Marketing: The landscape has changed. Have you?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Streamlining operations and shifting product lines to offset the revenue lost to Medicare’s competitive bidding program has dominated the attentions of HME providers for the last several years. All the while, going almost un-noticed, the marketing landscaped changed, leaving the traditional marketing function of HME companies less effective than it should be.  

Marketers outside of HME, and to a great extent outside of health care, began to market products and services in a way that doesn’t let people feel like they are being marketed to. People responded positively (including people in the HME industry), marketers repeated, and it has become a new norm. The strategy is usually called content marketing. 

Content marketing has not been widely adopted in the HME industry, yet it is likely the most rewarding opportunity available. There are four reasons that providers should be implementing content marketing strategies.  

• First, it is the preferred method of being marketed to by HME patients, referral sources and the people in the industry, too. 

• Second, the traditional model of sending marketing reps to doctors’ offices can’t generate sufficient retail (cash) volume to be profitable because the profit per sale is small.

• Third, the cost for HME that has shifted to patients is beginning to make patients behave more like consumers than beneficiaries and that makes the provider relationship with them much more tenuous.  

• Fourth, it helps patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals identify people they can know, like and trust—and that’s who they will choose to do business with.

Implementing content marketing strategies can accomplish two things for the profit and loss statement. One is to reduce customer acquisition costs, and the other is to acquire customers and/or referral sources more quickly. This is the essence of how content marketing can work for providers.  

Content has to be created or curated. Most often it is a blog post, but it can be in many other forms, such as videos, white papers, slideshows, infographics, podcasts, webinars, etc. The content is not a spec sheet of a product or a sales piece; it is helpful information for a targeted audience and demonstrates a company’s mastery of the subject. Blogs usually reside on the website of the company and probably most other forms do, too.

One of the most opportune times to have someone visit a business website is when they are looking for information that is somehow related to what the business does. That is targeting at its best, and one of the functions of a blog—get people to the website when they have a keen interest.  

However, people will not know that helpful content exists unless it is promoted. The tactic that is most used to promote content is social media marketing. 

One of the goals of social media marketing is to build an audience that will hear our story. I see companies that have diligently posted to their social media pages, but they have an audience of just a few. No matter how compelling the content, the smaller the audience, the less the traffic the website will get. Getting 1% of 1,000 to visit the website is better than getting 10% of 50.

Every social media marketing program must have continuous and focused effort on building audience. It may be the most difficult activity in social media marketing. I recommend against using ads to get “likes.” Our experience has been that you get ghosts at best and, more likely, ghosts that are out of the target market.

Some of the audience needs be converted to fans that tell your story for you. These are people that have experienced exceptional customer service and have been engaged by your company’s content.

For the promotion of content to drive traffic to the company website, it must be frequent and multi-faceted like the content. Content that is image based will be far more successful. A blend of two objectives are all that should be pursued: 1) drive traffic to the website, and 2) get shared by your audience to their friends. If it is good enough to get shared, it will also build top-of-mind awareness.

Like other company functions, content and social media marketing must have management, which also means that someone must be responsible for setting objectives, collecting and analyzing metrics, and adjusting the inputs to achieve desired outputs. Metrics could include the number of blog posts per month, number of social media posts per month, audience additions, website traffic from social media, and shares per thousand impressions.

Wallace Weeks is general manager of HME Marketing, which provides a suite of marketing services specifically tailored for DMEPOS suppliers. The company is part of Image Centric Media. Wallace may be reached at 321-720-6857 or