What Works For You?

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, February 13, 2008
We hear a lot these days about cutting through the clutter and the rise in consumerism, especially in healthcare marketing. Competition for market share among hospitals and other healthcare organizations has become cutthroat in some areas. And, slowly but surely, patients are paying more attention to issues of cost and quality. So what do you do when a potential patient or referring physician is being bombarded with information from your competitors? How do you stand out in the crowd?

Here's an idea: Consider what kind of marketing grabs your attention.

It's hard to market to marketers. They know all the tricks, they can tell exactly how much (or how little) work went into an effort, and they know when someone is trying to manipulate them. So if an effort makes an impression on you or generates a response, well that's worth taking a look at, right?

So what works for you?

For me, it's personalization. I was once fooled into thinking a direct mail piece was an actual personal letter because the return address was printed in a handwriting font and included a familiar name. I realized my mistake pretty quickly, mind you, but I did open the envelope and the contents did get my attention for those extra few moments. What more can a marketer ask for?

It's easy to personalize direct mail, either in the creative itself or in the call to action. There are a number of personalization tactics from the traditional personalized salutation to a call to action that incorporates a vanity or personalized URL. A Web site with my name in the URL gets my attention. If I drove by a billboard that flashed my name ("Hello, Gienna! It's time for your annual physical!"), I would pay attention--at least for a second or two. And I have a key-ring full of loyalty cards, which report the details of my purchases back to marketers, who in turn send me more personalized marketing based on my buying habits.

But here's the problem with such tactics. I know that I'm being manipulated. So the effects of personalization don't really last very long. Still, those who are marketing to me are probably happy with that extra second or two of eyeball time.

But it might not be enough for healthcare marketers.

Patients should be responding to your marketing because it comes from a trusted source and because they know it will contain important, pertinent, useful information. In fact, the American Medical Association makes the case for proceeding with caution when it comes to one-to-one healthcare marketing.

That's not to say personalization doesn't work in healthcare marketing--just that it has to be done in the right way. In real life, a billboard flashing personal health information probably isn't a good idea. But an invitation to go to a personalized URL and take a health quiz? That's more likely to get me to take action.

So, what about you? What kind of marketing grabs your attention? When was the last time you responded to a call to action? Are you drawn to unusual envelopes? Glossy stock so pretty you hate to throw it away? Coupons that you might-maybe-possibly one day redeem? Or do you respond to messages that really ring true and offer you real value?

And how can you apply that information to your work as a healthcare marketer?

I'd love to hear what you think: Please share your answer by e-mailing me or clicking on the link at the end of this column to leave a comment on the site.

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