Chris Bevolo is the founder and principal of health care marketing agency Interval and president of Chris Bevolo Consulting. To read more of Bevolo’s insights on the marketing world, visit his blog.
A few years ago, a client called to explain that our current marketing efforts had to be put on hold because the hospital CEO was concerned about declining general-surgery volumes. The CEO had given the marching orders: “We’ve got to meet our year-end numbers, so we need to focus on advertising our general surgeons.”
That’s one of the great marketing conundrums facing hospital marketers: Unlike in other industries, such as consumer goods or electronics, it’s very difficult to drive a “purchase.” No one looks at a hospital’s billboard for its general-surgery services and thinks to themselves, “Wow, they look really qualified. I think I’ll have my gall bladder removed this Thursday.”
In some cases, you can drive consumers in the door and turn them into patients, such as offering a joint-pain seminar, where some of the participants actually do need a consult, and then surgery. Even then, however, the majority of people you engage will not have an actionable clinical need at that time. The real trick is knowing how to measure the effects of marketing efforts when the action you desire — purchasing a health care service — may happen down the road. No matter how impressive your marketing efforts, most people will need heart surgery when they need it, often well after your campaign has ended.
To help measure the effect of your marketing efforts for these services, create a set of proxy actions. Think of proxy actions as steps on a path to the goal of inpatient care. In the case of cardiovascular services, for example, create calls to action that consumers can respond to, regardless of whether they actually need heart surgery. This could include online assessments, a screening at the local mall or educational seminars on heart wellness.
Participation in these proxy actions can help you gauge the real-time impact of your marketing effort. Whenever possible, use customer-relationship-management tools to keep track of everyone who is participating in your actions. That way, you can track downstream utilization of care, long past the placement of the last billboard or television spot.
Most marketing experts agree that hospitals can expect to see benefits from a marketing initiative for as long as six to 12 months after the end of a campaign. For the skeptical chief financial officer who asks, “How do you know this increase in volumes came from your campaign? How do you know they wouldn’t have come here anyway?” you can conduct control testing, comparing the downstream utilization of those in your database to a like group of community members who didn’t engage in your proxy actions. Odds are very high you’ll be able to demonstrate that the people who did respond to your campaign have a higher level of utilization than those who didn’t — even if it’s one or two years down the road.
Image credit: DamirK, via iStockPhoto