If You Could Tell the CEO One Thing About Marketing, What Would it Be?

Gienna Shaw, February 3, 2010

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Recently I've been looking through some back issues of HealthLeaders magazine. Many of the stories are about issues healthcare marketers are still grappling with today. I usually end my interviews with the same question: If you could tell CEOs one thing about the topic of this story, what would it be? From marketing your hospital's quality rankings to competing against big brand-name organizations to investing time and money in social media, here's some of the advice I've gathered over the years.

On marketing quality:
"Because of the growing awareness that quality is not always perfect, it's very important to talk about quality in smart ways that promote your credibility and your brand equity. Smart healthcare organizations are monitoring their community awareness around quality and then pitching their marketing to reassure [their audience and] to promote the brand strength of their organization."
—Kathleen Jennison Goonan, MD, director of the Center for Performance Excellence in Boston, Image Makeover, March 2007.

On naming hospitals or wings after corporate donors:
“It's a bad business decision. You do not control that company's brand. The only one you control is your own. The minute you give up control you're at the mercy of whatever happens within that company. . . . If that CEO has an inappropriate relationship with someone in his office, if that CEO embezzles money, if there is a decision to close 50 stores … any number of things could fall into the purview of the operating model of your business that are none of your business and out of your control."
—Jeffrey Nemetz, principal and co-founder of the HBG Health, Chicago, What's in a Name? A Lot, Actually, October 2007.

On crisis communications:
"The tendency in hospitals to escalate every crisis to the CEO level is a mistake. Once you escalate a crisis to the top man or woman, you can never de-escalate it."
—Fraser P. Seitel, author and public relations expert, CEO Public Relations 101, November, 2007.

On marketing to generation Y:
“Healthcare isn't in the top 50 things that a 28-year-old thinks about as a consumer. That is an empirical fact."
—John Luginbill, CEO, The Heavyweights, Indianapolis, Who Needs the Boomers?, April 2008.

On marketing a small hospital:
"Hospitals have to communicate their particular points of strength and attributes. Focus on your strengths and leverage that to create a brand."
—Don Simon, vice president of marketing and advertising, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, Great Neck, NY, We're Number Two!, June 2008.

On marketing lessons from other industries:
"Our patients don't understand why they can stay at the Marriott and have an accurate bill under their door the morning they leave the hotel, yet the hospital sends an inaccurate bill months after they are discharged. Patients don't understand why we have asked for the same information upon registration—every time—even if they are being seen on a regular basis."
—Lynne Cunningham, then principal of Cunningham Associates, now a coach with the Studer Group, Gulf Breeze, FL, Lessons from the Field, July 2008.

On the trend toward 'Institutes' and 'Centers':
"Consumers only have so many brain cells that they're going to devote to remembering anything concerning healthcare. The more an organization splinters its brand identity into a zillion different parts the more it dilutes the consumer's ability to digest the whole organization."
—Susan Dubuque, president of Neathawk Dubuque & Packett, Richmond, VA, Name Confusion, September 2008.

On the employee's role in brand experience:
"Everybody you hire who interacts with patients and families impacts the patient experience, which in turn impacts the brand. And so the reality of a service business is that what you sell is a performance. And that performance, more or less, comes from a human performer. And so if you're interested in quality of any kind, then you need to take great care in deciding which performer to put in front of your customer."
—Leonard Berry, professor of marketing at the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University in College Station, What's Your Brand?, November 2008.

On recruitment efforts:
"You need to get smart about advertising and marketing yourself as a great employer. People would like to work with like-minded people . . . They're looking for good benefits, they're looking for a culture where they are valued. They expect to be treated with respect."
—Robin Lowey, associate creative director at TMP Worldwide, San Francisco, Employment Branding for the New Generation, December 2008.

On community benefit reporting and IRS form 990H:
"Everyone always likes to hear stories that describe the positive impact in improving the health status of the community."
—Patsy Matheny, community benefit consultant, Sugar Grove, OH, A Story to Tell, January 2009.

On social media:
"A lot of facilities are not sure what the reward is, but they know the risk is pretty great … These conversations are going to happen anyway, so it's just a matter of whether or not you're going to participate in the conversation. If you're not involved, you don't really have any influence."
—Reed Smith, director of project management at the Texas Hospital Association in Austin, Are Social Media's Rewards Worth the Risks?, July 2009.

So if you had the ear of the CEO, what would you tell him or her about marketing? Do any of the above still resonate?

Speaking of change, next week my colleague Marianne Aiello will be taking over the marketing beat for HealthLeaders Media, including the weekly e-newsletter and this column. I'll be covering technology for print and online. I plan to continue to tweet about marketing along with technology at www.twitter.com/gienna and I'll also contribute to the MarketShare blog on occasion, so I hope to stay in touch with my marketing sources. As you can tell from this column, they're all—as we say here in Boston—wicked smart. And they made my job of covering the sometimes confounding world of healthcare marketing a lot easier.

Note: You can sign up to receive HealthLeaders Media Marketing Weekly, a free weekly e-newsletter that provides news and information tailored to the specific needs of community hospitals.
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