In the early part of my career, healthcare marketing was dominated by hospitals. There was always discussion about whether or not to concentrate on this industry as an advertising agency. Hospitals tended to market in multi-year spurts. Then, there would be a common belief in healthcare that doctors are what drive patients to specific hospitals, so it was useless to advertise. It could be very lucrative to be an expert healthcare marketer, and then the money would disappear. Today, 9.9% of total ad expenditures in the United States are related to healthcare, driven by big pharma.
For hospitals and related entities there are two main reasons that you need to invest in marketing:
- Hospitals and other healthcare entities understand the power of a respected brand. The consumer has the power today because they have access to information. In this case, the capabilities of a hospital, infection rate, number of specialists, rankings, and other things that influence our opinion of a hospital. Hospitals know that if they don’t establish their position in the market, it will be done for them; by their competitors, through word-of-mouth, and by consumers who have data at their fingertips.
- The healthcare landscape has changed dramatically. With physician-owned hospitals and surgery centers that concentrate on specific medical specialties, minor emergency clinics, and large physician groups, consumers have a lot of choices, and sometimes their primary physician never plays into the equation. Medical tourism takes a share of the patient pie as well. Whether for a better price, a better facility, or a better doctor, consumers are willing to travel across the country to receive the healthcare they desire. Competition has never been more fierce.
Healthcare marketing has become more complex too. A high-tech, high-touch television campaign, billboards, and print ads no longer fill the need. Healthcare entities need to engage their prospects, not just push messages to them. Today, we use social media in several ways to position healthcare brands. We develop seminars so that prospects can learn and make choices. We use video to provide information. And a good, modern website is crucial to successful healthcare marketing today. All of these are great tools for building a healthcare brand. And that is what the consumer is buying, a brand.