Botched Healthcare Branding

by , Dec 16, 2013, 10:49 AM
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Healthcare in the United States is a mess for numerous reasons, and many institutions are attempting to apply their fix. Buried in this mess is a healthcare topic that is rarely discussed. It emphasizes:

  • Prevention of illness as the primary focus.
  • Treatments aimed at causes rather than symptoms.
  • Treatments that are highly individualized and that use the least invasive and least toxic therapies.
  • Treatments that support natural healing of the body.
  • Treatment of the entire person.
  • Typically lower costs.

These features are easy to embrace, and they help address many issues that exist in today's healthcare environment.

But there's a big marketing and branding problem in the U.S. It is not the problem of just one company but an entire industry. That industry in the U.S. is most often called alternative medicine. Just the term “alternative” points to the branding issue. Other terms often used to describe the industry are Natural Health, Integrative Health, CAM (Complimentary and Alternative Medicine) and Holistic Health. 

The complexity continues because each of those labels is just an umbrella term to describe a variety of common and lesser-known treatments. Some treatments are self-administered, such as dietary changes, meditation, and taking herbs and vitamins, while others require a practitioner, like massage, acupuncture, reflexology and chiropractic treatment. 

This complexity reflects the lack of consensus on how the industry defines itself. Compare that to the conventional healthcare industry, which has "surgery," "pharmaceutical drugs," "doctors," "nurses" and "therapy," each distinctly embedded in its own industry lexicon. Now that's good marketing!

Because the alternative medicine market is still undefined, resulting in inconsistencies and fragmentation, people struggle to understand what it has to offer. In fact, 60% of U.S. adults have not tried any type of alternative medicine treatment, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health, an example of just how significant the branding issue is. 

Some believe that the lack of adoption is related to treatment effectiveness. Granted, alternative medicine is often thought to include a broad range of therapeutic approaches, from the highly studied and reliable to the more questionable and faith-based. Without making judgments on effectiveness, I contend that the primary issue is one of marketing.

In many countries worldwide, alternative medicine is the primary medicine. For instance, traditional Chinese medicine has been in use for more than 2,000 years, and Ayurveda, which originated in India more than 3,000 years ago, continues to be widely accepted. 

The first school of medicine in North America began less than 250 years ago, yet the medical practices of thousands of years are considered only an alternative in the U.S. That's a marketing communication problem if I ever saw one!

I am not trying to suggest that modern Western medicine should be pushed aside, or that alternative medicine is appropriate for all health issues. But it sure seems that when it comes to people's health choices in the U.S., the scales have tipped far in one direction, thanks to powerful marketing by the newcomer and poor marketing by the incumbent.

3 comments on "Botched Healthcare Branding".

  1. Nancy Arter from Nielsen
    commented on: December 16, 2013 at 12:29 p.m.
    Very interesting take on the non-marketing of alternative medicine. You are absolutely right -- and this is one reason why so many haven't tried alternative -- or even scoff at it. The Alternative Medicine industry needs to take notice of this and definitely needs to step up the efforts!
  2. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt
    commented on: December 16, 2013 at 12:30 p.m.
    Insurance companies, the FDA and big Pharma are all about the bottom line and making profits and control. Alternative medicine does not fit into those buckets much less patients given the freedom to make their own choices. Big daddy will tell you when and if you can smoke weed to diminish pain, when you can get acupuncture to ease your headaches and how much they will cover if at all. We forget that it was a lawsuit in the 60's that forced insurance companies to cover chemo.
  3. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt
    commented on: December 16, 2013 at 12:31 p.m.
    And in terms of branding - branding is messaging. The message is clear. See above comment.

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