Is Your Brand Ready for Healthcare Consumerism?

 In Improving Satisfaction Scores, Preparing for the Future

Historically, many healthcare providers (especially those outside of acute care) haven’t focused their marketing efforts on patients and families.

Their reasons are understandable. Conventional wisdom says that forces other than personal choice often dictate – or at least heavily influence – which healthcare providers consumers will use. A provider has to be included in the consumer’s insurance network to get top consideration. A physician or other healthcare professional often has to make a referral for access, again influenced by which providers are in the insurance network or managed care system. So why invest in consumer marketing instead of focusing on payers and referrers?

Because, as Bob Dylan famously sang, the times they are a-changin’. In a recent article published by HealthLeaders, the headline summarizes one big change – “Consumerism Growing Rapidly, Putting More Demands on Providers.”

The article says, “Consumerism has reached a tipping point, becoming pervasive enough that the healthcare industry must develop better ways to respond…” John Young, senior vice president of consumerism and strategy at Alegeus, also states in the article, “(Providers) are going to be getting more and more questions around cost and quality” – and they really need to have good answers.

Sure, healthcare insurance is still going to be a major factor in consumer choice. But as consumers become more knowledgeable about quality and cost from providers, they can demand their employers or managed care plans include preferred choices – and brands.

What’s more, a significant portion of Baby Boomers have the financial resources to access the providers they want with private pay if insurance is an obstacle. About 70% of disposable income in the United States is owned by folks age 50+. And during the next 20 years, this age group is in line to inherit $15 trillion. Yes, trillion! In 2020, 32 million Americans will be age 65+ — and 25% are considered affluent with incomes of more than $100,000 a year. This demographic often can afford the care they prefer.

So if you haven’t done so already, the time to build an effective brand with consumers starts NOW. Whatever shape your public-facing brand is in, consider these important factors to create or strengthen a brand that’s meaningful to patients and families:

Is your brand easily distinguished from your competitors? The purest purpose of a brand is to create differentiation, trust and preference for a product or service. But let’s face it – a lot of healthcare brands and marketing looks alike. Cue the smiling nurses, doctors or other clinical personnel showing personalized attention and compassion to a patient.

In hospice care – where patients and families already can choose the agency they want under CMS guidelines – consumers have a very generic view of providers. How do we know? Transcend has surveyed more than 18,000 family healthcare decision makers (adults age 45+, skewed toward women). It’s common to see in any given community that fewer than 10% can correctly name a single hospice brand with unaided recall. Fewer than 40% admit they recognize hospice brand names when read to them. Many consumers have no idea that their community has more than one provider. Fewer than 10% who do know there’s more than one provider can’t name a difference between hospice agencies.

A top priority is to take an objective look at consumer awareness of your brand, as well as any meaningful information about what makes you different from your competitors. Conduct statistically significant research with consumers in your service area. Regardless of your findings, do you have clear messaging about your brand promise and your unique positioning that distinguishes you from competitors? Can every member of your team express your brand promise and positioning in a consistent way?

Are your key messages providing what consumers want to know?

A common mistake of marketers is their eagerness to communicate their own expertise first. The result is a lot of emphasized “we” messages instead of “you” messages that are focused on the needs and wishes of consumers.

Consumer research in your market will help you understand what’s most important to your potential patients and their families. In the surveys conducted by Transcend, we’ve learned that families put a priority on the comfort of their loved one (no surprise there), but they also value guidance on navigating their healthcare options, emotional and spiritual support, plus education/training to be better caregivers at home.

By developing key messages to address how your expertise and services provide what consumers value most, you’ll have a much better chance of resonating with them and building a preference for your brand.

Is your brand ready for earlier engagement and patient retention along your continuum of care?

Do you offer more than one service line? Are your service lines identified with the same brand name or different ones? Having a consistent brand family to promote all service lines can help immensely with brand recognition, recall and loyalty across your entire continuum of care.

For instance, many hospice organizations established their brand as “Hospice of (fill in the blank)” with the blank often being a geographic reference. As these agencies started adding service lines – particularly palliative care – they either added “palliative care” to their existing brand name (making it longer and more unwieldy), or they created new brand names for separate service lines (losing continuity between brands).

A good marketing trend among a growing number of these hospices has been rebranding with a single consistent, umbrella brand (or master brand). By having a cohesive brand family, these providers can build a trusting relationship with patients and families as early in the disease progression as possible. By developing brand loyalty early on, it’s easier to convert patients along their continuum of care. Plus, there are much greater efficiencies in promoting a single brand rather than separate brands for different service lines.

Do you know how to reach consumers with messaging when it’s most relevant to them?

The strongest brand and key messages in the world won’t be effective if they don’t reach the right audience at the right time.

As you well know, navigating through a serious illness is a true journey, with patient and family needs changing – sometimes quickly. Do you have a communication and media strategy to reach consumers with messaging that is most relevant for their needs at that time?

A successful strategy typically combines mass media vehicles to build overall awareness and positioning of a brand year ‘round. Social and digital media, as well as search engine optimization, continue to become more sophisticated in targeting consumers at relevant times based on their online behavior. A comprehensive marketing plan will include a range of messages to meet families where they are at times when those messages are most relevant to them.

These considerations are only part of the picture in developing a strong brand that’s ready for increasing consumerism in healthcare. Need help in evaluating your branding and marketing for the entire picture? Contact us to begin the conversation.

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