Author Archive

50 beds or 500, your hospital brand is critical to your success.

June 2, 2014

The most powerful companies in the world live and die on their brands.  It has been estimated that at least half of Coca Cola’s market capitalization ($178 billion, May 2014) resides in its brand alone.  The same can be said of Apple, the world’s most valuable company.

I would argue that a hospital’s brand is even more important to its success than it is for these global companies.  Just think about it.  Your hospital’s reputation (brand) is everything to its success.  It’s one thing to trust Coke to taste good or your iPhone to work consistently, but trust in a healthcare environment is something else altogether.

Yet, some hospitals, particularly the smaller ones which have greater brand challenges than anyone, don’t invest a lot of time, effort or thought into building the brand – even though we know from decades of research that brand building pays great dividends.  The fact that brand building is so important is why even the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, the Mayo Clinic and MD Anderson devote millions to building their brands annually.

The benefits to building a strong brand are many:

  • Increases consumer confidence
  • Reduces consumer risk
  • Creates customer loyalty
  • Signifies quality
  • Is more memorable
  • Provides differentiation

Building a hospital brand takes dedication.  It’s not a once every other year campaign.  It’s an every day focus.  You start by understanding what the public’s perceptions are of your hospital, then evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and determine not only what you desire to be, but also what you realistically can be in your community.  Once you’ve determined your message, it’s a matter of deciding what’s necessary to convince your community of your vision.


Forget Strategy?

July 24, 2012

Recently, Advertising Age quoted the CEO of the global advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, as saying, “Strategy is dead… If you take the time to devise a strategy, the more time you are giving your rivals to start eating your lunch.”

Is he serious?  I fully realize we now live in a very fast-paced world and hesitation can be costly, but forget the strategy?  How do you get the tactics right without a strategy?  The fact is good strategic planning leads to better execution.

We’ve also found that the tighter the strategy, the better the creative product.  It certainly makes it easier to create good ideas.  With even a loose strategy, creativity becomes far more difficult.  With no strategy, it’s almost impossible.  

Lack of strategy usually leads to poor management of resources as well.  Tactics do not replace strategy; they follow it.  Today’s new media enables carefully targeted rifle shots.  Why would you want to use a shotgun?

Ding Dong! The King is Dead.

August 23, 2011

Finally! With sales nose-diving, Burger King is thankfully laying its king to rest. You know the one – with the oversized head and creepy look on his face. I mean who would want to rush into a Burger King knowing that ugly thing could be there.

For years, they tried unsuccessfully to make the king hip – the opposite of the very square Ronald McDonald. Admittedly, I’m far removed from the teen and 20-something males targeted by the campaign (including the naked chicken — can’t forget that one).

They finally discovered that in the fast food business, food matters, as does those aging facilities. Imagine that. I never understood how those tired, old stores could possibly be in synch with the advertising’s edginess. Never thought a Whopper was all that edgy, either.

Advertising, especially image campaigns, must make sense to the audience – and connect with them emotionally in a way that’s relevant to the product or service.

Just goes to show that tons of awards and many millions of dollars aren’t always the ingredients for success. I’ve always questioned our industry awarding failures. Too many award-winning campaigns have failed miserably in the marketplace. When they do that, how can they be considered award-winning? Isn’t that why we do it in the first place – to affect sales?

Overdose of Buzzwords

March 23, 2011

And, we call ourselves wordsmiths.

About a month ago, one PR strategist, Adam Sherk launched a study of 23 overused PR buzzwords utilizing PRFilter, a website that aggregates news releases. Later, PRFilter did a more extensive look at Sherk’s findings and discovered the number one overused buzzword in news releases, based on the number of uses in a 24-hour period, was “leading,” followed by “solutions.” The remaining 21 overused words are below, along with their incidence within 24 hours.

Assuming these news releases were written by professionals, it’s embarrassing. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m sure I’ve committed my share of these unpardonable sins over the years, but some of these words are so worn and meaningless, it’s hard to believe any professional would be caught using them today.

Ok, now I’m going back over this post and check for all the buzzwords that may have snuck in.

1. leading (776)
2. solution (622)
3. best (473)
4. innovate / innovative / innovator (452)
5. leader (410)
6. top (370)
7. unique (282)
8. great (245)
9. extensive (215)
10. leading provider (153)
11. exclusive (143)
12. premier (136)
13. flexible (119)
14. award winning / winner (106)
15. dynamic (95)
16. fastest (70)
17. smart (69)
18. state of the art (65)
19. cutting edge (54)
20. biggest (54)
21. easy to use (51)
22. largest (34)
23. real time (8)

Is Being the Closest Hospital Enough?

February 1, 2011

Travel around the country, especially in smaller communities, and it’s amazing how many community hospitals use little more than the selling point that they are close to home. Often, that or some form of it will be their tagline.

Our experience is that just isn’t enough. One, our research shows consumers know exactly where the closest hospital is, so telling them something they already know well isn’t likely to change their minds. More important, the more profitable consumers – the commercially insured – can and will drive for care they think will make a difference.

They not only want the care to be closer, they want to know it’s at least as good as, if not better than, what they’ll find at the larger facility 30 minutes or an hour away. In other words, convenience is not enough to keep them from making the drive.

Check out this very successful campaign we created for Meadows Regional Medical Center to turn the shorter distance into a life-saving selling proposition.

Engage Employees to Deliver Your Marketing Strategy

November 30, 2010

A recent article in Ad Age tells how several companies are involving employees directly to deliver the company’s message to customers. Some, like Pizza Hut and Southwest Airlines are involving their employees in the advertising to deliver the message from their point of view. Not exactly cutting edge, but these campaigns are working well.

The most interesting initiatives, though, are how some are involving their employees as focus groups, idea generators and more. Southwest regularly queries employees to tell about their experiences on the frontline.

Kraft has an app called “Foodii,” which is an online community of 2,000 employees where it gathers information on everything from what to name a new product to ideas on preparation methods.

Fidelity launched its latest campaign to employees first via an internal website that detailed the positioning, included FAQs, and explained the employees’ roles in the message and its success.

Successful hospitals are doing the same. A common complaint we hear from hospital employees is how they hate seeing a TV spot for the first time on TV – often after their friends have.

The most successful campaigns draw employees into the effort. Let them know what you’re doing before it appears in the media. Explain the reasoning behind the message and show them how important they are to convincing the public of the message by living the brand. Involving employees humanizes the brand and energizes the work force. As Ad Age points out, if you sell the message to employees, they’ll deliver it for you.

To see how the Mayo Clinic is engaging its employees, you may also want to check out this earlier post by Liz Nettles.

So, Really, What Do Politicians Know About Running a Hospital?

November 18, 2010

Driving by Grady Memorial Hospital while in Atlanta a few days ago reminded me of the controversy last spring concerning the hospital’s marketing budget. Grady had announced it would invest $1.5 million in marketing communications in 2010. That’s up $500,000 from its typical annual budget.

Georgia State Senator Vincent Fort lashed out at the hospital saying that investing “$2.5 million over two years is indefensible.”

Given that Grady’s 2010 operating budget is $740 million, $2.5 million over two years is less than .2 percent — or about one-third of what the average hospital spends on marketing according to the American Hospital Association’s Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD). By any measure, that’s extremely reasonable – and, Sen. Fort, not only very defensible but desperately needed for an institution whose problems include very negative perceptions.

Given the political season, I couldn’t help but wonder if Sen. Fort was as restrained in his campaign spending as he expects Grady to be.

Seems he was not. As of his October 25th campaign finance report (which excluded the final week of very expensive campaigning) Sen. Fort had already spent over $213,000 to win an office that pays $17,000 a year ($24,000, if you include his per diem).

That’s almost five times the salary and per diem for his two year term. I guess he needed to deal with a few perceptions of his own.

Unlike state senators, hospitals must earn revenue. The brand perceptions of hospitals are critical to market share and, therefore, the generation of revenue. If a state senator can spend 500 percent of his income to keep his job, I think it’s entirely reasonable — not to mention very smart — for a hospital to invest a small fraction of one percent without self-serving politicians using it as a whipping post.

So, back to my original question of what do politicians know about running a hospital? Even less than they know about running government… and we know how great a job they do with that.

Is The Money Really That Important?

February 22, 2010

One of our clients finds itself competing against a small unaccredited hospital. One of just a few in the entire state that aren’t accredited. Normally, I wouldn’t think too much about it, but this hospital is owned by doctors! Can you believe that?

What self-respecting doctor would own a hospital and send his/her patients there knowing it isn’t accredited? Well, a greedy one, of course. I can think of only two reasons for not having your hospital accredited – one is you can’t meet the minimum national standards, the other is you just don’t want to spend the money required to meet those standards and go through the process, meaning the doctors want to keep the money for themselves. Neither is good, especially when you’re a doctor sworn to do what’s best for your patients.

My second question is — if a hospital isn’t accredited, how does it stay open? Well, it has to have referring doctors who don’t care and who put money above their patients. There’s that greed thing again.

And another thing, why aren’t payors addressing this? Most say they won’t pay unaccredited hospitals. Do they just not pay that much attention? Or, maybe it is that they don’t care, either.

Consumers need to know these things. They need to know the risk they may face if a hospital isn’t meeting minimum standards of care and infection control. And, their doctors sure aren’t telling them because they don’t want a break in the gravy train.

The Price of Quality

February 16, 2010

IBM’s Tom Watson once noted that the real challenge to any market leader came not from competitors, but rather from the leader itself (See also market leaders). As of today, Toyota has recalled 8.5 million cars and is suspending production on several models. Each week production is suspended is estimated to cost $400 million.

Much has been written about how the company has handled the crisis. There is certainly plenty to criticize there. It took them forever to admit there was a problem. In fact, it took government intervention. That’s never a good thing in communications. And, although they’ve finally begun to communicate, I’m not very impressed with their response so far. What do you think about their apology spot?

As bad as their crisis communications have been, I think that’s a secondary issue here. It’s interesting this comes a year after they unseated GM as the world’s largest car manufacturer. The real issue is the fact Toyota hocked its position as the world’s best auto manufacturer to become the world’s largest. Why would you do that? Yet another company taking its eye off the ball and forgetting what got it there.

Even if they can repair the damage, it will cost billions. Research is showing they are taking quite a hit in the trust area among customers. That can be the toughest damage to repair for any brand. Trust is very difficult to build and even more difficult to rebuild.

Hospitals can take a lot from Toyota’s failings. Obviously, one thing is to address a crisis quickly, decisively and openly. Most important, (with my apologies to Winston Churchill) never, never, never, never give up consumer trust.

Consumers on hospital employed physicians

January 15, 2010

Consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers projects hospitals’ acquisition of physician groups to be one of the major health care trends to watch in 2010.  There’s no doubt health systems are ramping up their efforts to hire/acquire physicians to better serve their markets, protect patient flow, and control costs. 

Question is, what do consumers think about that?  When we explored the issue in our Pulse360 consumer survey, 17.9 percent of southeastern women interviewed said they “strongly prefer” privately owned physician practices to hospital owned practices.  Another 26.4 percent said they “moderately prefer” privately owned practices.  A little over half (52.6%) said they didn’t care.

Consumers preferred private practice physicians because they feared hospital-employed doctors could be controlled by the hospital or otherwise be biased in favor of the hospital.  Most said it wouldn’t impact their confidence in or choice of a physician, but 14 percent said they would lack confidence in their doctor’s referral to a hospital that employed him or her. 

Consumers also felt private practice docs would provide better personal care and attention, but thought hospital owned practices had better technology, were accountable to someone and were managed more efficiently. 

So, what does this mean?  Well, even though most consumers say practice ownership won’t affect their choices, hospitals should be sensitive to the issue, knowing some consumers may question a referral.  Hospitals should also work with employed physicians and their staffs to improve the patient experience while promoting the perceived advantages such as technology.

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