Mar­keters re­shape ad strate­gies

Modern Healthcare - - HEALTHCARE MARKETING IMPACT AWARDS - By Jan Greene

Hos­pi­tals and health sys­tems have been spend­ing more on ad­ver­tis­ing in re­cent years, with an em­pha­sis on ed­u­cat­ing pa­tients and en­gag­ing them in their grow­ing role as health­care con­sumers.

But there are sharp de­bates among health­care providers and mar­ket­ing ex­perts about how to present ad­ver­tis­ing in re­spon­si­ble and eth­i­cal ways, the con­sumer value of most cur­rent mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als, and whether to con­tinue re­ly­ing on tra­di­tional mass-mar­ket ad­ver­tis­ing or shift to more tar­geted dig­i­tal ap­proaches.

A grow­ing con­sid­er­a­tion for health­care or­ga­ni­za­tions in shap­ing their mar­ket­ing strate­gies is that pa­tients are on the hook for an in­creas­ing por­tion of their health­care costs given the steady in­crease in health plan de­ductibles, co­pays and coin­sur­ance. That has given them a stronger financial in­cen­tive to shop around for their providers. Providers want to con­vince th­ese con­sumers that they are the high­est-qual­ity and most af­ford­able op­tion.

More than two-thirds of health sys­tems ex­pect their mar­ket­ing de­part­ments to spend more time and resources in­flu­enc­ing pa­tient be­hav­ior over the next few years, rather than tar­get­ing physi­cians and other providers, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey this sum­mer by the Ad­vi­sory Board Co., a Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based health­care con­sul­tancy. “Mar­keters are be­ing asked to drive not only vol­ume, but (are) piv­ot­ing to un­der­stand what con­sumers want so they can mar­ket ap­pro­pri­ately,” said Anna Yakovenko, a se­nior con­sul­tant at the firm.

Not only do health sys­tems want to per­suade con­sumers to use their ser­vices, Yakovenko said, but they want them to use ser­vices in a spe­cific way. With industry at­ten­tion turn­ing to value-based pay­ment, more is not al­ways bet­ter. “As you try to make sure pa­tients are en­gaged, the mes­sage is much more com­plex than, ‘Come get ser­vices here.’ You have to craft mes­sages that make con­sumers change their be­hav­ior.”

The need to rec­og­nize pa­tients as value-con­scious shop- pers prompted San Fran­cisco-based Dig­nity Health to re­or­ga­nize its mar­ket­ing de­part­ments to es­tab­lish a new con­sumer-cen­tric, uni­fied brand across its 39 hos­pi­tals and mul­ti­spe­cialty med­i­cal groups, said Kate Grey, vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing for Dig­nity’s Ne­vada re­gion. At the lo­cal level, she re­struc­tured her mar­ket­ing staff and added a ded­i­cated dig­i­tal team. “Con­sumers feel strongly about their choices in health­care, and they are now be­ing given broader choices,” she said. The new ap­proach—with the tagline “Hello hu­mankind­ness” — is aimed at help­ing con­sumers make in­formed de­ci­sions.

Merid­ian Health, a seven-hospi­tal sys­tem in New Jer­sey, launched an ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign that de­scribes its con­tin­uum of care and en­cour­ages con­sumers to use it at the ap­pro­pri­ate place for their spe­cific needs. The cam­paign men­tions the range of care op­tions, in­clud­ing an ur­gent­care cen­ter, a pri­mary-care of­fice, the emer­gency depart­ment, or a 24-hour health ad­vice call line. “We wanted to com­mu­ni­cate in a sim­ple, light­hearted and re­lat­able way that Merid­ian has what the con­sumer needs when and where they need it,” said Chrisie Scott, vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing and communications.

New health­care al­liances, driven by changes in provider pay­ment such as ac­count­able care, also are af­fect­ing mar--

ket­ing strate­gies, said Patti Winegar, man­ag­ing part­ner at SPM Mar­ket­ing and Communications in La­Grange, Ill. “We’re now look­ing at mega-merg­ers, a sys­tem with an­other sys­tem. What’s that brand go­ing to be?” she asked.

Hos­pi­tals, clin­ics and med­i­cal cen­ters in­creased their ad spend­ing 33% from 2011 to 2014. Most of that has been on tele­vi­sion, which jumped 55% over the four years, while on­line ad spend­ing more than dou­bled. In to­tal, hos­pi­tals, clin­ics and med­i­cal cen­ters spent nearly $2 bil­lion on all types of ads last year, up from $1.5 bil­lion in 2011, ac­cord­ing to data from Kan­tar Me­dia.

Un­like other in­dus­tries, hos­pi­tals and doc­tors were slow to in­vest heav­ily in mar­ket­ing be­cause of pro­hi­bi­tions that lasted un­til the 1980s against ad­ver­tis­ing med­i­cal ser­vices. Ethi­cists note that health­care ad­ver­tis­ers al­ways need to pro­ceed cau­tiously given the sen­si­tive na­ture of the con­tent and be­cause of le­gal is­sues.

Crit­ics say that health­care providers are giv­ing con­sumers fuzzy, feel-good mes­sag­ing that tar­gets their hearts more than their heads, when what the pub­lic in­creas­ingly needs is re­li­able cost and qual­ity in­for­ma­tion.

An ar­ti­cle pub­lished last year in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Bioethics ques­tioned whether health­care ad­ver­tis­ing needs more reg­u­la­tion. “The in­flu­ence of med­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing on pa­tient pref­er­ences is largely unchecked,” the au­thors wrote. “This in­flu­ence may mis­lead pa­tients and en­cour­age uti­liza­tion prac­tices that work against the goals of im­prov­ing qual­ity and de­creas­ing costs.”

In an in­ter­view, one of the au­thors, Dr. Yael Schenker, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of medicine at the Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh, said health­care ads could be reg­u­lated like phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ads, re­quir­ing ev­i­dence of qual­ity and out­comes rather than sim­ply emo­tional ap­peals. “There is an as­sump­tion that the ad­ver­tis­ing is … in­for­ma­tive or fair and bal­anced, when that is not nec­es­sar­ily the case,” she said.

Mar­keters push back against such crit­i­cisms, ar­gu­ing that health­care ad­ver­tis­ing pro­vides vi­tal in­for­ma­tion to pa­tients who need to know about ser­vices avail­able in their com­mu­ni­ties, and that mar­keters are well aware of their eth­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. “We’re talk­ing about peo­ple’s health and well­ness,” said Chris Bevolo, a vice pres­i­dent at health­care mar­ket­ing firm Re­viveHealth. “You don’t want to come across as a hard sell on any­thing.”

The So­ci­ety for Health­care Strat­egy and Mar­ket De­vel­op­ment rec­om­mended in a 2010 guid­ance that mar­ket­ing be hon­est, ac­cu­rate and un­dergo in­ter­nal re­view.

Mean­while, mar­keters de­bate the best ways to reach con­sumers in an in­creas­ingly frag­mented and in­for­ma­tion-soaked world. “We are us­ing all the same ve­hi­cles we al­ways have—TV, ra­dio, out­door, print, di­rect mail,” Winegar said. But now “there’s an ex­plo­sion of tools at my dis­posal.” Those in­clude dig­i­tal op­tions such as apps, web­sites, in­ter­ac­tive bus-shel­ter dis­plays and search-en­gine mar­ket­ing.

Bevolo urges the health­care industry to move away from tra­di­tional big-bud­get bill­board and tele­vi­sion cam­paigns.

“It’s aw­fully ex­pen­sive to blan­ket a com­mu­nity with those kinds of mes­sages when very few peo­ple are in a po­si­tion to ben­e­fit” be­cause most aren’t cur­rently in the mar­ket for care, he said. “With so­cial me­dia and dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, you no longer have to rely on those blunt in­stru­ments.”

In­stead, hos­pi­tals are start­ing to use search-en­gine ads and, to a lesser ex­tent, mar­ket­ing au­to­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy that sends tar­geted mes­sages to con­sumers who have shown an in­ter­est in a hospi­tal.

While Bevolo ar­gues that big bill­board-style brand­ing is out­dated, Dig­nity Health’s Grey says there is still a place for it, in bal­ance with more tar­geted ap­proaches. “We con­tinue to run TV and ra­dio and (bill­boards) be­cause … that is still the best way to reach peo­ple,” she said. Tar­geted mar­ket­ing draws some­one to a spe­cific ser­vice and may ap­pear to be more busi­ness-ori­ented in­stead of care­ori­ented, she said. So it might not be as ef­fec­tive in com­mu­ni­cat­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s val­ues.

Con­sumers aren’t al­ways the tar­get au­di­ence. Health­care or­ga­ni­za­tions also must reach out to physi­cians, other med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als, and pol­i­cy­mak­ers and opin­ion lead­ers. That’s why Dana-Far­ber Can­cer In­sti­tute in Bos­ton ran a “na­tional rep­u­ta­tion” cam­paign to in­form doc­tors and “in­flu­en­tial au­di­ences” about the re­search and clin­i­cal work be­ing ac­com­plished by its physi­cians. Dana-Far­ber’s lead­ers felt their cen­ter wasn’t get­ting due credit for achiev­ing break­throughs in can­cer re­search and care.

Other health­care sec­tors, in­clud­ing the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal industry, are also us­ing tra­di­tional me­dia chan­nels as well as dig­i­tal to reach pa­tients and con­sumers.

Dig­i­tal strate­gies might fo­cus on fol­low­ing up with peo­ple who have vis­ited the web­site of a med­i­cal prod­uct, or of­fer­ing a mobile app that pro­vides a spe­cific ben­e­fit. Astel­las Pharma U.S., maker of the drug Myr­be­triq for pa­tients with over­ac­tive blad­ders, spon­sors the RunPee app, which of­fers iden­ti­fies times within movies when they can take a bath­room break with­out miss­ing key plot points. The part­ner­ship has been good for Astel­las and the de­vel­oper who cre­ated the app. “Part­ner­ing with pharmaceuticals is great if there’s some kind of con­sumer tie-in,” said RunPee creator Dan Flo­rio, whose app now has more than 600,000 users.

Apps are no longer “avant-garde,” said phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal mar­keter Mark Dean, dig­i­tal strat­egy di­rec­tor at Area 23 ad­ver­tis­ing. But they can be use­ful if they of­fer con­sumers a “high-value task that makes the per­son’s life eas­ier.”

Ac­cess into the mobile phones of con­sumers sit­ting in a movie theater is highly valu­able to health­care mar­keters, who look for new ways to con­nect with peo­ple. “All of us, ev­ery day, are think­ing about some­thing re­lated to our health,” Bevolo said. “Hos­pi­tals and health sys­tems are in a unique po­si­tion to con­nect with con­sumers about that.”

Merid­ian Health’s ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign de­scribes its con­tin­uum of care.

Dig­nity Health’s con­sumer-cen­tric ap­proach aims to help con­sumers make in­formed de­ci­sions.

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