No More “M-Word” or, Why Healthcare Marketing Can No Longer Be Evil
For many years, marketing in healthcare was referred to disparagingly as the “M” word. When I started working in healthcare back in 1999, marketing your services was viewed as a threat to mission-driven work and purely unethical. We should never sell what we do.
On the surface, that sounds altruistic; focus only on the mission, and serve rather than sell. But in the long run, I believe this attitude toward marketing-mistaken-as-sales has resulted in setbacks that have caused healthcare to fall behind.
Who am I?
I’ve worked in healthcare for over 15 years. With a double major in healthcare administration and organizational communication from Concordia College, a private Lutheran college nestled in the heart of Moorhead, Minn., I was no stranger to the belief in mission.
“It was here that I began to see the bigger picture — Healthcare needed marketing, but not as sales.”
While my classmates completed practicums that shadowed hospital administrators, I began my career in the strategic integration department with the former Lutheran Health Systems (LHS). As a multi-state organization, LHS provided healthcare services across the entire continuum of care, from hospitals to hospice, from urban to rural.
It was this unique experience that laid my foundation in healthcare marketing. From then on, I worked within the intersection of operations, planning, communications, and brand, across different states, as well as within different service lines. It was here that I began to see the bigger picture — Healthcare needed marketing, but not as sales.
I’m happy to say that since then I’ve seen a shift in how healthcare views marketing. Healthcare has gradually acknowledged that marketing efforts are not an untouchable sales function — they are a strategic approach.
But, we’re still behind. Other industries long ago embraced offering marketing tools that make life easier for customers; bringing marketing strategists to the table when developing products and services, where they’d be offered and how; and aligning messages to audience segments, rather than mass communicate awareness messages only.
“a strategic marketing approach that integrates operations and communication, and puts the focus on the patient as an individual at the center of everything”
This shift has resulted in tangible benefits for the healthcare industry as a whole. Most noteable is that healthcare marketers have worked tirelessly to bring the patient’s voice to the table. We can now talk about a strategic marketing approach that integrates operations and communication, and puts the focus on the patient as an individual at the center of everything we do. Not as before, as just a consumer to be sold to.
We’re on a mission
Yes, healthcare is still clunky. It’s a complex industry and unlike any other. After all, healthcare is about life and death. It is deeply personal. In that way, our mission is clear: truly put patients first, in sickness and in health. This is the mission of the healthcare industry, and one we must pursue with our operational partners.
We have a long way to go, but we’re off to a good start. At least for the most part, marketing is not referred to as the “M” word anymore.