In the March 2014 edition of Strategic Health Care Marketing, SPM co-owner and managing partner Patti Winegar was featured as an expert on the centralization of marketing in healthcare systems—and the importance of this type of strategy. Following are highlights from the article:

What advice can you provide for hospitals that are forming health systems, or are part of a system that does not have centralized marketing?

“The centralization of marketing departments behind a clinically integrated network is an emotional process. It’s a time of uncertainty and adjustment as individual entities join forces behind a stronger, single brand. That’s why local marketing departments must be represented from the beginning of the process to provide insights and unique nuances at the community level. This will ensure that everyone is on board with and embraces the overall business and communications strategies and objectives of the network brand. Keep in mind that marketing cannot become a peace treaty. To make concessions that don’t lead to clear messaging is a mistake.”

Why is the centralization of marketing functions in a system important?

“A hospital’s marketing must align with the overall goals of the network. If the goal is clinical integration, then wherever a consumer sees that network brand, there is a promise of consistent quality. Marketing must be centralized to speak with one voice. This is also the most efficient and effective use of scarce marketing dollars. Just as clinically integrated networks reduce duplication of efforts, so should marketing.”

What barriers work against the centralization of marketing in a system?

“Hospitals that do not centralize marketing efforts are, in effect, leaving money on the table. Keeping marketing autonomous at the local level denies each hospital the strength of a common brand. One barrier is the belief that a beloved community hospital will lose loyalty if it becomes part of a larger system. Local hospitals fear they will lose their community focus. But we find that doesn’t hold true in research. In focus groups around the country, we have never heard a single consumer say they would quit going to their local hospital if it is part of a network. Initially, there’s this sense of loss until you help people understand how the network is going to be better. That’s where marketing comes in.”

How can you overcome these barriers?

“Focus on the benefits of the network. The whole is better than the sum of its parts, especially when it comes to the combined resources that can be used to accomplish so much more than if each local hospital worked individually. As a not-for-profit with scarce resources, there is an obligation to be efficient. Centralized marketing departments help with that by providing economies of time and money. Local hospitals that fear the loss of their community focus will actually have a greater impact on their communities, and ultimately have a better chance of reaching the organization’s objectives.”

Have you gone through the process of centralizing your marketing department recently? What challenges have you faced, and how did you overcome them? Let us know by commenting below!

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Patti Winegar

Managing Partner at SPM Marketing & Communications
With over two decades of experience at the world’s largest consumer agencies, Patti has helped build brands for Fortune 500 companies and complex healthcare organizations alike. Applying her unique insight, Patti helps clients reinvent, reinvigorate or rebuild their brands while guiding them through healthcare’s strategic business challenges and growth opportunities. Patti also spearheaded The SPM℠ American Health & Life Study, which adds greater impact to client campaigns.

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