Embrace Your Place in the Healthcare Market

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, June 25, 2008

As far as iconic campaign slogans go, it's hard to beat Avis' "We're number two, but we try harder." It's a fact of business life that somebody has to be number two (or three, or four), especially in the crowded healthcare market.

But you know what? Avis eventually dropped the "We're number two" and shortened their slogan to "We try harder." Why? Because no matter how loveable, no one wants to look like a loser.

But here's the good news: No matter what your position in the marketplace, chances are there's at least one area where you can excel—where you can try harder and be number one.

You might be dead last in market share, but you can still position yourself as the best place to deliver a baby. You might not be able to compete with a fancy academic center for the critical cases, but you can concentrate on making your ER the preferred choice because of its short wait times.

There are lots of other strategies when you're not number one, some of which I wrote about in We're Number Two! in the June issue of HealthLeaders magazine. Experts suggest you focus on your strengths, for example. Specialize in one or two service lines, throw all your money and other resources behind them, hire the best specialists, and become known as the place to go for that service.

You can also distinguish yourself on personality. If you're a smaller community hospital in a marketplace filled with large medical centers, you should be building relationships with the community and positioning yourself as the friendly, caring hospital. Your revenue might be lower than the big guy across town, but you can still be the hospital with the best atmosphere, service, and staff.

Meanwhile, who better to talk about the advantages of being number two than Don Simon, vice president of marketing and advertising at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System? He worked for Avis as VP of marketing for 12 years before making the move to healthcare.

Being "number two" in the market can be an advantage, he told me in an interview for the magazine story. Small hospitals are more nimble, he said, and are uniquely positioned to build relationships with patients and families and affect patient satisfaction in a very real way. And it's easier for them to make operational changes to meet their goals.

"Smaller hospitals can sometimes pay greater attention to the details of care," he said.

But it's so easy to say you are the hospital that cares. It's so easy to choose what you want to be known for.

It's a little trickier to actually pull it off.

And that's where the work of the marketing department is invaluable. You conduct market research to find out what your audience thinks about your hospital. You figure out if there's anything you can do to build upon areas in which you are strong and improve in the areas where you are weak. You create a message that's on target and you test the market response to it again (and again).

"Identifying the niche you want to play at is wishful thinking, you have to be really prepared to operationalize it," Bill Ott, a senior consulting firm for the St. Louis, MO–based consulting firm Numerof & Associates, told me in an interview for the magazine story.

That means educating all of your internal audiences and convincing them all to march in the same direction. You have to instill that "we're number two, but we try harder" mindset across the entire organization.

"Both referring physicians and consumers respond to that," Ott says.

The bottom line: Your hospital has to be the change it wants to see.

Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at gshaw@healthleadersmedia.com.
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