woman jumping out of a box when thinking about healthcare marketing ideasThe box. It’s very large and stuffed with years of well-worn healthcare marketing ideas. The box is always open and ready for marketing departments and agencies to pull out a safe, if somewhat banal, idea.

It’s labeled STATUS QUO.

Competition is getting more intense, and patients are becoming savvier and more demanding about their needs (as they should be). This begs the question: Is it time to toss the box and think like an outsider?

That doesn’t mean you need to throw the box into the dumpster. Just chuck it in a closet, shut the door and think about going beyond the healthcare landscape for a while. Decide to look at the outside world — one where the view broadens to include diverse businesses and industries that embolden creativity and bring fertile new approaches to healthcare marketing strategy, often with encouraging results.

Outsider thinking by the Willis-Knighton Health System

Authors James K. Elrod and John L. Fortenberry Jr. recently wrote about an outsider approach taken by their employer, Willis-Knighton Health System, a nongovernmental, nonprofit healthcare system headquartered in Louisiana. Elrod and Fortenberry explain how Willis-Knighton tossed aside the status quo and catalyzed marketing innovation for a positive, lasting impact on their business.

Here’s how Willis-Knighton did it.

Get a bigger share of the pediatric care market

 In the late 1970s, young families were making pediatric care a very lucrative service line for healthcare organizations in the Shreveport area. At that time, Willis-Knighton’s share of the market was less than 10%. They faced many competitors that were all targeting current and prospective parents. Which only made sense considering parents were the obvious market.

Toss the box for a new marketing approach

Willis-Knighton realized that building market share for pediatric care using the same practices as their competition would only get them so far. Starting from the top down, with full executive buy-in, the system decided to go outside the status quo they’d always followed. They would toss the box and search for a unique approach to reach the same audience — parents — and do it using outsider thinking.

Think like retailers and other (and different) industries

When they evaluated the pediatric care market, they confirmed that once parents selected their provider, children played a crucial role in keeping that provider. But then Willis-Knighton asked outsider questions: Could kids influence their parents’ initial decisions about what provider to select, just like children influence their parents’ decisions in the retail arena when it comes to buying things like food and toys? By nurturing a marketing relationship with kids, would the same influential relationship in retail translate to healthcare services?

Go beyond the pamphlets and posters

Willis-Knighton Health System always had a longstanding commitment to educating its communities, so it wasn’t a stretch to think about educating children. But they set out on a different path to develop a bond that would lead kids to influence their parents about Willis-Knighton Health System. That’s where the stretch comes in: Thinking outside the typical pamphlets and posters to introduce Willis-Knighton Health System’s Pediatric Orientation Program.

Be first to reach the first graders

The Pediatric Orientation Program introduces first graders to hospitals and healthcare through onsite tours and orientation sessions held at one of Willis-Knighton Health System’s institutions. Once at the sites, youngsters spend the day engaged in a variety of health education activities. They learn about:

  • Hospital operations
  • Different healthcare professionals and their jobs
  • Delivering healthcare from admission to discharge

They also engage in:

  • Role-playing exercises as doctors, nurses and patients — costumes and all
  • Addressing health situations they might experience
  • Learning healthy habits about nutrition, physical activity and more

The program is designed to get students comfortable with hospitals and help remove their fears when they face their own or a family member’s illness. But it has more ambitious designs as well — and they work.

Think like an outsider to get the inside advantage

It’s not only the children who have had positive exposure to Willis-Knighton Health System (after all, today’s kids are tomorrow’s parents). Their parents also experience indirect, but powerful, contact with the organization. Outsider thinking has helped make Willis-Knighton Health System the market leader in the pediatric care category. It’s also brought opportunities for market-share gains in other areas. As recently as 2018, Willis-Knighton Health System was the leading healthcare institution in the region it serves, where Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas converge.

While their success isn’t built on the back of one program, it does reflect a dedication to outsider thinking. The kicker: The Pediatric Orientation Program is still going strong at 40 years old. And, since none of Willis-Knighton’s competitors have been able to duplicate it, it gives the system an enduring competitive advantage.

As Willis-Knighton’s experience shows, while the status quo isn’t the enemy, it’s a lukewarm friend at best. Why not give that box a toss and look beyond the usual healthcare marketing ideas? After all, the box will still be there when you come back. That is, if you even want it by then.

Looking for help marketing to your target audiences?

Our team of experienced healthcare content experts can help you toss the box and put together a fresh content strategy that reaches your various markets and connects audiences with your brand. Reach out today.