ACVP: Economic recession ups the ante on marketing CV services
ORLANDO, Fla.—During the Great Depression of the 1930s, companies that maintained or initiated an aggressive marketing plan prospered over those who did not. Hospitals and physician practices should take this lesson to heart in today's challenging economic times, according to Phyllis B. Marino, who spoke last week at the Alliance of Cardiovascular Professionals (ACVP) meeting.

Marino, a partner with the healthcare marketing firm Brand=Experience, presented several examples of successful marketing during the Great Depression:
  • C.W. Post cut their advertising expenses but Kellogg did not and became the nation's No. 1 cereal brand.
  • Ford Motor Company led the automobile pack prior to the depression, but the company slashed its advertising budget during the slow down, giving Chevrolet the opportunity to gain significant market share.
  • Proctor & Gamble, conversely, did not lower its advertising expenses during those rough years. Instead, the company developed story lines to brand them as a soap company and continued to grow through otherwise lean years.

In addition, several large companies got their start during economically challenging times, Marino said. General Electric was started during the panic of 1873. Walt Disney started his company during the recession of 1923-1924. Hewlet Packard began during the Great Depression and Microsoft first saw the light of day during the recession of 1975.

"In these times, when organizations struggle to keep volumes up, cardiovascular services should continue to be a priority for hospitals," she said. "Make your case with data. CEOs should be aware of the contribution your center is making to the organization and then elicit financial and marketing help."

Marino, who worked for many years in hospital marketing departments, said that hospitals often dole out similar marketing budgets to all departments. In one particular hospital, she knew that the heart center was more of a revenue producer than most other departments. To gain more marketing dollars, she developed a weighted matrix to demonstrate the disproportionate share of money allocated to the heart center relative to its profits. The matrix included operating margins, contribution margins, competitive status, rankings and the number of physicians. "This model showed that the heart center was the dominant department and crystallized it in everyone's view," she said.

The marketing plan has to include everyone. Start by creating a marketing task force that includes physicians, nurses and staff from all areas that cardiovascular services impact. Even where there are turf issues, include physicians from different specialties. "It will help heal turf wounds," she said, "and it will help make your marketing plan more successful."

One of the first things to do is analyze the market using as much data as possible such as volumes--locally, regionally and nationally--and market share trends. At one hospital, Marino showed the clinicians the market share data and they were shocked that other facilities were taking business away from them. "Without those data, they never would have believed it," she said.

A geographic analysis can provide useful insight. At one hospital, for example, cardiac surgery procedures were down, but they were up in some outlying areas. These data suggested that patients could potentially be persuaded through a marketing/branding campaign to switch hospitals.

The three most important customers for cardiovascular service lines are internal physicians, referring physicians and patients. Understanding and monitoring customer satisfaction is key to growing business. A marketing plan should include focus groups with these customers to determine how and if you are meeting their needs and how the competition might be better meeting their needs.

"For internal physicians, you want to be the best place they can practice. Measure it, listen to how they rate you," she said. Referring physicians want ease of referral. At one hospital, patient transfers from other hospitals were haphazard, often ending with physicians being called in the middle of the night with no idea of the managed care contract. The hospital set up a one-stop shop for referring physicians, manned by nurses 24/7, who stayed connected with referring physicians until the admitting doctor was on the phone. "It's one phone number to call, very easy," Marino said, "and very effective regarding customer satisfaction."

One hospital where Marino worked knew their outcomes on cardiac procedures were better than everyone else's, so they decided to make them public. These data are published online and in print and the book gets mailed to physicians around the country. "It's a strong marketing tool," she said.

Regarding promotional outlets, there are usually standard organizational-wide communication vehicles such as newsletters, on-hold messages, bill stuffers, annual reports and a website. Cardiovascular services should have a presence in every one of these efforts and should work with the PR staff to make that happen, Marino said.

Other vehicles for branding, promotion or growth include community screenings ("vascular screenings are hot right now"), targeting particular segments of the population such as women, and conducting family history/genetic screenings for family members of patients.