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Healthcare Communications: Changing rules of the game

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Healthcare Communications: Changing rules of the game

With the emergence of a new India and new Indians, there has been a change in the way people have started looking at healthcare. Healthcare is no longer just about regular check-ups, prescribing medicines or undertaking lifesaving operations. There has been an emergence of many healthcare brands that position themselves much beyond being just hospitals chains. There is an element of sophistication that has come in to meet the demands of the consumers, which even comprise foreign travellers who choose India as a medical tourist destination, given the world class facilities available here at a much lesser cost.

With changing perception towards healthcare, there is also a need to communicate this change effectively to its consumers. It is not a surprise that most mainline agencies have set up separate divisions to handle healthcare communication, but are still waiting in the sidelines for their moment of glory. Asha Kapoor, President, India and South Asia, Sudler & Hennessey (a joint venture between WPP and Rediffusion Y&R) comments on the scenario. She said, “There is a change of perception among the clients and we have definitely come a long way from the days when we had to educate clients on why they need an agency to now some asking us to work on their brand strategy. Though I wish that the pace of change was much faster.”

This is a sensitive category and one needs to keep certain things in mind while working on a communication strategy. Thomas Xavier, Chairman and NCD, Orchard Advertising, points certain requisites while working on the category. He said, “Healthcare is a matter of ethics, hence it is a major pre-requisite for communication in this category. Emotions run high when it comes to self and family health, and generally the tendency of communication agencies is to take undue advantage of these emotions and play on the fears. This could give short-term returns, but in the long term, it might not be a great strategy. It is also important that healthcare brands are sensitive at the same time.”

It’s a fact that this category has not seen much innovative advertising in mass media as communication in this category comes under several restrictions laid down by the Government. Howeer, that there is ample opportunity that can be tapped. Ashok Vidyasagar, Senior VP, Bates 141, observed, “The healthcare industry has to firstly recognise the importance of branding and communications. It requires making healthcare less clinical and more dynamic. There is a need to demonstrate change through Consumer Contact Programmes, CRM, Direct Marketing, Events, and Online, rather than depending on just Print. A larger footprint is required than the current one.”

Kapoor, too, points out that there is plenty of opportunity to explore – be it multi-media, CRM, DM or one-on-one communication. She, however, felt that due to the conservative approach of many clients these hadn’t been tapped into. She further said that there were signs now of change in that approach.

The change is also coming in the various positioning of many leading healthcare chains, which now want to convey themselves as being super speciality, multi-speciality, wellness, holistic healthcare centres among others. The players among these service providers are waking up to the fact that communication plays an important role in building their brands.

Vishal Bali, CEO, Wockhardt Hospitals, noted, “Consumer awareness and expectation from a branded healthcare product has increased over the years. There is a need to go beyond healthcare marketing and create an experience for our consumers. This can be done by communicating the core competency of the brand through an interactive way, which will enhance consumer connect. We do it through the digital medium where our website has features such as virtual family visit or encouraging chats focusing consumer experience.”

Joydeep Raha, VP, Lintas Media Bangalore Collective, shares his experience on working in this category. He said, “The role of communication is vital in terms of creating the necessary awareness and breaking the age old myths associated with healthcare. The key role of media is two-fold – first is to envelop the consumers with healthcare knowledge, and second, to communicate specific benefits to the end users/beneficiaries and influencers.”

Giving a media planner’s perspective, he said, “Media agencies can create positive hooks, which remind people gently about the care they need to take for their health and that of their near and dear ones. Fear psychosis only works in a limited manner. To create, nurture, and to some extent glamorize certain occasions, which increases visibility and relevance such as Heart Day, Health Day, Marathons, Doctors’ Day similar to the lines of other social highpoints like Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day/ Mother’s Day. Positive depiction of a message, which is essentially negative, can be done through this route.

Xavier pointed out that the aspects of healthcare could be attributed to any other category and not just restricted to one. He explained, “Today, there is an increased emphasis on wellness and its attributes can be applied to any category. Even when we are working on the automotive sector, certain features of the car, which helps in relaxation or contributes to one’s healthy lifestyle or environment, can be highlighted.”

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