Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Goal Displacement in Marketing

A few years ago, a local hospital network decided to run a billboard campaign that provided a real-time digital display on their emergency room wait times. While I'm sure it seemed like a good idea from someone's perspective, the concept and execution is operationally a disaster for many reason.

One, anyone in a medical emergency, more than likely, has an urgent need to get to the closest hospital. It's very rare someone in cardiac arrest would say, "Honey, look that hospital has only a 15 minute wait time. Please drive past the other two hospitals so we can go there." So in terms of driving demand, this strategy has no impact at all on establishing new sources of revenue.

Two, and possibly the most crucial reason, the real-time display also lets the public know when the wait times are not that good. So, the person driving by the billboard looks at the 75-minute wait time, and then looks at the name of the hospital, and makes up their mind that they will never go there. This is why transparency doesn't apply to everything. Somewhere in their marketing arsenal, someone is apply the wrong marketing strategy to the wrong business.

First, transparency is a good thing for government (public sector) and not necessarily for private sector operations. Second, service metrics such as wait-times in the private sector are best suited for operations that have the risk of jeopardizing quality due to overwhelming demand, like a call center. The incentive is to discourage callers from staying on the line. You don't want to discourage people from going to your hospital. True, there is a customer service component to running a hospital, but you've never seen a restaurant post their actual wait-times on a big sign in front of their establishment, the same applies for a night club.

If you ever want to kill your brand in an automated fashion, you can do it in several ways. One, you can discourage people from even trying your product/service. Two, you can attempt to promote an operational metric you can't control. And three, you encourage potential customers to try other brands that simply sold the sizzle.

Your thoughts?


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