Health care consultants weigh in on why marketing campaigns fail

Why Marketing FailsIt happens to the best of us. We plan for months, years even. Some of us invest a lot of time and energy in resources and take a big chunk of budget dollars to do it. But then the day of the big campaign launch comes. And just goes. No fireworks, no nothing.

Truth is, marketing campaigns aren’t always successful. It doesn’t matter how big of a marketing budget you have, if it doesn’t do what it is supposed to (bring in new patients or promote current patients to stay) then your organization could bite the bullet. There is a direct correlation between a successful marketing campaign and how well you brand your business. If you are asking yourself why your marketing campaign failed after all the research you did, you will want to take a look at your brand.

Here’s what a few local and national strategic consultants say about why hospital campaigns fail and what you can do to avoid another failure in the future.

Focusing on what you care about, not what the patient cares about.

“The needs of your audience should come first,” said Dan Weinbach, Executive Vice President of The Weinbach Group. “Flip through your daily newspaper and you’ll see many hospital advertisements that highlight the hospital’s rating or recently purchased surgical robot — but those may not be the qualities that attract patients,” he continues in a recent blog. “Maybe instead of putting up a billboard advertising your surgical robot, you could put up a billboard advertising same-day appointments.”

He also says to conduct market research to figure out the needs of your community, whether it’s affordability, accessibility or technology, and base your campaign on those findings.

Mike Milligan, President of Legato Marketing & Communications Inc., says not doing a creative brief that is based on actual strategy is an issue. “After the creative brief, you then should match the creative work with it,” he said. “Ask yourself: Did we specifically focus on the desired target audience? Did we ask the all important question: Why should they care?”

Goals weren’t clearly defined at the start

Not everyone is clear on the order of these terms—goals are quantified and at the top; strategies support goals; and tactics implement the strategies. However, if you don’t track the source of every new patient, you’ll never be able to determine the effectiveness of each of your various marketing tactics.

“This is a common one,” Mike said. “Remember, there are two types of goals: ones that focus on business measurements such as market share, but others are communication goals such as website hits, attendance at an event, YouTube views, etc.”

He also says it’s about relating to goals, not simply just about defining them. It’s about working upfront with your organization’s leadership to establish these goals and to agree upon them. “I’m a big proponent of research, and research to establish and measure your goals,” he adds. “Often we use research to test measurements for various service lines that assess awareness, and likelihood to use. Then we base goals on these measurements for different demographics within our primary and secondary service areas.”

Dan Weinback says many hospitals, practices and other organizations don’t have a reliable tracking system to identify the source of new patients and to measure the effectiveness of their marketing, advertising, promotion or referral efforts. “Regardless of the size of the business, the program or any of the strategic or tactical parts—if you don’t track you just don’t know what’s working,” he said. “Do you have a tracking system? Is it working? Is it reliable and accurate? It’s impossible to manage the plan or calculate your ROI without this part of the equation,”

Bad timing.

Ryan Weckerly, president and CEO of MorningStar Media Group says inappropriate timing can be a large reason for a failed campaign. “Just because you have a need for a certain type of patient to fulfill, does not mean that your audience has the same need,” Ryan said. “Seasonality does effect the medical industry and your patients make decisions based on their insurance requirements.”

Lacked sufficient measurement capabilities

Laura Barten, founder and president of Barten & Associates says marketing gets a bad rap for being a “softer” discipline and this shouldn’t be the case. “We strive to build measurables into every campaign, regardless of the tactics. With the proliferation of simple-to-use online tracking tools, this process has never been easier,” Laura said. “If you can’t demonstrate the value of your campaign, it’s difficult to justify ongoing expenditures and, over time, efficiently and effectively tailor your message and its delivery to ensure you’re getting the most value per campaign.”

“I can’t stress enough to define your results prior to implementation,” Ryan continues.  “It sounds rather simple, but this step is commonly missed in most planning processes.” So, when you are thinking of your next campaign, Ryan advises to ask yourself: “What measurements and tracking will I implement to define the success of this campaign?” How do I define those results?”

Laura Barten also says that any consultant or department that hesitates to provide some form of tangible measure probably hasn’t done the hard work of building fiscal discipline into its campaign planning process. “A strategic marketing plan should define how each campaign will be measured and what constitutes a success,” Laura said. “Not every campaign will hit the mark, but by planning head and measuring progress even an unsuccessful campaign holds value, helping you learn from mistakes and do better next time.”

Letting your doctors have too much say in it.

We aren’t sure why, but when it comes to marketing, everyone seems to have an opinion. Partners, staff, associates, spouses, patients and friends all want to give their two-cents.

We all know that almost every time, during the creation of a marketing campaign, hospital administrators and marketing staff are frequently asked to address the needs of individual physicians that may not have considered the overall strategic marketing plan. “A doctor will come to you and say, ‘I need a brochure, I need a newsletter, I need an ad,'” Dan Weinbach said. Instead, ask the physician, “Why do you need a brochure? What are you trying to accomplish? What are the issues you’re trying to address with a print ad?” Dan says you may find the physician has misconceptions about your marketing campaign. Instead of blindly meeting your physicians’ needs, ask questions that will make sure an individual physician’s advertisement is integrated with your overall message.

Trying to “push” or force the message

This seems to happen when the message is lost or too complex and most of the consultants I interviewed agreed. A simple, clear message and a nonintrusive opportunity for further dialog is always key.

Another issue is trying to say too much at once. When hospitals try to put too many messages in their marketing campaigns, they lose their impact. Your patients need to know all the positive things a product or service can provide them, but if they are bombarded with too many messages at once, it can have the opposite effect of driving them away. The message gets lost. The best way to avoid sending mixed messages in a marketing campaign is to narrow the focus and stick with one main message.

“They say too many cooks spoil the broth for a reason,” Laura Barten adds. “Multiple studies have demonstrated that creativity doesn’t thrive in a team environment.” According to a recent New York Times article, a sort of “group think” emerges. This is deathly to campaigns that rely on creativity.

“By diluting the original message you risk losing the message’s efficacy entirely,” Laura said. “Of course, this isn’t to say that teams or group brainstorming are bad per se, of course not. Instead, it’s critical that the marketing professional leading a creative team is strong enough to hold the line when group input threatens the core creative concept.”

Lori Bruss, executive vice president of The Roberts Group says a successful marketing campaign takes work, requires time, money and effort. Here is a list of questions Lori advises you should ask yourself to help plan better for the next campaign:

  1. Are you trying to market something that shouldn’t be marketed?
  2. Did you have clear goals and objectives?
  3. Did you have a clear message?
  4. Did you define your target audience correctly (and know your target customers?) and did the marketing message reach your target?
  5. Could they have perceived your marketing message wrong or misunderstood?
  6. Did you do adequate research?
  7. Could your marketing copy or design be at fault for the lack of response? Did you test it?
  8. Did you use creative that broke through the clutter?
  9. Did you use the right tactics?
  10. Did you use the right media (and technology) to the fullest?
  11. Did you put all the eggs in one basket?

Lori also says the purpose of advertising is to get noticed and draw attention. “You need to be interesting and take an educated risk. Boring and uninteresting marketing is just that,” she said. “Take a step back and look at your campaign from the eyes of the audience. Answer the questions and see where you went off track.”

What would you add? Please share below and join the conversation!

Feel free to connect with me on my Facebook page at Trish Skram “PR Gal” or on LinkedIn.

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