Marketing and communications are essential topics for long-term care leadersrecognizing the following characteristics of the industry:
1. Increased competition
2. Consumer knowledge of the various services and providers
3. Current financial uncertainty in the industry
4. More managed care providers
5. The need for long-term care to improve its image.
Leadership must understand the components of a solid marketing and communications plan and assure it is well thought out, supported by appropriate governing boards, and in alignment with the organization’s mission and vision.
Marketing, as defined by the American Marketing Association, is an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating, and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders. The three processes include market research, developing a marketing strategy, and implementing that strategy.
A marketing plan is comprised of strategies for community relations, advertising, and sales promotion. Prior to determining these strategies, an organization must complete a thorough assessment of their product. What are the features and benefits of our product? What is the pricing as well as distribution (known as “place”) for the product? While these universal principles of marketing may not seem to align with the long-term care industry at first blush, they provide the guidance for thoughtful planning of marketing and communication strategies. These 4-Ps (product, pricing, place, promotion) are combined differently based upon the goals of the marketing plan.
Self-assessment is the first step in the development of a marketing plan through first evaluating the organization’s mission and vision, and second, identifying and analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. The mission describes what the organization is with the vision representing what the organization hopes to become. The organizational team must be honest and objective about strengths and weaknesses. This internal review is held adjacent to the external review of the strengths and weaknesses of competitors.
External analysis includes the competitors as well as what may happen in the environment through legislation, regulation, population changes, financial changes and any other factors that may impact the organization. This combined with market research provides the organization with the needed information to determine their market strategy.
Marketing Strategy selection is based upon the desired goal. The organization may want to expand the current services to existing customers, find new customers, develop new products, or develop new services for existing customers. For example, a home health agency may want to penetrate the market to expand their services to existing customers, but may also want to develop a personal care product, representing product development for their existing customers. The sales strategy could possibly consist of advertising through media, community relations through community presentations, and direct mail or use of social media to existing customers. Social media has become a huge component of marketing strategy dependent upon the market segment and the message. The CDC has actually developed websites around health communications and social media which may help with targeting older adults.
Special consideration of marketing in long-term care is that the success of a marketing plan is dependent upon many variables. Long-term care is a price-sensitive industry for both third party payers and consumers and an industry with a lot of competition. Referrals come from health care providers, at times making them a strong customer group as well; therefore, presenting many different customer groups. These various customer groups each require a different strategy which may include advertising, sales calls, community lectures and tours of facilities, etc. The importance of tracking various strategies for the rate of return is essential in managing the marketing budget which is generally about 10% of the organizational budget.
In addition, customers make decisions based upon the benefits of a product or service. The features of a product or service are generally communicated, but consumers and buyers purchase or make decisions based upon benefits. For example, the long-term care organization may market the 24 hour nursing care, but the consumer is buying the benefit which is safety and immediate response to patient needs. Lastly, ethics in marketing is a topic of consideration, especially in light of many long-term care organizations being part of national corporations which may not represent the local marketplace.
Communicationsis addressed separately from marketing, due to the various internal as well as external audiences. Leadership inlong term care should make sure that theorganization has branded all its communications to match the mission and vision both internally as well as externally. Leaders mustrealize that internal communication is critical to optimal patient service and care. Internal communication should include newsletters, intranet resources, emails to all company employees, educational sessions, attendance at staff meetings, rounding, and town hall meetings to list a few. Employees should be the first to learnof company changes, new services, strategic plans and goals, prior to the external community and/or media.