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The State of Healthcare Marketing ROI

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, January 27, 2010

When healthcare marketers talk about measuring the success of their campaigns, they tend to lump all measurement under the heading ROI. I do it, too, by the way. We count the number of hits on a Web site, the number of physicians who stop us in the hall to say they liked your most recent campaign, the number of people who attended the opening of a new hospital. And that's fine, but it's not ROI.

"'Hard' ROI simply means that results are measured by the actual collected revenues after taking into account the actual cost of the effort," writes healthcare marketing consultant David Marlowe in the introduction to his book, A Marketer's Guide to Measuring ROI, published by HealthLeaders Media. "ROI means there is a financial return. If no revenue was generated as a result of the marketing effort, there is no ROI."

It's true that there are many challenges to measuring hard ROI in the healthcare setting and that, for many campaigns, the only way to show that your marketing had impact are the softer measurements, such as an increase in patient satisfaction scores. But, Marlowe says, "That doesn't relieve provider-based marketers from the responsibility of establishing other quantifiable methods."

Healthcare marketers seem to be getting better at setting objectives and demonstrating results, Bob Konold, senior vice president and group creative director at SPM Marketing & Communications in La Grange, IL, told me for an article in this month's HealthLeaders magazine.

But in healthcare, at least, "better" doesn't always mean "great." Susan Dubuque, president and cofounder of Neathawk Dubuque & Packett in Richmond, VA, agrees with Konold that healthcare marketing professionals are getting better at documenting outcomes of their efforts, with a caveat: "True measures of ROI in the accounting sense of the word are, however, still not common in healthcare."

Patrick Buckley, president and CEO of PB Healthcare Business Solutions LLC in Milwaukee and author of the HealthLeaders Media book, The Complete Guide to Healthcare Marketing, puts it even more plainly: Counting Web hits and impressions isn't evidence of a successful campaign, he says.

Indeed, in the 2009 HealthLeaders Media Industry Survey, only 7% of marketing leaders said they place an emphasis on financial ROI only. The vast majority of marketers—just more than 85%—say they use a mix of soft and hard measurement.

That number isn't likely to shift dramatically anytime soon. So while financial ROI is still the gold standard, the fact that healthcare marketers seem to be getting better at showing the impact of their efforts in a variety of ways is still good news.

Just don't call it ROI.

For more insight into the current state of healthcare marketing—including how hospitals have changed their tactics during the recession and emerging trends in healthcare marketing—check out Taking the Measure of Healthcare Marketing.

You can download a PDF of the first chapter of Marlowe's book, which offers examples of what constitutes financial ROI as well as a tutorial on how to calculate financial ROI. The first chapter of Buckley's book is also available for free download—it includes a section that details some of the challenges that healthcare marketers face, including a discussion about the fact that the value of healthcare marketing is often intangible.


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