The Freakonomics Approach to Hospital Marketing

The Freakonomics Approach to Hospital Marketing

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 10:00am


By Alex Panagiotopoulos

It’s time for healthcare organizations to use data to devastate the old way of doing marketing. According to Freakonomics authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the first step is to make a difficult confession: “I don’t know.”

Dubner and Levitt have made a career out of telling stories about how data can make the world a less confusing place. In this June 26 podcast, they discussed how large, slow-to-change organizations are being eaten alive by data-driven companies.

According to Dubner and Levitt, the barrier to becoming a data-driven company is twofold: the leadership in many traditional companies is unwilling to admit what they don’t know, and they don’t have the data-gathering tools to learn and innovate. Instead, these organizations are left to rely on gut instinct and “how we’ve always done it” philosophies. These companies will struggle to survive, while data-driven companies like Amazon will thrive by constantly learning from data experiments.

Admitting you don’t know is only half the battle

Once a company admits it doesn’t know the answer to everything and wants to be data-driven, Levitt says, it can take weeks or months just to establish a baseline for analysis. The problem is that while newer companies are built with data as a core priority, everyone else has decades of legacy systems and practices in place, requiring lots of labor-intensive data gathering to get started.       

For healthcare marketers, it’s no different. Useful data can be buried between dozens of different siloes. Think about how hospitals can have call centers, Electronic Health Record (EHR) portals, Google Analytics, accounts, Google Adwords, Facebook promoted posts, newsletter signups, SEOmoz rankings, landing pages, agency relationships, YouTube accounts, banner ad referrals, direct mail CRM systems… all working independently with different vendors and team members.

Without a baseline of data, it’s nearly impossible for companies to separate causation from correlation, plan effectively for the future, or find efficiencies across team members and agency relationships. With the right data views, marketers can find gaps and opportunities against competitors, automate previously labor-intensive tasks, and think more strategically (meta) instead of tactically (micro).

Healthcare marketers are not immune to Big Data

On the clinical side, healthcare companies are beginning to use data effectively when it comes to reducing readmissions, improving patient adherence and education, and making EHRs easier to use. All of those use cases can improve both patient outcomes and the company’s bottom line.

In today’s budget-crunching environment, healthcare marketers need to follow suit; using data more effectively will drive revenue and help patients thrive. To begin, take deep breath and say with feeling: “I don’t know.”