ImageAcross the U.S., healthcare marketers are feeling the pressure to deliver greater returns on marketing investments. Changing economics are front and center, and make a compelling case for the role that marketers must play in an increasingly competitive environment.

Holding on to a narrow view of healthcare marketing as simply promotions sub-optimizes marketing performance and wastes marketing investments. Best practice performers understand marketing as a business discipline aimed at achieving revenue growth and better business performance.

Success requires a purposeful, comprehensive and integrated approach to better understand markets, develop and deliver quality healthcare services, build effective business models, and create loyal customers.

Five essential moves

Creating a marketing or growth-oriented culture may seem formidable in organizations that are operations versus market driven – and many health systems are just that. However, with increasing recognition by healthcare executives that significant change is required for success under new reform mandates, marketers play a key role in helping organizations understand competitive dynamics, discover new growth opportunities, create new lines of business, and enhance points of competitive differentiation .

Here are five essential moves to effect the change:

  1. Transform the marketing culture – David Packard (of the Hewlett-Packard’s) is credited with saying that “marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.” His point is that marketing, like HR, finance and other core business functions, is a strategy-critical competency for organizations that want to grow, thrive and succeed. This requires an organizational shift in thinking about marketing as tactical communications to a discipline that is strategic (focused on stuff that matters), cross-functional (orchestrated across the value chain), and bottom line oriented (delivers on revenue targets).
  2. Reconfigure the marketing organization – today, many (far too many) health system marketing organizations are structured strictly along functional lines (advertising, PR, events, sales, etc.) and operate primarily as communications service bureaus rather than revenue-generating strategists. Health systems must establish a vision, role and scope for marketing as a revenue-generating capability, then restructure marketing operations to support growth imperatives. Building a unified, high performance marketing operation is job one – investing in the marketing management infrastructure, elevating skills, adopting data-driven planning methods, laser-focusing marketing resources, establishing performance metrics.
  3. Acquire new competencies, capabilities and skills – Historically, healthcare marketing departments have over-invested in communications activities and under-resourced other aspects of marketing practice that drive customer acquisition and revenue growth. Today’s healthcare marketers must demonstrate expertise in market intelligence, business analytics, new product/program R & D, brand building (not just brand promotion), market and customer creation, relationship sales, social commerce, community management, cross-channel content marketing, and more. Customer relationship management (CRM), provider relationship management (PRM) and customer contact or call centers are essential marketing systems.
  4. Create a compelling case for change and bias for action – Data builds the case for focusing marketing investments on strategies that grow revenue, improve business performance, increase brand loyalty and build sustainable competitive advantage. For healthcare marketers, the strategy-critical short list includes brand building, volume building, channel management, new models of care and customer engagement that optimize profitability under reform economics, and leveraging web, social, search and mobile technologies for patient acquisition and retention.
  5. Communicate new roles, new rules, new expectations – The first step for marketers is to forge a robust partnership with administrative, clinical and business operations, and create co-ownership and co-accountability for marketing outcomes. Establish new ground rules, such as: marketing resources will be prioritized to strategic planning, business development, growth and financial performance imperatives. Or that data and analysis will inform strategic marketing thinking and planning, and provide an evidence-based approach to marketing investment. And, my favorite: time – and dollars – will be focused on fewer, more impactful activities; and tasks that do not contribute to growth and improved competitive performance will be transitioned or eliminated.

Now is the time

For health systems, growth and profitability are imperative. New reimbursement methods and emerging business models necessitate a different approach to customer acquisition, a fresh focus on customer retention, and a greater emphasis on customer engagement. And the transformation of marketing practice driven by social networking, search and mobile technologies can no longer be ignored.

Now is the time for marketers to assess the role, functions and performance of marketing departments, and move aggressively to transform marketing from promotions-oriented tactics to growth-oriented strategic leadership.  To build powerful, differentiated brands that drive growth, innovation and better business performance.  To lead organizations in mainstreaming social, search and mobile technologies that engage customers, build commerce and improve business functions.

Change can be difficult. Yet, will deliver substantial and long-lasting benefits.