Does your healthcare advertising make a difference?

Part one of our series on advertising in the current healthcare environment.

Should there be ads for healthcare services? Are they effective? Demeaning? Ethical? The debate has been running since the lifting of the ban on hospital advertising by the Supreme Court in 1982.

So what should you think? If you’ve done healthcare marketing, you’ve learned enough to have an opinion. If you’re just now jumping in, here are a few things to consider.

ROI will be difficult, if not impossible, to measure. Traditional media advertising rarely gives you an element to track, like phoned or mailed responses to a call to action. Most messages are announcements (of a new technology, a new wing or a new branch), awareness of a specialization (“the heart hospital”), image (a commitment to the community) and other intangibles. Even touting a unique expertise or advanced equipment can rarely take direct credit for changing minds and routing new patients through the door.

Social media, on the other hand, with its real-time, real-people dialogs, offers an effective way to gauge reach and psychographics, and to maintain more balanced relationships between institutions and their communities.

For opponents to healthcare advertising, the concerns aren’t about effectiveness, but about the possibility of misleading patients and diminishing the respect of the healthcare category as a whole. They fear that institutions will cherry pick only positive stories and outcomes, or that their efforts will be turned less toward the community’s welfare and more toward that of their shareholders. Anyone alive during the 60s and 70s will remember the difference—and it wasn’t always better.

In our experience with our own healthcare clients and through discussions with colleagues, we’ve seen very positive results from advertising.

• Any communication that shines a positive light on a hospital or practice, clinic or care facility bolsters pride inside the walls, as well as outside.

• Advertising done well lends stature to a hospital, which often leads to better success in recruiting new doctors and nurses, as well as adding quality of life to its city.

• Keeping the institution’s face community-forward helps protect its equity from eroding in the tidal wave of competing advertising.

• As consumers have more information to guide their choices of providers, those providers pay more attention to improving the status quo—and consequently, the satisfaction of their patients.

This is a broad overview to help you frame the value of healthcare advertising for yourself. If you care to look, there are many more aspects and a zillion other opinions out there. The consensus is marketing in this category is a challenge. But it’s one we never get sick of.

Watch for Part Two: Keys to Successful Advertising for a Modern Healthcare Institution

–From the braintrust @Creative Dimensions