Health care today is not what it used to be. Advances in science and technology are changing the quality of care offered by hospitals and clinics and prolonging the lives of patients. These changes also affect the ways in which consumers—especially those with a choice in the matter—are seeking health care providers. The advent of the Internet, for example, has allowed more consumers to seek and compare information on doctors, hospitals, treatments and services than ever before: A recent survey of 5,000 adults found that 11 percent had used the Internet to research or compare hospital quality—a three percent increase from past years.
Research also suggests that an increasing number of employers and insurance providers are allowing more flexibility in health care plans, transferring a greater degree of decision-making power directly to the consumer. Paired with the growing interests individuals have in actually making these health care decisions, health care providers today are faced with a shift in marketing. It’s no longer sufficient to market to current patients and insurance providers—health care organizations that wish to survive must be sure to appeal and communicate to the consumers with choice, setting themselves apart and providing substantial reason for consumers to choose them over another provider.
So how can your organization ensure that these discerning audiences aren’t overlooked?
Has your marketing or communications department considered conducting preliminary research to determine who these potential new customers are and how best to reach them. Research current customers in order to discern which qualities drew current customers to your organization initially and what their general opinions of your image, customer service or care are.
- Segment, segment, segment
One message does not fit all. Different audiences are likely to be most receptive to certain messages and not others. The PATH Institute, a consumer health market research firm, has developed a health care segmentation system that divides consumers into one of nine groups based on values and priorities:
- Clinic Cynic—7 percent of the U.S. population, generally distrustful of the medical profession
- Avoider—10 percent of the U.S. population, refrains from seeking care until very sick
- Generic—9 percent of the U.S. population, price conscious and concerned with just the basics in health care coverage
- Family Centered—9 percent of the U.S. population, puts family health above all other matters
- Traditionalists—10 percent of the U.S. population, willing to pay more for quality care and tend to use the same providers
- Loyalist—12 percent of the U.S. population, moderate in health care opinions and behaviors
- Ready user—12 percent of the U.S. population, actively seeks and uses health care services of all kinds
- Independently healthy—12 percent of the U.S. population, very actively involved in their own health
- Naturalist—9 percent of the U.S. population, have a propensity to use alternative health care methods
Consider using this segmentation to guide your own segmentation process. Then tailor your marketing efforts as needed. For example, promote your health care organization with the Independently Healthy crowd with direct mail that focuses on how they can use your organization to control their care and pair the mailing with a nice takeaway, like an All-Week Pill box for medicines or vitamins. Or, appeal to Traditionalists by rewarding loyal customers with a branded tote bag.
- Differentiate your organization from others
Whether it’s national recognition, industry awards, quality of care, state of the art equipment or a specialty no one else offers, let consumers know what sets you apart. Allow website visitors to tour facilities or view pictures online and prominently mention or feature these qualities in other marketing materials. If the yearly lists come out and your organization is on top, spread the word even further by offering staff branded celebratory gifts like Star-Shaped Stress Balls or branded pens that mention the award to promote awareness and word of mouth among visiting consumers.
- Avoid information overload
Some research has shown that health care consumers prefer simplicity when making decisions about their care. Don’t just avoid jargon in your health care organization’s marketing messages, make your points easy to relate to and easy to understand.
- Become storytellers, reward storytellers
Find real customer stories to use as a basis for marketing or include testimonials in print materials, advertisements and on all pages of your website. Go further to recruit customers to tell their own stories about your health care organization on your behalf. This can be done through simple referral programs to grow word of mouth or through interactive social media efforts that encourage customers and patients to upload their own videos, images and blogs documenting their experiences with your brand. Consider small giveaways to current customers who consistently refer new customers, like Pedometers or T-Shirts paired with a personalized thank-you note.
Don’t overlook the customers with a choice—reach out to them, appeal to them and thank them. They are part of your success and their inclusion in marketing efforts will help to ensure that they always will be.