficit!  Okay, maybe that is optimistic but still, what is the groaning about?  Business planning and business plans are fundamental in moving a service or practice forward.  Business plans are often associated with organizations intending to make a profit and seeking funding, but their value is wide-spread in the non-profit world and especially important with hospitals and service-line development.

Too often, the business plan gets moved to the “back burner” because of time constraints and never receives its fair share of reflection and planning. And even worse, the service may get implemented without a solid planning process and that is where the trouble begins.

Rationale for Developing a Business Plan for your Hospital Service Line

A good business plan is never really done.  It is constantly being revamped.  The goal is not getting it done but rather having a repository of information in an acceptable format that compels testing and implementation. The plan is the guide and by creating a plan, you will discover what is necessary for success.  You will alter the plan for different audiences once you have the basic template but consider having two basic formats: one for internal use and one for external conversations.

The actual posture of writing your business plan will push you to serious contemplation and that is where the benefits are derived.  You are creating a roadmap for your service line and considering the key elements stretches your thinking. Knowing what resources are required  (space to personnel), what your payer mix might be and forecasting utilization will help you estimate how long it will take before the service contributes to the operating margin.

Once you are done (with the first version!), you will have your objectives articulated and the process outlined that will help you reach those objectives.  You will be taking the guesswork out of the mix and applying solid, useful planning that will enable you to carefully guide your service toward success and then check back in when assumptions or the environment changes.  The plan will serve as your playbook and kept up-to-date, it provides you with a key management tool serves as fodder for crafting management reports.

Business Plan Elements

  • Business plan elements typically include the following:
  • Executive Summary
  • The Organization
  • The Management Team/Personnel
  • The Service
  • Operation Plan
  • Market Overview (include competition)
  • Market Plan
  • Implementation Plan
  • Financials


The Moment of Truth in Health Care Marketing

Friday, January 28th, 2011

When you are thinking about your marketing strategy and considering how to reach certain outcomes, take a step back and take a hard look at the service delivery itself.  Yes, I have written about this before but I am not sure, we in health care, have fully reached our service potential.  We do a lot of talking about patient-centered care and there is some conversation around family-centered care, but take a good hard look at one service line or even the emergency department and pretend you are the patient.

Partially because of my father’s circumstances (prostate cancer that has metastasized into his bones) and partially because this is how life works, I have spent a considerable amount of time as a family member in several different emergency departments in the last few months.  No amount of marketing, brand promotion or social media forays can make up for those face to face moments with the admissions representative, the triage nurse, the nurse or the physician.  At times like this (and stated before in this blog), the service is the marketing.  And because a visit to the ED or the hospital is a particularly vulnerable time for the patient and his/her family, every extra step makes a difference.

I have mentioned Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, MA before for its amazing balance of high tech with high touch.  Most hospitals strive for this balance but it takes significant work to get the balance past the word-smith and actually identifiable in the exam rooms.  It starts with making the right hiring decisions and then it continues with the nurturing of a caring culture and modeling that culture for employees.

  • Imagine the impression your hospital would make on the arriving emergency patient if a member of the admissions team came out to the car and helped you get your family member into a wheel chair and then shepherded you in and first made the patient comfortable before tending to the business of the admission.
  • What would the patient think if the triage nurse knew that the patient would have to have a CT prep cocktail and also knew the wait to see a physician, even with a suspected bowel obstruction, was two hours, and that nurse sought out a physician so they could start the CT prep cocktail while the patient was still in the waiting room so that the actual time in the exam room could be expedited?
  • Or imagine that in a busy clinic, the nurse comes out, between patients, to explain why there is a slight delay and makes sure that patient is comfortable and understands the process in front of him.
  • Or imagine the surgical resident who comes to the ER because she sees the patient’s name and remembers him from a prior visit and just wants to check on how that patient is doing.
  • Or imagine the charge nurse helping out with a discharge because the patient is agitated and so ready to go home.  Not only does the charge nurse defuse the patient’s anxiety, but she uses charm and warmth, to disarm the entire family while carefully explaining the tedious discharge instructions.  By the time the patient leaves, he feels like he has a new best friend!

None of the above examples can be written in an employment manual. They all actually took place at Berkshire Medical.  It took an extra step for each of these employees to reach out and they did it and probably continue to do it because they care and they feel enabled in their work environment to demonstrate their care and concern.

Each employee in the above examples could have easily made other choices.  This is the moment of truth for any organization.  When the patient comes face to face with an employee, what will be the result?  Inputs cannot be controlled (grumpy and sick patients) but employee responses can be nurtured with the aspiration of positive outcomes.


Website? Got Metrics?

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Health Care Marketing Basics:  Tracking

We know the importance of measuring our outreach efforts.  Tracking helps us plan better, aim more carefully and get closer to the results we want. We gain better health care marketing results, i.e. return on our marketing investment. Websites and especially medical practice websites are no different in benefiting from measurement.  We need to develop a set of metrics to help us understand who is visiting and what they are doing/looking at.

Setting up a solid tracking system on your website is a worthy endeavor.  I found the following blog post that does a great job of explaining the basics to you.  Don’t be fooled by the non-health care orientation.  This is good stuff on tracking for your website.

Thanks to SearchEngineWatch and Rob Chant.


Moving Toward an Accountable Care Organization (ACO): The Healthcare World is Changing, Are You?

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Yesterday, CIGNA announced the launch of an accountable care organization (ACO) pilot with the Piedmont Physicians Group in Atlanta, Georgia.  The essential intention behind this pilot is to demonstrate how primary care physicians can be rewarded for improving outcomes while also having lower medical costs.

The pilot program will monitor and coordinate ALL aspects of patient care. Patients will not have to do or change anything in this pilot.  All of the adjustments will be done internally.  Patients will most likely experience immediate benefits in the management of chronic conditions, such as diabetes.

The CIGNA/ Piedmont pilot uses a registered nurse as the clinical care coordinator.  This role is specifically oriented to assist patients as they navigate through the healthcare system to manage their health issues.  The care coordinator adds an additional layer of interface that will use data and clinical programs to help support the individual’s needs.  The focus will be on improved outcomes.

In essence, this program, and others like it, are going back to basics on one level and moving forward on another.  The focus will be on prevention – keep an individual well but once the individual needs to access care, the pilot will work to coordinate that care, guiding the patient through the process with knowledge and informing data.

CIGNA will continue to pay the primary care physicians for the medical services they provide but they will also pay a care coordination fee along with a possible reward in a pay for performance structure.  In some ways, this is similar to concierge practices where the physician continues to provide medical services for reimbursement from third party payers but also collects an annual fee for additional services – services not unlike care coordination and an emphasis on prevention.  The responsibility for that additional fee becomes the payer’s in exchange for improved outcomes.  Sounds like a win-win situation.

Providers need to make way for new incentive programs like this one.  Whether a hospital or a physician organization, preparation for change needs to happen now.  There is substantial information flowing about electronic health records (EHRs), utilization of outcomes data and comparative effectiveness research findings and the ability to provide care coordination.  It is likely that these three tenants will form the basis of a provider’s ability to become an ACO.

The handwriting on the wall indicates that providers will be paid for keeping patients healthy.  Providers should reconsider the value of their outreach programs that seek to motivate physical activity, healthier diets and smoking cessation.  Some early research (Trust for American’s Health, 2008) suggests that funds spent on prevention outreach lead to significant savings in healthcare costs.  This kind of outreach is already in place in many organizations.  If not, the easiest step is to focus on wellness events and early detection programs and begin planning for the other steps (EHR implementation, using comparative effectiveness research findings and coordination of care).  The world is changing and providers need to change along with these new (or renewed) constructs.


Listening via Social Media Tools for the Healthcare Marketing Manager

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

Seems like we have mentioned this before but a conversation with a client the other day reminded me that the art of marketing and promoting our healthcare organizations is really an endless task that can always, always be improved upon.

And the first place is almost always with the source – the patient or the referring physician, whoever you consider your customer.  There are formal methods for obtaining good information about your customer’s wants and needs, i.e. surveys, physician relation liaisons, but let’s take a quick look at some informal methods that are easy to initiate right now.

Social media tools allow for listening in an informal method.  This kind of surveillance can help you be more nimble and lead you to a greater awareness of new trends or provide market insight that can help you navigate your outreach.

Listening can involve paying attention to your brand (or your competitors’) as it is mentioned in on-line conversations.  You most likely have set up a Google Alert for specific words and names to help you keep track of mentions. If you haven’t yet done that, go to Google Alert and get started. You can also set up a Twitter alert in the same manner with TweetBeep or use Twitter search for another great listening device. Both are free just like Google Alert.  With these search tools, you can capture what is being said about you or your brand on Twitter and in many online conversations.

You may have alerts set for your organization’s name but also consider more generic key words that you are interested in hearing about, i.e. “physician relations,”  “oncology,” “wound center” or “healthcare marketing.”   You can set up as many alerts as you choose and they can be formal names (your brand name, your competitor’s brand name, a specific physician’s name etc.) or key words or phrases.

There are a variety of services, free and premium that you can access to help you listen more closely.  Social Mention scan blogs, forums and such for your key words or brand name while BackType provides other social media listening devices.

Monitoring the alerts is only half of the process of listening.  Once you get beyond brand reporting, you need to consider the more complete context of the conversations. What drives the conversation?  Is there a need or a frustration? To get a more complete picture of your patients’ needs or how best to improve or promote your healthcare services, you will want to be more in touch with the overall conversation that is happening about the particular medical service you provide.  Scanning is worthwhile but make sure you a deeper sense of what the conversation is about.


Physicians Charging Fees – A Healthcare Marketing Perspective

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Fierce Healthcare and USA Today both recently published items on the increasing number of physicians who are charging additional fees for services not covered by insurance.  Examples include a “no show” fee for missed appointments or a fee to complete health forms for camps, schools, or employment.  USA Today quotes Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) president, William Jessee, as he advises against these extra fees in that they may anger patients or are in conflict with current insurance contracts.

If you are a provider, frustrated by your diminishing income and think your only choice is to add fees, consider a few things first – consider this from your patient’s perspective which is what I believe is the healthcare marketing perspective.

Physicians who charge additional or a la carte fees are still in the minority.  While some of your colleagues may be joining in the fray, think about your market and your patients and how best to communicate with them, before you take the fee plunge.

As with any new service or endeavor, you want to examine your market and have a solid understanding of what your patients will tolerate.  If you have a practice filled with patients struggling to make ends meet, the addition of a fee can easily push them in the direction of another provider.  You might be overwhelmed with the size and activity of your patient panel as it is and having some choose to go elsewhere may not harm your practice.  Either way, you need to take a good hard look at your situation.  Don’t leave out your competition either.  Are there others in your market who charge fees?  The more familiar your patients are with this concept, the more likely they are to accept it.

An appropriate communication effort is necessary.  While you may know that primary care physicians are becoming more and more scarce, your patient may not.  They may not understand that outside of your practice, things can be very different and they won’t know this until they leave.  If you decide to charge fees, help them understand your motivation.

Some physicians begin the fee charging process on a voluntary basis and while this eases your patients into the concept, it still may anger some so you need to be prepared.  Help your patients understand that many of the activities outside the office visit are simply not covered and therefore you do not receive a fee for them.  As 30 million  more Americans gain access to medical care with the nation’s new health reform law, primary care providers are likely to be pressed and wait times will increase significantly.  Even if you don’t intend to charge fees now, helping your patients understand the pressure on primary care providers will serve you and them well.

Helping your patients understand that the only way available to you to increase your income to cover higher costs of care and personnel is to increase your volume or to try a la carte pricing.  Patients might need to graphically understand that if you increase your volume, you have less time with each patient and in all likelihood, the care you provide will suffer.  Charging a fee is a better option.

Here are some suggested action steps to consider before charging a fee:

  • Review your market.  Talk to your patients to get a feeling of their thoughts.
  • Know what your competition is doing.
  • Create a communication plan.
  • Be prepared for the fall-out from your position.

Good luck!