The associate editor of a healthcare marketing publication recently asked me what I consider to be the most important factor to consider when developing a service line marketing program. It was a good question and one I enjoyed answering. My response to that question appears in the paragraphs that follow.
Service Line Marketing and the Importance of Planning for Success
From my perspective, the most important factor to consider when developing a service line marketing program is the consumer’s experience once they respond to the advertising; and the best way to ensure a positive brand experience is by planning ahead. It can’t be said enough: A successful service line campaign begins with advanced planning. You should expect that potential patients and referring physicians will visit your website and call your department in response to your advertising. You never know how many will respond, but you have to assume you’ll generate some inquiries. Those brand touch points (your website and the person on your end of the phone) represent opportunities to fulfill the promise of the marketing campaign by creating a positive impression – the first step toward developing a brand advocate. But those first points of contacts are also where many service line marketing efforts come unglued.
One all too frequent outcome of failing to plan ahead, involves potential patients calling in response to your advertising campaign only to be told they can’t get an appointment for three or four months. Despite all of your hard work and creativity, what you end up with are frustrated consumers. And those disappointed people tell others about their experience, generating negative word-of-mouth. Even though the advertising did its job by motivating the consumer to take action, the organization didn’t deliver on the promise. With this in mind, it is becoming much more routine for healthcare systems and hospitals to make ‘capacity for taking on new patients’ mandatory criteria for a service line to participate in an advertising campaign.
Another potential consequence of failing to plan ahead is having potential patients respond to your advertising by visiting your website, only to find that it is outdated and does not include the information they require. Once again, you are left with disappointed consumers and missed opportunities. After an individual sees your advertising, the website is often their first point of contact with your organization. Before you create your next service line campaign, ask yourself what type of impression the current website makes on first-time visitors. Then make the appropriate changes before you launch your campaign.
In many ways, service line marketing is like sending out a party invitation. People receive the invitation and generate immediate expectations. When they arrive at the party, you want to make sure their experience matches (and perhaps exceeds) their expectations. If you fail to do so, they go home disappointed and won’t come to your next party. The same is true of service line marketing. When you promote a service line, the potential patient assumes that you are open for business, ready to answer the phone, field questions and schedule appointments in a timely fashion. When you start with the end in mind, by planning to meet your potential patients’ needs and expectations, your service line marketing will have a much greater chance for success.