Saturday, May 30, 2015

Has the time come for AGREE marketing in healthcare?

Marketing is full of acronyms on how healthcare providers and vendors should be marketing aimed at various industries and audiences based on their peculiarities. This is not to slam any of them for they are more or less successful depending on how the enterprise in question implements the concept and processes organizationally. And commits the necessary human and capital as needed to fully implement.

Having worked in many of those environments, it’s amazing how some healthcare providers and vendors claim a methodology only to short cut the implementation, not train new staff, or not allocate the resources and then wonder why it doesn’t work.  Hmm….

So this time I am throwing my hat into the marketing system name game for healthcare providers and vendors, offering up a new methodology.

And here is why. 

Healthcare is changing so rapidly and moving in direction never before experienced that the old ways of marketing just don’t work like they used too. There are a lot reasons for that but the biggest one is lack of senior management focus. For example, one year its “patient focused” or “sales focused”. The next year we are “product or care focused”.   Then it becomes “customer and sales focused”.  And the best of all “we will be feared” in the market focus. 

And marketing is left holding the bag each time the focus or direction changes.

What is needed is a marketing framework that marketers can use to withstand rapid disruptive market changes and innovation, as well as senior management unpredictability. The shiny new program that works today may not work tomorrow. But some basic principles apply in any market.  And by focusing on those basics in an integrated fashion no matter what senior management does (short of liquidation or acquisition), marketing can be successful when all around is seemingly in chaos.

That’s the basis for AGREE marketing.

Acquire,  Grow,  Retain,  Engage,  Experience

The organizational marketing plan should have a detailed and highly integrated section of the marketing plan for each of the above areas.  Don’t make assumptions that one is doing this already. One may have bits and pieces scattered throughout the plans, or they may be assumed. But I am willing to bet that it is not detailed in a coherent strategy and tactical execution plan along these five dimensions.

This is not easy, but no matter what the organizational focus, direction or pronouncements of senior leadership with the flavor of the day,  AGREE marketing will keep focus on what is really important, and that is creating and keeping a customer for growing the healthcare enterprise.

Growth is good. Change is always. And marketing goes on. Agreed?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Stuck in the 80's, what should hospitals be advertising in 2015?

In 1958, McGraw-Hill Magazines published the award winning and now famous advertisement of “The Man in the Chair.” For those of you not familiar or had forgotten the advertisement, below is the ad.

Obviously this was aimed at the aimed at the B2B audience. But with the recent spate of meaningless healthcare advertisements appearing from hospitals and health systems, it might be time for the healthcare industry to take note of  "The Man in the Chair”, and apply those learning’s to the healthcare consumer. And from an editorial standpoint, there are any number of healthcare vendors that could use to learn this lesson as well.

For the life of me I really can’t figure out why it’s so difficult for the hospital industry to provide healthcare consumers with meaningful information in order to make a choice decision?  After all, the healthcare consumer now pays for one-third of the cost of care and will spend over $300 billion on health insurance premiums, co-pays and deductibles in 2015. That is not chump change.

What really started this week’s rant  was the endless parade recently of the we care about you, trust us, we are the best, and we are healthy driven advertising.  Really, now what does all that that mean? Which speaking frankly is boring, looks the same across providers and ignores the healthcare consumers need and quest for information.

I realize that I am on a crusade here but the healthcare market has changed and this type of marketing is no longer acceptable. That is of course unless the hospital or health system is determined to become  part of the 30 percent of the hospital market that  will liquidate or be acquired over the next five years.

What should hospitals and health systems be advertising?

It’s really simple but terrifying at the same time. There are four areas to address in hospital campaigns aimed at building brand, awareness, revenue and market share.

Price. Outcome. Experience. Value.

It’s a new business model for hospital and health system operations and marketing.

Health care is evolving into a retail driven, consumer focused medical market and that means new approaches.  A new transparency based on price, outcome, experience and the value that the healthcare consumer receives. It’s not about logos, awards, vague claims or misleading advertisements. It is about being healthcare consumer focused and meeting their needs with usable, transparent, actionable information, not hospital centric messaging that makes the Board, physicians and senior management feel great.

The marketing and messaging needs to support the brand and brand message as well differentiating the hospital from competitors.  For the new market environment and healthcare business model, price, quality data, accessibility, convenience and testimonials is the new marketing currency. The healthcare consumer wants to be able to trust the hospital. The healthcare consumer wants to make a good decision.  Listen to what the healthcare consumer is asking for in the way of information from the hospital. Give information and solutions, not “trust me” promises and all encompassing claims.  No one believes it anymore.

Winning healthcare marketers are driving growth by increasing their precision, broadening their scope, reacting quickly and telling a better story.

Look at the “Man in the Chair” and replace that person with the healthcare consumer.  Those are eight very important questions to  be answered. Stop stating the obvious and telling people what they already expect to be taking place in an environment of healing. Tell them what they need to know.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Is there a right time to bring a healthcare brand back?

In news announced by Walgreens, Walgreens Infusion was relaunched as a separate company with Madison Dearborn holding a majority interest, Chicago Tribune Walgreens infusion unit relaunches”, by Ameet Sachdev, May 20, 2015. The new company is being remained OptionCare. Normally something like this is just viewed as another change in the healthcare landscape, but from a marketing brand perspective, I think this one is different.

And here’s why.

Let’s take the “way-back machine” (thank you Mr. Peabody and Sherman) to 2007. Walgreens was on a buying spree and was actively acquiring specialty pharmacies and infusion operations to build market heft. The OptionCare deal was the largest financial transaction that Walgreens had ever made at that time. I know the detail as I was the senior marketing manager, Walgreens Specialty Pharmacy. (And for the record, nothing that will be discussed here is insider information that is not available to the general investing public per SEC regulations.)

The OptionCare brand was retired under the brand architecture of Walgreens (single brand not a house of brands) set for Walgreens after a short period with the intentional brand transition steps- from two separate brands to a co-brand to a single brand.  The unit was known as Walgreens Infusion Services.

The same was done for specialty pharmacy but a bit more difficult for at one time there were five, yes count them  five,  Walgreens owned Specialty Pharmacy  brands in the market- Medmark, Schrafts, OptionCare,  IVPCare and Walgreens Specialty Pharmacy. Eventually those too became Walgreens Specialty Pharmacy.

Anyhow, in the news article in the Chicago Tribune Walgreens infusion unit relaunches”,  there was an interesting quote from the CEO on the new unit, who was the CFO with OptionCare when it was acquired and remained all these years with the Walgreens unit. He thought it made sense to go back to a familiar brand name. From the time of the OptionCare deal in 2007 to recent history, Walgreens also acquired an additional 16 infusion pharmacies.

So the question before us after all these years, is the OptionCare brand still a familiar and relevant brand in the market?  Or, is this a case of lets go back to what we were and see what happen?  I would think that after 8 years and all the changes that have taken in place in healthcare market, the companies and patients that the old OptionCare provided services too, is probably not that familiar.

Regardless of the name, one would still be starting from ground zero to reestablish the brand, brand promise and brand experience. The difference being this time is that OptionCare brand may bring back both good and bad experiences and memories.

The danger in taking a nostalgic approach to a brand name in healthcare is that the internal memory of brand performance most likely out distances the current market perception and reality. Nostalgia works well for CPG brands, but I think the jury is out for healthcare brands, especially one that has been absent from the market for nearly eight years.

Is this the right name and brand strategy to take? It is if the resources are provided to rebuild the brand correctly in the marketplace, and one has the market research to back up the brand transition plan, messaging and direction. It’s the wrong decision if it based on HIPPO branding (Highest Internal Paid Persons Opinion).

After all, the healthcare market in 2007 was primarily provider-dominated in the care and treatment decision making process with little healthcare consumer input or choice. In 2015, the healthcare market is retail medicine in nature with healthcare consumer choice and involvement. The healthcare consumer is paying out of pocket for one-third the cost of care. The new drivers are cost, quality, convenience, experience and engagement of the healthcare consumer.

Is there a right time to being a healthcare brand back to market after a several year absence? Only time will tell depending greatly on the resources committed to relauching the old brand name into the market place.

Choose wisely, as back to the future does not mean how a company approaches the market to rebrand and relaunch too.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Is the smartphone the new doctor for physician independence?

The healthcare consumer will shell out $345 billion dollars this year for health insurance, co-payments and deductibles. On top of that they will spend another $271 billion on health related items like gyms memberships, weight lose programs, exercise equipment etc. That's a whopping $626 billion dollars out-of-pocket that is expected to rise for the foreseeable future.

The healthcare consumer and patient are demanding value, price and quality transparency from healthcare providers. Consumer's want retail medicine, mHealth and telemedicine. All the while healthcare providers focus on market dominance and acquire physician practices to create market heft and then wonder why consumers are cranky?

With all of this happening then, is the smartphone the new doctor? And, can the use of apps, mHealth and telemedicine allow a physician or physician group practice to remain independent? In both cases I think the answer is yes, with some pretty large ramifications for healthcare marketing as well.

First let’s think about the independent practitioner, primary care group or multi-specialty group. Here is a story to illustrate my point. 

Some of you may remember a time when there were corner grocery stores.  Little mom and pop operations located in quite neighborhoods before the advent of the big box grocery chains.

Then it appears as if overnight, the big box national and regional grocery chains take over for our food dollar. We all heard the doom, gloom and prophecy of the demise of those little mom and pop stores. Sure they are gone from the corner in the quite neighborhood; but guess what, they are still around today and have been for a very long time.  Though the form is different, those little mom and pop operations are now the 7-Elevens, White Hen Pantry’s and AM PM Minimarts for example.
Mom and pop operations competing very well against the big box grocery chains on convenience, accessibility, experience, engagement and  sometimes even price.

I am not saying that physicians are grocery stores but the lesson is apparent.  But before everyone calls the independent physician or unaffiliated group practice a thing of the past, one needs to review recent history in other markets for potential lessons of survival.  Technology, innovation and meeting the needs of the healthcare consumer, experience and engagement will keep the independent physician a reality.

This brings me to the second point. There are no paid product endorsements here.

I became aware of these two apps, one via a mention in a Wall Street Journal article and the other from one of my Twitter followers, Dr. Howard Green, a dermatologist with an innovative bent and startup company.  But these two apps caught my eye and illustrate the smartphone as the new doctor idea out of the thousands that are available. And that idea is more literal than anything else.

First is Heal.  It’s only in the Los Angeles and San Francisco market, but I could really see it working nationwide. Basically, using the app on the smartphone you are matched with a local physician who comes to your house in under one hour and the cost is $99. No additional charges or extras.  The ultimate in convenience, accessibility, experience and engagement with a price point well within a consumers reach.

The second is Skinstamatic, a gamified, mobile collective sourced medical image search app. This is an oversimplification, but take a couple of pictures of the skin, upload, and broad certified dermatologists and  dermatology professionals using photo identification, not tele-dermatology,   review and make recommendations as to the top potential diagnoses.  You can then use the app to access a local dermatologist and make an appointment for treatment.  This app was built on Dr. Green’s Skinphoto Text Match Inc company platform for dermatologists.

The smartphone as the doctor meeting the healthcare needs of the consumer.  All of this driving convenient, accessible, mobile care and giving the healthcare consumer or patient a measure of value, price certainty, quality, control and information.

The use of technology and innovative care practices by physicians, which no doubt requires a change in the business model and some openness, can be the physician’s friend in countering the advances of hospitals and health systems. In the long run, independent physicians are better for healthcare consumers and patient in care, experience and engagement.  Besides, no matter the payment system it will still take a doctor’s order to get anything done.

Long live the independent physician.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Why does physician advertising seem stuck in the 90s?

Seems to be that time of the year when hospital sponsored advertisements promoting physicians- primary care and specialties fill the newspaper pages and airwaves.  I see many a smiling physician in the ads looking so cheerful and accepting new patients, with lots of copy that is more features and benefits marketing then providing a solution to the healthcare consumer’s choice question.  Other ad layouts include physicians thoughtfully gazing upward pondering the great question of medical science. While other advertisements make an attempt at branding the physician to the hospital proclaiming the greatness of both.

That is so 1990s advertising.

There are of course many reasons for this and no need to go into great detail.  The important point is that the current wave of physician practice building advertising probably isn’t meeting the needs of the newly minted healthcare consumer.

It’s not just about the physician anymore in an advertisement with vague copy that really doesn’t say anything except for a laundry list of items. Let me be clear, I do not doubt the medical qualifications, skills and experience of the physicians.

The market and competition for the healthcare consumer and patient is changing.

Now accepting new patients is unacceptable.

Healthcare consumer’s and patient’s are making physician choices based cost, location and convenience due to increasing co-pays and rising deductibles.  If you're just going to throw some ads out there with a picture of a nice smiling doc with copy written in the third person about how wonderful and compassionate he or she is, its falling on blind eyes.

What is needed is a new look at what you are doing and changing to meet the needs of the healthcare consumer.  With great market change arrives opportunity for growth.  That is if one is willing to embrace that change and create value. 

Some new essential steps for physician practice building the marketing effort are in order in a retail market.

Do some primary market research to understand the characteristics of the audience and what they are looking for in a physician. Understand the healthcare consumer. That is the starting point, not what senior management or a doctor thinks.   Now that being said, their opinions are important but the discussion marketing needs to have must be based on market data.

In an opinion based discussion everyone is right. To change your approach to the market, the discussion needs to be around the data not opinion. Physicians and hospital leadership are trained in the use of data. They make decision based on data. Why should a marketing discussion be any different? It’s more than marketing communications and making things look pretty.

The campaign must answer the healthcare consumer’s question of what is special about this physician and why should I select her or him?  Stop talking at people, talk to them. Engage them with a compelling value proposition on why they should select that doctor, or even why they should even considering switching physicians.  Answer the question of why.

Every marketing effort on building the physician practice in today’s  retail medical environment, needs to be highly integrated with traditional, social media, mobile,  online and public relations.  It includes patient testimonials, engages and establishes expectations for the experience.  It is focused on the healthcare consumer and meets their needs for primary or specialty care.

In the end, it’s all about knowing what healthcare consumer and patient needs are, and delivering a compelling answer that has them making a choice in selecting the right physician that will meet their needs.