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Healthcare Marketing A Changing Panorama

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Healthcare players have woken up to the need of engaging their customers effectively to stay ahead of the competition. As a result, they are opting for marketing strategies which are innovative and nonconformal in nature. By Lakshmipriya Nair and Raelene Kambli

Healthcare in India is in state of flux and poised on the threshold of a transformation. Touted as a sunrise industry, it is apparently teeming with opportunities. Hence, it has become vital to send out the right communication to the customers and engage them fruitfully to stay in the lead and optimise the potential available.

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Varun Khanna

As a result, healthcare providers and vendors, both are looking for newer approaches and fresh strategies to harness this growth prospects. One of the players who have come up with a new strategy is Becton Dickinson (BD). Varun Khanna, MD, Becton Dickinson opines, “Healthcare delivery in India is at crossroads where specialised, protocol-based and integrated care is essential to cater to the next level growth.”

Alchemy to attain progress

BD has adopted a new mode of reaching out to its customers called ‘Alchemy – Together for Transformation.’ The company informs that it is a joint strategy session to deliver a level of collaboration which was unheard of earlier in the healthcare industry.

The initiative is an attempt by the company to discover the priorities of their customers. BD launched the first chapter with its key customer, the Fortis Group. Recently, they conducted their second session with Thyrocare, a leading diagnostics provider in India. Through Alchemy, BD intends to introduce its new products, new services as a preview to the customers and to reiterate the message that BD is at the forefront in delivering the right products and services to its customers.

Khanna explains, “The private healthcare sector providers are looking at forging partnerships that will help them achieve their top priorities. Alchemy is BD’s flagship customer centricity initiative that is targeted to identify synergistic partnerships in areas that are relevant to BD and our key customers through a joint strategy session between the leadership teams of the two organisations. Each Alchemy session is being seen as a new opportunity to learn more about our customers.” Thus, as the word alchemy refers to ‘a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination’; BD’s new strategy of reaching out to its customers seems to be aptly named.

Khanna also informs that Alchemy has helped them on three fronts.

  • Understanding their customers better, on account of an elevated degree of customer engagement at the C- suite level
  • Speed to action and catalysed decision making
  • Ability to elevate the healthcare ecosystem to a different level where all energies are channelised towards improving healthcare outcomes and quality of care

But, have its customers also found such an approach novel and beneficial? What are their views on it?

Synergising for success

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Daljit Singh

Daljit Singh, President, Fortis Healthcare has a very positive feedback to offer. He says, “We believe today we are moving beyond managing ‘buyer-seller contracts’ to a whole new level of engagement that leverages each other’s strengths to provide both organisations a competitive advantage in the market. From a buying-selling arrangement, the relationship must now transcend into a strategic partnership that drives mutual success.”

He further informs, “Alchemy was a perfect platform that underscored collaborative thinking; I believe it was a great way to strengthen relationships and, most importantly, an essential building block for trust. Fortis, along with BD, was able to identify themes and projects that have the potential to help the community and country at large.”

Khanna summarises the outcome of the session with Fortis and says, “Some of the synergistic work themes that evolved out of Alchemy with Fortis were infection control, diabetes and oncology. We launched a platform called Signature Solutions with Fortis that will help in benchmarking practices in insulin injection techniques, infusion and blood collection practices in improved infection control and patient experience.” He also informed, “Oncology being a large focus area for Fortis Healthcare, we are evaluating a collaboration in that space. Through SRL, we are actively focusing on improving the access to TB diagnostics in the hinterlands.”

The second session with Thryocare too seems to have yielded good results.

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Dr A Velumani

Dr A Velumani, CEO, Thyrocare, updates, “The importance of healthcare workers safety in addition to patient safety was the highlights of the session. The need for awareness, knowledge about disease transmission, training of healthcare workers, safety measures, tools and strategic plans to achieve it in the years to come were discussed (at the Alchemy session).” He further reiterates, “I see a lot of synergy in the thought process between both the organisations and I am sure this synergy is going to amplify our targeted goal of establishing good pre-analytical laboratory practices across India.”

Offering his feedback on the outcome of the Alchemy session with Thyrocare, Khanna says, ‘Thyrocare as an organisation is focused on high throughput of high value tests. They do this brilliantly by investing in technology and processes that bring in high degree of efficiency across the value chain of diagnostics and the savings are passed back to their customer. Cervical cancer, leukaemia and lymphoma are areas of common interest for both of us and could be potential areas of collaboration. In our endeavour to strengthen laboratory practices in India, we are exploring skill enhancement in phlebotomy with Thyrocare.”

Dr Velumani adds, “We are looking ahead to put our best effort towards creating awareness amongst healthcare professionals by implementing safe and good laboratory practices in both pre-analytical and analytical phase.”

Thus, the new approach seems to have set BD on a rejuvenated growth path. However, BD is not the only one to move away from traditional and conventional methods of reaching out to customers and opt for a less trodden path.

A gem of a stratagem

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Samee Patel

DHL, a renowned integrated logistics service provider, has devised a Direct to Market (D2M) solution that connects manufacturers directly with their end customers and usually involves an integrated logistics and Order to Cash (O2C) solution. Samee Patel, Life Sciences & Healthcare Director, DHL Supply Chain informs, “It aims at reducing the layers within the distribution channel thereby having better control on inventory flows, visibility and control on fund flows within the distribution chain.” Explaining the rationale behind adopting such a tactic, he says, “Our aim is to offer logistics services in a manner that would provide better control, visibility and predictability to the complete distribution function.”

Patel also gives a rundown of the advantages of their stratagem:

  • DHL becomes an extended sales arm
  1. Ability to up-sell products/ inform customers on promotion
  2. Close the gap of lost sales and out of stock situation
  • Enhanced relationship with the end customer
  1. End customers will have the impression that they are engaging with the manufacturer instead of a third party
  2. Possibility of co-branding with manufacturer – call agents will identify themselves as representatives of the manufacturer
  • Complete visibility of  sales – supply chain
  1. End of day inventory, sales, delivery information is readily available through DHL system
  • Increased adaptability
  1. Activity-based pricing provides visibility to improve productivity.
  2. Ability to do tier-based pricing which would help in handling promotion effectively

He also informs, “Leading pharma companies and also some of the medical device companies offering O2C devices to customers for chronic diseases like diabetes, kidney ailments, etc. can greatly benefit from our offer.”

Digitally yours

These two players have already started capitalising their strengths through unconventional methods of marketing. What about the rest of them? Is it time for the others too to devise their own, unique ways of engaging their customers?

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Mitish Chitanvis

Mitish Chitanvis, Co-founder, Health5C, a digital health management company answers this question affirmatively and says, “Absolutely, conventional marketing methods are good, however, not effective to reach out to masses and create a top of mind recall. Consistently measuring an RoI on the marketing activities is essential.”

He recommends digital media as an effective mode of communication and hence a great marketing tool. Elaborating, Chitanvis says, “Mobile marketing/ advertisements,
social media, using google effectively etc are playing a major role in today’s brand building world. Then comes the service/ culture that needs to be excellent for the customer to back up the branding and marketing effort that the healthcare service providers are using. Finally, the healthcare industry works on word of mouth, customer reference or friends’ reference business, hence excellent customer experience is also a must. Innovative tools on ‘How to make a patient’s life simpler’ by using mobile and web technology is a must.”

According to Chitanvis, “Content and inbound marketing are some of the biggest strategies that are coming up. Hybrid marketing strategies utilising the power of social media and conventional methods is a lethal combination.”

#Socialmedia: Trending in healthcare marketing

Several brands have started utilising social media to good effect. Max Bupa is a case in point. The leading health insurance provider chose to engage their consumers and drive an education campaign through social media to bust the prevailing myths of health insurance industry. Two fictional characters, Satya and Mathya, educated the consumers about health insurance through quirky and engaging conversations built through comic strips, puzzles and tips. The campaign was very successful in creating brand recall for Max Bupa and also served to spread awareness about the need for health insurance. The brand has also engaged in several other social media activities as part of their marketing strategy.

Another example of good media marketing could be Lifecell’s Facebook strategy which sought to communicate with their target audience i.e. pregnant mothers and expecting parents, to reassure them about stem cell banking. The brand decided to use Facebook from a social perspective, and decided to make parents who are already registered with LifeCell become their brand ambassadors and speak on behalf of the brand by expressing their parenting emotions.

The brand also created several timeline contests with photos and videos, to engender great fans’ engagements around days like Parent’s Day, Mother’s Day etc. Each competition targeted one specific category of people: ‘mothers to be’, ‘fathers to be’, ‘fathers’ and ‘mothers’. These engagements served to make the brand very popular and increased their footfalls. As Malorie Lucich, Facebook Spokesperson says, “People share, read and generally engage more with any type of content when it’s surfaced through friends and people they know and trust.”

Narayana Health, a leading healthcare institution, helmed by Dr Devi Shetty, has also utilised digital media to position itself as a leading brand and become a success story in healthcare marketing. It has chosen a variety of digital tools such as interactive websites, search engine optimisation/marketing, online reputation management, social media and other tools such as emailers, news portals, and portals with medical content.

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L-R: Dr Velumani, CEO, Thyrocare and Varun Khanna , MD, BD at the Alchemy session held recently

The objectives were to seed positive content about Narayana Hospitals, its credentials, success stories, doctors, etc on various forums and relevant sites, address queries about the hospital on forums, defuse negative feedback on review portals and avert spread of bad word of mouth.

The activities have reaped great results and helped in improving brand recall. The stories of technological advancement in healthcare, cure, prevention, CSR activities, etc have helped the hospital in build strong brand loyalty as well.

Thus, integrating social media into the healthcare marketing mix have enabled these organisations to share accurate, timely information about their brand and build a positive image in the minds of their target audiences. Other healthcare marketers too can embrace this medium to generate positive online communication for managing their reputation since social media has emerged as one of the most powerful tools of digital communication.

Winds of change

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Dr Biranchi Jena

There are evidences galore to prove that many have started shifting towards unconventional ways of reaching out to their target audience with the help of technological advancements in the healthcare space. As Dr Biranchi Jena, Director, IIHMR, Bengaluru, a healthcare management institute in the country, says, “Across various industries, marketing methods have been changed significantly with the advent of information technology and I can foresee that the healthcare industry would not reinvent the wheel with conventional methods. A blend of conventional and emerging methods is expected to do the trick.”

Challenges to tackle

However, the entire industry has not caught on to these new-fangled means of marketing. Dr Jena also informs, “Apart from the pharmaceutical sector, other sectors like hospitals, insurance and other allied services have not witnessed a very structured way of marketing.”

Chitanvis agrees and enumerates the challenges which have hindered the advent of structured marketing in healthcare:

  • There are very few vendors who understand healthcare marketing and consumer acquisition
  • Healthcare marketing is not like marketing in any other industry
  • Healthcare marketing is also about content marketing and specifically around medical content
  • Cannot play the emotional card in marketing strategies, since health is already a sensitive and emotional subject

Elaborating on the same theme, Dr Jena states that marketing is the instrument which facilitates out-of-box innovative methods to expand the markets. He also says that however, we often misinterpret the marketing efforts with sales activities and hence we are still not able to tap the huge market in rural and semi-urban areas.

In the future

So, what’s the way forward? How can healthcare players surmount the impediments to propel their growth trajectory through effective marketing practices?

Probably by being in-sync with the changing trends in marketing and by realising the fact that healthcare, as any other business, needs to be promoted as a product and a service. Dr Jena believes that this would happen in the near future. He says, “While effective communication has been a major issue in healthcare marketing, I expect a significant change in the awareness and communication led marketing to improve customer intimacy. Consumerism is therefore coming a big way in healthcare marketing. This generates demand for healthcare as a product.” A retail focused mindset might very well drive healthcare marketing strategies in the future.

Many have already started learning from the marketing methods used in other industries and it is to be expected that the rest of them will follow suit. Healthcare marketers will begin to take note of altered consumer preferences and buying decisions, including medical care. Good content will play a pivotal role moving forward, and enable healthcare marketers to start conversations and control the messaging on a micro level. Moreover, it is also likely that healthcare marketers would opt for building long-term relationships with smaller, targeted audiences, than creating generic content. Thus, outdated concepts like “one size fits all’’ will die a natural death and the above mentioned examples demonstrate that the process has already begun.

Thus, the healthcare marketing space would be redefined with the players vying with each other to stay ahead of the curve, and consistently deliver fresh and creative campaigns that set themselves apart from their competitors. And rightfully so, because as Seth Godin, renowned American author, entrepreneur and marketer puts it, “How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable?”

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