5 Reasons Market Research Is Essential for Your Healthcare Practice’s Growth

Much like the stock market, consumer markets shift and evolve, too. One example of how the healthcare marketplace has changed significantly in the last five years is found in the phenomenon of healthcare consumerism. Gone are the days when a practice could sit back and wait for patients to find them via the Yellow pages or through a local hospital system. Now, patients shop for doctors, hospitals and medical services in the same way they shop for retail items — reading Google reviews, browsing web content, and comparing competitive strengths and weaknesses. It’s a seismic shift in how things operate, and yet, there are plenty of healthcare practices, service lines and centers of excellence that not only prepared to meet this challenge, but continue to thrive as it progresses. How? They do their research.


Defining Research

Research is the systematic gathering of data for the purpose of making better (more informed) decisions. There are two basic types of research: primary (data you collect) and secondary (data someone else has collected). A few examples of ways healthcare practices can engage in primary research, include:

• Interviews — Phone, face-to-face, web video (i.e. Zoom)

• Surveys — Text, web forms, direct mail, e-mail

• Focus Groups — Online forums, moderated in-person or web video discussions

• Observations — Gathering competitor’s marketing materials, visits to competitor sites

Examples of secondary research, which are typically purchased from research firms, government agencies, trade associations, and major publications, include:

• Studies — Insights drawn from multiple sources such as textbooks, news articles, published academic papers, records, government documents, etc.

• Reports — Data on a particular subject that has been gathered, organized, analyzed and summarized

In order to retain a competitive edge in the healthcare marketplace, hospitals and practices need the information and insights from both types of research. Whereas primary research is essential to your ability to stay in tune with local patients’ needs and desires, secondary research promotes continuous growth by equipping you with early access to broader changes and trends that impact patient behaviors and your practice’s bottom line. At Nichols Brand Stories, we’ve found that committing to ongoing research is a strategic choice and wise investment that impacts five key drivers of a healthcare practice’s future success.


1) Market Research Enables You to Understand Patient Attitudes and Behaviors

We’ve all had that moment where someone we thought we knew surprised us with a choice or response we didn’t expect. Then, when we tell them we never knew they felt strongly about a particular subject or choice, they respond with, “You never asked.” Patients are people and people are complex individuals with varying motives driving their attitudes and behaviors. Fortunately, for those of us who perform research on behalf of clients and customers, people love to talk about their choices, preferences and expectations. However, we must be diligent in not only asking them questions about themselves, but asking the right questions, and checking in with them to ensure they still feel the same way over time.

Growing your practice is a function of adding more patients to your roster. This at first, may seem like a mathematical or logic-based endeavor, but attracting more people to your healthcare practice, service line, or center of excellence is actually an emotion-based decision. In fact, 90 percent of the decisions people make are not founded in what they think, but rather in how they feel. It is critical that you have a thorough understanding of how patients feel about your practice because it will impact their attitude toward your offerings, as well as their decision to entrust their care to your brand.


2) Market Research Equips You With a Competitive Advantage

In the immortal words of American business leader, Jack Welch, “There are only two sources of competitive advantage: the ability to learn more about our customers faster than the competition and the ability to turn that learning into action faster than the competition.” Of course, to know you are acting faster than your competitors requires you to keep up with all they are doing via research. Knowing who your competitors are, how they are connecting with patients, and what they are doing right, as well as what they are getting wrong, is information you need to have because your patients have it and they are using it to make decisions. Moreover, gathering and maintaining data regarding your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses is a wise practice that will enable you to keep your own practice on its toes. In addition to helping you set a more competitive pace, performing research on your competition can help your practice grow faster by uncovering:

a) Reasons Patients Left — It’s important to always ask where patients have come from because If you gain a patient from a competitor, they have inside information you can benefit from, including what made them switch. Find out if it was multiple small things or one big issue that prompted their decision to leave. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they miss (if anything) about your competitor because all competitive intel is good-to-know.

b) Underserved Patients — In researching your competitors, you may find an entire patient population they have forgotten to address in their marketing. This gives you an amazing opportunity to dominate that particular market and become the recognized leader.

c) Unmet Patient Needs — As you peruse your competitors marketing materials, pay special attention to whether or not they missed an opportunity to address a particular patient need. This may provide you with a distinct competitive advantage, while simultaneously giving your brand the advantage of a more comprehensive and well-rounded approach.

3) Market Research is a Goldmine for Finding New Opportunities

Trial lawyers are often told to never ask a question that they don’t already know the answer to because people will invariably say things you didn’t expect or bring up valid points you overlooked or never considered. However, when it comes to research, the unpredictability of people’s answers often leads to innovations, breakthroughs and fresh opportunities to build brand loyalty with like-minded customers.

When conducting research, it’s vitally important to ask open-ended questions, keep an open mind, and listen for clarity as well as context. Yes, you will want to know answers to things such as “how did you hear about us?” But, you will also need to leave space for write-in answers for each multiple-choice question you ask because every customer journey is unique.

For example, the million-dollar Bank of America “Keep the Change” program in which they round up every purchase made with a debit card to the nearest dollar amount and place the difference in the customer’s savings account was an idea that came from one of their customers during a focus group. Again, let your customers tell you what they think and how they feel and resist the temptation to put words in their mouths. Don’t forget to ask plenty of demographical and personal interest questions because this information will help you segment your marketing lists and better define your ideal customer and target audiences.


4) Market Research Will Help You Address Issues Impeding Growth

As we mentioned earlier, we live in the age of healthcare consumerism, a time where people across all age groups use their phones and tablets to shop for medical services and practitioners. What this means for modern healthcare providers is that in addition to being viewed as a trusted expert, they must provide a digital customer experience that meets or exceeds patient expectations. Conducting research on the customer journey of your patients is an excellent way to uncover issues that are negatively impacting their experience of your brand. Listening to complaints is never easy or enjoyable, but if you are serious about growing your practice, you’ll find this type of honesty from patients is invaluable. Allowing patients to speak to you candidly about what you are getting wrong, or where you are missing an opportunity with them will help you identify and address gaps in your service. It’s also a great tool for setting measurable goals, as in we’re working on lowering wait times by 15 minutes, or reducing annual churn by five percent, etc.


5) Market Research Empowers You to Develop More Effective Marketing Strategies

When you thoroughly research your market opportunities and target audience, you equip your marketing endeavors with the ultimate strategic power — knowledge. Moreover, you uncover the emotions that motivate patients to say yes to your healthcare practice, service line or center of excellence. You gain an in-depth understanding of what the typical patient (customer) journey looks like, including the channels they use to communicate, and the messages that resonate with their experience. All of this information enables you to create marketing campaigns that connect with patients on the right channels with the right message at the right time. This is how wise healthcare providers become fast-growing, preferred brands and market leaders.


We Build Strong Healthcare Brands

At Nichols Brand Stories, we believe great healthcare brands are built step-by-step as practices follow a proven approach that ties marketing performance to organizational goals. Let us put our experience in creating compelling personalized patient marketing to work for you. To get started, or simply to have a conversation about how to strengthen your brand’s position, please reach out to me at MKlein@WeTellYourStory.com.