Observation Deck

Online, You Get What You Give

Many providers might have their online marketing and social media strategies backwards.

“Your website ain’t a field of dreams.” One of my most trusted mentors said that to me years ago. I should probably preface his quote by explaining that although my mentor’s nickname happens to be Bubba, he also happens to be one of the most distinguished media personalities in his trade over the last 50 years.

“Bubba,” aka John E. Phillips, was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame for his industry, and he was one of the first media professionals in his field to embrace the concepts of e-marketing and e-books. And most importantly, he’s absolutely right.

The biggest mistake that any HME can make is to dump a bunch of money and time into cramming all of the bells and whistles and animated GIFs that can fit into a “new and improved” web site, and then sit back expecting the e-stampede to automatically begin.

Online behavior simply doesn’t work that way, regardless of how well-known your brand is or the size of your organization.

In healthcare marketing, it’s even more important to ditch the “field of dreams” mentality because of the changing nature of our business due to reimbursement cuts. Contrary to the CMS Fraud Police’s opinion, the majority of us are here to serve a community in need – but most of us are not natural marketers.

We’re paperwork processors, documentation experts and clinically trained in health or medical topics.

That’s why your community looks to you, as a health care provider, for answers to what concerns them. You calm their fears and alleviate their pain by giving them hope and help in preserving their quality of life.

And now, more than ever before, your customers are looking for – and then at – your online resources for this type of assistance. The secret to growing your virtual healthcare audience is based on what you share, not what you sell, online.

Let’s go back to the baseball analogy for a second.

Baseball is all about the score, and all about who walks away at the end of the game as the winner. It’s not about the experience, is it? The coach might say ‘no’, because winning is how they keep their job. However, the fan – who pays to be there – more than likely says ‘yes.’ If the experience didn’t play a role in customer loyalty, no one would show up after the first game the team lost.

You Might Have It Backwards

It seems counter intuitive to suggest that a for-profit, competitive-biddingchallenged HME organization should give more than they get. Naturally, you can’t keep the doors open if you’re not making a profit. Please know I agree with you.

I am not saying you shouldn’t be “selling” online. I am saying you will capture a larger audience if you are selling an experience or a solution instead of a transaction to the people who visit your web site. This applies to cashonly medical supply sites too.

Brand experts all agree, the strongest brands stand for something. The best brands convey a meaning that holds a value. Apple, for example, has a brand identity of being leading-edge, hip, cool and fun – not just as a company, but also in terms of how their products define the person who owns them. That wasn’t an accident. Apple’s brand identity was cultivated.

What do your brand stand for? Do you know? To answer that, let’s go through the following exercise:

  • First, ask yourself, what are you cultivating for your company’s brand image?
  • Now, the first five adjectives that come to mind about your organization.
  • Okay, now look at those adjectives.
  • How many of them revolve around serving an individual’s personal health needs?

Let’s consider your answers. If your brand differentiation list is more about achieving your organization’s financial goals, or one-upping the competition, rather than serving your customer’s personal needs, you are cultivating an insular brand - one that will have a hard time being readily accepted by the masses. More importantly, your retention rate will be negatively impacted. Simply put, customers aren’t as loyal to that kind of brand as they are to one that focuses on the individual.

There are cases in the healthcare industry where inward-facing branding makes sense. For example, B2B technical service providers need to be fully focused on the benefits of their technology.

You’re probably not going to see a document-imaging system or a billing software solution sharing their softer side through their marketing efforts. But even they will focus on solving the business needs of their clients through what they offer as a solution.

However, if you don’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling about your personal healthcare provider, chances are you won’t have a strong personal tie to the organization.

So, what kind of image are you giving off about your organization through your communication channels? Remember, the web is just one of your customer touch points.

You Get What You Give, So Give More

Don’t start off by selling on social media. If your posts sound like “it’s all about you,” that will guarantee only your mother and your employees [maybe] will follow your newsfeed. Instead, open the conversation with a question or congratulate someone who is using your products to live a better, longer life. Then mix in your offers or deals of the day.

At the very least, make it absolutely clear that you care about your customers, in everything you say and do, but especially in the intentional tone and approach you take online.

Get SocialLisa Wells, president of Get Social Consulting (Tampa, Fla.; getsocialconsulting.com), connects healthcare providers with consumers who are online and in-store. A veteran of online marketing and electronic commerce, Wells has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and product management at medical device, medical supply and health technology organizations. She has advised on successful digital marketing programs and strategic marketing plans for HME providers and medical device manufacturers in the United States, Canada and Europe. Wells recently hosted “Social Media That Sells,” an HMEB panel webinar on how HME providers can better connect with their clients, which is available for replay at hme-business.com/webinars. Her books, including “Get Social: How to Use Social Media for Healthcare Marketing,” can be purchased on Amazon. Wells can be reached at lisa@getsocialconsulting.com.

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of HME Business.

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