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WebMD Has TV Ad Prescription

Oct 28, 2007  •  Post A Comment

I remember in the 1980s, many hospital administrators would audibly gasp if you even suggested the concept of television marketing for their hospital. “After all,” they would say, “television advertising is simply not proper for a serious medical professional image.” TV was not viewed as a medium for any facility of high prestige in the healthcare industry.
Flash forward 20 years: What a difference a few decades make.
Today the finest in healthcare facilities and practitioners—including the Cleveland Clinic, the University of Michigan Healthcare System, the University of Miami Hospital and WebMD.com—employ aggressive levels of television marketing to drive patient demand.
Looking back, it seems that healthcare administrators of the 1980s missed the point that few of their hospitals ever really had any mass public “image” at all. They simply had not yet realized that most people really don’t want to think about hospitals—unless and until they need one.
And when they finally did move into television marketing, they made one of the classic advertising mistakes, marketing features instead of benefits.
In the 1990s, as healthcare marketing caught up with other trades, the classic hospital “building shot” TV ads soon gave way to compassionate faces caring for patients in television messages. Healthcare provider marketing was beginning to grow up.
When the Internet arrived, the rules changed again. Now patients could gather their own health information and even make decisions independent of a doctor. This had no small impact on doctors everywhere. Suddenly doctors feared a loss of relevance in a world where the patient was often more informed about a specific issue than they were.
Soon the issue was too much available data. The Internet did offer an unlimited amount of fact, but also of fiction. And soon the doctor’s role shifted to adviser rather than expert. Someone was needed to help over-informed patients sift though all of the facts and figures they derived from spending hours on the computer.
Today healthcare providers know that healthcare consumers want choice and control over their decisions, just as they do in other areas of their lives. In short, the healthcare industry had to evolve from a passive marketer of available healthcare practitioners to a retailer of convenient healthcare solutions.
Right now, a third wave of marketing tactics is occurring. Today, healthcare professionals want to be a source of real health information, but also to have that information blended with an aggressive television and Web campaign designed to drive patient interactivity and immediate patient contact.
All of this leads us to WebMD.com, perhaps the finest healthcare TV marketer to get a very early start. It pre-dated the dot-com boom, and even survived the dot com bust. Why? Because it always knew its end-user purpose and effectively marketed the lasting benefits of using its Web site.
We recently caught up with the folks at WebMD.com and asked them a few questions about their success with television advertising.
TVWeek: How did the concept for the WebMD campaign begin?
WebMD: We felt it was important to communicate the positive experiences people have in their real life when utilizing the site. It was this goal that led to the testimonial-style format of the commercials in the campaign. It was important to take these real-life experiences and show how we respond to them.
TVWeek: What type of different customers do you want to reach with television and what do you expect television to do for WebMD?
WebMD: Consumers now turn to the Internet first when they have a health-related question, and WebMD is the source they turn to the most. Our TV campaign is designed to reinforce our brand values and the quality and integrity of the health information we provide. With more consumers going online with questions relating to their daily lifestyles, fitness, nutrition and beauty, our goal is to increase WebMD’s presence as the leading brand of health information.
TVWeek: Since you want to be the first stop for healthcare knowledge, do you use your Web site as a landing point for consumers? What do consumers typically do once they use your Web site?
WebMD: More than 40 million people turn to WebMD on a monthly basis. People not only visit WebMD for our leading health content, but also use our interactive tools like the Symptom Checker and Drug Interaction Checker. Other users go directly to their particular health center to learn more about topics from diseases to diet and weight loss. WebMD also offers more than 1,000 health videos on topics ranging from parenting to fitness. WebMD’s communities are an online destination where people can connect on specific health issues, moderated by health professionals.
TVWeek: How is the series of campaigns going and how has it helped WebMD to grow?
WebMD: Ad Age recently named WebMD’s ad campaign among its top 10 most-recalled new TV ads. This is remarkable given our modest budget for TV advertising. The reason that these ads resonate with people is the authenticity of real-life experiences in the ads.
It seems that the role of healthcare marketing today is to funnel interested consumers to specific video-driven Web pages that educate the customer. Since only educated customers “buy” healthcare, the healthcare industry has taken on the role of educator.
This is an especially wise move when you consider the trend in “healthcare tourism,” in which people are traveling to other states or even other countries to have medical procedures handled. Suddenly any other medical facility in the world can be a competitor.
How can you help a hospital or healthcare practitioner move into television marketing?
Simple. First establish the top three consumer benefits of the firm, then set up a Web site that educates the consumer about your facility’s advantages.
Communicate this message on local broadcast television to reach the most potential consumers for the lowest cost.
Then target the primary healthcare decision-maker: Mom. She handles these decisions for herself, the kids, the husband and the parents. She lives online and she wants reliable information, not a sales pitch.
Let’s help the healthcare industry to not only survive but thrive in its increasingly cluttered and financially challenging environment. Begin by helping these folks to use local broadcast television to present the proper image.
Adam Armbruster is a senior partner with Red Bank, N.J.-based retail and broadcasting consulting firm Eckstein, Summers, Armbruster & Co. He can be reached at adam@esacompany.com or 941-928-7192.

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