Looking Forward to 2008

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, January 2, 2008
In my last column, I wrote that 2007 was the year of the consumer, as hospital and health system marketers increasingly referred to patients as customers and focused much of their attention on improving service, engendering patient loyalty, and creating a positive brand experience. So, what will 2008 bring for healthcare marketing? I have a few ideas (and some of them might even come true). Also, make sure to keep reading for a link to the 2007 HealthLeaders Media Annual Marketing Professionals Survey--I think you'll find the results quite helpful in formulating your own predictions.

1. A growing emphasis on internal communications: As the trend toward consumerism grows, healthcare organizations will expand their definition of "customer" to include internal stakeholders--from employees and staff physicians and board members to referring physicians. Why? Because patient satisfaction cannot improve without strong employee satisfaction. Is there any industry where every single employee--volunteers, admissions staff, cafeteria workers, nurses, hospitalists, anesthesiologists, physicians, surgeons, and anyone else you can think of--has such a profound impact on the patient experience?

2. The death of customer-written review Websites: Sites where patients rank physicians, nurses, or hospitals in general? They just don't work. They hold absolutely no value other than for the person who wants to let off a little steam about a bad experience. The reviewer is extraordinarily biased and the reader knows that. Sure, word of mouth referrals are key to hospitals' survival. But potential patients want that word to come from a mouth they know and trust.

3. The rise of hospital-specific bash fests: On the other hand, blogs and other sites that are created to target a specific hospital are on the rise. And because they tend to be created by a small community of people with first-hand knowledge of the organization, they carry much more weight than one of those large, impersonal rankings sites. Current and past hospital employees often contribute to these sites (see prediction #1), lending them even more credence. You should regularly use search engines to find out what folks are saying about your organization and crafting an appropriate response to any sites that are dedicated to bashing it. In particular, look for sites with your hospital's name and the word "sucks" in the URL. You'd be surprised how many exist.

4. More innovative use of new media: OK, I'm still not willing to say that in the future all marketing will be done via cell phone. But considering how quickly technology advances, it is entirely possible that in 12 months I'll be writing about a new media that isn't even on the radar yet. It's more likely I'll be writing that hospital marketers are using "old" new media in new ways, however. Either that or there will be a backlash against all forms of new media, everyone will abandon their cell phones and trash their PDAs, and marketers will go back to putting ads in the yellow pages again.

5. Nuevo-niche marketing: Hospitals do know how to reach out to audiences with targeted messages. They send direct mail pieces to new movers introducing their docs and their services. They don't send OB/GYN marketing to single men and they don't remind women to get a prostate cancer screening when they turn 50. But when it comes time to really drill down, they don't do as well. If you have a large Spanish-speaking population in your community, is it enough to publish your patient newsletter in two languages or add subtitles to an existing TV ad for a run on the local Spanish cable station? Or do you need to go further with a campaign that's designed to speak exclusively to a specific community and its unique culture? To stay competitive, it's the latter that makes the difference.

You'll note that I left out a lot of looming trends, but these are my fave five and I'm sticking to them.

Of course, I'd also like to hear your predictions. Is this the year that transparency truly rears its ugly head? Will retail clinics and medical tourism force a change in your market strategy? Will every hospital hire a chief experience officer in the next 12 months? Will marketing managers completely re-jigger their budgets so that 98 percent of their ad buys are online? Let me know what you think. You can e-mail me or click the link below to leave a comment right on this page.

The results of the 2007 HealthLeaders Media Marketing Professionals Survey are in and available to view or download in PDF format on our Web site. The marketing survey offers a snapshot of where hospital and health system marketers stand when it comes to trends, from the increase in consumerism to the rise of new media.
Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at gshaw@healthleadersmedia.com.
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