Healthcare marketers: ready to compete against Walmart?

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Coming to a town near you, it’s a Walmart primary care clinic. You can read the story here at Forbes – Health Care For $4: Are You Ready For Walmart To Be Your Doctor.

With more than a hundred hospital-leased “retail clinics” already across their stores, these new fully owned primary care clinics will number a dozen before January. And similar to the retailer’s hours, they’ll be open 12 hours per day on weekdays and 8-plus hours per day on weekends. Not quite like your current primary care provider. They’ll also be lower cost alternatives to traditional practitioners, with walk-in visits just $40. Great delivery of their Save money. Live better. promise!

So how can traditional providers, facing unparalleled risk of losing volume and even more share of mind, thrive amidst the “retail” disruption. Here are five ideas:

1. When it comes to competing for “business”, think customer, not patient. Thanks to defined contribution plans and private exchanges, “customers” have lots of new healthcare choices as it relates to when and where they go for care. Further, knowing what great customer experiences look and feel like from non-healthcare industries, they’re seeking similar great experiences from their healthcare providers. Only in the hospital are these customers captive patients.

2. Think and act like a “healthy living” CPG brand. Healthy living has become mainstream and intertwined with people’s everyday lives. To continue to be relevant, consider how you can engage people in their daily health and win the battle for an ongoing consumer relationship through traditional and technology-based (mobile, social and digital) channels. According to Oliver Wyman Health & Life Sciences, this “coordinated” health living idea includes Monitoring, Lifestyle/Wellness, Social/Mobile, Convenience Clinics, Home Services, Weight Management, E-health/Web-based Services and Coaching.

3. Emphasis above on “brand.” 90% of what most healthcare providers do tends to be the same. And even if your services are different and better, it’s often hard for customers to discern given the sameness of so much communication. So how do you break the ties? Through brand – your unique promise delivered across the entire customer experience – and ultimately the connection point with your customers. To quote Joy Howard of Patagonia, “the company is no different than the brand. Everything we do at Patagonia builds the brand, because there is no distinction between what we do and the brand experience.

4. What about you is unique and unexpected. If you’re having a hard time answering this question, imagine what it’s like for your prospective customers. Pointing to the saturated automotive market, a Governance Institute healthcare-related article titled Lessons in Customer-Centricity from Outside Industries, asks who knew cup holders could sway a consumer to buy a $30k vehicle? Is the healthcare market any less saturated? No. So it’s important to identify which benefits of your hospital or health system are unique, desired and unexpected in the eyes of your customers.

5. Think about your portfolio like shelf space. P&G is in the midst of pruning its portfolio to concentrate on its strongest businesses. Unilever cut 20% of its SKUs in 2013 and another 10-20% in 2014 to concentrate on its strongest brands with international and local scale with the goal of improving its operating performance. It’s impossible to effectively promote every one of your service lines. Where does your organization excel relative to competitors? What are your most strategic and financially important lines of business? What do you offer that they cannot? Strategically manage your portfolio to help you create competitive space and put already stretched resources to better use.

The bottom line is that you need some fresh thinking in order to envision new possibilities, do things differently and be a better competitor tomorrow (versus the likes of Walmart among the other disruptors) than you are today.