Top 5 Marketing Strategies to Conquer Competition

“We’re experiencing a radiology marketing arms race,” laments Princeton (N.J.) Radiology Associates Chief Operating Officer Marc Rothenberg, MS. This arms race—characterized by escalating marketing budgets, expanding media options, greater emphasis on data and dwindling returns on imaging—is being waged in nearly every corner of the U.S. Winning the battle by maintaining or growing market share is a tall order. Though there is no guaranteed formula for success, five strategies can help practices stay atop the competition.

1. Don’t go it alone

Rothenberg’s three-decade career as an imaging administrator has criss-crossed multiple U.S. markets. Princeton Radiology marks his first foray into a partnership with a marketing firm. Similarly, 52-bed Witham Memorial Hospital in suburban Indiana, turned to a marketing firm to help beat back competition from all sides. The suburban hospital’s foes includes large, one-stop hospital systems; low-cost imaging centers; an expanding multi-specialty physician practice and insurers, which have attempted to re-direct patients to other providers. 

A marketing firm can help refine traditional techniques and offer expertise in new areas. Although traditional tactics such as sending field representatives to visit referring physicians no longer suffice to maintain market share, these methods can’t be overlooked. Princeton Radiology’s marketing firm introduced it to customer-relationship management (CRM) software, which has translated into more effective prospecting for new physicians and more informed pre-call planning to referrers' offices by streamlining tracking and management.

Witham’s firm helped the small hospital stretch its commercial budget and suggested animation paired with voice-overs for physicians in its television commercials. The approach cut through the clutter and cookie-cutter style of competing Indianapolis hospitals, says Tammy Rabe, director of marketing and communications at Witham.

2. Think big

In 2009, Witham launched a three-part marketing campaign focused on the tagline Small Hospital, Big Medicine. Although the big medicine component of the campaign leaned heavily on radiology infrastructure, such as a 256-slice CT system, high-field open MRI and state-of-the-art cath lab, radiologists were markedly absent from the campaign.

Instead, the campaign highlighted the top four users of imaging services—the emergency department, primary care, orthopedics and obstetrics/gynecology. “By elevating those services and growing their businesses, we saw a 6 percent downstream growth in radiology services,” says Rabe.

Jason Scott, director of imaging services and cardiac diagnostics at Witham, recommends radiologists remain engaged in these enterprise campaigns and communicate the role of imaging to their colleagues.

At the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston, Philip Costello, MD, chair of radiology, embraces marketing duties 24x7. Nearly four years ago, he accepted the position of president of the physician practice plan and has parlayed the position into a public relations platform. “It’s a unique opportunity to network with surgeons and specialists and raise the profile of radiologists.”

In addition to sharing details about the benefits and costs of various imaging exams, Costello has learned more about the pressures that his clinical colleagues face. The ensuing teamwork and collaborative approach to resource management should benefit the radiology department, he says.

3. Become a data mogul

One conundrum of radiology marketing 2.0 is the tremendous range of marketing avenues. Determining the most effective approaches and quantifying their effects has become the new mantra. Princeton Radiology uses its CRM system to track physician contacts and measure the results of marketing representatives’ visits.

However, the CRM is not the ultimate source of data. The practice has charged schedulers with collecting data when patients first contact the practice. When a patient calls to make an appointment, schedulers ask how the patient heard about the practice, information that can be used to estimate the impact of different marketing initiatives.

Princeton Radiology also spearheaded a data mining project to quantify the gateway effect of screening mammography. Specifically, many imaging providers characterize breast imaging as a gateway service and assume that women influence the rest of the family to use their breast imaging provider for other imaging services. The data mining project should demonstrate and calculate this effect.

MUSC cultivates the personal touch in its quest for data about pediatric imaging. In addition to training technologists and nurses to focus on patient and family comfort, the department solicits feedback the day after an imaging exam. A nurse or technologist phones the family to check in on the patient, inquire about the family’s level of satisfaction with the service and solicit feedback for improvement.

Analyzing this feedback has provided opportunities for more patient-centered imaging. For example, after the department heard about lengthy wait times for pediatric IVs and the fear factor associated with waiting in the main holding area with adult patients, Costello requested a pediatric nurse. She starts all IVs in the pediatric radiology area, a shorter process that also allows children to bypass waiting with adult patients.

While Witham hopes to deploy CRM in the next year or two, it has implemented robust manual tracking systems to manage its data. When the hospital offered CT calcium scoring in February 2011, 733 patients, including 155 new customers, underwent studies. The 155 new patients are monitored through accounting; any new revenue is linked to the calcium scoring campaign. Post-calcium score cardiology procedures for existing patients are credited to the campaign.

4. Play to patients’ power

As patients take greater responsibility for healthcare decisions, conventional physician-based marketing strategies no longer suffice to attract the patient pool. Princeton Radiology has leveraged direct-mail marketing to support patient choice.

Like some other imaging practices, Princeton Radiology has encountered insurance re-direction. The practice mailed letters to patients insured by one payer attempting to steer patients to other practices. Although there is no way to quantify the effect of the campaign, Rothenberg says anecdotal feedback indicates some patients used the letter to counteract the payer’s efforts and complete their imaging exams at Princeton Radiology.

Witham uses physicians to counteract payer re-direction. The hospital encourages ordering physicians to educate patients about why a specific imaging procedure was ordered, as well as the convenience and faster turnaround times of in-house imaging. They recommend consistent messaging about these benefits among scheduling staff as well.

Princeton Radiology is dipping its toes into the world of electronic patient communication and has started requesting patient emails for targeted marketing. Patient information will be linked to demographics and patient information in the CRM database, which can be used to promote imaging services, explains Rothenberg. For example, as the practice develops its prostate biopsy services, it can use patient emails to inform patients who have undergone prostate MR about the new offering.

Although social media is a hot trend in patient marketing, Rabe cautions against going overboard. “Too many people make the mistake of turning all their marketing dollars into social media and forget the tried-and-true strategies of print advertising. Our target market is patients older than 50 years, and they are looking for tangibles in print.” Consequently, Witham applies a mixed media approach to its marketing services.

5. Get personal

As marketing efforts have amped up, it has become more challenging for practices to determine how to target their marketing dollars. Princeton Radiology has eased back on its some of its passive community service efforts and embraced a more engaged approach.

“In the past, we would support community events [like races or art festivals] with a donation and we would place an ad in the program book or display a banner at the event,” says Rothenberg. The new approach seeks to put a face on the practice. Radiologists have been active participants at community events, handing out water bottles at road races and staffing information booths. Practice staff also volunteer at local employee health fairs, supporting these efforts by assisting with breast screening. 

MUSC has leveraged the American College of Radiology’s Face of Radiology campaign and posted its print materials in waiting rooms at all of sites. The posters offer a reminder of the role of radiologists, says Costello. However, they do not substitute for putting the words into action. “It’s more important that the radiologists introduce themselves to patients, explain that they are physicians and will protocol, interpret and convey the results of the imaging study.” HI