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6 Ways to Market to Potential Patients (Instead of Internal Stakeholders)

April 17, 2015
Healthcare Marketing, Marketing, Marketing Goals, Marketing Strategy

As a hospital marketer, you are in a position to help effect true change in people’s lives. After all, it’s the messages and information you communicate on behalf of your hospital that could potentially influence someone in need of healthcare services to choose your brand; and this choice may lead to improving the quality of someone’s life or even saving a life. Pretty powerful and inspiring when you think of your work in that way, isn’t it?

But then there’s the other work. You know the work I’m talking about. It’s that deliverable or campaign that you fight so hard against. The one that keeps you stuck in meetings all day. The one you whole-heartedly disagree with. And for good reason: It doesn’t align with your marketing strategy, it isn’t budgeted for and, most importantly (and frustratingly), it’s not going to work and then you’ll be held responsible for it failing. 

In short, it’s work that is created simply to please internal stakeholders and does nothing to advance your brand strategy.

However, you feel you have no choice. You have to do it because it came down as a mandate by one of the following: 

  • The CEO (who came up with the idea in the shower)
  • A disgruntled, high-volume-driving physician (who just doesn’t understand why her picture isn’t on the billboard yet) 
  • The service line manager who swears you haven’t done anything in years to promote his programs, keeping his volumes down (and who also came up with the idea in the shower) 
  • That powerful board member (whose wife knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone else’s sister who used to own an ad agency)

We are in a war zone and must fight each and every day to balance what’s best for our brands with what’s politically desired by our internal stakeholders. That’s just our reality, isn’t it? 

So because we know it’s unavoidable, here are a few new weapons to add to your arsenal as you fight the good fight: 

Have a strategic plan…in writing.

It serves as your weapon and your shield. Use it to defeat your external competition, but also to block the constant barrage of internal requests that don’t align with the organization’s, and therefore Marketing’s, strategic agenda. Having an actual plan on paper gives you a legitimate reason to say, “No,” and reminds people of what it is your brand is trying to accomplish.  

Get C-Suite buy-in on your strategic plan.

Most often, political requests come from the top somewhere. I get that it’s kind of hard to say no to your boss’s boss. But C-Suite approval means you don’t have to be the one to say no. In fact, chances are you won’t have to say much of anything. The request might not even make its way to your desk. When leadership is informed and supportive of your plan, they are your greatest ally in fighting political battles. 

Learn their language

When it comes to defining success, it’s not only important to understand what your internal stakeholders talk about, you must also understand how they talk about it. For example, if your C-Suite talks about success in terms of KPIs, but you speak of success in terms of CTRs, there will be a disconnect…even if ultimately you’re talking about the same thing. 

Make your marketing just as visible internally as it is externally.

Physicians around the world all want to know, “What have you done for me lately?” In reality, you could already be doing a lot to support them. But if they don’t see it, they don’t know that your department did it. As a result, they will start making demands or at least have very strong “suggestions” on what you should be doing. Save yourself the headache by keeping the expert men and women who are on the front line with patients informed. Of course they will always want more, but that’s ok…as long as they let you do the marketing and they do the, um, doctoring. 

Let research speak for itself.

You like high concept but your CEO is a traditionalist who doesn’t understand that being a conservative brand doesn’t mean you have to be vanilla. 

You have tried over and over again to convince your CEO that people need to connect emotionally as well as rationally with your brand and that you need to not only educate, but inspire your audience. Yet it falls on deaf ears.

Try this next time: Have your agency partner develop two versions, the usual straightforward execution and then a high-concept version. Test them both and present the concepts with the data. The conversation goes from internal personal preference to what resonates best with your target market—which is quite often the more interesting and creative version.

Don’t drink the Kool-Aid

There are many things that are important to people within your organization, that build morale and get everyone fired up. That’s all well and good. But as I mentioned above, what really matters is what the target audience thinks. Winning that award or Center of Excellence designation just might not mean much to a mother seeking healthcare for her family. So in your euphoria over the award your hospital just won, resist the urge to dip into your budget and run celebratory ads without testing them first to find out if it’s worth the effort.

Remember, at the end of the day you’re the one whose job depends on getting results for your brand. Potential patients are the ones who move those numbers, not all those colleagues breathing down your neck. So try to ignore internal politics as much as you can and continue fighting the good fight. Hopefully this article will help you win.

Gayle Toth

Gayle is a former BPDerr with 10+ year healthcare marketing experience working with nearly every type of client and campaign.

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