Lessons in Healthcare Marketing Communication

Building healthcare brands is an arduous task. 

It takes enormous effort to get it all right. The mix of customer experiences at various hospital touchpoints, the look and the feel of the hospital, the people and of course the communication. No one goes to a hospital willingly or to enjoy a few days of well deserved rest. Neither is it a place, which attracts willing repeat customers. Customers in a hospital are necessarily driven by a misfortune, which involves something as precious as their or a loved ones health. A hospital visit is also usually fraught with risk. Fear and anxiety generally accompany a customer to the hospital.

Building brands by delivering great experiences to customers who are in this frame of mind is tough. Communicating with customers to influence their choice of a hospital in dire and difficult circumstances is often akin to walking a tight rope. The message runs the risk of being perceived as either too commercial (this hospital seems to be hoping that I fall sick and land at its doorsteps), too glib (it trivialise something as serious as my health and well being) or just too smart or plain dumb.

Here are some lessons that I learnt, while handling communications for large hospitals.  

The Customer is Not a Moron

Healthcare Marketers tend to assume that the customer knows nothing. They believe that healthcare and medicine are way too esoteric and difficult for a non medico to comprehend. We often forget that this is not about a tumour or a disease, it is all about a human being, an individual who is sick. There is no one who knows his problems better than the individual suffering from the illness and he is quite capable of making intelligent choices that he believes the are best for him. As healthcare marketers, we must respect this.

Talking Down to the Customer Never Helps

Many a times I have come across communication, which is downright patronising. It talks down to the customer rather than engage with him in any meaningful dialogue. I believe a good piece of marketing communication must appeal to a customer at a sublime level, it should make a subtle point rather than being in your face and loud. And yes one can be subtle and yet appealing.

Too much is always too little

In a hospital, virtually everybody and their uncles are expert marketers. A cardiac services ad will require inputs from cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, hospital leadership team, medical superintendent, the COO, the CEO and pretty much everybody else who works in the hospital. And all of them will want the ad to include something or the other, which in their opinion is important about the hospital and must be communicated. The brand team will be buried under an avalanche of opinions, which must be included in the ad. Leaving any of that will typically upset one or the other doctors, leading to an ugly situation. In all this the customer will generally come last. 

It Must always be about the Customer

It unfortunately very rarely is. The communication is more often than not about the hospital, the doctors, the equipments, the technology, the systems,… The breast clinic is not about the breast surgeon or the mammography machine, it must be about early detection and comprehensive care. Everything else including the doctors are just means to that end.

In India, healthcare marketing communications is in its infancy. I am sure as we see more corporate hospitals and greater marketing talent moving into healthcare, the transition from the hospital being the center piece to the customer becoming the focus of communication will commence.

The sooner the better for all.

Pic courtesy http://www.flickr.com




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