Can advertising alone build your brand?

Even though the nation elects a new president every four years, healthcare consumers cast their vote every day when they decide where to receive treatment. And the campaign to get their attention goes on and on and on.

In fact, Kantar Media reports that total advertising spend for the healthcare industry — which includes pharmaceuticals as well as hospitals, health systems and individual providers — hit $14 billion in 2014.

The New York Times’ Elisabeth Rosenthal notes that, “The ads are targeting a far more rarefied market that in the past: patients with good insurance or those who can pay out of pocket for the priciest drugs.” She asks, somewhat sarcastically, “What hospital or clinic these days doesn’t trumpet its services to its customer base (people formerly known as patients)?”

PRC’s 2015 National Consumer Report confirms that the amount of hospital advertising does, indeed, continue to increase, with 64% of respondents recalling some form of hospital advertising recently, compared to 62% in 2014 and just 44% in 2012. After seeing the advertising, only about 6% claim to have taken some sort of action, such as asking a healthcare professional for more information, scheduling an appointment, attending a class, or using the services advertised.

How do healthcare consumers feel about hospital advertising? Ten percent of respondents feel hospital advertising is more useful than advertising for other goods and services, such as cars, electronics, insurance, and home repair. This represents a slight increase over the 7% from 2014. Another 50% feel that hospital advertising is equally useful as other kinds of advertising. But that leaves 40% of consumers who feel that hospital advertising is less useful than advertising for other consumer goods and services.

That may partially explain why having a preferred hospital is on the decline, dropping to 73% in 2015 from 83% in 2012. Advertising alone may not be enough to establish a brand that will keep consumers coming back for more.

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So what will? Patients who feel that the care they receive is “excellent” are four times more likely to recommend a caregiver than patients who feel the care they receive is simply “very good.” Word of mouth remains the most effective form of advertising.

PRC is the only custom research partner in the industry measuring excellence. So, any healthcare organization truly interested in improving its performance needs to take a good look in the mirror and ask itself, “How can we become excellent if we don’t measure excellence?” And, just as important, “How strong can our brand be if our patients don’t think we provide excellent care?”

Choose excellence. Choose PRC.