Putting Your Best Foot Forward Intelligent Planning For Better Health Care Services Marketing

Many health administrators face a dilemma when it comes to marketing health care services. The marketing landscape is large, and understanding which initiatives deliver the best return on investment can be complex.
Successfully marketing your organization’s unique services goes beyond basic advertising, although advertising has its place in the marketing mix. In fact, marketing encompasses everything your company says and does to attract and retain its staff and patients. Establishing a comprehensive marketing program not only supports your organization’s long-term sales and business goals, but also becomes virtually indispensable when breaking into a new market category or launching new products, services and specialties.

The best marketers typically begin with a well-thought-out plan. Even for beginners, developing a marketing plan does not have to be a headache. To simplify the process, consider breaking it down into a few easy steps:

Analyze Your Current Business Situation

Determine where your business stands today. What are some of your current offerings and market advantages? Do you have a niche or provide specialty services? How are market conditions affecting your type of business? Consider developing a S.W.O.T. analysis to define your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Additionally, what, if any, are the situational factors that might affect the way you have to conduct business in the coming year (rising costs of insurance, reduced reimbursements, recruitment, new specialties or technologies)? Don’t forget to include any major business developments such as new service offerings or expansion into new geographic service areas.

Pinpoint your target

Perhaps the most important element of a successful marketing program is defining your target audience or audiences. Savvy marketers have moved away from a blanket approach to marketing and have redirected their efforts to a highly focused brand of marketing that reaches key decision-makers.

As an executive in the health care industry, there may be a variety of decision makers that you will need to influence, including but not limited to:

• Health care providers;
• Health care plan administrators;
• Board members;
• Advisors;
• Private clients; and
• The general public, including people with health care needs that match your best offerings

Closely examine the audiences that you intend to target. Each will be seeking different information from you. It is important that you communicate the correct message to the correct audience.

Take time to prioritize your target list and the services and/or areas of expertise that you’ll be promoting. There are many cost-effective ways to communicate important news about your organization. Determine which market segment(s) are most important. Each of these markets has critical centers of opinion and influence. Remember, your organization has a story to tell – something unique that distinguishes it in the marketplace, a leading-edge service or way of doing business.

What are your goals?

Your marketing goals should fit into your overall business strategy. Make sure they are as specific as possible. For example, ‘Increase blood donation at clinic No. 3 by 10{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} in Q3.” Also, make sure your goals are quantifiable; this way, you can better define initial successes at the end of the first program year.

Defining strategy and tactics

Outlining strategy and tactics will be the core, and the majority of work, in your marketing plan. Take time to explore the various marketing channels that are available to you:
• Literature — sales brochures, newsletters, sell sheets;
• Direct mail, direct e-mail;
• Web site;
• Advertising — television, radio, newspapers, directories, magazines, trade journals, online, billboards etc.;
• Public relations — news releases, white papers (technical articles), case studies and events;
• Trade shows and exhibits (professional, local and business-to-business); and
• Personal contact and word-of-mouth

Consider all the steps you plan to take for public relations, trade shows, advertising, direct mail, literature development. and other marketing. Using a timeline or calendar, outline your action plan. Note: for advertising and public relations initiatives, closely monitor editorial calendars at key publications to ensure you place your messages in the most relevant issues. Also, take into consideration the lead time you will need for materials development, printing and distribution.

As you can see, there are a number of options available; consider them all, but understand that you will likely narrow down your program to a handful of choices, based on the needs of your target audience and your budget. Now is also a good time to review where the majority of your patient base originates. It may be wise to begin exploring other channels of marketing to help generate new areas of growth.

The budget breakdown

Finally, it’s time to put numbers next to your initiatives and determine what is feasible within your budget parameters. What strategies can you afford? What projects can you do in-house? Which initiatives give you the most “bang for your buck,” while adhering to your business and marketing goals? The budget that you specify for marketing will depend primarily on your overall business goals and current revenues. In addition, if your organization is well established, you may be able to spend less on advertising and marketing. If new, you may need to lay the foundation of brand awareness and positioning with a more aggressive program.

Making it happen

Developing a marketing program for health care services provides you with the opportunity to capitalize on strengths, expand services, identify new prospects and facilitate growth. It allows your organization to further define itself and mover towards its most important business goals.

Michelle van Schouwen is a partner with van Schouwen Associates, LLC, which provides strategic marketing, advertising, public relations, interactive development and consulting services to a range of clients nationally; (413) 567-8700.

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