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Elevating Place Marketing in Healthcare

Updated: Oct 17

Place marketing in healthcare: A mini globe with a stethoscope wrapped around it.

Countries do it, cities do it, and now healthcare is doing it more than ever.

It's not enough to have just a hospital or network. More and more patients seek providers offering a "lifestyle" or some kind of panache. No, this isn't like going to a Disney resort, but it should be no surprise that Disney does employee training for healthcare providers.

Many might argue that healthcare providers are already marketing themselves as a "place." But those who work in the place marketing business know that there are many subtleties in adding a credible personality and "opinion" to these enterprises.

Some subsets of healthcare have done an excellent job of building some of the "place" elements into their personas. For example, dentistry has developed messaging about a root canal being a somewhat enjoyable experience. However, these are micro-messaging themes related to a specialty, whereas proper place marketing is much broader and links to the overall personality of the provider footprint.

Increasingly common is to incorporate healthcare providers and payers into an urban place marketing effort that reinforces the city as a form of "destination healthcare." These "medical cities" promote cooperation between many healthcare enterprises within the "city limits." One of the most famous, Lake Nona Medical City, is not surprisingly just down the street from Disney.

An example of place marketing inviting potential home buyers to move to Lake Nona Medical City

Regardless of where they are located, medical cities offer services well beyond the patient care they provide. These include retail, hotel, and transportation systems. Most also include academic and research activities that draw upon the large numbers of patients, the mix of learning opportunities, and the access to high-tech facilities.

Health Tourism

Because these medical cities provide corollary non-medical services, they fit in with the trend of medical tourism. Whereas in the past, except for experimental treatments, one would not think of traveling to another city for a knee transplant, place-marketed providers now can incorporate the procedure as a chance to take the family to someplace fun and exciting.

Oh, and lest we forget, many top international health tourism destinations provide care at a fraction of the price in the United States.

For example, among Asian and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Dubai has become one of the world's top medical tourism countries, mainly for complex cosmetic, dental, and fertility treatments.

Picture of Dubai w/ coastline
Dubai has become one of the world's top medical tourism countries, mainly for complex cosmetic, dental, and fertility treatments.

Other healthcare place marketing experts have a different challenge that may sound counterintuitive. As one who lives in the Boston/Cambridge area, the city is undoubtedly one of the most respected "places" to go for healthcare. So the question arises: does it need to be marked as such, given how provider brands stand very well by themselves despite being in Boston?

Healthcare Place Marketing Challenges

Unlike Lake Nona or Dubai, I would argue that the Boston area's "place" is more distributed and driven by search. Consumers' infatuation for using "Dr. Google" to find best-of-breed medical care cannot be underestimated. Because of the concentration of world-renowned academic hospitals in the 617 area code, Boston does not have to market itself as a medical destination when the search algorithms do it for them with dozens of "Best hospitals in the world for ___" lists.

Boston cite scape
The best example of place marketing in healthcare? Boston providers don't necessarily have to market themselves as "in Boston" to benefit from the city's international renown.

On the other hand, while Costa Rica has become an attractive medical tourism destination, patients need much more convincing about medical excellence to travel there despite the country's natural beauty. However, a well-kept secret is that it has ranked high in dentistry and cosmetic surgery, in some areas consistently above Canada and the US. The country is also building a name regarding eye surgery, cancer therapy, and bariatric surgery.

Who knew!?

Herding Cats for Unified Place Markets

It is no surprise that many established healthcare networks have their own challenges related to brand marketing. This problem has increased in a world of mergers and acquisitions where the various components must be bolted together to create, at minimum, unified marketing or, at best, the proverbial gestalt where the whole enterprise is greater than its constituent parts.

Add to that an urban place marketer wanting to unify all the healthcare networks in that geography to form the perception (or perhaps illusion) of everyone in that place getting along with each other for improved patient outcomes!

Not for the faint at heart and best to have a background as a representative of the Holy Sea!

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