Marketing radiology services can represent a significant challenge, particularly in an increasingly consumer-driven medical marketplace, where outreach to patients requires reconfiguring a familiar line of messaging. Nancy McNee Newell, vice president of marketing for Diagnostic Health Corp (DHC), Birmingham, Alabama, calls it the softer side of imaging. “You have to remember that we’re caring for people,” she says. “They could be dealing with something difficult. We have to keep the idea of care in every aspect of what we do.”
DHC, which consists of 31 freestanding imaging centers spread across 12 states and the District of Columbia, has a significant-enough task on its hands when it comes to referring-physician marketing. Factoring in patients, Newell says, requires a whole new level of innovation. “The economy has affected everyone in health care, which means we have to think outside the box,” she says. “We can’t do things the way we did them 15 years ago. We have to be creative in how we deliver our message.”
That sentiment is reflected by Joanne Eshelman, director of community relations at Ephrata Community Hospital (ECH) in Pennsylvania. “In these economic times, it’s more important than ever to look for marketing tactics that produce documented results,” she says.
For both of these two very different organizations, those tactics include leveraging customizable marketing materials from Hitachi Medical Systems America Inc, Twinsburg, Ohio. Eshelman used the vendor’s marketing support to help introduce ECH’s new Hitachi Oasis open MRI system in 2009; though the service wasn’t new to the community, “We were pleased to have the materials, resources, and expertise of Hitachi at our fingertips,” she says. “It helped us explain this new imaging equipment’s capabilities to both referral sources and the public.”
Newell is equally enthusiastic. “It’s a win–win for us,” she says. “It saves us some money, and it makes the process so simple. I normally don’t use vendor information because a lot of times, I think the material is directed at selling the technicalities of the equipment, not the softer side. The Hitachi materials show how this technology benefits the patient.”
The marketing materials offered by Hitachi—which include press releases, print ads, brochures, and posters—are customizable, allowing the organization in question to maintain its core messaging while conveying information about the technology geared toward both of its primary audiences: referrers and the referred. “We rewrite things to suit our protocols and needs, but it saves us having to do things from scratch,” Newell says.
Targeting referring physicians, this example of DHC marketing collateral promotes Hitachi’s Oasis open MRI.
That’s particularly important when it comes to the costlier aspects of producing marketing materials, such as photography. Ever-shrinking marketing budgets make it increasingly difficult to create professional-caliber print materials in-house. “We have reduced expenses in a variety of areas, including marketing,” Eshelman says. “We’ve been taking a very close look at the way we communicate with our customers, and we’re trying different approaches that will be cost effective and allow us to achieve our goals.”
She adds that the vendor has been helpful in reconciling the branding established by ECH with its own marketing materials. “We have established graphic standards for materials that represent the ECH system,” she says. “Hitachi had concepts for ads and worked closely with us to create final products that were consistent with our look. This was extremely important to us in our continued work to reinforce our hospital’s brand in our community.”
Newell sees health-care marketing becoming increasingly targeted in the future. “You can’t just go after the referring physicians anymore,” she says. “It’s important to look at the new lines of business.” These include industrial corporations that perform employee screening exams (such as chest radiography or baseline CT scanning) and clinical trials. “It’s not easy,” Newell says. “but just as every other business does, you have to work harder and smarter.”
Eshelman concurs. “In 2010, we’ll continue to introduce new services and facilities and to look for new ways to share our message, leveraging both new media and traditional media,” she says. “We have to be more creative and more targeted with the marketing resources that we have.”
Newell emphasizes the importance of reaching out to patients in a way that is useful and to which they can relate. “The images Hitachi has given us are fun,” she says. “There’s one with an elderly couple together in the room with the scanner, and another with a kid lying on her stomach with her hands up; they put a face on the technology. They soften it.”
The materials that DHC has produced, with the help of Hitachi, include a series of patient-focused brochures that referring physicians can offer to their patients after ordering an imaging exam. The brochures let patients know what to expect: how the technology looks and sounds, how to prepare for the exam, and how long they can expect the exam to take. “When you’re immersed in this field, you don’t always think about how this type of exam can have an impact on a patient,” Newell says. “These brochures are a way to show them what they’re going to go through, to help with the expectation they have when they come into the imaging center.”
It’s all part of developing customer relationships, which is increasingly important in holding onto business, Newell says. “We think of ourselves as being in customer relations,” she notes. “We’ve had to beef up our communications with customers to try to get more frequency with our messaging.”
It’s a business conundrum: How can marketing become more targeted—its message, more repetitive—without the budget to support these initiatives? That’s where marketing templates like those offered by Hitachi enter the scene, enabling cost-conscious organizations to get the reach and depth they’re looking for without breaking the bank. “I think we’re going to see a lot more of this in the future,” Newell says. “I’m not trying to sell a vendor’s equipment. I’m trying to sell the basics of what it does for a patient or a physician, and they understand that.”
Cat Vasko is editor of ImagingBiz.com and associate editor of Radiology Business Journal.