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Handling the haters in health care marketing

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Brands & Campaigns

Chris Bevolo is the founder and principal of health care marketing agency Interval and president of Chris Bevolo Consulting. To read more of Bevolo’s insights on the marketing world, visit his blog.

If there’s one question health care marketers fear above all others, it might be, “How do you know?” As in, “How do you know your marketing is working?”

Typically, the question is posed by a C-suite member, with CFOs leading the pack. And most often, it’s used as a cudgel against specific marketing results. For example, a marketer may tout an increase in cardiac volumes thanks to a new marketing campaign, and the CFO will shoot back, “But how do you know those patients came in because of your campaign? They could have come in anyway.”

This question is frustrating on a number of levels. First, it can be a weapon wielded by the uninformed to play power politics. (“I’m going to keep this marketer in her place — we use facts around here, not conjecture.”) Second, it can be maddeningly difficult to rebut. How do you know your marketing effort led to the identified results? There are always myriad variables that might have played a role, making it hard to isolate the true effects of your efforts.

Many questioners know this, and they are counting on the lack of black-and-white answers to dilute the power of your results. Finally, this question drives marketers up a wall because, in the end, it’s a fair question. If you don’t really know the actual effect of your marketing efforts, how do you know whether you’re effective?

The best way to defend against these tactics is to establish a control group for whatever marketing tactic you are measuring. Want to know the true effect of holding joint-pain seminars on orthopedic surgery volumes? Compare utilization histories of those attending the seminars to a like group of consumers — same geographic, demographic and clinical profiles — who didn’t attend. Or compare those invited to the seminars to a set of consumers who weren’t invited. If you can isolate the seminar invitation as the only difference between the two groups, then you can tie any subsequent differences in utilization — and hopefully revenue and contribution margin — to one variable: your marketing.

Keep in mind that control groups aren’t always an option. For example, a community hospital would have a hard time isolating one section of town to create a control group when trying to measure the impact of an outdoor campaign. In those cases, you may have to resort to other measurement tactics to glean insights.

Of course, you can always take refuge in the philosophical and offer the words of Albert Einstein, who said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Image credit: VisualField, via iStockPhoto