In the world of healthcare marketing, as brands brace for intensifying competitive activity and the pending tsunami of change that the Affordable Care Act promises, some lessons from outside the medical world have particular relevance.
Healthcare systems, by their very nature, excel in instituting best-in-class medical practices to help ensure they deliver optimal patient care and outcomes. Less clear-cut is how to translate these broader operational tenets within the world of healthcare marketing.
How should the free market principles of competition and relevant brand differentiation come to bear on an industry rooted in the practices of sharing for the common good? Below I’ve outlined 10 tips for healthcare marketers that are feeling the countervailing forces of greater good vs. brand good, drawn from outside the industry:
1. Align your brand with a single energizing idea. The idea itself can be rooted in the organization’s commitment to the greater good, but it must be framed in a fresh, competitively unique way. Once identified, hold all of your communications accountable to reinforcing it in some way.
2. Get buy-in from the top, early on. If the leadership of your organization doesn’t believe in the brand idea or understand what it’s about, you’ll have little chance of operationalizing it to propel marketplace success and growth. Put it in terms they’ll understand. Highlight case studies of brands they can relate to. Get their input upfront and get them excited.
3. Treat your internal and external audiences with equal reverence -- both are critical. I’m constantly amazed by the power of public messaging to orchestrate and transform organizational behavior. At the same time, brand messaging can be a highly effective aid in recruitment, for drawing in the right kind of people and setting an expectation of what you’re all about.
4. Speak through the unique voice of your brand. If it doesn’t have one, get busy and find an expert partner that can help you find it. Brand tone, look and feel can be palpable differentiators -- if properly executed and managed.
5. When needed, talk about best-in-class practices through the lens of your energizing idea. It will bring fresh perspective to commonly talked about competencies, whether they be patient-centered care, full-spectrum capabilities, commitment to wellness or some other key benefit.
6. Fight the alluring temptation to say more. Studies repeatedly prove that focusing on a single message in communications achieves far more for the organization than trying to shoehorn copy into ever last ounce of whitespace or airspace.
7. Develop and enforce clear strategies that define the roles of different forms of messaging. Each should serve a specific function and, without clearly articulated parameters, those responsible for executing the messaging won’t understand what it needs to deliver.
8. Don’t stray from your core strategy, despite all the organizational tugs and influences that can exert themselves. Healthcare organizations are, almost by definition, large and full of individuals with vocal opinions. Relatively few, though, tend to have qualified experience in marketing communications. Don’t dismiss your better judgment and, if needed, leverage the influence you’ve gained through tip No. 2.
9. Don’t broadcast your strategies. Treat them as the proprietary secrets and weapons they are in the battle for creating unique brand meaning and target understanding. Let brand pros in other systems learn of your brand programs after they’ve run (via your winning Effie award submission, for example). You’ll be less likely to see your strategy staring back at you in a competitive ad next week.
10. Set realistic expectations. Building brands in any industry takes investment and time. Partner with an agency that can help you establish key performance indicators and targets. Then test, track and learn. Nobody worries about this when the momentum is surging. But should it stagger or wane, you’ll be glad you invested upfront.
Without question, healthcare marketing is becoming more complex and challenging. The sooner you can match your organization’s devotion to best-in-class process with best-in-class marketing practices, the sooner you’ll see the kind of success all brands hope for, no matter what industry they’re in.