As budgets tighten and competitors jostle for market share, building your reputation in your home market is more critical than ever.
Editor's Note: This is the first in a two-part series on improving your healthcare organization's reputation. Part one focuses on improving your local relationships; next month's article will explore how to expand into new markets.
Residents in and around Anahuac, TX, were taking their community hospital for granted. Most didn't think about Bayside Community Hospital until they needed its services, says CEO Robert Pascasio. And after leaving, they forgot all about the 14-bed critical-access hospital again.
Some healthcare organizations are building national and international reputations in an effort to woo medical tourists to their high-margin service lines. But shrinking budgets are prompting others to go back to their core market, building and sometimes repairing their local reputations to protect or increase market share. Bayside's strategy to improve its local reputation: Prove to the community that it offers high-quality healthcare and that patients treated there will be both safe and comfortable. The hospital pursued—and won—various awards, rankings, and inclusions on "best hospital" lists.
"It allows us to stand up and say, ‘Somebody from outside of our organization came in and said we were worthy of this designation,'" Pascasio says. "Once we've accomplished that, we make sure the world knows." Although there are benefits to expanding your national reputation, says Jim Banahan, president of Banahan Communications, a healthcare marketing consultancy based in Phoenix, local efforts are more likely to increase market share. Know exactly where your volume comes from, he says. "Today we can't afford shotgun marketing education programs." Invest in market research, especially by ZIP code and service line—that's where your efforts to build a better reputation will pay off.
The famous Tip O'Neill quote, "All politics is local," applies to healthcare, too, says Rhoda Weiss, a healthcare consultant, speaker, and author based in Santa Monica, CA. "If you look at the national brands like Mayo and Cleveland [Clinic], their patient base is primarily local, and so is everyone else's."
Hospitals that concentrate on building relationships—with local employers, employees, volunteers, board members, local places of worship, and other organizations—will fare better than those that focus on expensive advertising, she says. "While advertising is part of the marketing mix, you can't think that you're going to spend a tremendous amount of money and people are going to show up to your door. It's not going to happen."
Both Weiss and Banahan agree that direct-to-employer campaigns are another key strategy to build local business. Offer free screenings for employees (right before open enrollment is a good time) and help employers identify and address employees' unhealthy behaviors.
It may sound "warm and fuzzy," Pascasio says, but it's local reputation and relationships that set the hospital apart from larger, urban hospitals. Bayside competes with one large medical center 30 miles away that offers a depth and breadth of services that Bayside can't match. "But what we can do that they cannot do is provide hometown healthcare," he says. "And what we do, we do well."
Three things CEOs need to know about building a better local reputation:
Robert Pascasio, CEO, Bayside Community Hospital: Identify your place in the market. "If you haven't gone out in the world and attempted to identify how the community perceives you, you need to do that and determine where to go from there. If you don't structure who you are and offer services the public wants, needs, and will pay for, then you're wasting your time and everybody else's."
Jim Banahan, president, Banahan Communications: Build relationships with physicians. "Medical centers or hospitals are really missing it by not building a stronger rapport with their physicians." But don't overlook direct-to-consumer marketing; it is possible to educate patients to self-refer or self-select.
Rhoda Weiss, healthcare consultant: Advertising won't necessarily increase profitability, awareness, and reputation. And it won't help build relationships. "It's not about the big ad; it's about the big idea … Healthcare organizations need to tell their stories. They need to tell their communities what they have and what they have to offer."