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.

Advertisements

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