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What hospitals need in the age of consumerism: guerrilla marketing

Don't tell consumers how great you are. Target their needs using tech and social media instead.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

There's a battle going on between health systems for covered lives.

There's also an internal battle within organizations between keeping the status quo of what has traditionally worked coming up against new, very targeted approaches to gain consumer share.

Whether hospitals have a powerhouse brand or a small marketing department, there are distinct advantages in place today that simply did not exist a decade ago in terms of technology and social media in particular, according to experts interviewed.


Healthcare marketing expert John Marzano calls this guerrilla marketing or "moneyball" after the book and movie of the same name about Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane's chase for a win using baseball statistics and analytics.

Bob Sarnecki, CIO at Children's Hospital of Alabama, in Birmingham, said that hospitals are also branding themselves in new ways such that marketing must also change to keep pace.

"We're no longer in the days of passive marketing where you put up a good brand and people come to it," Sarnecki told Healthcare Finance News sister site Healthcare IT News. "Now in some cases you have to solicit and in other cases nab opportunity when it knocks."

When Marzano talked about the moneyball approach at a conference six years ago, some people laughed, Marzano said. But what's playing out is that consumer expectations are forcing organizations to take a hard look at what they're doing.

That means addressing consumerism to compete with the Amazon effect, Marzano said.

"You can get anything from Amazon in two days or less, but when you call your physician to schedule a test, you're told it's going to be two weeks," he added. "The consumer is basically saying, 'No more. If you can't get me in today, I'll go down the street.' It's becoming more about convenience and access."

Organizations can no longer just tout how great they are, Marzano said. Rather, marketing must clearly indicate what the hospital has to offer the consumer.

"It's happened almost overnight," said Marzano who has held positions as chief marketing officer at Orlando Health, vice president of marketing and communications at Medstar Health in Maryland and vice president of marketing at Lehigh Valley Health Network in Pennsylvania.

Because of how fast the Amazon effect has changed the game, health systems can be left playing defense if they aren't meeting consumer expectations.

The guerrilla marketing approach to gaining patients is still relatively new and is creating challenges for marketers working within budget confines to both protect the brand and grow the business.


Hospitals must step up their game to meet the consumer where the consumer is, Marzano said.

One of the hardest parts of guerrilla marketing is a mis-aligned leadership strategy. It takes about three years for hospitals to see results of this new type of marketing because it can take that long to get the right technology matched up with the right talent team and its tactical approach, Marzano said. Some C-suite leaders say that this is just too long.

Another is that while the Medicare population is very loyal to individual providers, millennials are not necessarily looking for a PCP relationship.

If they have a cold, or the flu, they want to go somewhere to get this fixed, immediately. They will not wait in an emergency room for hours to be seen.

Notable advantages marketers didn't have 10 years ago are the technological advances such as the integration of a customer relationship management system into EHRs and social media that can be used to target consumers and give feedback on how well the method is working.

"The technology provides a number of new ways for connecting with the patient that we did not have in the past," Sarnecki said.

To give one real world ROI positive example, Marzano said providers know that the choice for bariatric surgery is a very personal and private decision.

"We knew using Facebook ads and some radio would generate the best return," Marzano added. "We spent $100,000 on marketing bariatrics. We generated a 40-to-one return. Putting an ad on Facebook instead of billboards cost pennies."

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
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Healthcare IT News Managing Editor Bill Siwicki contributed to this report.

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