In the past, hospitals didn’t need to advertise much. Your primary care doctor referred you to a hospital or a doctor: You went there and probably didn’t think much about it. If you knew someone in the healthcare field you may have asked a few questions, but otherwise you probably felt you didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.
The healthcare landscape has changed dramatically in the last several years. For patients, the change is the realization that we are consumers of healthcare services and that we can and should make choices when purchasing our healthcare, the same way we do for other consumer products and services.
For hospitals, the change is the need to create a brand and better understand the competitive landscape and the changing business model. Today, hospitals direct their messages to consumers. But given that hospitals have neither the budget nor the marketing experience of your average consumer products behemoth, the reality of hospital advertising is more complicated than simply talking to consumers.
“No hospital wants to be in the marketing and advertising business,” says Tony Cotrupi, President of PARTNERS+simons. “They want to help people, invest in making people better. They have to be careful and judicious about how they do it.”
In 2009, PARTNERS+simons, a Boston-based brand communications agency, launched a campaign to rebrand Tufts-New England Medical Center as Tufts Medical Center. For a company like PARTNERS+simons, one big challenge in creating an advertising campaign for a hospital is that all hospitals basically sell the same thing: a positive patient experience and a satisfactory outcome. And they advertise the same way: smiling clinicians and happy patients.
When they took on the challenge in 2010 to expand the Tufts Medical Center rebranding, PARTNERS+simons wanted things to be different. “We wanted to give consumers a tool to make more informed decisions as opposed to an ad campaign” says Cotrupi. “We wanted to give people faced with a diagnosis something meaningful and relevant to use right now.”
To differentiate Tufts Medical Center from the many other hospitals in Boston, the team focused on the role of the patient in the healthcare experience. As consumers take on more responsibilities for choosing healthcare options and price is increasingly a factor, people are doing more research online. In fact, health related topics are some of the most highly searched topics on the Internet.
To take advantage of that, this innovative digital marketing campaign focuses on the web, with videos of Tufts Medical Center clinicians talking about specific conditions and giving patients a chance to feel as if they are one on one with a doctor, in the privacy of their own home: Tufts Medical Center.tv.
In the two years since the .tv campaign launched, the site has gotten over 300,000 unique visitors. And Tufts Medical Center has the 3rd highest unaided advertising awareness in the Boston market.
As for the future of hospital advertising, consumers are being forced to become more involved in the decision making process about where they go for care. Cotrupi sees two things impacting the direction:
- Financial incentives for consumers to become more involved.
- Growing awareness for consumers that this could be the most important decision in their life and looking for best care possible.
“Hospital marketers will find way to break through, ways to market hospitals that are relevant for healthcare consumers. You will not see so much about the fantastic doctors and nurses and the gleaming equipment,” says Cotrupi. “There have to be other ways to connect with people who are in an emotionally difficult time of their lives.”
With the growth of hospital marketing and advertising, there is a growth of internal marketing departments in hospitals. It is only the last few years that marketing has become a priority for hospitals. “They’ve resisted marketing only because there are so many pressing demands,” say Cotrupi. “Running a hospital is one of the toughest jobs in America—with infrastructure, physicians, nurses, staff, as well as the hard work on behalf of patients. Now we’ve foisted on them the need to market themselves.”
Healthcare is very personal and very important. Hospitals and partner agencies that understand how consumers make healthcare decisions and where they go to do research, understand that marketing a hospital is different that marketing any other product or services. And like PARTNERS+simons and Tufts Medical Center they understand how to get consumers to see things a little bit differently.
Manya Chylinski is a marketing consultant and writer helping B2B companies create compelling content and share thought leadership and success stories. Founder of Alley424 Communications, Manya has experience in a variety of industries including technology, higher education, financial services, government, and consulting.
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