( By Vivek Shukla )

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Create favourable positioning for hospital services

By Vivek Shukla

It is said that marketing is not a battle of products. It is also not a battle of intellect of two competitors. It is definitely not a battle of superior and inferior. Contrary to whatever you may believe, it is a battle of perceptions.

Every professionally marketed product is seeking to occupy some place in the mind of the prospect. The aim of such a company is to sit at a place which is not occupied by any other brand. They are looking to create a perception for their product which is favourable and most importantly, which gets the prospect to buy their brand. Marketers call it positioning.

There have been scores of books written on the subject and yet, it is somewhat of a mystery to the entrepreneurs owning and running small to medium hospitals. I do not blame them as most of them are doctors who have no idea of positioning in much the same way as I have no idea as to what kind of black lines on the ECG will be interpreted as a left ventricular block.

The simple reason for this is that the curriculum the doctors study does not teach them anything about professional marketing. Anyway, I can make an attempt to introduce the interested people to this wonderful world of marketing, of which positioning is an integral part. Though learning to decipher an ECG is not something that really inspires me. Every product has a reputation.

Some of these reputations are created consciously by the promoters of the product over a period of time. Most of the products in our industry generally acquire a reputation on their own. The success, or the lack of it, will invariably be determined as to what our reputation is in terms of various relevant parameters.

These parameters include the following: How is our price perceived? How is our quality perceived? How is our technology perceived? How is our expertise perceived? How are our competitors perceived on the same parameters? How is the overall private health care industry perceived by the target market? The key word here is ?perceived?.

What you think you are as a service provider is not half as important as how you are perceived by the client. The challenge we have is to create a reputation for our services which is relevant and at the same time it is unique. Having only one of the two is not always very fruitful. A simple example would be of a hospital (let us call it ABC Hospital) which has a uniqueness in the form of having orange colour in most of its interiors like furniture etc.

Now this may be a unique thing, but the question is that is this uniqueness relevant? Does the customer really view colour combination of the hospital as an important factor. I guess not. So having this unique feature is not sufficient for ABC Hospital. It can continue with having the same colour combination, but it is not enough. On the contrary, ABC Hospital may have a very relevant feature. It may be having a very caring staff.

A staff that really cares for patients and is always cheerful, apart from being impeccably dressed. This uniqueness may also not work if the competitor hospitals also have a similar staff situation. The hospital, under no circumstances, can ignore the role of having excellent services to its patients but it will have to do something extra.

Here is the mantra of creating a fruitful positioning for a hospital in the mind of the prospect

  1. Get to know your customer inside out. Know everything about them. How much they earn? How much they save for their health? Where do they work? Where do they shop? What is their family size? etc. I mean you must have a very detailed profile of your target customer. Just imagine, companies like Coca-Cola even calculate the amount of ice a person puts in his glass when he drinks a cola.

  2. The next step would be to find out what the various attributes in a hospital are which will lead to him or her using the services of the hospial. Find out what influences his/her purchase decision?

    These attributes may be many in number. They may include: -

    • Reliability
    • Prices
    • Reputation of doctors
    • Quality of equipment
    • Number of supporting specialities
    • Amount and quality of miscellaneous services like catering, housekeeping, etc.
    • Distance from the house
    • Recommendations from someone
    • Who will pay for the treatment

  3. After you determine what factors influence the ?purchase decision,? the next step is to assign the priority to these factors. Some of the factors would have more influence than the others. So, it is very important to figure out which factors are most important. Let me illustrate this by giving an example. For hospital ABC, the target customers will view reliability as the most important factor.

    This will be so because the hospital is located in an area which has nuclear families and hence, the small family size makes reliability an important factor. Another aspect which makes it an important factor is that ABC hospital is doing cardiac surgeries which are perceived as a high risk task. Hence, reliability is of prime importance. I would go to the extent of giving it a weight in numbers.

    So out of 100, reliability as a factor which influences the purchase decision for the target customer of ABC Hospital is 32. The second important factor for the target customer is the quality of personal care a patient would get in the hospital. The weight assigned to this factor is 23. The remaining 45 weight is shared by distance, reputation of the doctor and prices. In the end we know what are the relevant attributes which the hospital can concentrate on.

  4. The next step would be to find out which of the relevant attributes are being taken care of by the competition. Not only that, there may be a few relevant attributes that the competition or the industry as a whole is struggling to provide. The job for ABC hospital is to find out what attributes it can provide which are relevant to the prospect and yet are not being provided by the competition or being provided insufficiently.

    This way it will get to a uniquely relevant feature. This feature will determine its positioning stance.

    Filling up a ?vaccum? in the market is both easy and profitable. The wooing of the prospect is more a matter of mind, planning and creativity, rather than heart and emotions.

    As more and more hospitals realise that, we will move towards a scenario where healthcare is promoted in a systematic and effective way. Hospital owners will be benefited by learning how to play mind games.

The author is healthcare and marketing consultant with Marketingplans, Dharmasala, Himachal Pradesh. Email: vivekshukla2002@hotmail.com

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