Healthcare marketers know all too well that when someone from operations shows up to talk about marketing clinical service lines, they are usually asking for service line advertising. The narrow view of service line marketing as simply promotions sub-optimizes marketing performance and wastes money. And every marketer knows the agony of launching a promotions campaign only to learn later that some aspect of access, capacity, physician loyalty, etc. is out of whack.
A few years ago, I met with a hospital that had launched an aggressive advertising campaign for their orthopedic service line. As campaigns go, it was pretty effective in making the phone ring. The problem was the hospital’s physicians had excessive wait time for appointments. The one physician with capacity was taking procedures to another hospital. And no one thought to ask the OR about capacity. The surgical services director insisted that no additional time slots existed or could be made available for new volumes.
Both service line administrators and marketing executives should expect more of their marketing investments.
The bottom line is this: the purpose of marketing is profitable revenue generation. And this doesn’t happen through promotions alone. Especially when other parts of the marketing mix (e.g., access, capacity, customer experience, product design, clinical quality, pricing, physician relationships) operate outside the realm of the marketing department’s influence. Achieving service line growth targets, improving financial performance and increasing customer loyalty requires a purposeful, comprehensive and cross-functional approach to service line marketing.
Where to start? Pull together a cross-functional strategy team that includes service line operations and marketing staff, along with representatives of other core clinical or business functions relevant to that service line, such as the emergency department, nursing, OR, diagnostic imaging, physician services, managed care contracting, IT, or supply chain. Develop a strategic marketing plan that addresses all aspects of the marketing mix. With a comprehensive and focused strategy in place, marketing tactics and investments – including promotions – will be much better aligned to achieve its objectives.
Here are 12 critical questions to guide the service line marketing discussion:
- Do we understand the unique, competitive position we currently hold or desire to hold for this service line and how to strengthen points of differentiation?
- Have we quantified the opportunity for volume and revenue growth, and do we have the appropriate mix, number of and relationships with physician specialists to achieve our volume goals?
- Have we identified other key referral and access points for this service line and do we have the means and capacity to generate volume through those channels (e.g., emergency department, urgent care, employer sites, on-line appointment scheduling, etc.)?
- Do we know which population/disease/needs-based segments offer the highest potential for profitable growth for this service line, and does our plan address both the clinical programming and promotions strategies needed to attract and serve those segments?
- Do we have strategies and tactics in place to optimize our position with employers and improve contracting leverage with commercial payors?
- Are screening, education and outreach events targeting at-risk populations, and do we have mechanisms in place to connect high risk participants with providers and services?
- Are promotional strategies and tactics (e.g., sales, events, advertising, digital and social media, etc.) designed to strengthen the service line brand, stimulate demand and influence consumers to take action? Are we optimized for search?
- Are marketing resources and investments prioritized to strategies that have the greatest potential to impact volume and financial goals, and what non-revenue generating activities need to be discontinued, minimized or re-assigned?
- Do we have the marketing management capabilities and systems (e.g., structure, skills and tools such as call centers, CRM/PRM, appointment scheduling, etc.) to drive customer acquisition and retention by generating demand, capturing and converting referrals into appointments and procedures?
- Is operations a willing partner in the growth agenda, and do our operating processes, procedures, and systems support patient acquisition and retention; e.g., customer service orientation, timely and convenient appointments, care coordination, quality and safety outcomes, patient satisfaction, etc.?
- Have we identified core marketing performance metrics, and put in place methods to monitor, track and report outcomes?
- How will we communicate the plan to key internal constituents, gain agreement for the focus and investments, and create co-accountability (marketing, clinical, administrative) for results?
When operations and marketing plan together and share accountability for delivering on revenue and profit targets, marketing magic can happen. It takes a marketing village, not just the marketing department, to generate success.