Marketing communications are actions taken by an organisation in the form of messages targeted to internal and external audiences, with the aim of influencing attitudes and behaviours.
In a report delivered to the 4th World Conference on Business, Economics and Management, a group of academics offered these functions of marketing communications:
• Marketing communications help organisations add value through their content. This content might inform prospective consumers about the service options, where and when these services are available, and the services’ features, functions and benefits.
• Marketing communications aren’t used only for prospects but also in establishing relationships with current consumers through personalised messages. For example, in health services, patients might be reminded about annual check-ups.
• Because healthcare services are considered processes or performances, it’s difficult to define their benefits. As a result, organisations have to communicate clear messages, highlighting the attributes of their services and the benefits of the service experience. For instance, if a healthcare organisation highlights healing attributes as a main benefit, they should offer messages showing the healing stage.
• Organisations can give their services a more tangible quality by using metaphors to communicate value. In healthcare services, slogans and the images used to support the slogans are very helpful.
• Marketing communications help involve the consumer in the production and the delivery process of the service. Because consumers are viewed as co-producers, the organisation needs to train their clients in the way they train their employees. Healthcare providers could use animated displays or videos showing their patients certain procedures.
• Marketing communications help consumers evaluate and distinguish service offerings. Healthcare marketers can assist consumers by highlighting their service attributes related to quality and performance. This could include promotion of the highly skilled personnel and the physicians’ qualifications.
• Through their marketing communications, an organisation can implement time-specific promotions. For example, healthcare marketers may wish to advertise sales promotions like vaccination programs at certain times of the year.
• It’s important that service personnel are used in healthcare marketing because they are at the core of the service delivery. As a result, healthcare organisations often advertise their services with the help of physicians and the description of the service encounter.
In the past it was perhaps enough for healthcare marketers to have knowledge only of the marketing communication functions and to apply communication strategies. But to be successful in today’s world, healthcare marketers must adopt an integrated marketing communication approach.
Integrated marketing communications for the healthcare industry
The American Association of Advertising Agencies defines integrated marketing communications (IMC) as a “concept of marketing communication planning that recognises the added value of a comprehensive plan that evaluates disciplines (for example, general advertising, direct response, sales promotions and public relations) and combines these disciplines to provide clarity, consistency and maximum communication impact.”
Traditional marketing communication efforts, such as advertising and sales, affect the expected service, while the IMC should affect the process of service experience. IMC is an approach that aims to understand how other messages – not just those ones implemented by an organisation – make an impact on consumers and potential consumers.
The most important part of the communication process is the message and the elements it contains. That message can include:
• Planned messages, which are the result of deliberate marketing communication campaigns and are usually sent through controlled channels such as print advertising.
• Services messages, which are the outcome of the service delivery process and are influenced by the conceived service, the personnel and the equipment used.
• The unplanned messages are the result of the experience of consumers with the organisation. These are messages the organisation can’t control, and they are the most important ones. These messages are sent from one consumer to another, in the form of word-of-mouth communication.
Getting the right mix in healthcare marketing
Once the organisation is familiar with the communication process, it’s important to consider the integration of the communication marketing components in the IMC strategy. The components of the communication marketing mix are the channels through which a message is transmitted. In an integrated marketing mix there are multiple channels that deliver the same message. There are three sources of this communication:
What the organisation says
What the organisation does
What others say and do.
Here are some examples
What the organisation says (planned messages)
• direct marketing
• sales promotion
• public relations
• personal selling
• online marketing
What the organisation does (service messages)
• service processes
• corporate design
• physical evidence
What others say and do
• news stories
• word of mouth
• blogs and online ratings
We know that for the consumer, the most credible and trusted source of information is from others, those unplanned messages. Unfortunately for many organisations, these messages are not included in a marketing communication plan and are often neglected, because they are not easily controlled or monitored.
Integrated marketing communications in the online environment for the healthcare industry
The online IMC is defined by the integration and co-ordination of multiple sources of information. The voice of an organisation is no longer just the organisation’s marketing department, but includes consumer feedback that may be read by other peers and managers.
In order to be effectively applied, the online IMC plan should focus on:
• Integrating online and offline communications in order to attract consumers or lead them to a website where they collect more information
• Using online communication instruments to provide efficient messages
• Integrating all communication channels into a strategic plan according to the marketing objectives.
Components of the planned integrated online marketing communication mix include online advertising, sales promotions, direct marketing, sales forces and public relations. The unplanned integrated online marketing communication mix could include electronic word of mouth and press releases.
These planned and unplanned messages become part of the message life cycle. An organisation will deliver a message, which is then picked up and interpreted by the consumer. This planned message then becomes part of the organisation’s unplanned story as the consumer delivers the message in her own way, communicating with other consumers and providing feedback to the organisation, which then uses this information as part of its message.
Many businesses that have moved from the offline to the online environment have done so successfully by becoming more consumer oriented. Healthcare organisations can learn a lot from these businesses. For a healthcare provided to thrive, it must find the right balance between the services it offers in the real world and its online communications.
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