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About the public’s skepticism toward modern healthcare

By Stewart Gandolf | June 10, 2010

Here is an excerpt from a book about  public distrust in general, by Mark Lilla, The Tea Party Jacobins, New York Review of Books, May 27, 2010:

But as the libertarian spirit has spread to other areas of our lives, along with distrust of elites generally, the damage has mounted. Take health care. Less than half of us say that we have “great confidence” in the medical establishment today, and the proportion of those who have “hardly any” has doubled since the early Seventies.12 There are plenty of things wrong with the way medicine is practiced in the United States, but it does not follow from this that anybody can cure himself. Nonetheless, a growing number of us have become our own doctors and pharmacists, aided by Internet search engines that substitute for refereed medical journals, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control.

The trends are not encouraging. Because of irrational fear-mongering on the Web, the percentage of unvaccinated American children, while thankfully still low, has been rising steadily in the twenty-one states that now allow personal exemptions for unspecified “philosophical and personal reasons.” This is significant: the chance of unvaccinated children getting measles, to take just one example, is twenty-two to thirty-five times higher than that of immunized children.13 Americans currently spend over four billion dollars a year on unregulated herbal medicines, despite total ignorance about their effectiveness, correct dosage, and side effects. And of course, many dangerous medicines banned in the United States can now be purchased online from abroad, not to mention questionable medical procedures for those who can afford the airfare.14

Americans are and have always been credulous skeptics. They question the authority of priests, then talk to the dead15; they second-guess their cardiologists, then seek out quacks in the jungle. Like people in every society, they do this in moments of crisis when things seem hopeless. They also, unlike people in other societies, do it on the general principle that expertise and authority are inherently suspect.

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Savvy healthcare advertiser’s true confession

By Stewart Gandolf | May 26, 2010

Quick note – Just got an email from a client that absolutely is consistent with the spirit of my past two posts. I have taken out the specifics to keep it anonymous.

“I talked with the President of a big competitor this week and he said on behalf of his company, ‘We don’t believe in marketing.’  I was a little speechless, particularly because he couldn’t understand why our  program was so successful, while his had been a disaster.  Go figure. Anyway, I am happy he doesn’t believe.”

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Your Competitors Are Rooting for You to Stay on the Sidelines.

By Stewart Gandolf | May 7, 2010

I know competition is not a topic for polite conversation in health care, but I thought I would follow up my last blog post with a true story.

Awhile back I was contacted by the leader of a large group who was alarmed about an aggressive new competitor who had appeared on the scene.  Like many of my new clients, she and her partners had never given marketing much thought – until now.

What’s more, they had been caught flat-footed, and were still reeling from this unexpected assault on their livelihoods. Even worse, their very best referrer had defected entirely.

It turns out that their new competitor had certainly done his homework. He’d hired professional salespeople, armed them with first-class branded materials, and immediately went about building relationships with all of my new client’s most important referral sources.

Because my new client had not previously done any marketing or proactive relationship building, their referring doctors were  naturally open to “spreading referrals around a bit.”

Be forewarned. Playing catch up is really tough. If you have been ignoring your referrers, any efforts you subsequently make in response to your competitor can look insincere.

“Oh, NOW you are willing to pay attention to me after all these years.”

Fortunately in this case, while my clients had been a little lax with their relationships, they had not been rude. (Those who are rude often never recover once a smarter, better communicating competitor arrives on the scene.)

So my first step was to build a “Referral Marketing Plan” for my new client. It detailed exactly what they needed to do to turn things around, including time lines, goals, strategies and budgets.

Because they had never spent a dime on marketing, some of the partners were taken aback when I suggested they’d actually have to invest some money in order to protect their livelihoods. (Some were still in denial that their “free ride” was over.)

After endless deliberation amongst themselves, one of the partners looked at me and said, “Stewart, what do you think?”

After a dramatic pause, I told him, “If your competitor were here in the room looking over your shoulder, do you think he’d want you to take my advice and get back into the game, or would he rather see you end this meeting deadlocked and ultimately do nothing?”

The biggest detractor sat up in his seat, looked at his partners and then said, “OK, where do we sign?”

The good news: They DID turn things around, and with my suggestions even won back their most important referral source.

The bad news: They could have prevented the whole mess by taking action BEFORE they had to.

I urge you to be proactive now, rather than try to react to competitors later.

When I teach our medical marketing seminars, I always remind attendees to, “Take care of the people who take care of you.”

In fact, those who are really tight with their referring base can actually PREVENT a competitor from moving in.

So think of marketing and referral building strategies as an insurance policy.

It’s a lot better to prepare appropriately than to rely on a miracle, come-from-behind victory in the fourth quarter.

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Are Your Competitors Quietly “Cleaning Up” While You’re Not Marketing?

By Stewart Gandolf | April 30, 2010

Just before my speech at a recent association meeting, I sat down for a cellophane-wrapped turkey sandwich at one of the countless circular tables inside the enormous exhibit hall. (Been there before?)

One of the attendees at my table noted my “speaker ribbon,” and asked about my topic. When I told him “marketing,” he reached into his pocket for a business card.

With pride and more than a hint of condescension, he exclaimed, “See this card? I told the printer to make it as plain as possible, with no logo, no bold nor anything else that might seem like marketing.”

Now I have been in medical advertising and marketing for nearly twenty years, so his attitude didn’t surprise me. Quite the contrary, I have heard every reason NOT to market more times than you can imagine. For example,

Today, more than 30 years after marketing was deemed legal for professionals, the anti-marketing culture still persists at hospitals and healthcare practices nationwide.

Meanwhile, those providers that embrace marketing often quietly “clean up” due to the resulting void in the marketplace. What’s more, they typically capture an inordinate share of the most lucrative and desirable cases.

In fact, the head of one aggressive group privately confided to me that he and his partners were positively gleeful that their competitors willfully stayed out of the marketplace due to various misgivings. I should note that this particular group enjoyed over 60% market share for the lucrative cases they were targeting – while everyone else had to fight for the leftovers.

That’s not to say that the majority of providers who market are “cowboys.” Rather, it’s usually the opposite.

Most of our clients, for example, are quite conservative. They demand – as we do – that their marketing be ethical and tasteful. Many even refer to marketing as a “necessary evil.” (I promise it doesn’t hurt my feelings!)

What’s more, far from “having to beg,” they are often “best in class” in their given fields.

“So,” you might ask, “why do they market then?”

While motivations vary widely, they oftentimes want to…

Whatever the original motivation, many clients also find unexpected benefits from marketing.

Beyond the obvious patient volume and revenue growth, their quality of care and reputation often improve as a result of their marketing.

Colleagues notice their marketing and make positive comments like, “I had no idea you have such great credentials.” Patients can feel honored to be part of such a great institution. Staffs rise to the occasion to be worthy of the high expectations set by the marketing.

We see it all the time, and these things are all possible for you, too. But, you’ll never realize any marketing benefits as long as you continue to sit on the sidelines. So…

Are YOUR competitors quietly cleaning up while you’re not marketing?

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Share Great Articles on Twitter and Build Your Personal Bibliography

By Stewart Gandolf | April 30, 2010

I have stumbled into a new use for Twitter that I like a lot, so I thought I would share it with you.

I read a LOT of articles from many sources in order to stay cutting edge.

Like many people, I Tweet the good ones on my business Twitter account (@MedicalMktg).

Because Twitter keeps a history of user Tweets, I can go back to my account time and again to review articles that interest me.

I will often use those articles as fodder for articles, posts or marketing strategies for my clients.

It is like a personal bibliography (reading list) of my favorite articles.

I also review other people’s past Tweets to, 1) find more great articles, and 2) decide if I want to follow them.

So, assuming you use Twitter for more than just updates about your personal life, you can use it to build a powerful, archived knowledge base, without having to create a separate list somewhere, or create hundreds of bookmarks that you will never use.

Plus, Twitter lets you share your favorite things with hundreds or thousands of others at zero cost. (Pay it forward.)

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NY Times: In Health Bill, Obama Attacks Wealth Inequality

By Stewart Gandolf | March 25, 2010

I will be writing a lot about health care reform in the near future, but for now, I thought I would share a great article from the NY Times, “In Health Bill, Obama Attacks Wealth Inequality.”

Essentially, the article argues that “Beyond the health reform’s effect on the medical system, it is the centerpiece of his deliberate effort to end what historians have called the age of Reagan.”

Most people would have to admit recent decades have been a boon to the truly rich.

I concur. In fact, I actually have some pretty extensive business experience in the world of ultra high net worth estate tax planning (people worth over $100 million) – and I wasn’t surprised at all to read, “Real incomes at the 99.99th percentile have jumped more than 300 percent since 1980.”

However, I was surprised to learn that $300,000 is enough to make the 99th percentile, and at that level, real pay has doubled.

Lots of doctors and health care executives fit into that category, so I expect they may see a double whammy – health care reform now, and more aggressive tax legislation later.

Three things are for sure.

1. Health care reform was needed.

2. Many philosophical chasms remain between Democrats and Republicans on how to do that.

3. There are going to be a lot of winners and losers economically from health care reform.

What can you do to protect your own future now that we’ll be facing historic changes to the “system?”

I will be writing lots more on that in future posts.

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Should YOU have a Facebook Fan Page?

By Stewart Gandolf | March 20, 2010

Ironically, on “The Brady Bunch,” Jan’s most famous quote stems from a scene where she felt jealous that her older sister was getting all the positive attention. “Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!

These days, more than a few people are saying in exasperation, “Facebook! Facebook! Facebook!”

At the same time, lots healthcare professionals and doctors are very interested in promoting their hospital, company or practice on the popular social network.

Before I give you some ideas on HOW to market with Facebook, this week I thought I should pose about a more fundamental question, i.e., “SHOULD you promote via Facebook?”

As you may remember from some of my previous posts, while I like Facebook a lot, I don’t think everyone should “try this at home.”

I know I am running against the herd here, but really, there are some questions that you should consider before plunging in.

1. Do you have consistent, high-quality outcomes and customer service? My last couple of posts were about Mayo Clinic’s use of social media, and they obviously feel very confident about their track record. Frankly, however, not everyone should feel so confident. (There, I said it, even if no one else will.)

2. Do you have any skeletons in the closet? This week,  Nestle is grappling with a public relations debacle involving its Fan Page. Essentially, Greenpeace and other environmentalists are piling on Nestle’s Page to fight a very ugly and public war with the company over its use of palm oil, alleging that it contributes to the destruction of rain forests.

3. Do you have a marketing objective? Trust me on this, the fact that it is “free” is not an objective. Incidentally, if your objective is to achieve rapid gains in patients, look elsewhere. Even the biggest brands are having a hard time monetizing social media in the short term. If you need big results now, suck it up and spend some money on marketing strategies that can achieve trackable return-on-investment.

4. Have you considered who is going to do the work? As I said in a previous post, elves won’t post for you in the middle of the night. Someone has to do it. If you don’t have someone on staff, you’ll have to outsource it.

5. Is your company and/or personality engaging enough for others to follow? Think about it… how many of your own health care providers do YOU follow on Facebook?

6. Do you have the right kind of business? Some health care organizations and products generate wild enthusiasm (Mayo), while others (latex gloves) do not. Similarly, as you might expect, consumer-friendly specialists like OB-GYNs, veterinarians and pediatricians will generate more Facebook interest than colorectal surgeons and urologists.

7. Do you and/or your organization have the stomach for it? Can you handle the risk of someone going on your page and saying something that isn’t nice? Are you prepared?

8. Do you have the marketing basics in place first? Please, do not go headstrong into Facebook until you have a good website.

Conclusion

See, I told you I wasn’t like everyone else, blindly advising EVERYONE to do Facebook.

In spite of the potential speed bumps I have raised for you, there are a lot of benefits to consider.

Facebook can build loyalty, enhance your brand (reputation), drive traffic to your website, help with search engine optimization, give you a forum to interact with patients and the public, and more.

So if you decide to take the plunge and start a Facebook page, you’ll need to figure out how to market it.

I’ll cover that more on a post in the near future.

One more thing.

Coincidentally, my company Healthcare Success Strategies has a Facebook Fan Page.

Stop by, give your two cents on this article and become a fan if you like.

But given all that I have said above, please be gentle. :)

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Make things fun for people and they’ll do what you want more often

By Stewart Gandolf | March 16, 2010

Liked this video and related site by Volkswagen. Practical application is, making things easy for consumers is critical, but making them fun can do even better. http://www.thefuntheory.com/piano-staircase

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Mayo Clinic Interview Reveals Secrets to Social Media Success

By Stewart Gandolf | March 12, 2010

To follow up my last post, Mayo Clinic: Social Media Powerhouse, I asked Lee Aase, Manager, Syndication and Social Media for an interview. Thankfully, he graciously accepted.

Here are some of the terrific secrets that Lee was willing to share with you, my readers.

Take Little Steps and Make Big Progress Over Time

I started by asking Lee how he was able to convince Mayo’s doctors and leadership to support social media. After all, most doctors feel marketing is beneath their dignity, and institutions like Mayo tend to be especially conservative.

Lee educated Mayo’s leadership by taking many steps over a period of years. He reminded them that Mayo built its reputation largely on word-of-mouth over 100 years, and he argued that social media is simply a new way for that to happen.

Lee’s constant advocacy built support from Mayo’s leadership to the point where he received approval to launch Mayo’s Facebook Page the very first day Pages became available. (This was also partly a defensive measure to assure Mayo would own its brand name on Facebook.) I just checked, and their Page now has over 13,000 fans.

Today, Lee continually reminds his leadership that social media isn’t going to go away (whether or not Mayo participates), and Mayo now has a rare chance to seize all the new opportunities that social media presents.

Leverage Your Content

One of Mayo’s secrets to success turns out to be – surprise – great content.

Since 2000, Mayo has produced Mayo Clinic’s Medical Edge, which started as branded 90-second public service segments for North American television stations. It is a win-win arrangement, where local stations (which often do not have health reporters) get excellent news segments for their viewers, and Mayo continues to build its reputation.

Anyone familiar with news and editing would understand that it takes on average 20 minutes of interviewing to create one 90 second TV segment. Those long television interviews were later edited to produce shorter 60-second radio segments, five days a week.

When Podcasting came on the scene, Lee and his team realized that they already had mp3 files on their Web site, and that all they needed to create a Podcast was an RSS feed pointing to those files. When they listed that feed in the iTunes directory, they saw segment downloads jump from 900 per month to over 74,000 downloads per month.

Today, Mayo further leverages all of that video on its YouTube Channel.

My takeaway: If you have good content available, you are crazy not to leverage it. If you don’t have good content, you can always create it.

Video and Blogs Are Powerful Tools That Can Be Used In Nontraditional Ways

Blogs are terrific vehicles that allow businesses and organizations to publish content that wouldn’t fit elsewhere. Video can increase a blog’s effectiveness by a factor of 10.

While Mayo has several blogs, Sharing.MayoClinic.Org is the flagship. This blog puts a face on Mayo by covering both patient and employee stories.

Lee used a Flip Video Camcorder, YouTube and this blog to cleverly build national media interest in a story about Jayson Werth, whose wrist injury nearly ended his major league baseball career. After a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon correctly diagnosed and treated the injury, Werth when on to become an All-Star who played in two World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Use Social Media To Communicate With Internal Audiences

While I was writing this post, of my Linked-In readers asked how Mayo is using social media internally. I emailed Lee for input and here is his response:

“We’re very actively pursuing use of social media tools internally as well as externally. We have about 50,000 employees and students across the organization, and enabling them to collaborate more effectively and make connections is a priority. We’ve started with some internal blogs and are looking at other tools to, as you say, break down silos. The early returns have been good.”

Success Begets Success

Social media efforts can work cumulatively to build each other. This week, for example, Mayo’s Twitter account just surpassed 25,000 followers.

Lee’s Parting Recommendations

By the end of the interview, I wanted to get some advice for my readers, many of whom do not enjoy the expertise, experience nor the resources that Lee does. Here’s what he recommends:

1. You don’t have to have the same goals as a big institution like Mayo. Simply set more appropriate goals and expectations. Everyone can do something.

2. Hire experts. Lee, for example, is a smart, mid-40s media relations expert, He has years of experience in traditional media, which he was able to apply to social media when it came on the scene. He is NOT a “kid who seems to understand Facebook and all that social media stuff.”

3. Look at social media a powerful, revolutionary tool to get the word out. Lee used the analogy of cutting down trees with a chain saw versus a hand saw.

4. Claim your organization’s brand name on all important social media networks, so you don’t have problems trying to win it back. Mayo Clinic has had some issues in this area in the past, so they are very aggressive going forward.

5. Keep learning. There are tons of resources out there about social media and marketing, including Lee’s own Social Media University, Global (SMUG) and my firm’s healthcare marketing enewsletter. (You can be notified of new blog posts here via our newsletter or RSS.)

6. Don’t fall into analysis paralysis. Take some baby steps and get into the shallow end of the pool as soon as possible. The great strategic ideas will probably come after you have some experience in the social media world.

7. By the way, you can follow Lee on Twitter,

Thanks so much, Lee, for your insights.

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The Mayo Clinic: A Social Media Powerhouse

By Stewart Gandolf | March 5, 2010

Few providers worldwide enjoy the stellar reputation that Mayo Clinic has established.

What’s more, Mayo is plenty busy, and it certainly doesn’t NEED patients.

Therefore, you’d probably expect Mayo to be extremely conservative in its approach to marketing and publicity, especially with regards to high risk social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs.

Well, you’d be wrong. Wayyyyy wrong.

It turns out that Mayo Clinic has caught the social media bug in a big way.

Mayo Clinic Facebook Page

Mayo Clinic Facebook Page

First, there’s a Mayo Clinic Facebook Page with over 13,000 fans. Mayo uses this page as a venue to distribute content and it also gives patients and the public and patients a forum to talk about Mayo.

“Yikes, what if a patient or detractor says something that we don’t like – or is even untrue?”

I just scrolled through Mayo’s Facebook page and today, at least, was a very good day. Patient comments were almost universally positive. Given that this is the Mayo Clinic, I bet most days are very good days.

Next, there’s a  Mayo Clinic YouTube Channel, which is all about patient education. Its description says,”The Mayo Clinic Channel is a place to see what makes Mayo Clinic special, and to watch videos about Mayo’s latest research and treatment advances.

It contains more than 600 videos that have been viewed 1.5 million times. The content is mostly professionally produced patient education, but also includes patient testimonials.

Then there are a number of Mayo Clinic blogs and Podcasts designed for consumers, researchers and physicians.

Finally you, along with 24,000 of your closest friends, can follow the Mayo Clinic on Twitter.

So what does this all mean?

Here are some thoughts.

1. It’s gutsy. After all, Mayo Clinic’s brand is worth A LOT, and the good people at Mayo therefore have a lot to lose if things were to go wrong. But they obviously are confident in their product and reputation, and therefore are not overly concerned that consumers can post negative comments on their Facebook Page or YouTube Channel.

2. It’s realistic. It’s a free country, and patients and the public can comment about Mayo Clinic on Twitter and dozens of other social media channels whether or not Mayo participates. At least this way, Mayo has a strong voice in the conversation.

3. It’s brand building. Mayo Clinic demonstrates its commitment to being leading edge in all things it does by vigorously engaging social media.

4. It sells. I couldn’t help but notice that there is a call to action “To request an appointment…” on the top of the Facebook page.

Still, unlike many marketers I do not think social media is a requirement for EVERYONE.

My partner and I have worked with thousands of healthcare clients over the years, and I can tell you with certainty that many just don’t have the courage, culture, resources, commitment and/or consistency of outcomes to participate.

Still, the misguided arguments against marketing that I have heard ad naseum over the years like “they have to market because they aren’t good providers … or they must really NEED patients” obviously don’t apply in this case.

So if you’ve got what it takes, there are people out there who can help you embrace social media (including my  firm).

Of course, you don’t need to have the resources that Mayo Clinic enjoys, but if you are engaging in social media only because you think it is free, I highly recommend you stop and reconsider the logic in your reasoning.

Also, if you ARE dying for patients, social media is usually not your best first step. It isn’t direct enough to generate lots of patients quickly.

In any event, social media can be a wild ride, but it is often one worth taking.

At least, that’s what the Mayo Clinic seems to think.

For Part 2 of this story, click: Mayo Clinic Interview Reveals Secrets to Social Media Success


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Topics: Healthcare Marketing, Internet Marketing, Medical Marketing, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »


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