Healthcare and healthcare services in the United States are highly regulated, complex, and poorly understood. This is a terrible starting point for marketing as each of these preconditions hamper marketing effectiveness. This does not doom healthcare marketing to a state of perpetual mediocrity. Formal constraints are a boon to genuine creativity. Regulation is nothing if not a formal constraint.
Finding the story that bypasses complexity
It’s not regulation, but rather complexity that is the real and present danger to effective healthcare marketing. Complexity lurks within the insider’ understanding of the organization and its services, distracting target patients and members away from a message that will actually resonate with them. Marketing is least effective when it is asked to teach or when it uses language that is unfamiliar.
The needs of the beneficiary expressed in the voice of the beneficiary is the golden rule, but that is so easily retracted by the demands of insiders with authority. In marketing, there is only one authority when it comes to the needs to be addressed or the language that will effectively communicate, and that is the customer. At its core, this is all marketing is: customer understanding applied.
Use your marketing resources first to understand the customer/patient/beneficiary, then tell a story that has meaning and relevance to them. Deliver that story in a context that makes sense and is likely to be timed with the moment of recognized need. It’s easy to describe, quite hard to effectively execute.
A good option at the right time
Healthcare, like old age, is not something that people want to think about until they are thrown into a situation that demands action. In this moment of need, a decision is sometimes made for them, but other times it is an active choice. At this moment, there is a great advantage to brands that are familiar. Familiarity begets positivity, and positivity drives preference and choice, when choices are possible. So healthcare brands benefit from awareness but suffer from disinterest in the absence of immediate need. This is the great paradox of healthcare marketing. As a consumer, I will filter out all healthcare messaging as irrelevant to me because of my natural optimism bias and because I do not want to think about the possibility of one day needing those services, but in my moment of need, I will want to opt for something familiar.
Healthcare marketing operates in two divergent situations
Firstly, it must address the disinterested and insert itself into their consciousness. This is an extremely difficult proposition, as it requires that the audience push past the instinctive and automatic exclusion of all irrelevant messages from conscious awareness. It is difficult but not impossible to bypass this filter that makes irrelevant all marketing that does not directly address what I believe I need at this very moment.
Secondly, healthcare marketing must perform in terms of availability in the time of need, which is often an extremely thin sliver of opportunity. Neither of these conditions is terribly efficient in marketing terms. The first is fighting human nature and the second is a kind of needle-in-a-haystack situation, but to the extent we understand the task, we can be as efficient as possible with the marketing resources available.