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Chris Bevolo: Which side of the menu do you market on?

Chris Bevolo, is founder and principal of healthcare marketing agency Interval and president of Chris Bevolo Consulting. To read more of Bevolo’s insights on the marketing world, visit his blog.

Advertising comes in many forms: Sponsorship of a local arts event, purchase of cable or radio time thanks to a special pricing deal from the vendor, placement on the inside-back cover of the program for the local sports team or even a lone billboard touting the hospital brand. We call these and other such tactics “right-side-of-the-menu marketing,” and they are all too common within health care.

What exactly is “right-side of the menu marketing?” Check out the menu the next time you pull through the drive-thru at a fast food restaurant. Often, the left side of the menu is reserved for the value meals — the special offerings where you receive a burger, fries and drink for less than if you ordered the three items separately. On the right side of the menu, you often have standalone items, with side dishes, deserts, drinks, etc. Odds are, if you’re ordering from the right side of the menu, you’re paying more for your food than if it were part of a packaged deal.

The same holds true for hospital marketing. The tactics listed above are frequently standalone advertisements, belonging to no particular marketing plan or overall strategy. In other words, they’re “right-side-of-the-menu” marketing. They often pop up unexpectedly as requests from physicians or administrators, or from vendors with a special opportunity. And just like ordering your burger, fries and soda separately, you’re likely paying more money and/or receiving less value with these types of marketing tactics.

Rarely will an individual, isolated marketing tactic bring the same results as it would were it included in an integrated effort. That’s the whole point of integrated marketing communications — to leverage multiple and different channels and touchpoints to hit more people, drive higher awareness and compel more action. Integrated efforts also allow for economies of scale (creative/design development, media buys, etc.) which keep your marketing costs lower. You simply don’t get as much bang for your buck with a standalone marketing tactic.

That doesn’t mean you should never entertain a marketing opportunity that presents itself unexpectedly or that wasn’t part of your original plan. Having flexibility in your approach and being responsive to your market are important assets. But the next time you’re faced with an isolated marketing tactic that’s not part of your existing marketing plan or doesn’t fit neatly into a key strategy, you should stop and ask yourself: Am I marketing on the wrong side of the menu?