Successful marketing of a hospital and its services is multifaceted, with numerous considerations and multiple audiences, and a lot at stake. From governments to international health insurers and private payers, hospital messaging needs to appeal to a variety of audiences, and a one-size-fits-all approach is, therefore, neither appropriate nor effective. A hospital’s visibility and reputation are essential, and an effective marketing strategy is critical to growth and success. Ultimately, patient satisfaction is paramount, and establishing a thorough understanding of patient demographics and requirements is a necessary part of hospital marketing. If a hospital is to become a market leader in the international healthcare sector, the importance of marketing cannot be understated, and this needs to be acknowledged and appropriately invested in.
“A lot of times, investment in marketing is looked at as a waste of money, when it is the exact opposite,” Claudia Schmiedhuber, Founder of Dare It Marketing Solutions, told ITIJ. “A combination of a solid and innovative marketing campaign, a tailored website with expert content and search-engine-optimised (SEO) structure, as well as clear brand positioning, will create the best environment to become a market leader in the international healthcare sector.”
Ahmed Shams, Marketing/Business Manager for the Canadian Specialist Hospital in Dubai, said marketing a hospital is ‘challenging, to say the least’. He added: “You can’t really inspire people to come to visit a hospital. However, you need to increase your patient base to do justice to all the investments you have made in your hospital, and subtly marketing your brand is the key. The use of consistent branding and communication will help you reduce your overall cost per acquisition and grow your return on investment. Enhance patient care, and make sure they remember it for a long time. Give them care and attention and they will speak for you, and don’t forget to ask for reviews and ratings.”
Dr Fatih Gul, CEO of Fakeeh Care Group in the UAE, pointed out that healthcare marketing, as in any other business, requires a clear definition from the organisation before it can be effective. “This definition will establish a distinct brand that will entice both talent and patients.”
Personalised marketing matters
Insurers and patients alike not only appreciate but require a personalised approach. Dare It Marketing Solutions is the first niche marketing company for the international travel insurance, assistance and aeromedical industry. As such, Schmiedhuber has worked with multiple international hospitals in the last few years. A separate marketing campaign and strategy for both private payers and international health insurers is needed. “Whilst some content can be used for each sector, the nature of how to address the target group differs greatly,” she told ITIJ. “For example, when addressing international health insurers, the focus should not lay on the individual service catering to one patient’s needs, but rather specify how the hospital can meet the various requirements that a health insurance client portfolio holds. Whereas, when addressing an individual or private payer in their marketing campaigns, the hospital needs to assure that the message of being the best option for his/her care and situation must be outstanding and appealing to their own demands.”
ITIJ also spoke with Lynne Fung, Executive Director of Business Development for Hong Kong’s Matilda International Hospital, who said that best practice in medical care and personalised service is important to both insurers and patients to ensure evidence-based treatment options and optimal outcomes. “To make this happen, we have built a strong team of medical professionals as well as a dedicated business service team who help establish direct billing agreements and special treatment packages with insurers,” she told ITIJ. “Experienced frontline staff offer professional assistance on patients’ insurance matters, giving patients confidence and peace of mind during the hospital stay. We strive to become a preferred medical provider, helping insurers give their clients the best seamless care whilst managing costs.”
Ilan Geva is President at Ilan Geva & Friends and Director of Healthcare Strategy & Head of US office, Vmarsh Healthcare. He emphasised that knowledge about the market and audience in question is paramount. He said that any hospital engaged in marketing to any target audience should be extremely knowledgeable about that audience and market. “International health insurers are a business group, not consumers. So all marketing communications should be in the spirit of B2B marketing,” he pointed out.
Schmiedhuber agrees that knowledge is key and this can present a challenge due to the specific nature of the healthcare market. “A successful marketing strategy requires an in-depth knowledge of the market and its cultural aspects,” she told ITIJ. “Something I encounter often is that generalised marketing agencies are creating campaigns without understanding the language of the industry nor its specifics, which then leads to very generic marketing advertisements and brochures, which are often overlooked by the target group. The healthcare market, especially when catering to international patients, remains a niche and although this is developing at a rapid pace, it currently has very few experts being able to address these challenges.”
Hospitals’ marketing methods
Looking at the ways in which hospitals can and should be marketing their services to international health insurers and private payers, in-person networking and face-to-face selling are often the most effective tools. “In some markets, the cultivation of personal relationships and with it, personal selling is the preferred method,” said Geva. “Personal selling in the B2B world was traditionally built on networking via professional organisations, conferences, educational seminars, etc.”
Fung also asserts that networking is important, alongside up-to-date communications via an assortment of routes: “Networking to make all important connections is key and the International Travel & Health Insurance Conferences (ITIC) provide an ideal platform to meet up with industry leaders globally,” she told ITIJ. “Communicating is a big part of ensuring insurers are kept up to date on our service enhancements and promotions and we do this by means of newsletters, social media platforms, website communications, face-to-face meetings, and joint events. It is equally important to connect with individual patients with regular communications, events, and service updates.”
Networking to make all important connections is key
Shams commented: “Use digital platforms wisely, everything is digital now and it’s a must to have a mobile-first (responsive) website with a highly optimised user interface and build a strong social media presence by following the community guideline.”
Digital solutions have been effective for Fakeeh Care Group, explained Dr Fatih: “We used Linkedin quite well in recruitment marketing while we were commissioning our hospital, which helped us reach a big number of job applicants. Even before we opened the page, our hospital had over 100,000 followers. This position assisted us in receiving over 20,000 applicants for only 199 available positions in our opening, allowing us to handpick the best people.”
Shereen Abu Manneh, Marketing and Business Development Manager for Specialty Hospitals in Jordan, shared her hospital’s approach towards marketing to insurers versus self-pay patients: “When we are approaching insurers; which includes international insurance companies or employers, this is B2B marketing. It’s important to understand if the other party have a criteria of selection – do they ask for specific services, any extra services to be provided for their beneficiaries? The best way to approach them is by inviting them to visit the hospital and meet in person as they get the chance to visit the site, see the latest technologies and meet with the decision makers to discuss and potentially sign an agreement.”
When targeting self-paying international patients (B2C marketing), it is important to understand the patients’ needs in each country. “Therefore,” said Abu Manneh, “each marketing campaign is segmented based on the patients’ needs at the targeted country. Furthermore, it is important to understand the preferred communication channels for each country.”
Google, in addition to Linkedin, plays an essential part in healthcare marketing nowadays. The first step is to locate the hospital on a map, which is important not only for patients but also for taxi drivers. The sooner, the better. “When we added the hospital to the map, we also concentrated on Google reviews, which are quickly becoming the most important ranking page for all consumers, including patients. Today, we maintain a 4.5 out of 5 Google review with extremely attentive follow-up and monitoring,” Abu Manneh noted. She went on to say that there is not a single patient who visits a hospital without first making a Google search regarding their health condition. “This provides a vital point of contact for patients, requiring a professional, user-friendly, informative website and ads. In order to generate visitors to our hospital, we actively monitored our SEO and adwords. Other social media platforms are also important, but concentrated digital marketing will pay off better and faster for healthcare marketing.”
Specialty Hospitals uses every channel available to it in its marketing approach: “We use all of the communication channels to reach our patients, digital including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp and the hospital website, which is continuously updated and is available in Arabic and English. This is in addition to offline marketing, such as magazines, newspapers, other printed material.”
Trust and collaboration
Fung also highlighted the importance of a solid relationship between hospitals and their insurance partners, the defining characteristics of which are trust and collaboration: “Over 80 per cent of our patients are covered by either company or individual insurance and as such, we recognise and value the relationship with our insurance partners, which leverages a high level of trust, built on a foundation of openness and collaboration,” she stated. “Most awareness building to insurers is through trade magazines and networking. When we do have the opportunity to interact there is a more rational dialogue, highlighting key performance indicators such as length of stay, incidents, infection rates, and return to theatre. Accreditations, awards, and surveys do a lot to recognise the excellent work we do. Quite rightly, cost containment is always on the table; with new medical advancements and medical inflation it is a challenge for all parties. With insurance fraud on the rise, it is essential that we are the partners they can rely on, and we overcome this with openness and collaboration. Designing new service options creates extra support for insurers, such as a dedicated service hotline and health education resources.”
Variety is the spice of life when building a brand
Schmiedhuber said that combining a variety of techniques and types of media leads to the greatest impact: “From my experience, a combination of various approaches such as expert content creation and impression building on LinkedIn, SEO-optimised website marketing and print media content provides the best outcome for any investment in marketing,” she told ITIJ. “Generally speaking, websites, print media, brochures and social media are the most commonly used medium when it comes to hospital marketing. Personally speaking, I believe that LinkedIn is the most appropriate channel when it comes to engaging with health insurance companies, whereas a web presence such as a website is the most successful tool for private payers. Another successful pathway is engaging with industry-related media by creating expert content, leadership interviews or case studies. This not only increases the brand recognition itself, but allows for posting as a market leader in the designated field of expertise and guarantees industry-related reach.”
A lot of times, investment in marketing is looked at as a waste of money, which is the exact opposite
Events that connect healthcare providers together can offer a great opportunity to network and to exchange knowledge and experience with other providers. “It is also an opportunity to highlight what we excel in and how we can cooperate with other providers and sign agreements that include services such as patient referral, second opinion, telemedicine, and training opportunities,” said Abu Manneh.
While healthcare conferences and expos certainly have their place, Geva said that the drawbacks of these are that they are usually an expensive and hardly targeted method, and that harnessing data and technology is pivotal to success. “My overall recommendation is to rely on data, use technology to find exactly who to talk to, and understand their needs before connecting with them,” he said. “Hospitals should examine the benefit points insurers are looking for, is it a speciality area (like rehabilitation) or is it a specific accreditation program? Let’s not forget that for some insurers, dealing with a leading brand is a preferred line of business. Are hospitals invested enough in brand building and ensuring their reputation is impeccable?” Geva said that a further important consideration when dealing with international clients and insurers is cultural differences: “They need to have experts in their international division who understand not only marketing, but also the variations of doing business with other nationalities and cultures.”
Shams made an interesting and valid point that employees can be powerful advocates for a company’s services: “Every employee of your hospital is your spokesperson; make the employee experience at your hospital great and get them talking good things about their hospital.”
Another important aspect of brand building could be the work the hospital does outside of the scope of treating international patients – Specialty Hospitals, for instance, periodically organises free medical weeks in less fortunate areas and in targeted countries, which results in a positive brand image.
Encountering and surmounting challenges
Fung said that a key challenge is the need for different approaches and strategies that need to be appropriately tailored. “Essentially, both insurers and individuals want the best available medical care and, as end payers, both want the reassurance that the care is affordable, and costs are transparent,” she said. “However, B2B and B2C marketing communications require different approaches, advertising mixes, and messaging. Conversations with patients and messaging via the website, social media, and traditional advertising platforms focus more on the personalised care that they will receive to ensure treatments are tailored specifically with their needs in mind and engage with them. Emotion and trust play an important part in deciding on a healthcare provider and these elements are reflected in our campaigns.” Indeed, Fung underlined the importance of sensitivity when discussing costs with patients, which comes with its own unique difficulties. “When it comes to discussing prices with patients it can be sensitive, and a challenge to medical professionals, so to overcome this we have a dedicated patient service team to ensure all patients receive a quotation prior to admission and a call to give them a chance to ask questions,” she articulated.
Emotion and trust play an important part in deciding on a healthcare provider
Schmiedhuber agrees that the main challenge for hospitals is appealing to each target market: “Each culture and market responds to different triggers, meaning a global campaign needs to address the same and also incorporate a wide range of marketing language and graphics that appeal to each individual target market. This can be solved by having different campaigns tailored to the specific market that the hospital would like to address.” For Schmiedhuber, though, the greatest challenge is standing out: “Currently, we live in a very saturated healthcare market, which makes it more difficult to actually reach the desired target group. Regardless of whether it is insurers directly or individual patients, both groups are distracted by constant advertisements and sales pitches from healthcare providers wanting their business and attention. For me, that’s where neuromarketing comes in, as it provides a huge advantage by subconsciously attracting the consumer’s attention without being too overwhelming.”
One solution does not fit all
Geva spoke of the abundance of challenges associated with the legal aspects of marketing messaging concepts: “Personally, at the top of my list of challenges are the lawyers approving or disapproving of words, ideas, images and other communications content. The legal aspect of the healthcare and healthcare insurance world today is a necessary evil, but it presents a challenge to all involved. Alongside this are privacy issues, online piracy, declining trust and overall fatigue from two years of non-stop challenges. I do not see a ‘solution’ and a single way to overcome these difficulties. The markets are different, the participants are different, culture is different, and it is impossible to find a ‘one solution fits all’ in this case. One possible way is to allow marketing professionals to deal directly with insurance professionals to find the best possible solutions to a specific given problem at a time.”
Standing out is both a challenge and a necessity and is something that can be achieved with a knowledgeable approach, effective communication and harnessing data and technology. “Hospitals need to know who they want to address and what they react to. Then, they should create a solid long-term campaign around it. And they shouldn’t shy away from standing out from the crowd by applying new and innovative marketing techniques,” Schmeidhuber said. Once audiences are known and understood, tailored marketing must be utilised with, importantly, separate marketing campaigns and strategies for private payers and international health insurers.
Ultimately, one-size-fits-all is not applicable here and without true consumer insight, tailored approaches cannot be developed. This, of course, cannot be done without recognition of the importance of marketing and substantial investment in this area. The bottom line is that success relies on this. Face-to-face marketing is considered a traditional approach that remains important, but this should be combined with digital methods; today, face-to-face means much more than traditional in-person meet ups, as it can be effectively performed online. A close and valued relationship between hospitals and their insurance partners is indispensable, and this should be built on trust, openness and collaboration.