No Longer an Anomaly, It’s Now the Norm

Peter Drucker, the late business management guru once said, “Everybody has accepted by now that change is unavoidable.  But that still implies that change is like death and taxes — it should be postponed as long as possible and no change would be vastly preferable.  But in a period of upheaval, such as the one we are living in, change is the norm.”

Nowhere is the momentum of change more pronounced than in medicine.  It is not only the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act and the remarkable advances that are being made in diagnosis and treatment, but the way the business of medicine is done.  And make no mistake about it, medicine today is business; the changes are equally revolutionary, particularly in the arena of medical marketing.  One observer said medical practitioners have three options: “Roll Over,” i.e. retire from active practice; “Freeze in the Hi-Beams,” i.e. do nothing; or “Roll Up Your Sleeves” and see the changes as a challenge and adapt.

Mickey Pulcini, of Pulcini Productions, has been highly successful in marketing and branding private medical practices like local dentist Dr. Beverly Rose of Exceptional Dentistry.  “Today, attitudes about the need and urgency to market have changed,” explains Pulcini.  Most doctors and their designated marketing people still see advertising as a necessary evil; they do it because they feel they must and often hate the process of deciding exactly what and how to market.”

Then he added, “What has changed even more, and is changing faster than ever, is the where and how to market.  A decade ago the Internet was only about five years old and the buzz was, ‘You gotta have a website.’ My clients spent ninety percent or more of their marketing budget on traditional media avenues like magazines, television, radio, billboards, and other things to either make the phone ring or drive people to their new fancy websites.  Today, things are shifting fast. In just the past two years, most of our medical practices have increased their online marketing budgets to about twenty or thirty percent of their budgets.”  He goes on to predict that the budget for online marketing will increase to 50 percent in the next two years.

Consumer Driven

Currently over 200 million people in the U.S. are online.  This makes up more than 70 percent of the total population.  What is more, statistics also say that eight million Americans are on the Internet every day looking for medical information.

How that shapes the modern medical consumer goes beyond searching for a local practitioner.  Gabriel (Gabe) DeLorenzi, who works for Gotham Inc. in New York and handles marketing for his father’s local practice, DeLorenzi Orthopedic Center, observed, “It is safe to say that everyone has seen a paradoxical shift in health care, and with that, how you market the products and services in that category.”

“Ten years ago, if you started to show any symptoms you would immediately go see your doctor and get his or her opinion; now, we run to the computer and try to diagnose ourselves.  Once we do decide to go see the doctor we request drugs or treatments that we have seen (or read about) in ads that we think will answer our symptoms.  The doctor’s opinion is now mainly used to confirm our suspicions or to test our hypotheses.  Right or wrong, the main doctor-to-patient exchange has changed – the doctor no longer holds all the information about the human body, so what you have to focus on, when it comes to your messaging, is something deeper.”

So how has the industry responded to these changes?  Amelia Woodbridge, a marketing consultant based in Brevard, outlined both how the market has evolved and how the industry has to adapt.  “Medical marketing has typically focused on the physician or institution showcasing credentials, training and experience to highlight why they are the best in the area.  While these facts are important, marketing is now about the consumer.  Patient experience, patient education, case studies, new care options, and how a patient’s needs are met are what patients expect.  Because consumers are fully engaged in their health care by doing research on the Internet or even attending seminars, marketers are challenged to find the right balance between presenting hard facts and listening to patients to deliver the message they expect to help them make decisions.”

 

Another major shift that marketing executives and medical personnel have observed is that the group that is in most need of medical care, which is aging seniors, often delegates many of their medical choices to their Baby Boomer or younger children.  This older generation tended to go to the doctor they were accustomed to seeing, follow their directions and go to the specialists they referred them to; not so with their children or grandchildren.  To the younger population doctors give authoritative recommendations, and referrals are simply suggestions.  Both referrals and diagnoses are researched online and the decision is largely personal.

Of course the proliferation of marketing information and easily accessible diagnostic tools can have its drawbacks.  Marja Sprock, MD of Central Florida UroGynecology commented, “Marketing has made robotics a desired surgical tool.  It is better than open surgery, but not better than laparoscopy.  As a result of advertising though, it is made to be the ultimate surgical tool.  Gynecologists, for example, offer robotic hysterectomies because patients, driven by marketing ask for it, but they are more expensive and take longer than vaginal or laparoscopic hysterectomies, without any advantage towards earlier recovery.”

What Doesn’t Change?

Much like a good restaurant or a respected homebuilder, medical marketing, like any effective marketing strategy, is only as good as the client it is representing.  The two foundational elements are the same: Branding is the promise to deliver a health care experience to its customers that is specific and unique to the practice, organization or company.  Positioning is communicating the right message to the right people at the right time.  Positioning is how you create an image or identity for your brand in the minds of your target markets.

Andrea Eliscu, who leads Medical Marketing Inc. in Orlando said, “Medical marketing has not changed since we opened our firm in 1984.  It is about quality, service and branding.  With those three focus points all else follows.”  Woodbridge seems to agree: “All businesses today are building a brand on experience, customer engagement, service and value.  Service businesses in particular are challenged to gain credibility and earn trust.  Medical marketing strategies are not just about using standard advertising tactics (e.g. web, email, social media, print) but about maximizing tools and technology without sacrificing or reducing the quality of the relationship and face-to-face interaction.”

Just as the doctor/patient relationship is the focus for medical care, so the client/agency relationship is crucial for successful marketing.  Lonnie Hirsch and Stewart Gandolf, of the nationally recognized Healthcare Success Strategies, use the acronym C-A-M-P to explain an ideal relationship.

C is for “Chemistry;” the first and foremost criterion is simply about people liking each other.  Pulcini recalls, “I tell potential practice clients early in the interview process that my firm may not be right for them.  Let’s meet and chat for awhile to see if we fit.  I can show them examples of everything we’ve done from magazine articles to billboards and television commercials, but those things didn’t happen by themselves.  We cannot create effective marketing without good, thought-out participation on the client’s part.  Once we agree to work together, listening to the client and their team is paramount to success.”

A is for “Approval;” an ideal client/agency relationship has a clearly defined and timely process for presenting, considering and approving various ideas and recommendations.  “Often, when the amount of money invested isn’t the problem the time investment is. Understandably, running a business or a practice is all-encompassing.  Who has time to focus on marketing?  I feel that I can get better results with less money if the client can help me better define exactly what part of the industry they want more of.  In other words they need to choose a niche and direct the marketing to find the clients to fill that niche,” Pulcini said.

Guess what M is for?  “Money;” the marketing client has to define and commit to an investment budget that achieves reasonable and specific goals.

P is for “Politics;” this is the internal and external dynamic of the practice or medical organization, their position in the market and long-range expectations.

The days of medical marketing being viewed as being beneath professional dignity sounds as archaic today as a rotary dial phone.  Pulcini concludes, “The most important thing about marketing is deciding very clearly what you want more of.  Who and where is your target market that will bring you more of what you want?  How do I reach them (i.e. what media will work best)?  And what needs to be said to attract this target audience?  A marketing expert can help clients work through this process.”