Tips for Health Care Marketing

Marketing in the health care realm warrants the same fundamentals required in any industry. In fact, there is an even better opportunity to create a strong brand in the health care segment because you can provide both functional benefits and an emotional attachment. Many patients and customers are relying on your product to make it through the daily grind. In many cases, your product is not just something they hire for the day, but a companion to make life easier.

There are certain factors that if identified, developed, and executed, will result in a strong brand in the mind of consumers. The following list describes the steps for creating, building, and tracking brands for optimal brand marketing in the health care industry.

1. Identify Your Target Market

Who is your company trying to target? And more importantly, what types of people will be interested in your proposition?

It is essential for companies to identify whom they are speaking to through their marketing efforts. Whether it is men or women, young or old, physician or patient, or simply a group with a specific need, a brand must be communicated in a way that the market will understand and connect with. You need to understand who your decision makers are, as well as your influencers; and these two groups may be the same audience. Defining the target customer group can be defined as the most likely prospects who have a similar set of needs and concerns that the product or service can satisfy. Finding your most likely prospects involves deciding what is the most important constituency to the successful creation of brand loyalty; and second, it requires identifying who is the most likely to purchase, use, or recommend the brand. This is the first and probably most necessary step in marketing, the foundation from which you will build a powerful brand that resonates with your target market.

2. Understand the Needs and Desires of the Target Market

With your audience defined, the next step is to determine the drivers that spur your target customers to action. Consider Vencor, a national long-term health care provider. Vencor retained Ashton Brand Group to conduct focus groups with adult children to determine the key factors that influence the selection of a health care facility for a loved one. Clear drivers emerged during this research?however the insight that resonated most was captured best by a woman who declared, "I just want my family member to be treated as if I were caring for them myself." With this insight, Ashton Brand Group developed a new name, Kindred Healthcare, and message. The word "kindred," defined as "having a similar or related origin, nature or character" helped to position the company as a caring, understanding, yet consistent care facility.

3. Identify and Understand Your Competitors

The way to brand survival and success is differentiating your product or service from your competitors. Uncovering competitive information can be achieved through formal market research, secondary research, and internal employee research (with those closest to your competitors and customers, such as sales and customer service personnel). At this stage, questions must be addressed such as: Who are our competitors? What do they offer? How do customers perceive them? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Where are gaps of opportunity? Answering these types of questions in relation to your competition will allow you to begin to think strategically about the positioning of your brand.

4. Identify Strategic Options

Once you understand who your target market is, what they need and require, and who the competition is, your brand's strategic options will begin to emerge. Keeping the company culture, values, and mission in mind, the various strategic options for the future of the brand should be mapped and considered. It is imperative at this point to identify strategic options that are:

  • Differentiated from the competition
  • Sustainable over time
  • Attainable for your organization
  • Relevant to your target audiences
  • Many companies fail at this stage, because they want to be something that they are not. If your culture and existing brand image is a conservative and deliberate company for instance, then selling your brand as an innovative trendsetter is not likely to resonate. Use your corporate and product strengths and areas of opportunity to carve out the best strategic solution for your organization or product.

    5. Create Your Message (Positioning)

    A brand's position is the way in which the company wants the consumer to think about the product, service, or the company itself. It should be a simple and concise statement that provides a blueprint for the marketing and development of a brand. Positioning statements usually include six elements: customer need, target customer group, competitive framework, benefit, reasons why, and brand character.

    Ashton Brand Group developed the name Remicade, a leading drug for Crohn's Disease by Centocor. This name needed to speak to physicians and medical professionals, but also had to be memorable for patients. Both groups were considered during the creation of this name. Prospective patients found the name to be easy to pronounce and memorable, while doctors understood that the name communicated the drug's key method of action (A remedy to Crohn's disease through the barricade it creates).

    6. Communicate Your Strategy

    There are a variety of ways a company can communicate their strategy. Decide what channels would most accurately reach the target and utilize those channels. Whether it is online, in print, through advertising, or through public relations, different market segments are often reached through different channels: physicians will likely be reached through different mediums and publications than consumers. Furthermore, messages sent to physicians will vary slightly from those sent to consumers: physicians may respond to words like "effective" and "quality," while consumers may prefer safe and caring. Mapping and planning your messages will help keep you, and your brand, on track.

    7. Consistently Support Your Message

    There are two fundamentals of branding that will help in brand development: Keep it simple and be consistent. A simple message allows for easier communication and better understanding. Moreover, a simple message is more memorable to the target market. Consistency is the key to communicating a solid brand internally and externally. This means that everyone who touches the brand?from the brand manager to senior management to the employees?should all be communicating the same message about the brand. Repetition and consistency yields solidarity.

    8. Product/Service Delivery and Support

    A brand is the center of your relationship with your customers. Beyond marketing and advertising, it is your customers' direct experience with your brand that deeply embeds associations and meanings your target aligns with your brand. Relationships with brands are not much different than relationships with people; how well can you really know someone until you look them in the eyes and shake their hand? Every interaction with a customer or potential customer should consistently deliver your brand message, whether through a customer service representative on the phone, a visit to the corporate lobby, or the use of your company's products.

    9. Measuring and Tracking the Brand

    Conducting market research is an important factor in the success of your brand. Market research comes in various forms?primary and secondary; qualitative and quantitative?but how that information is used is just as important as how it's collected. One of the most frequent pitfalls in market research is the failure to utilize the information. The cause of this malaise comes from many different sources, from misguided research consultants to overloaded marketing professionals. Sometimes, conducting the research is enough to feel productive. Once it is collected, however, the challenge is what to make of it all. Ultimately, good market research should tell you how your brand fits in the minds of your target market relative to your competition. It will also tell you how effective you have been at implementing your brand messaging and positioning, and where improvements should be made. Once these insights are identified, it is again up to you to execute changes where needed to keep your brand on track.

    10. Establish Trust

    Like every industry, the health care segment is becoming more and more crowded. Whether you are marketing a pharmaceutical, a medical product or health care service, building a strong brand is the most effective way to rise above the clutter and build the trust that results in brand loyalty. Once you have the market's trust, you will find yourself on the fast track to brand success. Remember, Rome was not built in a day, and neither is a brand. It takes careful planning, flawless execution and time to be successful.

    This article originally appeared in the November 2003 issue of HME Business.

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