Over the last few weeks, we have been discussing market challenges for rural health providers, as well as opportunities for innovation that emerge from creating an ecosystem of health via community partnerships and an emphasis on the value of primary care. With primary care alignment supporting the rural health ecosystem, critical access hospitals and rural providers can concurrently focus on service line growth to meet the needs of rural and underserved areas that lack sufficient healthcare services.
Hospital CEOs likely have many questions about how to best prioritize marketing dollars based on service lines with the greatest profitability, growth prospects, operational readiness, recruitment capacity and more. The organization’s strategic plan may hold some, but not all, of the answers. To fully illuminate answers and achieve targeted service line growth for the organization, we suggest this seven-step, data-driven process to establish a comprehensive service line marketing strategy:
- Establish a shared vision among leadership.
In small and rural hospitals, physician engagement is essential for meaningful integration of the service line with primary care and community partnerships.
- Collect and analyze organizational data and research.
A firm understanding of market data, including your most recent consumer preference and awareness studies and community health needs assessment results, should reveal consumer demand for specialty services.
- Review and rethink your relationship with key competitors.
While it is natural and customary to perceive other providers as competing with you for patients, a more sustainable approach now includes evaluating how others can collaborate with you to extend services into your community. For example, a collaborative partnership for telehealth with regional referral centers can be an effective way to retain patients who require specialized expertise, while also protecting your opportunity to provide post-acute care in the community. Viewing the competition through a lens of collaboration can lead to amazing physician recruitment and expansion opportunities, as revealed by our friends at Kearny County Hospital in Lakin, Kansas.
- Define factors of differentiation.
From the consumer’s perspective, are there service or access factors that differentiate your hospital from another provider? A well-defined, compelling value proposition is a good place to start as you determine how you differentiate in the market.
- Identify operational considerations.
As you define the marketing strategy for your service line, you will need to address operational barriers to success (shortage of providers, limited access, etc.). When we discuss service line marketing plans with hospital leadership, we emphasize how the plan is actually a blueprint to support organization-wide growth. Hospital and physician leadership, together with practice managers and marketing staff, will guide the execution of operational and marketing initiatives that contribute to market share growth. As we always say, marketing is not a department.
- Develop and execute the creative strategy.
With the marketing strategy defined through steps 1-5, you now are in the position to create an integrated creative campaign to reach consumers where they live, work and play. Limited marketing budgets may seem a formidable challenge, so tap into resources you may not have considered before, such as dhmstudio+. And remember, your community partners can be powerful brand ambassadors to extend your reach and build awareness with people across the region.
- Measure and track success.
Not only does your marketing team want to showcase marketing success, they also need to demonstrate how their campaigns contribute to organization-wide goals. While you cannot reasonably track and measure everything, we recommend agreeing to goals during the strategic marketing planning process. Appropriate measures may include patient/new patient volume, market share, share of voice, retention rates, patient satisfaction, web traffic, call volume and “how heard” data. More insight on measuring what matters can be found
All hospitals, regardless of size, benefit from having a strategic approach to overall and service line marketing. For rural and critical access hospitals, it is especially important to establish a set of priorities that allow them to capture the hearts and minds of the community and keep care local, where outcomes are more successful and targeted growth can be achieved to ensure future sustainability. Strategy moves an organization forward with a unified vision, and it sets the course for a healthy future.
Author’s Note: This article is Part 4 of our series on Advancing Rural Health. I encourage you to dive into the rest of the series as well:
- Part 1 – Addressing Market Challenges: Pivoting to accommodate the rural market forces at play in order to sustain and improve health in your community
- Part 2 – From Healthcare to Lifecare: The visionary lifecare model and how it applies to your rural health organization
- Part 3 – Promoting the Value of Primary Care: How to reacquaint the community with the value of primary care and family medicine
For rural health organizations in need of new strategies and tactics to advance health in the local community, expert assistance is within reach. Find out how dhmstudio+ delivers the expertise you need to build awareness, shape new programs, deepen connections between your brand and the local community, and form community partnerships to sustain the presence of local healthcare.
About the Author
Carol Dobies, MBA, is the CEO and Founder of Dobies Health Marketing, where she has been bringing healthcare brands to life for 35+ years. Share your thoughts with her by tweeting @DobiesGroup, connecting with us on LinkedIn, or by commenting on our Facebook page.