The hospice industry has experienced dramatic change in the past few years. One of the chief changes is the rise of private, for-profit hospices across the country. This means that hospice marketing in today’s competitive environment is of the utmost importance. Now more than ever, hospices need to approach the subject of marketing with careful consideration and a comprehensive plan. A strong marketing program is essential to build brand equity, improve community outreach, and build a larger, stronger referral network. The ultimate goal of hospice marketing is to promote your agency as having the best services to meet the needs of your community.
Hospice Marketing 101
Hospice marketing is not too different than marketing for other healthcare industries. At its core, hospice marketing must communicate an agency’s competencies to a specific segment of the population. Similar to a traditional marketing platform, a hospice marketing plan must answer the who, what, where, how, and why of their services and who their ideal audience is. The breakdown looks like this:
- Who: for hospice agencies, the ‘who’ is split into two broad categories: physicians and patients. To grow a strong referral network, a hospice agency must create relationships with physicians. To grow their reach, word of mouth, and direct patient inquiries, they must target a specific subset of consumers, chiefly those who may need hospice services.
- What: hospice agencies must make clear what their core competencies are, why they’re the best at what they do, and what differentiates them from their competition.
- Where: hospice agencies must make clear the breadth of their area of service. Marketing outside of this area is a waste of time, effort, and money.
- How: hospice agencies must make clear how to contact them.
- Why: every hospice agency should have a clear pitch, whether in the form of a mission statement or a direct ask for action.
Hospices, like any other organization, need to develop a strong brand, develop brand recognition, and create strategic partnerships within their communities to best promote themselves. By identifying and fleshing out the above mentioned components to a comprehensive marketing plan, hospice agencies may build a strong brand identity and grow their reach within their communities.
Who: How to Identify Your Target Audience
The first step in any organization’s marketing plan is to identify their target audience. In a hospice marketing plan, the two main audiences are physicians and their staff on the one hand, and consumers on the other. The most effective strategy to employ to identify and target these audiences is to create audience personas. Personas are broad generalizations about a specific type of audience member an organization wants to target. They allow marketing teams to create a detailed fact sheet of the main attributes of their audience.
A great way to get started with identifying your ideal audience is to speak with your current referral sources and patients. Ask questions such as, what attracted them to your business in the first place? What are their pain points? How did they find out about you? After speaking to many of them you will begin to see patterns in how and why patients and physicians have chosen your services. This information may then be used to target new referral sources and patients.
What: How to Build a Strong Hospice Brand
The best brands create strong foundational narratives, establish strict brand consistency, and build a powerful brand reputation. A fundamental aspect of a strong brand is the initial presentation. This includes the name, logo, and tagline of an organization. The initial presentation should appear professional (no logos drawn by your kids, nieces, or cousins), clearly communicate what you do, and draw a wide appeal.
Logos are an important visual aid for your audience. It is often the first part your brand your audience will see, and as such it needs to draw attention. The first consideration should be whether you prefer a text-only logo or a symbol logo. A symbol logo tends to draw more attention, but they also risk appearing unprofessional depending on the quality of that symbol. However, a symbol logo can carry deeper meaning to the brand, particularly when it is attached to a foundational narrative. Luckily, professional quality logos are cheap to obtain. A local marketing agency, graphic designer, or freelance labor site will provide high quality logos according to your preferences. Play with a few designs, and ask for constructive feedback from peers before publishing a logo.
The tag line should be short, to the point, and make clear what you do as an organization. Here are a few examples of what a tagline for a hospice agency might look like:
- Providing Outstanding Hospice Service to Our Community.
- Excellence in End-of-life Care.
- Committed to Excellence in Hospice Care.
Avoid ambiguous three-word taglines as is often promoted by other industries. These will more often than not confuse your audience. Keep the tagline’s message clear and simple.
Human beings love stories, and the most effective brands are those with the most interesting narratives. When you think of Apple, for example, you think of Steve Jobs and his rocky climb to fame and fortune. Similarly, when you think of amazon.com you think of Jeff Bezos and his brilliant idea to sell books on a nascent internet. Or, when you think of Virgin, you think of Richard Branson and his keen eye for business opportunities across multiple sectors. If you don’t have a long operating history, fret not. You can build a good narrative around the questions, “Who are you?” and “Why are you the best person to be doing what you’re doing?” In hospice, these narratives can center around a founding member’s life, or can focus on the common vision and the team who brought it together.
One of the most critical components to a strong brand is to establish brand consistency. Nothing will dissuade referral sources and patients more than to see a brand change repeatedly, whether it be changes in the foundational narrative, logo, tagline, even colors. Therefore, it is important to create a brand guidelines document. A brand guidelines document establishes the rules surrounding the use of your brand. With strict brand guidelines, your brand does not risk falling into a rut of inconsistency in the event there is turnover in your marketing department.
Establish Your Hospice as An Authority
The best hospice marketing plans always focus on establishing the brand as an industry authority. This means producing and curating content that demonstrates your organization’s acumen in specific subjects. This strategy must match the traits of your target audience. If you want to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise about specific diseases to attract more physicians to your referral network, focus on those subjects. The goal is to provide education materials that provide value to your audience and paint your hospice agency as an authority and perhaps even a thought-leader in the industry. As your audience views you more and more as an authority on your subject, this will also start to build your brand reputation and awareness.
Protect Your Brand Reputation
Protecting your brand reputation is an internal affair. It requires administrators to constantly monitor several key indicators that may affect your brand, including administrative competence and efficiency, care satisfaction, and employee satisfaction. Although these matters fall outside of a marketing manager’s responsibilities, nothing will hurt a brand more quickly than internal problems.
Where: How to Define Your Reach
It is important to define where specifically you intend to reach your audience. The general trend in marketing is shifting toward local, including in search engines such as Google and Bing. This is a huge help to local businesses, such as hospices, with physical locations in the areas they serve. To cast the widest net for your hospice marketing brand, a few tools exist to help your organization identify as local and reach the widest breadth of audience possible. The following are a few tools that will list your hospice agency on every local directory site on your behalf. They are:
These platforms will automatically set up your hospice agency’s information on Google, Bing, Yelp, and around 70 other local directory listing sites.
How: How to Drive More Calls to Your Agency
Let’s be frank. A phone call to your agency is far likelier to convert into a referral source or patient than any other form of communication. Yes, an aptly named domain, such as www.myhospice.com, may help physicians and patients remember you. However, study after study has shown that consumer recall is highest with branded phone numbers. A phone number such as 1-800-HOSPICE™, if utilized correctly, will greatly increase your marketing response rates (i.e. how many people respond to your marketing). When added to a logo, a tagline, on collateral, vehicles, clothing, or even simply shared through word of mouth, 1-800-HOSPICE™ is an effective tool to help physicians and patients remember your brand and reach out to you when they have a need.
Why: How to Create a Clear Pitch
The key to an effective pitch is to identify the needs of your audience. What do they need? What is their pain point? The first step to identify a need is to interview people who fall within your audience parameters. General practitioners, for example, may need guidance on referring patients to palliative care. Patients may simply need a specific service. With a clear pain point to address, you may start to craft your pitch. A good, engaging pitch can be split into three separate parts. They are:
- The hook: hook your audience by exposing their pain point. The best hooks are often questions whose answers are the pain point you are trying to expose.
- The pitch: Once your audience has acknowledged their own pain point by answering your question, you must then give your solution.
- Call to action: Make sure you create a clear path to action to drive calls or website visits.
Strategies to Reach Your Target Audience
SEO for Hospice Agencies.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. What it boils down to is preparing your website in such a manner that search engines, such as Google and Bing, index your site and serve your information as a result to people who are using the search engine. Their goal is to fulfil consumer intent, meaning they match content with what they think the searcher is looking for. For most business owners, SEO is untenable, which is why third-party SEO agencies are so successful these days. But, if you’re feeling up to doing it yourself, here is a quick checklist to help you send out some of the right signals to search engines for your site.
- Set up your business on Google My Business and Bing Places. Be sure to add all of your locations.
- Set up your Google Search Console and claim your website to view analytics. Search Console allows you to see search traffic, impressions, crawl errors, etc.
- Optimize your web pages by reworking your content to match certain keywords. There are companies who specialize in helping you do this, including Yoast SEO and MOZ.
- Produce fresh content at least every week.
- Hire in-house experts or outsource SEO link-building and off-page SEO.
Local Hospice Marketing.
SEO is extremely competitive, and most hospice agencies may not see the value in ranking well on search engines, especially if it requires between $2,000 to $6,000 per month of investment to do it right. For most hospice marketing plans, the best strategy is to employ more traditional advertising methods. This includes mailers, collateral, car decals, among others. Holding charities, rallies, and educational workshops are also fantastic methods of reaching a wider audience with your message. The key is to be sure to promote education and community outreach through every channel employed.
Social Media Advertising
Social media advertising can target specific populations with frightening detail. One of the most effective forms of hospice marketing in the modern environment is to make use of Facebook advertising. You can target audiences by area, age, gender, employment, interests and, in some cases, specific demographics such as income level, home ownership, among others. Facebook ads are also cheap compared with other advertising outlets. Especially for local ads, Facebook is the platform that will stretch your hospice marketing dollar the furthest with the highest returns.