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We’ve reached a tipping point in healthcare marketing: Are you ready?

Health systems need to strengthen brand, and develop stories and experiences to stand out

At Core, a bunch of us are reading “If Disney Ran Your Hospital: 9-1/2 Things You Would Do Differently” by Fred Lee.


Who should deliver the keynote at Modern Healthcare’s 2018 Strategic Marketing Conference? None other than a former Disney executive Kevin Mabbutt and now Senior Vice President and Chief Consumer Officer at Intermountain Healthcare.

Coincidence? I think not.

We are all keenly aware of the fundamental shift going on within healthcare (are we not?) wherein the patient – and NOT the physician – must now be at the center of our operational and marketing worlds.

Certainly, the CEO at Intermountain got the memo. Thus, his investment in bringing in consumer marketing expertise (from outside of healthcare) to amp up his systems’ “game.”

Yes, now more and more health systems are investing in customer service experts, consultants, agencies, and new customer and media tracking tools to bring a customer service mindset to their cultures.

Not an easy task, we know.

At the Modern Healthcare conference held in late October in Chicago, several prominent CMOs from the likes of Piedmont Healthcare, Advocate Aurora Health, Ascension, Cleveland Clinic, UCHealth, etc., openly confessed during panel discussions that they are in the midst of daunting change management challenges.

What is the change, specifically?

Helping physicians, nurses, and even entire employee populations – numbering in the thousands and even tens of thousands – understand they are in the customer service business. Or, more specifically, that they need to start intentionally providing the kinds of red carpet experiences you’d find in retail, hotel, and yes, even Disney-esque settings to their respective brands of caregiving.

One can almost see some of those clinically-minded doctors shuddering in their labcoats at the mere thought of adding “helpful customer service” to their job requirements.

Nonetheless, we are all fully in the age of healthcare consumerism. Doctors included.

Our “target market” – that 42-year-old female and crazy-busy household “CEO” who’s scrambling to take her 2.5 children to school and soccer practice, all the while rushing off to work, getting the dog to the vet, and checking in on her husband’s aging parents – is DEMANDING help.

She not only expects some customer service; she truly needs it.

These customer service touchpoints impact all aspects of the patient experience – both those seen, felt, and heard online and in person. Everything from scheduling online appointments to parking to wayfinding to bedside manners are fair game for her opinions and criticism. (And she now has the social media tools and gumption to air either her praises or grievances.)

Indeed. Our “42-year-old household CEO” knows she is an empowered consumer. She does not have time to be loyal. She only has time to know: Do you give me what I need, when, where, and how I need it in order to care for my family? If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, she has choices now in healthcare like never before.

So here you are (the overworked, understaffed, poorly funded healthcare marketer) asking yourself, what 9-1/2 things do WE need to do differently? – in operations and in marketing – in order to compete for our busy patients’ business.

The task must feel daunting.

But fear not. Those same CMOs from the Modern Healthcare conference are also finding the opportunities for change to be exhilarating.

We seemed to have reached a tipping point in healthcare marketing where your role as a marketer is now no longer relegated to taking doctors’ orders (“I want a billboard.”). You can and must be truly strategic in your approach to defining and promoting and delivering the brand promise throughout your system. It’s your job to reach the patient (she is the customer; not the doctor.)

That’s why reaching this tipping point is such a good thing. You finally have the green light (based on competitive forces, marketplace demands, and the age of information) to help drive real and meaningful change and improvements to your healthcare system.

In effect, the marketing function within a healthcare system is almost automatically more important. The result? You should get a louder voice and a better seat at the table. Your C-suite and those internal customers who were used to having their own way (your physicians) now need to turn to you for help to compete and win.

Do you have 9-1/2 … or let’s just start with 3! … things you could do right now to improve your employer brand and culture so that your crazy-busy customers can get the help and answers they need when, where and how they want them?

Our bet is that you do. You know what you’d like to change, but maybe you just need a little strategic support and resources (people, ideas, tools, budgets) to execute.

Let’s take this opportunity as healthcare marketers to speak up with our solutions and help our systems’ stand out. Bring in the reinforcements where you need to, but by all means, step up and take action. By looking at everything through the eyes of your patient – i.e. consumers who expect to have everything at their fingertips and who are used to being catered to – you will know what needs to be done first.

It will take time, of course. But the tipping point is here.

  • Let’s do some culture shaping.
  • Let’s do some brand building.
  • Let’s tell some incredible patient stories.
  • Let’s improve the patient experience – in person and online.
  • Let’s change some lives.

The opportunities are endless.

Are you ready?


Ward Alles is the President and Brand Consultant at Core Health.


Video Discussion: How to help patients now

On July 23, 2020, we conducted a discussion with Rob Klein, founder and CEO of Klein and Partners, and our Director of Insights and Strategy, Sue Spaight. The pair covered key highlights of the third wave of Rob's national study: How the Coronavirus is Impacting Healthcare Perceptions and Behaviors. This study, fielded in June 2020, provides valuable and immediately actionable insights to help healthcare marketing and communications professionals gain the confidence of their patients, bring them back into their systems for care and understand how to support caregivers during this difficult time.
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