The Sales Vs. Marketing Conundrum in Healthcare

The Sales and Marketing functions in many hospitals in India still work independently of each other. There are invisible boundaries that separate the two and often it is considered heretical to get the twain to meet. The Marketing folks are the smart and savvy guys, who sit in their cloistered offices working on the holy grail that is called ‘strategy’, while the sales guys are the lowly folks, who need to sweat it out in the ‘field’. They are the ones who chase ”numbers” and perpetually suffer from their tyranny, while the Marketing folks grapple with the subtle nuances and the neat turns of phrase of advertising communication and the like. The sales folks are street smart, the Marketing guys worldly wise, the sales folks are rough at the edges, the Marketing guys are all suave and well rounded, the sales folks are the ones with their sleeves rolled-up and with their hair in the eyes, while the Marketing guys are impeccably turned out with neatly gelled hair, all in the right place…you get the drift.

Well, while one can go on in this vein, citing their differences, the fact remains that unless the Sales and Marketing folks work together, neither can really achieve great success. Yet, in many hospitals they hardly interact, leave alone work together.

The blame for this sorry state of affairs lies at both the ends of the spectrum. The sales people are programmed to chase, they are given no respite from the continuous and if I may add mind numbing quest for revenues. They do not have the time and even the inclination to sit back and think. A sales person, sitting idle, would soon enough invite the wrath of his supervisor. He would be labeled as a lazy day-dreamer who lacks ‘drive’ and ‘initiative’. On the other hand a Marketing person will have all the time in the world to think through each and every piece of communication that passes through his hands. He will weigh the pros and cons of the ‘copy’ and the way it is laid out in the ad. He will hold forth on the relevance of the ‘image’ that adorns the ad and of course the smallest detail like a misplaced comma or the uneven size of the font will not escape his attention. After all, he has been taught that God lies in the details.

In all this he will forget that the purpose of the advertising is perhaps to help the sales person drive in a few more customers through the hospital doors!

On the other hand this is what happens when sales guys try their hands at Marketing. Some time back I had the occasion to attend a sales review meeting at a hospital. The sales guy was holding forth on launching a few specialized clinics and the idea was to create communication informing the local community about the introduction and the benefits of these clinics. I recall one of the clinics to be launched was the ‘Heart Failure Clinic’, which offered specialized advise and support to patients in Heart Failure. The sales head briefed the Marketing team about the clinic and requested an ad. The Marketing team, sent out an ad, which talked about Heart Failure and exhorted patients suffering from heart failure to come to the clinic. The communication failed to inform the readers how to identify their condition as ‘Heart Failure’ and when exactly to approach the clinic. Strangely, it was also not very clear as to how a ‘Heart Failure Clinic’ was different from a routine consult with a cardiologist! ”If I am having a Heart Failure, wouldn’t I call the Emergency and rush to the hospital rather than wait for an appointment at the Heart Failure Clinic” asked a baffled HR person sitting in the review.

It was a mindless piece of communication done at the behest of the sales person, who was in a hurry to launch the clinic and a lazy Marketing guy, who wasn’t too bothered with the outcome of such inane advertising.

Now if only the Sales and Marketing teams had sat down together and looked at the issue at hand, which was how to drive cardiac patient volumes in the hospitals and come up with a plan, things could have been very different. Maybe a ”Heart Failure Clinic” might still have come up and the Marketing guy would have pointed out that it was best to market a Heart Failure Clinic to referring doctors rather than consumers in general. After all, isn’t Heart Failure a condition that will be identified by a local community doctor and would subsequently be referred to a ”Heart Failure Clinic” in a larger hospital.

If only the Sales and Marketing teams in hospitals forgot their differences and worked together, they could achieve so much more…together.

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Marketing The Healthcare Marketer

The Healthcare Marketer is always struggling to make his presence felt. In many hospitals and some very large ones at that he still continues to be a shadowy presence, someone who gets the job done, which may mean getting an ad developed, a brochure designed or an event organised and little else. The Healthcare Marketer’s role in most Indian Healthcare organisations remains a passive one, more of a messenger than anything else. This honestly need not be so and the blame for this sorry state of affairs also rests squarely with the marketers.

Healthcare Marketers need to emerge out of their self restricting cocoons. They need to take fresh initiatives, bring new ideas to the table and be seen and heard more often. It is time that the Healthcare Marketers turned their skills inwards and got busy with marketing themselves. They need to establish their own equity with the medical folks and make them understand the value that they bring to the table.

Healthcare Marketers must be active participants in the life of their hospitals. They need to be at the hospital floors more often, observing and gleaning insights from customer interactions. I have come across many marketers, who seem to operate more in the realm of woolly ideas, mostly suggested by their advertising agencies, who themselves have very little understanding of life in a hospital. This is the surest recipe for disaster because these are precisely the ideas that are likely to be shot down as the people running hospital operations will instinctively know how impractical these are. Thus the healthcare marketer along with his Teflon coated agency, would emerge looking completely out of touch with reality, reinforcing the existing belief that these guys know nothing and work out of their ivory towers, located at some 30000 ft.

Healthcare Marketers also need to forge win-win partnerships with the medical folks. I have come across marketers, who believe that the medical folks should stay confined to their OT’s and consult rooms and they  have scant understanding of marketing. This is as far from the truth as it gets. I have learnt over many hard years that medical folks and hospital operations people, who interact with customers know a lot more about customers and their real issues than any marketer can really hope to. It is always wise to spend time with the doctors talking with them about customer insights, about what might work in the market place and about their daily challenges. I have always made a great deal of effort to befriend doctors, particularly who have a keen sense of patient handling, good understanding of marketing communication and who themselves are exceptionally articulate people, well read and with wide-ranging interests. They are the ones, who will support new ideas, set up new medical programs, drive experiments with customer experiences and help bail out a marketer, when some day he will inevitably find himself in a corner.

Here is a word of caution as well. While, it is good to get suggestions and ideas from many sources, a healthcare marketer should have the wisdom and discretion to sift through those ideas and incorporate those, which add to the campaign and discretely drop those, which must not be accommodated. Many a times healthcare marketers make the serious error of letting the medical folks literally dictate the ad copy and the content as well, which causes a lot of heart burn and shoddy communication. This helps no one as when the communication fails to achieve the desired results, the marketing guy cops all the blame and comes under unnecessary pressure.

A Healthcare Marketer must be totally honest and transparent in his work.The campaigns that go out in the media, must first debut internally. Put them out on the hospital intranet, mail it to key stake-holders, put up the posters in the hospital cafeteria and come up with innovative ways of internal selling. It is important that the Healthcare Marketer is seen in action by those who matter with in the hospital. An invisible marketer, however brilliant he may be, will always be something of an oddity in the hospital.

And finally, sometimes it is good to do a bit of chest thumping and the good old-fashioned boasting. Thus celebrate a campaign that delivered a great return on investment, talk about the 10000th guy enrolled in that CRM program, which now in an year’s time contributes 20% of the top-line and bring the house down with that innovation that won the big award.

Let folks sit up and take notice, and come to you for that next break-through idea that only you can conjure!!!

PS: Well, a little chest thumping from me as well. This is the 150th post on this blog. Cliched as it may sound, when I started writing this, I of course had no idea that one day we will reach this landmark. Over a period of time, I guess the blog acquired a life of its own.My most sincere thanks to all those who read my stuff and provide me feedback, support and encouragement.

And special thanks to my friend Syamant Sandhir, for starting me off. 

Why do Hospitals need to invest more in Advertising?

Hospitals in India hardly advertise. Most of them look at advertising as an unnecessary expense and keep it minimal. This really need not be so. Looked from another angle, advertising for a hospital can be a critical investment, which allows it to differentiate its services, educate customers about its core beliefs, introduce new products and services and help gain new customers. Unfortunately, in India hospitals believe that customers do not appreciate hospital advertising and may even be put off by it. Many hospitals, who are doing well do not see the need for advertising. With occupancy rates high, the hospitals feel they are wasting money by advertising. Little do they realise that advertising quite often is not only about getting more patients.

To make matters worse, whatever little advertising one sees is mostly inane and dull. The communication usually bears the imprint of too many cooks adding different flavours to the advertising, making it a weird medley of pictures, long copy and a strange layouts. The marketing teams in the hospital are forced to accommodate various view opinions (that of the hospital COO/CEO, the heads of medical departments, other leading physicians, the sales head,  and sometimes the owner of the hospital ) to arrive at a piece of communication, which is usually a disaster from a marketing communications point of view. While, this piece assuaged inflated egos, ensures gory pictures (usually reflecting some landmark surgery) in the ads, highlights achievements of some or the other doctors, it fails in its primary purpose of connecting with the end-user.

Here are a few reasons, why hospitals should look at their advertising a lot more seriously and spend money wisely in connecting with their customers.

Core Beliefs and Positioning

A hospital must advertise its core beliefs through a well thought of brand campaign. It is imperative for customers to know what their hospital stands for, what its core values are and how does it strive to stay true to those beliefs. Thus, if a hospital professes to provide ‘Total Patient Care’as a consumer I would love to know, what it means and what all can I expect from the hospital. Similarly if a hospital is positioned as a ”cutting edge technology” centre I would like to know what that means to me as a customer. A hospital must stand for something in the consumer’s mind. I am not sure, our big hospital brands Apollo, Fortis, Max and Wockhardt (now part of Fortis) have been able to establish any kind of distinct identity in the consumer’s mind.

Products and Services

A hospital offers a multitude of services. Customers need to know about them and hence advertising is a good way of keeping customers informed. New services keep getting added from time to time and the hospitals need to keep their customers updated. Recently Max Healthcare started its cancer services. All that they did was release a solitary advertisement, welcoming the new Chairman of Cancer services!!! The ad was also supposed to serve the purpose of informing the customers about the commencement of cancer care services at the hospital. Wouldn’t it make greater sense to announce the commencement of a service with a nice campaign and if needed also feature the medical leader/team in the ads?

Hospital Launch

A new hospital commencing operations needs high decibel advertising. Artemis did this well, when we launched the hospital. We had large bill boards in Gurgaon, a fairly heavy presence in the local print media and local community engagement through ‘fam visits’ to the hospital. I recall Max Healthcare during their launch also did a fairly well orchestrated multi-media campaign. However, many hospitals too try to save money by launching quietly and hoping the customers will come through the word of mouth or through doctors pulling in their existing customers. I believe, these are sub-optimal ways of launching the hospital’s services and an old-fashioned media blitzkrieg works the best.

Renewing Existing Services

Sometimes it is necessary that a hospital ‘renew’ its existing services. These days, I am seeing some bill boards near my residence advertising Apollo’s new Knee Clinic. The communication is targeted at the elderly, informs about the new Knee Clinic, which offers Knee Replacement services at the hospital. Now, Apollo hospital has been doing knees for a long time, however the communication is trying to repackage the service and relaunch it. Unfortunately, There are just two bill boards and, while the intent is laudable, the hospital is being very stingy. Similarly, while in Bangalore recently I came across a ‘Short Stay Surgery’ campaign by Wockhardt Hospitals. Again the effort seems to be to reposition their Laparoscopic Surgery services in a customer friendly matrix, but the money behind the campaign appeared too little to make any significant impact. Other hospitals too need to often ‘renew’ and repackage their services smartly.

Driving Traffic

Hospitals can drive traffic to their OPD’s through innovative offers. In fact the bulk of hospital advertising today focuses here. A free Cardiac Camp around the World Heart Day is routine. Similar camps and offers in other specialities help drive traffic to the hospital OPD’s. The problem here is that hospitals do these sporadically, without adequate planning and often as band-aid solutions to transient OPD traffic related issues. Tactical campaigns need to be more consistent and better planned to yield optimal results.

Educating Customers

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a hospital did an educational campaign about let us say heart disease or diabetes or any other lifestyle diseases. The campaign should aim to educate customers about the disease, its symptoms, treatment options, success rates, technology available and the medical expertise available to treat the disease. The objective should be to inform the customers, help them ask the right questions and thus make the right choices. Unfortunately, none of our hospitals including the big chains are willing to invest in patient education simply because the returns are relatively long-term.

Pic is indicative.

Healthcare Advertising on Radio

radio-stationNow that I work for a radio station I have been applying some time figuring out the feasibility of healthcare advertisements on Radio Stations.  In India the private FM radio stations are only allowed to play music and things like News, Sports, General Entertainment are not allowed. Most stations thus offer a mix of music interspersed with Jock Talk, audience bites, station sweepers, contest promos and of course advertising.     Continue reading

Marketing of an Obesity Management Program

Obesity is fast becoming a global epidemic. While so far the disease has largely been limited to the developed world, it is now rapidly spreading its wings to countries like India, where increasing affluence and prosperity is driving huge lifestyle changes.

Obesity is a disease of the affluent. The link is easy to establish. The intake far exceeds the requirement. In Indians, latest research also indicates the presence of a gene, which converts excess food into fats and deposits it in the abdomen. Thus the normal paunchy Indian, (I dare say pretty much like me!) can blame his genes as well as his lifestyle for his ample girth.

Obesity has been recognised as the underlying cause of many a disease including diabetes, coronary heart disease, joint and spine related problems, and liver diseases. The fight against obesity is now becoming a huge challenge and is a great opportunity for healthcare services marketers.

Here is what they can do to win this battle.   Continue reading

Should Doctors Advertise?

Advertising has traditionally been a strict no no amongst the medical fraternity. It has always been considered infra-dig. A doctor’s face peering down from a bill board or staring you in the face from the pages of your favourite magazine does make one feel a little uncomfortable. We have all been brought up to look on the medical profession as something noble and with a strong orientation towards service to humanity.

However in today’s times I am not sure this argument really holds. If a doctor chooses to advertise his skills and does it honestly without taking recourse to exaggeration and hyperbole, is there anything really wrong with it? If a doctor has unique skills and training, which helps him get better results, than isn’t advertising these, allow consumers of healthcare make better informed choices? Why do we have to look upon this particular doctor as ‘too commercial’?   Continue reading

Hospital Advertising that Works

It is a myth to believe that hospitals do not need advertising.

Many a times I have come across the argument about hospitals wasting money on expensive advertising, which seldom works and puts off customers. In my earlier avtars as the Head of Marketing Communications in large hospitals I have been at loggerheads with my other colleagues, who have often voted against my advertising proposals. Here is why I believe they are wrong and advertising works in healthcare just as much as it does in any other service.

The caveat of course is that the hospital’s communication must be subtle, the message must be designed to ring a bell and should be done in a manner, which is consistent with the customer’s sensitivities. An over the top message, which is loud and persistant and tries to do too many things will certainly put off customers.

Advertising at the end of the day is a promise of service to a customer. This is true of all advertising and is just as much true for healthcare services advertising. There is no reason to believe that as a consumer of healthcare services I wouldn’t want to know what the hospital next door really stands for?    Continue reading