The best branding agencies in health care marketing are the ones who understand the boundaries of the community being served by the physician practice, service line, or facility. This is especially true when branding a community hospital—hospital branding must consider the role the institution plays in the community aside from that of medical service provider.
As executives begin a health care branding initiative, here are three key points to consider, regarding patient expectations.
1. It’s easier to meet (and exceed) low expectations. With healthcare branding, as with almost all service branding, the short-term edge you might get by overselling your patient experience will evaporate and then some as soon as the consumer learns that you are not going to deliver on the promise. In the long run, it is better for the brand to establish expectations that you know you can consistently exceed.2. It’s easier to market high expectations. Paradoxically, it is easier to generate trial with a credible promise of a high expectation.
3. The worst case scenario makes for the best story. It is very important to fill the digital pipeline with stories of positive experiences and outcomes, because telling “horror stories” —no matter how explainable or justifiable the situation, credible the story, or anomalous the incident—is a favorite sport of social media. And the worse the story, the more legs it has. Since you can’t keep bad things from happening, or mad people from turning a story bad, you have to keep your good news rolling.
4. Once you’ve set expectations, you can never miss. People strategy is such an important piece of the health care marketing puzzle. The right people, with the right skills, and with the right motivation, in the right process, and with checks and balances will help to assure that mistakes won’t happen. At least not the mistakes that violate the unspoken covenant you create when you invite a level of expectation.
5. Sell to the test. An old public speaking tactic is always to “tell’em what you’re gonna tell’em; tell’em; and tell’em what you toll’em.” A corollary to this is the internal communication regarding patient expectations. Go so far as to over communicate in telling them what to expect. This actually makes a lot of sense, when you consider that medical people are very familiar with medical environments and procedures, but most patients are going through it for the first and only time. And it is accompanied by high emotion and anxiety. Tell them what constitutes a good experience. Show them that they are having or have just completed a positive experience. And ask them frequently how they are feeling about their experience.
6. Fix it fast. Things go wrong. The worst thing you can do is have a bad experience walk out the door without addressing it. Because once it walks out the door, it is into the culture (and social media) before you can take a breath (see point #3). So, as you are delivering services, do whatever you reasonably can to gauge the patient’s feelings about the situation.
7. Get constant feedback. Communication goes two ways. One of the biggest problems with smart people (like many in the healthcare field) in a hurry (like pretty much everyone in health care) is that one-way communication becomes a lot more efficient than two way. But aside from the clinical benefits of active listening, making sure that your patients are heard—and more than that, that they feel heard—will accrue great equity to your brand.