Healthcare is a service category with a lot of emotional baggage. It is a bit of an anathema to medical scientists, but research shows that people tend to use their feelings in selecting a hospital or clinic far more than their rational brains.
Working with the nation’s largest nonprofit health system in 22 states, and with four leading Midwestern and Western regional health systems, we’re seeing a recent trend of marketers trying to “follow the money” and focus their efforts efficiently on profitable specialty lines. On the surface — and in budget approval meetings — this seems to make logical sense. But when you consider that “good brand” is actually how consumers choose their healthcare providers (second only to direct referrals,) it’s a questionable approach at best. Of course, we believe there is no substitute for strong paid search, digital social content, and education for patients in current need of your specialties. These are critical to your success, and in fact, we strongly recommend aligning these with your “good brand.” But trying to time a mass market campaign for patients who will someday need specialty care (like knee replacement, a new heart valve, or a kidney nephrectomy) and then expecting them to remember your ads when they are in actual need is magical thinking. Worse, this approach is almost certainly eroding your good brand, leaving you vulnerable to incursion from all kinds of competitors.
Theory, or sound business practice?
We know, in an ROI-based marketing world, this Good Brand approach may seem counterintuitive. But we’ve seen a consistent and measurable acceleration in effectiveness with Good Brand experiences, proven out in health systems large and small, regional health insurers, and even a global medical device manufacturer. A steady stream of finalists for the Effie Award (the award based on market success) for Preston Spire directly supports this approach. In fact, we are a small agency, often recognized in the top 100 most effective agencies in the U.S. by Effie. And a consistent pattern of new patients, new members, and clients rising to become the number-one health system or health plan in their region proves this theory is also sound business practice. See a few examples of how good “good” can be.
In eleven months, UCare grew from #4 to the #1 Medicare Advantage plan in Minnesota.
So, what does this mean for your brand? Well, to measure your brand’s “good,” you’ll need to know where you stand on the aforementioned Good Brands Index in your market. Again, research suggests it’s better to focus on communicating your “good” story based on your mission, vision, and values, and differentiating your overall approach in your awareness marketing. Don’t forget this last bit because it is vital. Differentiation in your approach requires you to look deeply into your organization. Find key stakeholder agreement on something good that’s authentically you, and that you can authentically build experiences around. By doing so, you will differentiate and clarify the good you can do. For our client Gundersen Health System, the most profitable health system in America according to Forbes magazine, Love + Medicine was the “good brand” differentiator. For CHI Franciscan in Washington state, it was building regional pride with a wellness movement based on the idea of “Northwest Healthy.” And for Medtronic’s Cardio Division, it began with building a virtually unbranded consumer-facing website that answered patients’ deepest and hardest questions about life with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, called “Ask the ICD.”