A Matter of Life and Death

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders News , August 8, 2007

In his new book on hospital and health system marketing, author Patrick T. Buckley writes of the similarities between marketing a healthcare organization and marketing a funeral home.

"People don't typically spend a lot of time thinking about where they would like to be buried or which funeral home should handle the arrangements should they die tomorrow. Likewise, people don't always think about where they want to go if they have a heart attack or need to have hip replacement surgery," he writes. "However, when a person does have a health-related event that requires treatment, you definitely want your hospital to be at the top of his or her mind--and you want it to stay there."

In Arizona, the Bunker family funeral home is running a campaign that's up front about the fact that folks aren't spending day and night thinking about its services. A radio ad opens with an announcer saying in an upbeat voice, "I'll bet you're not thinking about your funeral right now!"

Turns out the healthcare and funeral industry might have another thing in common: the rise in consumerism and an increasing demand for personalized service. The "You've Got Choices" spot explains that the Bunker family doesn't believe in funerals by the numbers.

So do you want church music or disco at your funeral? Casket, urn, or ashes launched into space? This funeral home will cater to your individual wishes. (Listen to and see the funeral home's campaign on their site, bunkerfuneral.com.)

Is there a lesson in all this for healthcare marketers? Buckley thinks so.

"Hospital marketers know that each patient's experience is unique and that advertising must connect emotionally with consumers. Likewise, the stories we tell about patients or physicians must portray the hospital as a place that respects individuals and empathizes with their lack of control over their situation," he writes. But most marketing misses the mark."

So much of hospital and health system advertising is focused on showing the newest imaging equipment of life-saving technology. Almost every marketer I work with wants to achieve the high-touch/high-tech duality in advertising," he writes.

"Healthcare advertising works, it's true--but if it doesn't make an emotional connection with consumers, it's better to put the money to other uses."

Editor's note: Buckley's book,The Complete Guide to Hospital Marketing, is published by HealthLeaders Media.

Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at gshaw@healthleadersmedia.com.

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