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By Lisa Ellis

PrintFresh Care. Delivered Daily. The concept is simple, yet this hand-picked brand message represents Columbia Memorial Health (CMH) perfectly. It also hits home on many levels for the hospital’s target area, which consists of Greene and Columbia counties of upstate New York.

Hospital Tries To Overcome Past Reputation

The CMH network has a total of 120 individual multi-specialty practitioners, a hospital, a medical office building, and 14 remote locations offering outpatient care. A full 70 percent of the organization’s revenue comes from the outpatient side, according to William Van Slyke, Vice President of Marketing and External Affairs.

There’s an academic medical center not far from CMH, and the well-known New York City hospitals are just a two-hour drive away. Yet the toughest challenge to the health system’s success actually comes from an unexpected direction. “Our biggest competition to increased volume has really been our own reputation,” Van Slyke admits, adding that in the past, the hospital didn't have high satisfaction ratings from patients.

To rectify this situation, for the past 10 years, CMH has invested in a series of enhancements to improve and broaden services and increase local access to excellent care. And while people already in the Columbia Memorial network seem to recognize the upgrades, recent consumer perception studies reveal that the hospital’s former mediocre reputation has been preventing new people from giving them a try.

Tying Hospital Back to Community

“I wanted to close that gap of awareness and bring to those folks who were still not using us the quality of our current organization and how much it had improved,” Van Slyke says.

To accomplish this goal, Van Slyke recently worked with Mark Shipley, Co-Founder and Strategy Director of Smith and Jones Health Care Marketing, and author of In Search of Good Medicine: Hospital Marketing Strategies to Engage Healthcare Consumers.

One of several ads in Columbia Memorial’s digital campaign designed to resonate with area residents.
One of several ads in Columbia Memorial’s digital campaign designed to resonate with area residents.

Shipley’s agency team created a series of digital ads for CMH with the “fresh care, delivered daily” concept, as well as other such messages designed to resonate with people in this scenic area that’s heavy on agriculture and very connected to the land.

Why Less is More

It felt like a big risk to take such a seemingly simple approach at a time when other hospitals are implementing very comprehensive strategies, showing off all they have to offer. Yet Shipley and Van Slyke believed it could work to their advantage. Instead of blending in with the common types of marketing messages already diluting the health care market, this strategy captured the heart of what made this network so different.

“We helped focus the position as a local healthcare network with global awareness, and kept it all about access to high quality primary care on the local level,” says Shipley. For the ‘fresh care’ ad, “we don’t show doctors or nurses. We show the community,” he says, adding, “this positions CMH as the farmer’s market of health care. It is a high-end, very knowledgeable, salt-of-the-earth provider.”

Van Slyke says the idea really appealed to him because it tied back into the region’s cultural history, environmental beauty, and agricultural ties. “I believe that when you viscerally and emotionally connect with someone, that is your appeal,” he stresses. He points out that for people who had not heard of CMH, the hope was to surprise them with a level of sophistication.

Next Step: Convince the Board

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Once they came up with the simple, but moving, series of ads, though, convincing the board of directors to back them was a bit of a challenge initially, since the campaign linked back more to the community setting than to health care services or the hospital facility. “It took some time to sell to the board,” Van Slyke admits. “There was some understandable concern about the campaign being so different.”

To get the members to embrace the concept, the hospital did a significant amount of testing in the area and the results were quite positive. Van Slyke says that this was enough to convince the board to give the go-ahead on moving forward with the new images.

“I think everyone understood at the end of the day that we were doing something different—but it was grounded in research and it was tested,” Van Slyke says.

Results: So Far, So Good …

Luckily enough, though, the early results of the campaign have been positive and several of the organization’s leaders have been offering positive feedback on what they have seen so far. “They are really starting to like it,” Van Slyke says. “But what really matters is whether a year from now we will see an increase in perception scores” from potential new customers.

In the meantime, just a month into releasing a digital ad campaign using the “fresh care” and other similar new messages, about 40 new appointments have already been generated.

“This is a good starting point,” he says. “We need to be in that space today, as well as five years from now and beyond.”

CMH responsive-showcase
Click to enlarge

Along with the digital ad campaign, CMH has also relaunched their website with a major redesign, including improved search function, better optimization, and targeted ads, and they are also shooting some physician videos. The goal of all of these efforts is to let everyone know about the improvements to the CMH network.

The true measure of success is to ultimately find they've improved people’s perceptions of CMH in future measurements, and as a result, increase volume.

The bottom line: “You have to make the promise and then deliver on it.” Van Slyke says.

Word of Advice: Engage the C-Suite Early, Like Yesterday

Do you have a seat at the executive table? If not, you’re probably lacking the support you need to implement your marketing strategy effectively, according to Mark Shipley, Co-Founder and Strategy Director of Smith and Jones Health Care Marketing, and author of In Search of Good Medicine: Hospital Marketing Strategies to Engage Healthcare Consumers.

“It’s fairly rare that the CEO of a hospital really understands what marketing does and what the challenges are,” he explains, adding that this lack of communication is one of the biggest challenges facing most hospitals today when it comes to effectively being able to develop high quality programs that they can promote effectively so they can grow their volume.

To work around the issue, Shipley suggests involve the people you are trying to educate so they can learn through the process.

Lisa D. Ellis is editor of Strategic Health Care Marketing. She is a journalist and content development specialist who helps hospitals and other health care providers and organizations shape strategic messages and communicate them to their target audiences. She can be reached at editor@strategicHCmarketing.com.

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