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May 19, 2008
Marketing Lessons from the Hospital
 

Every profession has a dedicated language; those words, terms, phrases and concepts that serve as both a short-hand for practitioners and as a filter to keep outsiders at bay. In most cases these vocabularies are created or policed by professional bodies much like the medieval guilds protected the trade secrets and prerogatives of their members.

 

The best example of this can be found in any hospital where the medical argot is a mix of Latin, tech terms and centuries of practice, study and innovation. Doctor's language is a great wall of China for patients and their families; a barrier that instills fear and confusion as it fosters dependency which is further complicated by the methodology of medical practice driven by hospital's need and third-party insurers needs for efficiency, economies of scale, brad building and repeat business.

 

A visit to anyone in the hospital offers several clear directives to marketers:

 

  1. Expose the Process. Everyone needs to understand the basic rules of the game. In the hospital you are on your own. Doctors, specialists, nurses, students, aides and schelpers of many stripes traipse into the room and do stuff. The plan, the sequence and the goals are rarely understandable or clear and nobody is incented to tell you. Finding out what is wrong with the patient, who is managing it, what are the issues and considerations and what is going to happen next is much harder than the most complicated video game and more frustrating than the best mystery novel.
  2. Loose the Lingo. In real life most people get it and most things can be explained simply or by analogy. Consumers and patients aren't as dumb as we look. The professional nomenclature which marks guild membership is a turn-off and a barrier to effective care, especially in cases where the patient's family or friends need to give the medical team data, context or information. Without understanding what's going on and what the doctors are thinking about, patients and their loved ones edit the data they share which in turn can complicate or frustrate effective treatment. This holds true across many service businesses where professional ego and distance creates an unnecessary and counterproductive adversarial situation.
  3. Consider Context. Every message to a human brain is processed through the state-of-mind filter. The hospital, by its nature, is a scary and disease filled place. Anxiety is ubiquitous. Add the scary visual of a loved one confined to a bed, near naked and uncomfortably hooked up to honking and beeping machines and your target customer is lost in a sci-fi world. You must factor in the emotional context of your target audience since all medical and stressful communication has to start with the understanding that the audience is disoriented, fearful, ignorant and anxious. Too often the medical professionals’ cool, professional and familiar context rather than the patient/family context drives the message and the communications style.
  4. Get Real. Humans are physically and emotionally sturdy. Evolution has wired us to nimbly handle threats and to instinctively process information. There is little or no point in withholding information or attempting to guild the lily, especially to people supporting patients with chronic or persistent ailments. Nobody thinks medicine is a precise science. Everyone understands that there are multiple variables at play. But few of us have the patience to slog through dis-information or the knowledge to piece together the real story from fragments and snippets of data and opinion parsed through a large and unknown cast of characters.
  5. Tackle the Topline. Take charge of the communications burden and tell customers or patients the topline. You have the affirmative, proactive communications burden. It's not okay to hide, duck or wait till the customer or patient is red-faced, screaming or homicidal before sharing information. Everyone needs to understand where they are, what is happening next and what are the possible outcomes of the game. This is true if you are selling socks online, undertaking an eLearning exercise, or supporting a chronically ill relative.

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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