The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics notes that as many as 50 percent of all businesses do not have a marketing plan. And from the same source: Over 90 percent of all businesses without a marketing plan fail within their second year. A correlation? Of course there is! The old adage: Businesses that fail to plan, plan to fail.
Many healthcare business owners and hospitals don’t understand the value of a marketing plan because they don’t understand its purpose. In the simplest terms, a marketing plan helps an organization define what to sell and how to sell it. This may seem easy enough, but there are so many variables and issues involved that a solid plan is really the only path to success. Marketing is a process and a marketing plan is the tool.
The facilities that don’t develop a written plan often end up throwing ideas out there, and waiting to see what, if anything, sticks. The term “spaghetti marketing” represents this concept of randomly spending marketing dollars in an unorganized, unplanned way (derived from cooking spaghetti where the cook might throw spaghetti against the wall to see if it’s “al dente” or “sticky”). Today, hospital marketing has become so multi-channeled and multi-faceted that any plan that involves waiting to see whether something works or not is far too risky to spell success.
It takes careful planning and a comprehensive understanding of the healthcare marketplace in order to develop a business strategy that ensures success. Undoubtedly, the most successful businesses, including hospitals, have started with a written marketing plan.
A good hospital marketing plan today is a different animal than it was just a few years ago. Hospital marketing plans that are hundreds of pages long won’t get read and often don’t get the support they need from the employees who are going to implement them. Today, a great marketing plan should consider laying out “GOST”:
- Goals & Objectives
- Strategic initiatives
Goals & Objectives: Most plans have only a few main goals. A marketing plan can actually have too many goals, diluting focus and leading to confusion. A successful marketing plan will usually have a non-financial goal in addition to a financial one. Financial results are important but they are not the only thing that matters. You might hit some short-term profit targets, while at the same time damaging your brand; and a deep price reduction might spark a jump in sales while creating other long-term problems. The lesson: Be very careful when setting up your hospital marketing goals and objectives as they will drive the rest of your plan and have many short and long-term ramifications.
Strategic initiatives: Identifying the strategic initiatives answers the question: What are we going to do in order to deliver the objectives? Strategic hospital marketing initiatives are actions. They are what your hospital will actually do in order to drive business and bring in more patients. Determining the strategic initiatives is the heart of creating a hospital marketing plan and where value is created.
Tactics: The tactics section of a great hospital marketing plan provides the details. This section lays out in detail what will happen to each of the initiatives. Tactics might include advertising campaigns, PR regarding new doctors or new equipment, hospital improvements, hospital use of social & mobile media, content marketing, and so forth. There are a wide variety of advertising tools and mediums that you can use to market your services. Some services will need to be marketed using a small, targeted approach. Other services will respond better to broad marketing efforts. Throwing a lot of money at one marketing medium or one advertising campaign idea can be a costly mistake.
Keep in mind that as strong as any one tactic or medium can be, it’s the overall hospital marketing plan and strategy that is going to build your hospital brand and give you the competitive edge. Al Ries, chairman of Ries & Ries, effectively made this point in an article in Ad Age. He emphasized, “…what wins wars are better strategies.”
Plan your hospital marketing carefully, preferably with the guidance of experienced professionals who are skilled in the various 21st Century multi-channel hospital marketing tactics, in addition to being expert hospital marketers.
These pros know the ins and outs and understand what actions must be taken immediately and in the future. They understand that much of the new marketing is a marathon and not a sprint. They can steer you toward the tactics that are proven to work—and help you steer clear of “spaghetti marketing” that leaves you feeling less than rewarded for the time and money you’ve spent and your efforts.
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