They say you get out of things only what you put into them. For healthcare marketing executives, think of it this way: You get real results out of your marketing efforts only when you fill them with strategy built to boost short- and long-term profitability, brand durability, and competitive advantage. In this article, we will examine the essential reasons to energize both internal and external efforts, including executive interviews; a marketing audit; analysis of competitive advertising and positioning; objective assessment of business goals; competitive service offerings; financial, clinical, and operational evaluations; managed care and payer mix contracts; transfer agreements; out-migration statistics; and referral patterns. What is the benefit to you, your organization and your stakeholders? Why do they matter? And worse, what may happen if you don’t do them.
Merely because a tactical marketing plan is strategic (meaning it includes creative, media, and digital strategies) does not make it a strategic marketing plan. A strategic marketing plan outlines what should be marketed to direct the greatest return. It clarifies and drives alignment on the objectives of the marketing effort and the priority of those objectives, outlines how to achieve those objectives, and how to track results. A tactical plan outlines what creative strategy is best to achieve the defined goals, what specific media channels to use (which TV and radio channels, newspapers, out-of-home venders to use), etc.
Health systems should identify what service lines have capacity, service differentiation, enough physician loyalty to build on, and future market opportunity to drive positive financials. This is accomplished through fact-based strategic marketing plans. It all begins with information. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes state in his book The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
A structured system for compiling and reporting internal and external data was necessary. Using nonlinear methods such as sophisticated modeling; scenario studies; financial analytics; operational, primary and secondary research; and knowledge management systems will keep the strategic planning efforts focused and knowledge-based. Information is imperative. A six sigma approach called DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control) is a recommended. This process will align the overall strategic communications vision, clearly identify (and agree on) what defines “success”, focus and prioritize system-wide business goals, clarify service line goals, create a fact-based decision process to minimize the impact of internal politics, and to build traction. Without this high-level agreement, the risk of spinning your wheels and wasting resources is very high.
It is necessary to take the politics out of the decision process, so other six sigma tools such as KJ Analysis, Affinity Diagrams, and a QFD are important. The KJ Analysis or Affinity Diagrams are used to help sort and categorize a large number of ideas, information or facts into major themes or categories and the QFD (Quality Function Deployment) is a tool to help translate vague or defined stakeholder inputs into key business or marketing deliverables.
As strategic marketers, we need to define the problems we are attempting to fix before we can determine how to fix them. There must be clarity around what success looks like and how we will measure whether or not we’ve achieved it. Responding to a clinical chief or CEO dictating that an advertising campaign must be created for a service line may solve the problem of satisfying their request, but not the underlying issues which drove them to make the request in the first place.
Six sigma uses terms out of statistics such as “Y is a function of X.” The Y’s are the goals. The X’s are the tactics – the tools in your tool box, and the controllable elements which contribute to whatever result we are getting. So I ask, what is the “Big Y”? This is the single most important goal the strategy is attempting to achieve. Next, what are the “Little Ys”? These are the individual goals which need to be achieved in order to attain the Big Y goal. These are often referred to as Critical Success Factors (CSFs).
Goals should be very specific. It is not enough to say we need to raise awareness, grow patient volume or increase revenues. Goals must be identified by precise percentage, volume, or financial increases (or decreases in some cases). It’s also impossible to directly control the response you will get from marketing efforts. Part of this effort is to decide on what things you can control, the X’s, and how they relate to achieving the result you want, the Y’s.
Once goals have been defined, the next step is to gather all the data required to support analysis and inform solutions. What data do we have already? What data do we need? What data can we reasonably generate or obtain? With what level of certainty do we want to have an answer?
External data many include primary research with consumers, physicians, and employees, as well as a GAP analysis. Competitive research on awareness, image, preference, and last visit share are important factors. This research may be broken down by health system overall, individual hospital, service line, and decision attributes.
Other Competitive research includes conducting an analysis of clinical service line offerings, technology, financials, market share, positioning & messaging strategy, creative style, and share of voice. Internal data can be gleaned through conducting a marketing audit, market growth analysis by clinical category, access and capacity analysis, financial analysis and payer mix assessment.
Also, most marketers don’t think about campaign measurement until after the campaign is getting ready to launch. There are two key benefits to upfront measurement. In the measurement phase, outline what needs to be measured and how you need to measure it up front. This will align focus within the analysis and improve phases.
This is also when it’s good to separate the quantitative and qualitative elements of the data and how that will influence judgments of success. Ultimately, our problem should have been distilled into something which allows us to measure success, but that still may be a qualitative target. If the solution involves qualitative data or assessments, you want to ensure you establish how you will compile the data to make it more manageable and avoid significant amounts of disagreement on its meaning.
During the Analyze phase, we figure out what all of our data is telling us. We review how the Little Y’s individual data sets affect each other – cause and effect analysis. We review how the individual data sets affect the bigger variable, the Big Y. We also confirm that the X’s above really were independent measurements. If something we thought was controllable separate from other actions is not, it may be a little Y and not an X. There are a lot of tools available to conduct the analysis. While its good to look at the data in different ways, avoid getting too caught up in the analysis. The point of this stage to draw conclusions and meaning from the data set.
One tool which is typically useful is the Priority Grid. In this tool, you compare the degree to which various service lines or options satisfy the requirements you defined or the degree to which they contribute to the desired results. When you create a Priority Grid, you can review the information across the board so patterns will be revealed. Opportunities for marketing initiatives which will have a greater ROI than others will be clearly identified. Service lines that are not ready to be marketed will also be easily identified. The strategic planning and marketing teams can work together to establish CSFs to improve those services for future marketing and profitability.
At this time, a Discovery Session should take place to share the DMAIC output up to this stage. It is important to separate sharing the data and it conclusions or meaning from sharing the final strategy. Often clinical and administration leadership are surprised by what is revealed through this process. Most people have carried assumptions for so long they have not looked at the actual data for months, even years in some cases. Let the leadership team absorb the data without judgment. Sometimes having them conduct a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) at this point to align opinion and gain buy-in from the team can be valuable.
In the improve phase the strategy is developed out of the data analysis and conclusions. All solutions should be evidence-based. The strategic marketing plan should restate the Big Y problem and the CSFs supporting the Little Y’s successes. The strategy must clearly identify exactly how the problem will be solved, the cause and effect of the Little Y’s, and why this plan works better than others (scenario study analysis). The patient pathway should be defined. The roles and responsibilities of the team accountable for implementing the solution and achieving the CSFs must be established. How much it will cost and how to track and report results must also be determined.
The improve phase also includes implementing the agreed solution and confirming it worked. For many marketing strategies, the team considers the job done once the solution has been deployed, the advertising campaign has been rolled out or the internal communications have been launched. Collecting additional data and measuring the actual success in a way that allows a marketer to see which elements of the solution provided the desired impact or not is a powerful step in the process.
If the solution did not achieve the desired result, but allowed you to learn how to get closer to it, that partial success needs to be built on. Having the discipline to go through this confirmation process and adjust the solution and achieve the stated goal is a challenge given the pressures and dynamic nature of the marketplace.
In the control phase, mechanisms are put in place to ensure the tactics don’t migrate off the defined solution. It is also the phase where you evaluate future changes or efforts to ensure they do not undermine the solution and create a new problem. A CSF communications plan, tracking/reporting tactics, and dashboards are implemented and monitored. This is why it’s so important to know you have achieved the goals before you move into control.
In today’s fiercely competitive healthcare marketplace, success is a function of strategy—and strategy is a function of insight, both within and beyond the boundaries of your healthcare facility. Looking outward, you must use patient insight to inform service line growth. Looking inward, you must use internal customer insight to evaluate the challenges and opportunities that define robust and carefully considered marketing investment. Creating a fact-based process for decision making will help focus the team overall and identify where the greatest opportunity for return with marketing lies for the health system.
To see a real-world example of some of the techniques and tools in action, look at the “Strategic Marketing Plans: Maximizing Results” session presented on this topic at the 2010 Consumer Based Marketing Strategies Conference, please contact email@example.com.
Originally seen in Alert! The Forum for Healthcare Strategist marketing publication.