Healthcare Wakes Up to the Power of Marketing

A Conversation with Ben Hill, Director of Marketing, Northwestern Medicine 

A world of change

Spurred by a long and steady rise in cost, as well as extensive new policy and legislative requirements, healthcare is undergoing massive change. And these change dynamics are leading to innovation within healthcare provider systems, among physicians and administrators alike.

Consumers have choices

Fifty years ago healthcare providers never dreamt of marketing their services. Today that’s all changed, with a past and current healthcare marketing focus on managing and improving reputation, awareness and preference. However, even strong awareness and preference—such as that enjoyed by Northwestern Medicine—does not  necessarily lead to selection. For example, convenience and practicality factor heavily. Which is why new metrics must be imposed on the marketing process: healthcare must move beyond awareness and preference, to drive action in the form of patient volume.

Re-thinking marketing

Forward-looking marketers are moving beyond one-way marketing, to transform the process into a two-way dialog and exchange. While this may not be truly “transformative” or driven by “change agents,” it is a substantial departure from past practices, like buying media and “pushing out” information, to now requesting information, listening and interacting with people.

Enabling a two-way dialogue with the marketplace begins by acknowledging that the brand experience is comprised of many operational details that affect consumers as they receive services.

This is a humble moment as marketers must acknowledge that brand stewardship is much more than just marketing. Creating the desired brand experience means fixing a lot of operational and transactional components of care delivery and the overall patient experience. If those proactive steps are taken, healthcare providers can hope to more strongly and positively influence the patient’s choice at the decision time.

If marketing is to add value in such a cross-discipline, multi-departmental effort, we must understand business priorities. Marketing must learn to talk the language of business, and to understand business metrics, not just brand metrics. Businesspeople— administration and executive leadership—make decisions based on revenue, cost and profit outcomes.

Extraordinary potential

So, at the highest order, marketing is a conversation. It is a dialogue between the organization—consistent across all of its functional areas—and the marketplace, including consumers/patients, partners, community, suppliers and more. The priority: drive engagement. The metrics: revenue, cost and profit. The resulting function, and responsibility is to make marketing much more than a communications campaign. At this  level, marketing is the vision for the entire organization.