Why no one cares about your health system’s awards

February 21, 2017
Stephanie Burton Director, Healthcare Marketing

“We need an ad!” I’ve heard an eager health system executive exclaim more than a few times in my career. “We just received The Joint Commission’s gold award for Ambulatory Health Care Settings!”

First, a very sincere congratulations for the list of accolades your health system has accumulated. By no means is this post intended to diminish the hard work your administrators and clinicians have endured to provide award-winning care. But – and this is a very big but – healthcare consumers just don’t care.

Using the example above, place yourself in the shoes of your target market. What is The Joint Commission? Does ambulatory care have something to do with ambulances?

Awards can serve as a talking point. But, there is very little room for your accolades to headline your health system’s marketing materials.

Don’t believe me? Here are a few thoughts that may change your mind.


The hospital and health system award environment is never ending

Want to find a list of the best athletes in the world? Consult the most recent Olympic standings. The best in motion pictures? The Academy Awards. If only it were this easy for hospitals and health systems.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a de facto standard for healthcare awards. Instead, consumers are left to swim through a sea of awards from U.S. News & World Report, The Joint Commission, Becker’s Hospital Review, The Leapfrog Group (once mistaken for the educational toy company by a young coworker) and more.

The problem? Consumers aren’t willing to sift through what each of these awards means. It all becomes noise in an already-crowded marketplace.


Empathy eats outcomes for lunch

In McKinsey & Company’s 2015 article “Debunking common myths about healthcare consumerism,”, we learned that empathy prevails when it comes to consumers’ overall satisfaction ratings.

“When we mapped the factors that participants said influenced their satisfaction against their reported levels of satisfaction, we found that the empathy and support provided by health professionals (especially nurses) had a stronger impact than outcomes did,” the report said.

Think about replacing your health system’s need to chest beat with the inherent need to tap into the proverbial heartbeat of your consumers. It’s about them, not you.


Benefits are more important than features

A fundamental tenet of advertising is that we don’t talk about features; we talk about benefits. Side-impact airbags mean nothing. Keeping your teenager safer in a crash? Now you’re talking.

Translate this thinking to health system accolades. An award is a feature. What is the benefit? Until you can identify a benefit that will truly resonate with your audience, this message won’t mean anything to the healthcare consumer you’re trying to reach.


Convenience is king

Consumers prioritize convenience over credentials and continuity, as we learned in The Advisory Board Company’s research briefing, “What do consumers want from primary care?”

Of course, “convenience” tends not to be a quality assessed in many of the top healthcare awards today. If your health system can prove it is “more convenient” than the competition, it will be a far more powerful message than one that speaks to outcomes.


A reputation is something you build, not something you outsource

Ask yourself this question: Are you outsourcing your reputation to an endless list of hospital awards? If so, you’ve got a much greater challenge on your hands.

While most consumers will never know, think about the message you send internally when you pay tens of thousands of dollars to use an award program’s logo on a billboard or your website.

And, consider this: Aren’t your customers’ points of view more influential than an award program? Think about the power you could harness by leveraging patient stories to convey the two traits consumers care about most: Empathy and convenience.


When awards mean something

Of course, there are a few circumstances when awards do mean something to consumers.

  • Rural hospital advertising. Rural hospitals often face very little in-market competition, outmigration for tertiary care services and a perception that the hospital can only handle the most basic care. If your healthcare institution has received a third-party endorsement that underscores your capability, a strong argument can be made for developing some messaging surrounding this.
  • Workforce awards. If your health system has been named a top workplace, it is absolutely appropriate to include this in your recruitment materials. Unlike healthcare consumers, perspective employees spend a significant amount of time researching job opportunities and comparing future employers.
  • Awards that emphasize what consumers care about. Are your patient satisfaction scores through the roof? Has an outside body been able to prove that you offer greater convenience than any other provider in the area? These messages can help supplement an overall branding campaign.

The arguments for and against the use of awards in healthcare marketing are many. Tell me your thoughts. Let’s start a conversation.

 Stephanie (Hungerford) Burton, APR, is the Director of Healthcare Marketing at Core Creative. Follow her on Twitter @shungerford.


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