Marketing and branding should always be part of your competitive strategy in medical services. However, in comparatively easy times, many radiology practices were able to do well with little or in some cases even no organized efforts to address marketing issues. However, now the pressures on most practices have grown significantly. The strong challenges to diagnostic imaging in the wake of the DRA and other budget cuts combined with rising competition from self-referring clinicians and other non-traditional imaging enterprises have brought us into a new era. We will need to focus harder on strategies and tactics that will improve our ability to compete in a tougher environment.
More than ever we will need to focus on the core issues of how we apply marketing principles to the diagnostic imaging practice. A partial list of key best practices includes:
Know your customers and your stakeholders. In the 21st century, that includes not just traditional customers such as referring physicians, but also patients, their families, patient and other advocacy groups, the government, payer entities and a host of other interested parties. Strategic marketing requires that you consider all the groups that can affect your business and your brand perception
Do your homework, so that you understand your customers’ needs. You need to work harder at finding out what your customers, particularly your referrers and patients really want from you. Do regular surveys of your key groups to find out how you are doing on standard service and quality measures, but then take this further to find out what else they would like to see in their experience with you. If you know this and can provide it then you have something worth promoting and advertising. If you don’t then you risk ending up as a commodity-not a good business strategy.
Constantly and aggressively search for ways to innovate and provide novel types of services. Again, the mantra needs to be “never be a commodity”. As the competition grows and intensifies, you will need to find out what you can do differently that your customers will appreciate and respond to, and then do it earlier and better than your competitors.
Stay ahead of the curve on IT and communication technologies. Use the internet, wireless communication and emerging technologies to build relationships with your customers. You want your organization to be perceived as a leader and innovator. There are also substantial opportunities here to innovate and differentiate yourself from your slower competitors.
Pay close attention to your competition- find out what they are doing and what they are getting right (and wrong) on service delivery and satisfaction issues. Regularly update an analysis of your competitive situation. However, always pay attention to the possibility of new types of competition, don’t just get hypnotized by your current, local competitors. Technology innovations and disruptive technologies will make it possible for imaging to be done in a wide variety of new ways and places.
Look hard at your branding efforts. If I came to your town for a weekend and visited your facilities, went to your website, read your literature, saw (heard) your advertisements and then went to your competition and did the same things, how do you think that I would describe your brand? What is or are your brand messages? What makes you different from the competition? If you have multiple sites, is the branding coherent across different parts of your enterprise? Last and certainly most importantly, is there something compelling about you that matters to your target customers?
Make marketing, branding and promoting your practice a core function of the enterprise. If the folks in your enterprise aren’t involved in these efforts then they are likely to be much less effective. That goes double or triple for the leadership. An old cliché (unfortunately a true one) is that everyone is in marketing. The bad news is that some marketing has positive effects while some folks are probably “negatively” marketing in your organization.