By John Marzano
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, understood as a child, I thought like a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things.” – Corinthians 13:11-12
A large health system in the Northeast U.S. recently announced a massive healthcare spend to expand and build more facilities in rival territory. They then backed down to public opinion and challenge from the competition.
In Northeast Pennsylvania, a community of less than 30,000 residents gets three major health facilities, two of which are functioning hospitals. Convenience or overkill?
In Central Florida, an area already blessed with two prominent children’s hospitals, was forced to absorb a third all in the name of big community influencers, egos and brands duking it out.
It’s time to come clean on whether these decisions are about the patient experience, or just simply rivals looking to get bigger, gain leverage with payers, corner market share, and secure financial margin.
Healthcare industry futurists believe when the dust settles on a long-overdue transformation, less than two dozen healthcare systems will remain all connected in some way by technology, financing, and EHR portability. So, bigger may be more about survival.
The buzzwords today are consumer centric and consumerism with the ability to appeal to specific, personalized healthcare needs. The problem is, no one wants to buy this product unless it’s absolutely necessary or located close by. And it really doesn’t matter how great or big you are if consumers don’t want to spend any time hooked into a hospital bed away from home.
Convenience vs. Rival Obsession (RO)
The convenience appeal – which is mostly about a seamless patient journey experience – needs to shift to a variety of well thought out options, telemedicine, in-home care, and other seamless access grounded in primary care with a focus on chronic health issues.
If six out of ten adults in the U.S. suffer from at least one chronic disease, the one way to reduce cost and expense in care delivery is to prevent that chronic issue from becoming catastrophic.
So, in a convenience and efficiency scenario, how does rival obsession in healthcare make any sense?
Simply put, obsession is a ‘persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often-unreasonable idea or feeling.’ When you mix rivalry into the obsession, it becomes a witch’s brew for each side to exceed the other with unrealistic claims and expectations.
Even though we’ve seen RO historically in a lot with big-name brands – Coke/Pepsi, McDonald’s/Burger King, Amazon/Walmart – in healthcare, RO is deadly. A one-upmanship of marketing tactics that unabashedly puts the focus on the rivals instead of what’s most important about the brand – the efficient, seamless delivery of care to patients at a moment’s need.
RO Plays Poorly While the Customer Suffers
I’ve seen RO in so many ways over the years. It’s not productive by any stretch. Here’s a sample:
- Daily ‘gotcha’ meetings. Unhealthy compulsion to upset the competition. Does it make YOUR product better?
- Print advertising placement – who of the rivals has the best friend in the pub’s advertising dept?
- Billboard locations – paying higher fees to lock into your rival’s front yard.
- Counterattack a rival’s marketingcampaign with a one-up similar campaign. Is part of the plan to spend foolishly without a valid return?
- Building healthcare services literally right next door to your competitor. In the age of growing virtual care options, is all that brick ‘n mortar duplication necessary?
- Certain event sponsorships – upping giving levels to put your brand on top. Event organizers love that one.
- Perceived unfair media coverage. Who wants that convo with site or news editors?
- Bidding SEO, SEM, Google ad words to get ‘above’ your rival in search.
So, where is the customer in all this? Where is the necessary information and focus to help consumers make informed decisions, manage their health needs, etc.?
Truth is, RO takes an organization off its game. It’s unfocused, only appeals to about 20-30 people on each side, and wasteful. If rivals are playing, RO becomes self-defeating and a no-win for either org. The customer is smart, sees it all, too, while waiting for the right message to help them.
If no one steps up to champion a change in this conversation, then the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) must. It’s time to ask the right questions and act on the right answers for the future.
The CMO Mandate
So, what’s the best recourse to eliminate RO and win back the customer? The simple rules are:
- Be your org’s influential leader. A voice of reason.
- Develop a solid business plan around your brand ‘why.’
- Know thy customer, their demands, their needs. Deliver.
- Stick with your plan; use data insights to guide and target; optimize.
- YOUR message is all you CAN control. Always be factual.
- Monitor competition only. Ignore all except untruths.
- Blast untruths with a ‘liar, liar, pants on fire’ challenge.
- Avoid excessive, emotional rival counterattacks. No nukes.
- Be your org’s rational and focused voice of customer…always.
Instead of building more walls, the healthcare industry needs to build a mosaic of connectivity among resources that are cost effective, accessible, portable, transparent, and personal. Consumers demand it. As the CMO, as an organization, are you ready?