I once worked with a hospital marketing director who was trying
to manage the high-pressure demands of one of the organization's
key physicians. No amount of advertising was ever enough, and the
doctor's idea of what constituted "effective" marketing focused,
shockingly, on himself as the star of the campaigns. When the
marketing director finally pushed back with alternative strategies
for accomplishing the physician's goal more effectively (which was,
at least explicitly, more patient visits), the doctor went straight
to the organization's CEO and complained. The CEO in turn went to
the marketing director and said, "Give him what he wants. I don't
care whether it's actually effective or not - just keep him off my
To be sure, healthcare marketers themselves hold the primary
responsibility for moving beyond the tired, ineffective marketing
we see so often in our industry. But if they are not allowed to
pursue the strategies that can drive superior marketing results,
how can they support the growth and success of the organization?
When it comes to unlocking the potential of marketing
transformation, as CEO, COO or other leader of your organization,
you hold the keys.
In my book, Joe Public Doesn't Care About Your Hospital: A
Manifesto for Transforming Healthcare Marketing, I identify
five key philosophies organizations must embrace if they want to
break from the past and move their marketing strategies forward in
new and better ways in the midst of dramatic industry changes:
- Engage consumers with relevant messaging and content.
- Embrace new tools and techniques.
- Break bad marketing habits.
- Drive brand building.
- Build a marketing measurement discipline.
To illustrate the role the C-suite can have in influencing this
transformation, let's focus on the first philosophy noted above -
engaging consumers with relevant messaging and content. It
should be no surprise to hear that the vast majority of the people
in the market you serve do not currently have a need for your
organization, its services or its physicians. The certain but
painful truth is that if consumers don't need a service, they don't
care about that service. They don't care that you have the daVinci
robot. They don't care that your physicians are board certified.
They don't care that you won the latest award. They don't care that
you have the best people, or the latest technology, or the best
amenities. They just don't care.
To reach Joe Public, then, we have to stop talking about
ourselves, and start using messages and content that are relevant
to Joe Public. Health and wellness messages are great examples of
this. While the vast majority of consumers may not have a need for
a new physician or hospital service, most do have some desire to
improve their health in some way. Yet organizations spend more
marketing dollars on advertising to Joe Public - and most often
with "look at us, we're great" messages - than on any other
One perfect - and ubiquitous - example of ignoring the idea that
Joe Public Doesn't Care About Your Hospital is the promotion of
industry awards and rankings. Such chest-pounding promotion is in
direction opposition to the type of messaging that Joe Public would
potentially find relevant. In my experience, the push to focus mass
advertising on awards and rankings almost never comes from within
the marketing department. Sometimes it comes from physicians,
sometimes from the board, but most of the time the pressure comes
directly from leadership.
The demand to advertise awards and rankings may stem from a
desire to show how great the organization is (despite the fact that
in almost all cases, awards and rankings do little to distinguish
one organization from another), a response to seeing other,
competing organizations tout awards (what I call "Me Too
Marketing"), or in some cases, because the leader has been
contacted directly by the company issuing the award or ranking, and
told how important it is to promote the prize. So despite the Joe
Public argument and ample research that shows consumers don't
understand or value hospital awards and rankings, healthcare
marketers are being asked to dedicate a significant chunk of their
limited budget to a marketing strategy that is very unlikely to
support the business goals of the organization.
As a leader of the organization, there are many steps you can take
to support your marketing team in transforming the way your
organization approaches marketing. Provide marketing with a seat at
the strategic planning table and rely on their knowledge of the
market to help guide your organization's growth. By all means,
demand accountability for marketing results, while understanding
that marketing must work in concert with operational and clinical
leaders to have a true impact. But most importantly, support the
efforts of your marketing leaders to transform their methods, and
provide backing when they face criticism or political pressure from
others in the organization who, while well-meaning, most likely do
not have a real understanding of what makes for effective
marketing. In the end, allowing your marketing leaders to pursue
effective marketing by providing them with the cover and support
they need may be the most important transformation of all.
Chris Bevolo is author of the new book, Joe Public Doesn't
Care About Your Hospital. He is a healthcare marketing change agent
and owner of Interval, Minneapolis-based healthcare marketing firm
that is leading the transformation of healthcare marketing. He is a
frequent keynote speaker and author. Learn more about Chris