( By Vivek Shukla )

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Marketing lessons for hospitals and doctors

By Vivek Shukla

There were times when marketing was looked down upon as something not worthy of being associated with the noble profession of medicine. However, things have changed for the better now.

Marketing strategies, market development, etc. are being taken seriously by hospitals. Of course, hospitals cannot market themselves as other service providers like hotels and airlines, but still they can market so as to gain maximum advantage.

The three commonest mistakes made while marketing services are:

  1. Providing a service and then looking for clients.

    Dr Amit completed his MD in internal medicine and he opened a small clinic with 5 beds and a lab in small locality in Delhi. Having done some research in the field of cardiology, he was confident that he could do a good job with heart patients. Even the board in front of his clinic read- ?For heart and other ailments.? He even gave some initial free check-ups to heart patients and charged nominally for ECGs and lipid profile investigations

    Logically, everything should have gone right for the doctor. But even after six months his practice did not pick up. The problem was that the incidence of heart disease in that locality was not high. Instead the adjoining factories and mills made it difficult for people to breathe in good air.

    An asthma clinic would have done better under the circumstances. As many as 35 per cent people had respiratory problems in the area. So, after that doctor changed the clinic?s positioning to asthma treatment from heart ailments, his practice grew by over 40 per cent in three months.

    He had to change his boards and buy a spirometery machine. Moreover, he never offered free check-ups and discounts on lab tests. If you look around closely, this is not a unique example. This kind of mistake is being made almost everywhere.

    People offer what they can do best, but they do not care to see if the customers really want it. Ideally, it should be the other way round. We must first identify what the market needs. Then we must see if we can provide that.

  2. Reducing prices as a strategy.

    A leading gynaecologist Dr Sumita was running a nursing home in a big city and was feeling threatened by another young gynaecologist Dr Mona, who decided to open shop in the same locality. To make things worse, this young new doctor was advised by her friends and relatives (who had no expertise in the field of business strategies) that she offer her services for a lower price in order to attract more patients.

    Like 90 per cent of amateur businessmen, Dr Mona saw it as a master plan to topple the market leader. So there she went offering the same services at a cheaper fee.

    As a result, Dr Sumita, who was already threatened (though there was no reason to be), reacted by lowering her fee too. Dr Mona, in retaliation, decided to not only reduce her fee once again, she even ran messages on cable TV and local newspapers about her low fee.

    The patients knew what the two women were upto. So a trend of bargaining started in both the nursing homes and their profits dipped simultaneously.

    In the end, none of the competitors won. The moral of the story is: ?never try to outrun the competitor by reducing prices because it gets you into a vicious circle.?

    Seasoned marketing professionals hardly get into a price war. Ever wondered why Pepsi and Coke cost the same to the customer when both have the capacity to easily reduce the price by at least one rupee?

  3. Copying the leader.

    Dr Sinha, a pathologist, opened a massive diagnostic centre with a MRI, CT scan, ultrasound and many modern laboratory machines. He also employed a couple of radiologists and a junior pathologist. More than that, he employed PROs to collect samples from various places in the entire district. Everything he did to promote his centre was strikingly similar to the ever-popular Das Diagnostic Centre, which was running very successfully for the past 5 years.

    Sinha Diagnostic Centre had replicated the success formula to perfection including the name. Even the colour scheme and interiors of his building were similar. Unfortunately, Dr Sinha learnt it the hard way. The market already had one provider doing a decent job so there was hardly any room for a duplicate. Your business has to be unique and original. Not only that, the uniqueness and originality has to be relevant to the consumer so as to invoke sufficient interest in her so that she buys from you.

    The trick to successful marketing is to identify a ?vacuum? in the market and fill it up before anyone else does it. Never try to fill up a vacuum that has already been filled by someone else. As entrepreneurship takes over the society in our country, marketing will become more and more relevant. As long as we indulge in ethical and professional marketing activities, it will be a win-win situation for everybody, including the service providers and patients; not to mention the consultants, like yours truly!

(Names of people mentioned have been changed to protect their identity).

(The author is a healthcare and marketing consultant with The Marketing Plans. E-mail:vivekshukla2002@hotmail.com)

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