An extreme marketing makeover provides a lift to morale, the patient experience, and the bottom line.

So picture this. You run an established radiology practice with a record of medical imaging leadership in your area, with many years of strong business growth and financial success.

But the face of health care is ever changing. Doing business exactly the same way you did 5 years ago—or even 12 months ago—could lead to sags in referral patterns. New competition, whether from a brand-new facility or from simply an upgrade in equipment, can and will eventually affect the “look” of your bottom line.

Facing such challenges, one likely conclusion of organizational leadership is: “Maybe it’s time for a makeover”—a business facelift, if you will.

More than Just a Pretty Face

What does it mean when you say, “It’s time for a makeover?” The traditional answer might have been that it’s just a matter of some cosmetic tweaks to your marketing—refreshing your logo, redesigning some brochures that talk about your board-certified, fellowship-trained radiologists, running some new ads. Then everything will be fine, right?

More than likely, wrong—especially given the pressures that radiology practices are facing. In today’s environment, a makeover may need to reach far more deeply into your organization.

Why? Because these more traditional responses are purely tactical in nature. They are not strategically aligned to practice goals and may not address current challenges. As a result, they’re likely to be ineffective. They are not truly new approaches to marketing. At best, they’re “old wine in new bottles,” dressing up cosmetically what you’ve done for years.

Your previous marketing programs weren’t necessarily designed for the challenges you’re facing today. Your world has changed. Maybe it’s time to take a closer look at how your marketing needs to adapt—and maybe even a look at your basic understanding of the role of marketing and its place within the overall operations of your practice.

Assessing Your Challenges

Let’s look at some hypothetical scenarios that could lead to a “We need a makeover” moment.

  • Competition from the health care equivalent of an 800-pound gorilla in your region
  • Facilities that are not up to par
  • Inconsistent customer service
  • Revenue erosions from reduced reimbursements
  • A significant decrease in referrals from some physicians
  • New facilities or new equipment introduced by a competitor

If there’s an 800-pound gorilla in your market, your referring physicians and patients need a reason to choose you instead of the gorilla. So you need to be different—in positive and impossible-to-overlook ways.

If patients feel your facilities aren’t up to par, their perception must be in comparison to something—maybe other imaging centers, or health care facilities in general. By definition, changing this involves differentiation from an external perspective.

It would be impossible for patients to feel that you’re missing the mark on customer service unless external factors had not set higher expectations. To make customers happy, you must differentiate yourself by exceeding their expectations.

If reduced reimbursements are affecting revenue, one response is to attract more patients with higher-paying coverage. How do you do that? Again, by analyzing your referrals and by differentiating your practice from alternatives they’re currently using.

A number of factors could be at work behind a decrease in referrals. But differentiation is probably the key factor—there is some reason why doctors are referring elsewhere.

So we see that differentiation could be a key factor in most, if not all, of the competitive challenges facing radiology practices. An MRI is an MRI is an MRI, and a mammogram is a mammogram is a mammogram. Your technology and medical credentials are probably not materially different from those of your competitors. Like it or not, “state of the art imaging equipment” and “board-certified, fellowship-trained radiologists” are the baseline expectation, not a differentiator.

Becoming the Better Choice and Effectively Communicating It

On arrival at this stage of your “We need a makeover” moment, you realize that:

  • You need to be clearly different in positive and noticeable ways
  • Your marketing must make the differences loud and clear to your public
  • You need to deliver on those differences at every interaction

Yes, you need more marketing. But marketing, as traditionally practiced in radiology, isn’t enough. When you consider transforming public perceptions of your practice, you’re looking at redefining your product. Your product isn’t just the imaging services—it’s the totality of experience created through every interaction with your practice, from telephone calls and visits to billing interactions and marketing outreach.

Today, the most advanced marketers view their discipline as encompassing operations. Why? Because virtually every industry has experienced differentiation challenges. Without differences that people can see with abundant clarity, the statements “a shoe store is a shoe store is a shoe store” and “an imaging center is an imaging center is an imaging center” are equally true.

So the concept isn’t new to marketing in general. Retail brands from Nordstrom to Harris Teeter have flourished by differentiating themselves in disruptive, transformational ways. However, the concept is less diffused among health care practices, where there has historically been less need for marketing.

Even in radiology, one of the specialties in which marketing has been most needed and embraced, this approach is novel. The need for it emerged fairly recently, as commoditization and competitive pressures accelerated over the past 10 to 15 years.

Marketing Works, an agency based in York, Pa, is among the first (possibly the first) organizations to systematically apply a disruptive, transformational differentiation approach to the marketing of radiology practices from coast to coast.

Marketing Works calls the process the “Ultimate Imaging Center” (UIC). Although UIC is a “branded process,” it’s far from the “cookie cutter” application of a fill-in-the blank marketing plan template. The process and outcomes are unique to address the specific needs of each client and the dynamics in their market.

The first step is to identify what’s unique about a practice or outline ways to provide a superior experience. Once these differentiators are discovered, the next steps help to create an internal culture that operationally supports consistent delivery. Next, you can begin to tell your story to all key audiences. To illustrate how the UIC process works, let’s take a look at a specific case.

From NVRA to Naugatuck Valley Radiology: One Extreme Makeover

Identifying the Need. The “We need a makeover” moment for Naugatuck Valley Radiology Associates (NVRA) wasn’t a crisis situation. As Stephen Covey has observed, “Private victory often precedes public victory.” This is why even the most successful organizations sometimes need to evaluate and upgrade their brand.

Known locally as NVRA Imaging Network, the practice had emerged as one of the prominent radiology groups in central Connecticut, with six locations and strong hospital relationships.

However, management realized that the brand, messaging, and service culture could be presented more consistently across locations. They also wanted to upgrade the level of customer service from “good” to “superior.”

“Our management team constantly reviews operations and seeks ways to improve our services and processes,” said Paul Masotto, executive director, Naugatuck Valley Radiology.

“We looked at the changing industry and saw a need to reposition ourselves, to better prepare for the future that’s taking shape. It was clear that an important part of that would be to transform how we present ourselves. We were working with an external marketing firm, but weren’t seeing indications of strategic thinking to propel us to the next level.”

Masotto discovered Marketing Works through a news article in the radiology business literature and, after some initial meetings, engaged our services.

“We were impressed with their professionalism, their deep understanding of the challenges facing radiology practices, and their strategic approach,” Masotto said. “They understood our business and could speak our language.”

Discovering Differentiators and Challenges

Marketing Works began the UIC process, which can take 12 to 18 months to fully implement, with an intensive “discovery phase,” gathering information about the operations, culture, and people of NVRA, and their current opportunities and challenges.

This included in-depth interviews with NVRA senior management, physicians, technologists, and support staff, as well as unannounced visits by “mystery patients” to NVRA locations and other local health care facilities.

The effort revealed some decisive strengths:

  • Most staff were dedicated and highly enthusiastic about their jobs
  • Management was committed to high customer service standards
  • Scheduling performance was high, with same-day appointments often available
  • Imaging reports were provided promptly to referring physicians

However, the following issues were also revealed:

  • Lack of clearly defined customer service standards, expectations, and accountabilities for staff
  • Inconsistencies in internal communication about standards and accountabilities
  • Inconsistencies in the customer experience across locations
  • Lack of knowledge of long-term goals for the organization

While the consensus was that NVRA was the top choice in the local market, there was also the realization that they could benefit from a more systematic approach to enhancing relationships with referring practices and patients.

Inconsistencies in the look of the facilities were also apparent, with a lack of elements to tie the facilities to one another and to the organization’s brand.

Review of NVRA’s brand determined that their logo was somewhat predictable for a radiology practice and, therefore, not an effective differentiator. The NVRA acronym was perceived as lacking personality and failing to convey something memorable. Existing marketing efforts were not strategically driven, consistent, or customer focused. And messaging did not clearly convey NVRA’s differentiators.

Addressing the Issues

Driven by these findings, Marketing Works developed a comprehensive program to leverage NVRA’s strengths, address inconsistencies, and respond to challenges.

Customer service standards were created, and staff training was conducted to increase awareness of expectations and instill a sense of accountability. The training also increased internal “buy-in” to the overall goals and potential of the organization.

“Essentially, we deployed an internal marketing program to re-energize our organization and get everyone on the same page,” said Masotto.

Central to this effort was the development of a brand promise that manifests itself in a tagline: “Less Wait. Less Worry.” Directed both internally and externally, the promise underscores NVRA’s commitment to prompt scheduling and reporting as a central differentiator.

Efforts to transform NVRA’s “public face” included:

  • Moving from NVRA to Naugatuck Valley Radiology to add personality and create a more memorable identity for the practice
  • Creation of a new graphic identity, including a logo, stationery, business cards, and brand standards, to create an unexpectedly warm and friendly image
  • D?cor recommendations to consistently brand facilities with a more inviting and less clinical look and feel
  • Recommendations to offer amenities, such as coffee and tea in waiting areas
  • A Web site redesign to include educational information and customer conveniences
  • Implementation of internal standards, procedures, and accountabilities to support the brand promise and creation of an internal marketing culture
  • A brand launch strategy and campaign to set customer expectations for the new and improved Naugatuck Valley Radiology

To help them manage and enhance relationships with referrers and measure marketing program success, Naugatuck Valley Radiology also implemented Tracking Works, a Web-based customer relationship management tool developed by Marketing Works to meet the unique needs of radiology practices.

“Results You Can See”

Implementation of the Ultimate Imaging Center program at Naugatuck Valley Radiology is still in process. Moving forward, Tracking Works will be an important resource to measure program success.

“We’re not ready to measure results yet,” said Masotto. “But there are results you can see. I’m definitely seeing positive changes in terms of our recognition and visibility. We’ve received compliments from referring practices on our new look and feel.”

Masotto added, however, that the biggest changes are internal.

“We needed to be re-energized and that has definitely happened,” he said. “Staff at all levels have a new enthusiasm for their jobs. I’ve never sensed more strongly that everyone’s on the same page. And the transformation leaves us better positioned to continue to adapt as our business environment changes.”

Tina Rudisill () brings more than 25 years of experience to trg Marketing Works, the advertising, marketing, and public relations agency she leads as president in York, Pa. Radiology practice marketing is among the core specialties of Marketing Works. Rudisill has delivered presentations on practice marketing strategies at medical conferences and spearheaded strategic marketing programs and initiatives for clients in radiology, garnering Quest Awards for external marketing, advertising, and general brand awareness initiatives.