Historically, in health care the marketing strategy has been, “build it and they will come”. The rationalization has been that doing “good” was sufficient marketing. Professional marketers on the outside looking in have always felt that when it came to marketing in health care there was a high need but low demand. In today’s very competitive health care world this attitude will no longer work. Consumers have many more choices and are much more sophisticated shoppers. New competitors are on the horizon with new and better products and services and much more aggressive marketing strategies and budgets. And then there is the influence of managed care.

Marketing is the management of the relationship between the organization and the markets served. The relationship is critical to the on-going success of the organization and the satisfaction of the markets (both consumers and customers). Many healthcare and human services organizations need to be more sensitive to the marketing relationship as more options become available and as consumers and customers become better informed. So we offer this diagnostic checklist. It’s not the be-all, but it provides a way of taking the measure of your marketing health.

1. Positioning
How do you want your service to be thought of compared to your competition; higher quality, higher price, low price but good quality, warm friendly/family vs. formal/tasteful/elegant, etc? Do you know how your competition is thought of? How are you different than your competitor? Is this difference clear to the markets you serve?

2. Competition
Do you know who it is? Are you sure? Could there be a new competitor on the horizon ready to do it better than you? Do you know who it will be in the near future? Do you know your competition’s positioning, pricing, capacity, marketing and sales tactics? Are they getting the patients/customers you want? If so, why? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

3. Pricing
Does your pricing translate into “good value” for your consumers and customers or do you leave that up to your competition? Even where the provider can do nothing to set the price, consumers and customers have values expectations. Do you know what these expectations are and how your service is perceived? Does your pricing fit your market and positioning? Are you really high priced and low quality and don’t know it? Are you getting the price you want/need?

4. Services & Consumer Mix
Are you offering what the consumer or customer wants and needs? There are so many more choices today in most markets, and consumers and customers are much more sophisticated shoppers. Are your services in sync with the market you want to serve? Are you attracting the consumers and customers you want to serve or is your mix unsatisfactory, unprofitable or lopsided? Are your customers satisfied and likely to return and or speak well of you?

5. Advertising, Promotion and Public Relations
Do you know how your current consumers and customers learned about your service? If not, how can you start to collect this information? If you do know how you were “discovered” can you reach those “customers” through advertising, or would special events, direct mail or some other type of promotion be better? A marketing promotion plan is not just advertising. Some advertising may be necessary, but it will probably not get you to where you want to go. Often your consumers and customers got to you through formal and informal referral sources. Do you have this information available to work with? Think about image and awareness. Because word of mouth is so important in so many markets, think about the level of current customer satisfaction. You know the old story about how many more people will talk about a bad experience than about a good experience.

The role of advertising is to create awareness for your services and your expertise and thus to create “leads” or potential consumers interested in your services. Advertising and public relations can help you create a positive image and keep that image in the mind of the prospective customer. When need arises for your services, whoever comes to mind first is more likely to get the business. But advertising is only a small piece of the marketing puzzle.

6. Sales Process
Do you have one defined – even if it’s labeled as “outreach” or “community relations”? Hard sell with multi trial closes probably won’t be very successful. Try building trust and a relationship first. Have you hired the right sales/marketing people? Have you trained them in the sales process that will work and that you believe in and want to represent your organization? Do your sales people know how to be subtlety persuasive? This effort is your face to your market. Does the market see and experience what you want? What about managed care organizations? Do you rely on them for business? Do you know how to maximize your relationship with them?

Perhaps you don’t have a formal sales process, but have you thought about the impression your employees make on your consumers and customers? Do you create a positive first impression when a prospective consumer calls on the phone?

7. Brand
Does your market know about you? Do you understand what you stand for? Do your employees? Do your customers get the correct picture? Is your brand clearly expressed for all your markets? You can also think of your brand as your reputation. Do you know what your reputation is? Is it what you want it to be? Or, maybe you don’t have a reputation and are really invisible in the market you want to serve! Does your brand project stability and consistency?

8. Employee/Provider Satisfaction
Do you know what your employees think about the services you deliver? Your employees (all of them including providers of care) can make or break your marketing plan and sales effort. Unhappy employees will make their feelings known to your customers/patients either directly or through less than quality service. Do you know where your employees are? If you are dependent on providers for referring or bringing patients to you, do you know how they feel about your organization and the quality of services you provide? Also, good employees are scarce. Do you know what it takes to keep them? Good employees are less expensive to keep than to recruit!

9. Research
Consumers choices are changing rapidly and consumer wants/needs are changing rapidly and your competitors are changing rapidly to meet these changing consumer demands. What do you know? Are your customers satisfied and likely to return and or speak well of you? Research has shown that for every customer who complains, 20 – 30 others experience problems that you never hear about; these 20-30 dissatisfied customers will complain to an average of 18 others; and customers are 5 times more likely to switch to a competitor because of problems with service than problems with products or pricing and finally, it costs 5 times as much to attract new customers as it does to keep an existing one. It is very risky to assume that we know how our customers are thinking based on “gut feel” or home grown statistically invalid surveys. It is important to measure and analyze customer satisfaction systematically and regularly.

10. Annual Plan
Do you have an annual written marketing plan? If you don’t have a plan any road will get you there. With a written plan for the year that spells out how you intend to address the above issues, you are much more likely to carry out the plan and be successful.

Well, how does your marketing plan/strategy stack up? Need some work? Better get started. As you can see, putting together a sophisticated and complete marketing plan is a lot more than just paying attention to the “4P’s of marketing” or fancy brochures and newspaper ads. It is a whole new competitive world in health care and your competitors are not waiting for you!

Irving Stackpole is President of Stackpole & Associates, Inc. a Boston area healthcare and human services marketing consulting, research and training firm. For more information on health care marketing call 617-739-5900, Ext. 11.