Core Exchange: Positioning in Healthcare

How healthcare market research provides strategic direction

Listen to learn how the right market research will prove brand strength, preference and more, while providing a direction for future strategy. You can listen to the episode using the player embedded here or you can read a full transcript below. Be sure to subscribe to Core Exchange on iTunes.

  • Core Exchange | Positioning in healthcare

Episode Transcript:

Stephanie B.: Welcome to the Core Exchange, a podcast for healthcare marketers. I'm Stephanie Burton, Director of Healthcare Marketing for Core Creative and I am joined by Cheryl Stone, President of Cheryl Stone and Associates. Welcome, Cheryl,

Cheryl Stone: Thank you for having me on this podcast.

Stephanie B.: Absolutely. And we are having you back. You've joined us before, we've worked together on a consumer market research study for core health specifically, but we've also worked on research studies for a number of health systems throughout the country. And one of the things that I wanted to discuss with you are some of the things that I ask you about every year. So I wanted to talk about brand preference, top of mind awareness, service line marketing, all of those really insightful bits of data that I reach out to you and say, "What was that thing that you said again?" Because I know if it's helpful to me, it may be helpful to other healthcare marketers. So thanks for joining us. First of all, tell us about your background because it's a fascinating one.

Cheryl Stone: Oh okay, I'm not so sure. Sometimes I have to look at my resume and remember who I am. So I've been involved in healthcare, I'll say research, not always market research, since longer than you want to know. And I have actually a master's degree from Harvard School of Public Health in Health Policy and Management and a bachelor's from Harvard in basically Chinese language and bio-statistics.

Stephanie B.: Wow. And then you became a healthcare marketer.

Cheryl Stone: And then... I was intending to become actually a healthcare policy maker, but at the time that I began looking for work, there was not a lot in that arena. It was kind of being pulled out from under us. So I did end up working for a while at what is now Brigham and Women's. It was actually the Robert Brigham Division, which focuses on musculoskeletal conditions and then I worked at the Cleveland Clinic for four years. And I was one of the first four people in their now huge marketing department.

Stephanie B.: Yes.

Cheryl Stone: But trying to come up with, what does marketing even mean for a healthcare organization? And that's what we spent our first year figuring out. I've also worked at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago. And then for various consulting firms that do market research and marketing communications and strategies, also healthcare organization. I've had my own firm for 15 years. Also, this is year 15 which is a shock.

Stephanie B.: Congratulations.

Cheryl Stone: Thank you so, so much. And I have continued to do market research and strategy development for organizations around the country. I did a lot of work for a while in the area of women's health at Dow moving on to speak focuses on service line marketing and market research.

Stephanie B.: Fantastic. So back in the days when you were at Cleveland Clinic and you were trying to figure out what marketing did for a health system, you eventually did figure that out. What was it at that time and how has it changed compared to today?

Cheryl Stone: I think that because we did not want to upset any of the providers there by saying the word advertising out loud. And we're actually sort of forbidden to do that in our first year and since I was the data cruncher and this is, we're talking about punch card days folks. And so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out where our patients really come from and what service lines and services are profitable and which are kind of front door services that we need to subsidize in order to get to that follow on business, who were our referral sources and so forth. And we found that we actually were a lot more local than we thought and developed strategies to expand on that and expand geographically.

Cheryl Stone: We figured out which areas just make money and how to make them as cost effective as possible in order to subsidize other areas that are critical to the mission. So I think right now, a lot of the strategy focus has been lost or swept by the wayside because people are so busy focusing on tactics. And I think it's important to step back from time to time and look at your sources of business and who really refers to you and make sure that you have robust databases to measure that.

Cheryl Stone: And when I was starting all of this at Cleveland Clinic, I said, "You know, in 20 years or so, everybody will have these great databases and will know exactly which physicians are referring to orthopedics and which ones referred cases that were remunerative or done and how do we get the best mix." And I still walk in and ask for this information.

Stephanie B.: Yes.

Cheryl Stone: For a service line and it's not there.

Stephanie B.: Yes.

Cheryl Stone: So that was one of the important things. And then we just felt that we had to do strategies and we had to be very careful about what is the strategy, what are the tactics, how do we measure outcomes and how do we keep the team together that is implementing this so we don't lose track.

Stephanie B.: Right.

Cheryl Stone: So I think we developed a lot of the concepts that are in widespread use now.

Stephanie B.: Excellent. One of the questions I ask you probably once a year, it's about awareness and preference. And we have these conversations frequently with clients about the importance of awareness and preference, particularly in health care. Can you talk about the importance of awareness and preference and the amount of time that something needs to be in market before you can really measure an uptick in those two indicators?

Cheryl Stone: Yes. Thank you for asking that. I think it's important that organizations especially that are thinking about rebranding or developing their communications strategy, periodically monitor awareness and preference with a reputable market research method that's going to get them reliable resources when they go back in the future to track their progress. I think we often find a gap between awareness and preference and we ask ourselves, why do all these people know about your organization but they don't prefer you? What's behind these gaps and how can we move them into preference? At least they know what your name is. That's an important first step up this ladder of marketing achievement.

Cheryl Stone: The other issue we have though is that then organizations will develop their brand, they develop communication strategy and then they want results right away. I think it takes at least 18 to 24 months of consistently being in front of your market to show measurable change. And I think there are two things that organizations do that limit their ability to assess that kind of change. So one is that their sample size for their initial survey and follow up survey as well, are not large enough to be able to see a statistically significant change.

Stephanie B.: Sure.

Cheryl Stone: And so it's that you need to spend upfront on that in order to be able to change things. The second is that they're not consistently in market with the same message. They'll do a flight of something here and a flight of another service here and so forth. But people need to see something so many times over and over and the message needs to be in front of them when they're choosing a service. So it's always got to be there.

Stephanie B.: Absolutely.

Cheryl Stone: But I think the resources are very important.

Stephanie B.: Absolutely. And I think that when we talk about top of mind awareness, brand preference, those are indicators of how your brand is performing. It may not be something that we look at specifically for service line campaigns. This is not to say that those are the only two measures that we are interested in. Those are two very important measures for brand, but they are not the only things that we're measuring. And there are other metrics that we can measure that provide us with some more real time data. So I want to be very clear about that. I know you agree with that.

Cheryl Stone: Yes, yes.

Stephanie B.: Yes. And then you also have mentioned something as we've worked together with health systems over and over again, and that's about the number of service lines that you should be promoting in the mass media at one time. We can certainly promote to a selected segment, different service lines. But in the mass media, you say typically no more than two service lines should we be promoting at the same time. Is that correct?

Cheryl Stone: Right. This incredibly saddens people when you're trying to narrow down the service lines to focus major marketing and effort on both dollars and personnel resources and so forth. These people cannot absorb so many different messages. And especially if you have not promoted that service line before, it's going to take them a while to realize which organization is promoting it. So you cannot get that many messages out there in the major part of your campaign. But you can do spot marketing if there's a market for, I don't know, obese services or bariatric and so forth, that's different.

Stephanie B.: Right.

Cheryl Stone: So it doesn't say you won't support other marketing needs, but just limit the number of priorities each year.

Stephanie B.: Absolutely, absolutely. Great information. What's the biggest mistake healthcare marketers are making today?

Cheryl Stone: Oh, that is a tough one. I think being too reactive to requests for marketing, I think it's a real issue. And I know that at the various conferences and so forth, people are always looking for ways to tame this. And I think it has to do with the value and the level of marketing within the organization. So I don't think it's a mistake that marketers are making, but they're being kind of feet held to the fire.

Stephanie B.: Absolutely.

Cheryl Stone: And so it's important to have a process to prioritize requests and to be able to viably say, "Here are the reasons why this request is not a top priority for us and this is why we're doing these other things." It's just really important. When I worked at Michael Reese, I had a priority setting matrix that was in a big envelope on the outside of my door with the idea that if you have a marketing request, please fill this out first and think it through.

Stephanie B.: Excellent, excellent. Probably avoided a few conversations, but certainly not all of them.

Cheryl Stone: I hope so.

Stephanie B.: Yeah. One of my favorite CEOs who I had the opportunity to work with always said, "We can do anything but we can't do everything," and that is the truth for health systems, for healthcare marketers and really for everyone in their everyday lives. So good words of wisdom there. Thanks again for joining us. Cheryl Stone, President of Cheryl Stone and Associates. How can our listeners learn more about you?

Cheryl Stone: They can go to online and they can also find me on LinkedIn by just looking for the name Cheryl E. Stone.

Stephanie B.: Well, I can't thank you enough for hopping on the phone with us again and for just the really great insight that you provided. Really helpful.

Cheryl Stone: Thanks. This was really great and, and I'm just... It was painless, I was very nervous.

Stephanie B.: I am glad that it was painless. That's what it should be.

Cheryl Stone: Thank you so much.


Stephanie Burton, APR is the Director of Healthcare Marketing at Core Health.

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