Flanking your Marketing Benchmarks

Boy, do we love benchmarking in healthcare. Best practices. Industry standards. Whatever you want to call it, we want to know what others are doing before we invest any substantial time or resources changing our own efforts. From a clinical standpoint, this makes sense. Who is performing this surgery the best? Let’s find out how they’re doing it so we can replicate the approach and improve quality, lower errors and/or save money. Nothing wrong with that.

Benchmarking makes all the sense in the world when you’re comparing yourself to the best in the world, and when it comes to clinical care, well, your peer hospitals and health systems will fit that bill. Where benchmarking can let us down is when we’re using the same peer group to seek best practices in areas where our industry isn’t the best in the world.

Take the question of marketing department structure for example. One of the top questions we hear from health system marketing leaders who are looking to embrace the new healthcare marketing paradigm is “do I have the right marketing team?” This goes to department structure, positions, skill sets and more, and the primary focus seems to be on understanding what our peers are doing.

There are industry surveys we use, like SHSMD’s By the Numbers survey. Or we hire consultants who have built a database of hospital and health system marketing department data, looking at standards for head count, salary levels, department organization and so on. Of course there is benefit to knowing what your peers are doing, at the very least to learn where you stand in some of the more important standards. It can also help defend an annual budget or make the case for an expanded team.

But here’s the problem: as an industry, hospitals and health systems are not known for leading-edge marketing. In fact, in many key disciplines – branding, big data, digital marketing, personalized marketing – we are years behind other industries. If indeed our goal is to embrace the new marketing paradigm, many other industries are already there, and then some. So instead of looking at other hospitals and health systems to benchmark how you should evolve your marketing department to meet the new demands of consumerism, content marketing, digital marketing, and all the rest, why not look at true communications innovators?

For example, when studying this issue for our clients, ReviveHealth certainly looks at the leading-edge marketers in our own sector. But we also talk to folks from companies like Gap, Novartis or the Bill and Linda Gates Foundation. How are they structuring their marketing and communications efforts to reflect a changing consumer and a changing market?

One learning from reaching outside of the provider sector is that many brands have been fully investing in content marketing for some time now and have revamped their marketing departments to reflect the emphasis on content. Of course hospitals and health systems are catching up in this area, given the growing use on brand journalism as part of the marketing mix, and the new positions and team structures that support that strategy. But the key term there is “catching up.” Had health system leaders looked outside of their industry for best practices, they might have seen this trend coming years ago.

Another great way to move beyond peer benchmarking is to pull what author and speaker Dave Gray calls a “flanker.” According to Gray, “a flanker is a question that seeks patterns or ideas that are similar.” The purpose of a “flanker” is to find an analogous situation that may help you think about things differently. An example provided by ReviveHealth COO Phil Stone is the case of Southwest Airlines, who studied NASCAR pit crews to reduce the amount of time their planes spent on the ground. A car in the pit is falling behind its competitors and speed is of the essence to get it back in the race. Likewise, a plane on the ground costs an airline money, and once again, turnaround time is of the essence. Rather than studying how other airlines improved their turnaround times, Southwest went to the best in the world at solving the problem – NASCAR pit crews.

Whether it’s trying to understand best practices for your marketing department structure or any other key component of your marketing strategy, it’s fine to continue tracking your progress against your peers. But look outside for ideas, and “pull a flanker” in looking at similar challenges or opportunities in other businesses or situations that you could learn from. That’s where you will find the real breakthroughs.

September 15, 2015
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