Many of the products and services we purchase are based on what we want, not necessarily on what we need. I don't need the chocolate cookies that leaped into my shopping cart - but I want them. A "want" is often a discretionary purchase. The customer determines that the time is right; that he would prefer to buy this product or service over something else; and that his budget allows him to purchase this item now.
Other than discretionary or vanity purchases in healthcare, such as plastic surgery, most healthcare purchases are based on a "need". The consumer/patient is in need of a test, treatment, surgery, or some other heathcare related service that is deemed necessary. The service is required to maintain the patient's health and wellness.
So how do you market something that no one really wants? This is a signficant challenge for the healthcare industry. It is very difficult to identify the "need" for most potential healthcare consumers. Unless a patient has an ongoing medical condition, how does he anticipate when he will have a healthcare need? We don't wake up one morning and say, "Gee, I think I'll have an appendectomy today." This uncertainty of the need requires healthcare organizations to be positioned to take care of virtually any potential healthcare need. Organizations have to do this with no defined timeline for service delivery, or known quantity of consumers who will need a given service.
This "need uncertainty" may be why there is such an emphasis on branding in the healthcare industry. Healthcare organizations need to create awareness of their range of services and quality of care to be available at the time at which a consumer needs their services. Top-of-mind awareness is a very important factor in the equation. Many healthcare organizations have created centers of excellence in hopes of drawing potential patients to their facilities due to reputation for delivering something "above and beyond" what another competitor may have to offer. A positive experience at a center of excellence will encourage a patient to request that facility when other services may be needed.
Some things for healthcare organizations to remember:
Fill a need in the marketplace
Create a competitive advantage
Clearly articulate the "brand promise"
Set clear and measurable marketing goals
Actively design and deliver an outstanding patient experience