Refocus your Medical Tourism Marketing Strategy: Think Big, Go Small

Could your medical tourism marketing strategy benefit from a refocusing of your lens? Consider this technique to narrow your approach and drive higher turnover.

Let’s say you run a small clinic in a city in Europe, Asia, Latin America, or elsewhere. One that competes directly with doctors working in three nearby private hospitals and their physicians for a group of surgical procedures in your specialty. (It usually doesn’t matter which procedures.) You believe your medical tourism marketing niche is “xyz surgery”, right?  You are probably mistaken.

Is it possible to be the leading expert in the niche area of “xyz surgery”? Probably not. Other much larger, more prominent providers all over the world have put millions behind that concept.

That means even though you want to think big with your medical tourism turnover goals for “xyz surgery”, your actual market or service line niche needs to be small. How small? As small as possible.

Your medical tourism niche identification might benefit from a concept called “fractal marketing“.  Fractal marketing is a concept I’ve been reading about in a book by Andrew Davis called Brandscaping.  He defines this term as “repeatedly splitting your customer into a more specific niche.” In this way, he develops a more defined market niche into a smaller population of valuable customer prospects.

As many of you know, I am very proud to have been selected as the consultant to help Greece, build a national medical tourism strategy. You may not be aware that I’ve also been engaged for 2015 on 9 more substantial projects in Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico, and the USA to build regional or national health policy around medical tourism and then create and implement a unique strategy for each client. Some are private investor-driven projects, some are for individual medical groups, some are for governments, and some are for publicly-owned, non-profit, academic medical centers.

Each competes for medical tourism patients, but we know that each also has unique market segmentation. Not all destinations or providers will appeal to all customers across the globe, so why “broadcast” a global message when a more targeted message will serve you better? The magic happens when we can identify which personas are the most likely to buy each product on offer.  Like any experienced consultant, I spend my time when not working with clients on their projects, researching practical approaches to their common dilemmas. One is market segmentation. In order to plan my activities with these projects, I aim to produce quick wins and measurable results for each client early in each engagement. That takes planning, research, and know-how that comes from hard work behind the scenes, during my non-billable hours.

Micro/macro approach to fact-finding

One approach that I like to use is an interactive brainstorming workshop with the stakeholders in the region. This takes some finesse and sensitivity, because I usually end up with competing health clinics, hospitals, spas, hoteliers, or physicians in a room, each wanting to guard their information. At the same time, government officials are also there wondering how to get at non-public information necessary to define the strategy.

In order to accomplish my objective, I’ve decided on a micro/macro approach to fact-finding. I’ve used this approach on other projects to define insurer contracting strategies in the past, and also on physician integration projects where physicians who compete with one another aim to form an integrated practice group called an Independent Physician/Practice Association (IPA).

There are myriad antitrust issues that arise when you put some 50 or more competing physician.  One can easily run afoul of laws about collusion, price fixing, refusal to deal, or restraint of trade if they attempt this without experience and knowledge of the laws and regulations. As an experienced health law paralegal, I have deep knowledge of these constraints and must govern myself accordingly (because to do otherwise is a criminal act that brings with it career suicide). Similar concerns exist in all 28 OECD countries, and many that are not OECD members or currently in accession talks. There are other realities in play, (corruption, for example) that one must also take into account when planning such a workshop and strategy.

The best place to start

I ask each workshop participant to independently list, on a blank sheet of paper with no names, characteristics of their 10 best buyer personas. Once I can get each to list these 10 best customer personas anonymously, we assemble the responses from the group and a moderator sworn to secrecy or who might not recognize handwriting or identity hints.

Most small, independent medical tourism suppliers don’t have the financial means to target multiple potential buyers in multiple niches. They also don’t care much about marketing the destination because they lack the authority to represent the tourism destination, and lack the knowledge of how to do it and the capital to do so. They are also not in the business of caring if their immediate competitor survives and thrives. Instead, ask each to focus on their own best customers to formulate your regional medical tourism marketing strategy.  You can do this by asking each participant to focus on their ten best customers.

Next, with the assistance of a moderator, examine the similarities among them. These responses are entered on a PowerPoint® slide for use with an audience response system. Using keypads to protect the anonymity of the votes, the moderator then conducts an exercise to determine which are the most common traits of the best buyers for each individual supplier in the region to attempt to identify the 10-best macro personas that might buy from the regional group of suppliers.  The audience response system enables respondents to answer in Likert Scale, True/False, and Yes/No, without revealing their individual identity and political or market agendas. Then shred the responses and dispose of them properly. Ensure a scribe and witness summarize how the exercise was carried out in a workshop report so that if anyone ever calls into question the proceedings of the workshop, you have your documentation in order to defend that no questionable behavior or anti-competitive activity took place.

The findings of this exercise becomes the regional buyer persona(s). Your medical tourism marketing strategy can then be refocused at 10 best buyer personas that would be attracted to the region, instead of attempting to lure an entire global marketplace to your door. These results then give guidance to the regional or national tourism office to assist in the medical tourism destination marketing that benefits the sector – which is more appropriate for the public sector to engage than if their actions were to benefit only one private enterprise.

While there is no silver-bullet medical tourism marketing strategy, starting with a smaller, more profitable group of customers is the best method for deciding which market niche you should explore as a supplier. Once you’ve produced some quick wins and turnover, executives will be more willing to entertain larger budget commitments to move on to other medical tourism service line niches targeting different buyers.

The natural inclination is to go big with your service line niche, to try to attract a larger market. Avoid this urge. Go big with service, quality, access and other competitive angles, and go small with your niche. Refocus your lens on the most valuable portion of your audience, and maybe even fewer than 10 best customer types to start.

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