Brand Strategy

Service Line Marketing: A Brand Building Opportunity

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Shelley DauSchmidt

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When my colleague Chris Reinders recently had an article published on Becker’s Hospital Review called “Brand still matters in healthcare marketing” it got me thinking about the role of the healthcare brand in service-line advertising.

For many of the health systems we’ve worked with, service line advertising is the bread and butter of patient-driving activity. Some systems end up doing more service line advertising than overall brand advertising.

So, when it comes to driving patients to visit your cardiologists or orthopedists or even your oncologists what role does overall brand messaging play?

If you know Lindsay, Stone & Briggs at all, it shouldn’t surprise you to hear that we believe brand messaging is critical regardless of whether you are advertising the whole system, a specialty service line or even a new product like virtual visits.

Every touchpoint that the consumer has with your health system should be consistent and be viewed as an opportunity to reinforce the brand.

That said, there are other nuances about service line marketing that you also need to keep in mind. Let’s use oncology as an example. It’s a specialty service that is fraught with a wide range of emotions including fear and despair. So, before we go any further, can we agree that maybe smiling docs in lab coats are not what a cancer patient needs to see in an ad?

We already know that your healthcare organization is going to provide precise, top-notch care. Let’s put these same principles into your marketing efforts.

Put yourself in their shoes

Nothing says, “we understand” quite like telling someone exactly what they need to hear, exactly when they need to hear it.

While patients may not have paid a lot of attention to your oncology advertising prior to diagnosis, we know that they do pay attention once they, or a loved one, are diagnosed. A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology showed that 86 percent of oncology patients were aware of direct-to-consumer campaigns, advertising products or services related to their cancer type.

Providing people with information they need, over a channel that will reach them, is imperative to communicating that you understand your patient’s journey. Out of all the capabilities a health system offers, cancer care is different. It’s not a quick check-up, or a rush to the operating room. After receiving their diagnosis, patients may choose to do some research, engage in lots of discussion and maybe get a second opinion. Make sure you can intercept them with your message during their moments of receptivity.

To create effective messaging, your brand needs to focus on the most beneficial services it can provide to your patients and set goals that align with these services. Starting with a well-defined goal that keeps your patients in mind will help your brand avoid many mistakes within the healthcare marketing category.

What do they need to know?

Why are you choosing to advertise oncology? Considering your motivations for an advertising campaign is the first step to defining a measurable outcome that your brand can achieve. After all, over-promising and under-delivering on service-line capabilities can send a message about your larger brand too.

While it’s important to take advantage of predictive modeling data to determine future malady needs, you also need to consider your brand’s internal structure and the care you’ll be capable of providing not only in the short-term, but over the next few years. Do you have the capacity to grow patient volumes? Or perhaps your integrated delivery network has already established your patient pool and you’re looking to grow preference and increase your net promoter score?

Knowing your organization’s service-line capabilities can shape your goals and messages in a meaningful way to differentiate you in a way that makes sense for your larger brand and your patients.

How will they hear you?

Once you’ve aligned your service line capacity for growth with defined goals your larger brand can attain, you can start crafting messages that your audience is receptive to hearing. Like we said before, show understanding by saying exactly what they need to hear, exactly when they need to hear it.

There are a few common themes that work well together. Screening and prevention works with educational messages. Treatment pairs well with hope and preference campaigns are benefited by empowerment. Understanding these current trends is important, but it’s imperative not to fall into category conventions or bland messages.

If you’re looking to increase cancer screenings as a part of your oncology specialty services, education is one way to ensure your patients are aware of all preventative care options. Teaching your patients about screenings and healthy lifestyles may sound simple, but there are ways you can do this that go beyond a brochure. The examples below may not be from health care providers, but they provide inspiration for ways to think beyond the traditional.

This campaign is an example of just that. At a Costa Rican farmer’s market, Fischel Drug Stores set up installations of fresh fruits and vegetables shaped like organs. In each piece, there was an area of rotten, moldy fruit that illustrated a simple message of how quickly cancer can spread if it’s not caught early.

Havas Chicago did something similar last October. To raise awareness for breast cancer awareness month, they set up a room filled with giant balloons painted to look like breasts. It got the attention of passersby and invited them to learn more about self-breast exams and encouraged them to talk to others about it online by using #CheckYoSelf hashtag.

By breaking from category convention and presenting simple and unique illustrations, these campaigns caught the attention of the general public, but went further – by continuing the #CheckYoSelf conversation on social media, and serving the farmers market video through targeted digital tactics – these messages were able to reach the audiences who needed to see them most.

In order to succeed, you need to stand out.

What makes these two campaigns great is that they went beyond traditional photos of smiling doctors to speak to people in a way they could understand, so they could start listening. Said another way, they broke category convention to captivate an audience.

Think of it this way: The more effective your messaging, the more lives you can save. No matter how large your brand is, or how advanced your capabilities are, people won’t see ailments until they’re faced by them. Thoughtfully choosing the specialty care areas your brand can sustain and marketing them in a way that reinforces larger brand values can help show people what care could add to their lives.

Whether you’re looking to market your prevention, testing or treatment capabilities, gain new patients or reinforce the confidence of your current patient pool, your brand will have the potential to reach the most patients when your specialty care and your larger brand messages and goals align. After that, these larger common goals will start informing more meaningful creative.

Let’s face it. Cancer is scary. Receiving that diagnosis forces a person and their family to have many questions and experience many emotions and fears. Connecting with patients when they’re ready to hear you enables your brand to be successful in the goal that matters most – helping them live their best life.

Shelley DauSchmidt

Can name all 50 states in under 30 seconds.

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