The concept of consumerism is one that permeates so many facets of our daily life, whether it is through our purchase habits, our relationships to the things we own, or how we use consumption to perform our identities. While there is much to be said about consumerism, a simple explanation would suggest that it is an ideology that encourages the protection and activism of consumers. Popular examples of consumerism include honest packaging (like “healthy” food products), regulated advertising (such as tobacco advertising to minors) and increased choice through providing consumers with more options overall.
The ideology surrounding consumerism has shifted over the years, and continues to change during this age of increased technology, communication, and access to information. Today, we live in a retail environment where consumers have more power than ever before – be it through a variety of competing options (more brands overall), access to multiple purchase venues (online or in-store), and an increased capacity to share their feedback and commentary – through review platforms and social media alike.
But what is there to be said about the role of consumerism in healthcare? For marketing professionals, understanding how healthcare consumerism and the rise of active consumers is affecting a market that has traditionally relied on passive patients is imperative to the success of their healthcare marketing campaigns.
Today, we are going to discuss some of the nuances of healthcare consumerism – how the commonly understood patient profile is changing, how consumers are taking charge of their own health, and how marketing professionals can align themselves with the ideology of patient consumerism to build stronger relationships with their prospective customers.
An Evolving Patient Profile
Not unlike the profile of the typical consumer, the typical healthcare patient, and the idea of patient consumerism as a whole has evolved over the years. Today, consumers are more involved in their healthcare than ever before, and as a result are demanding more from their healthcare professionals. This increased degree of agency in patient consumerism has required healthcare providers (including medical equipment suppliers) to create efficiencies, stay competitive, and increase their level of convenience.
Similarly, with more empowered patients comes more consumers who are willing to use the wealth of information available to make the choices that work best for their individual needs. Patients understand that they have choices, and are absolutely willing to seek out alternatives and take advantage that fact when the product or treatment they are prescribed does not fit their needs. In short, patient consumerism for marketing professionals involves maximizing convenience and ensuring that your company’s product or service is the one that your prospective customers are encouraged to choose.
Consumerism in Healthcare
We would be remiss to discuss consumerism in healthcare, and more specifically the role of patient consumerism without also discussing some of the many complex ways that the healthcare market is in fact different from the retail space. It goes without saying that patients are different from consumers in a number of ways – including their motivations for making a particular purchase. Depending on the condition and severity of a patient’s ailments, they may have less time, energy, and patience to assess all of the alternatives that exist in the marketplace and make the “consumerist” choice.
For marketing professionals, it does come down to understanding the patients who would benefit from your product, what they are experiencing, and how you can best reach them in order to make a positive difference in a convenient manner. A big part of this comes from working to cultivate a more authentic relationship with patients and non-patients alike. A shift in marketing strategy to align with the age of healthcare consumerism might include some of the following:
Providing regular information to patients and positioning your company as a credible, informative source of healthcare information is a great way to build a sense of authenticity and consumer trust in your brand. By doing this, your company will be front of mind when consumers go to make their purchase decisions.
By promoting prevention through your various marketing platforms not only will your audience receive useful information to make positive choices and live healthier lives, but your company will be recognized as understanding the risk factors for poor health and caring about being a constructive part of the solution through both prevention and through the benefits provided by your product or service.
Focus on Relationships
There is still very much a human element to healthcare consumerism, and that comes primarily from the relationship between a patient and their medical professional. While technology is absolutely innovating the ways in which these communications can take place (digitally, virtually, and through apps and wearable technology), recognizing the importance of this relationship to patients and patient consumerism is incredibly important. Being able to build on the relationship between a patient and their doctor with respect to your medical product or service will absolutely serve your company well when it comes to the patients purchase decision.
Why Healthcare Consumerism is a Step in the Right Direction
Everyone recognizes that the healthcare world, especially in North America, is incredibly complex. Having empowered consumers who are in-tune, engaged, and will demand high quality service will undoubtedly have a positive impact on how patients are understood by the medical sector, and as a result affect how they are cared for.
What is important now is that marketers understand that this shift towards patient consumerism is continuing to occur, and that targeting their marketing efforts towards the “passive patient” will not connect with today’s consumer. Today’s healthcare market is about the consumer – their needs, their education, and ultimately their choice. Recognizing this and aligning your company’s marketing efforts with a patient-focused marketing program will not only allow you to build relationships with current and future consumers, but also to position your brand as a leader in understanding the nuanced, authentic wants and needs of a target market in an incredibly complex, competitive space.
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