Not long ago I passed a digital billboard and noticed an interesting ad for the small hospital just two blocks from my house. I don’t remember the exact words, but the message was something along the lines of:
The current wait in the Emergency Room at Hospital XYZ is 4 minutes.
Now my first reaction to this was,
Oh, that’s interesting.
Quickly followed by the obvious,
Hmm, now would be a great time to get in an accident!
And then I moved on to,
There are some very interesting ideas in there…
Which is where I am now.
A little context: the hospital in question is a small facility with about 150 beds, and isn’t very well known. Its main competitor, however, is a monster; in fact the largest employer in the county, with multiple facilities of all sizes, and the main facility at least four times the size of the smaller hospital. In fact, here in Lancaster County, the larger hospital is somewhat synonymous with health care.. This creates quite the problem for this smaller hospital in terms of name recognition and more.
In fact, last year when I actually had to visit the emergency room, I admit that I went right past the small hospital two blocks away, on my way to the larger hospital. That’s how strong the brand of the larger hospital is around here.
This entire scenario has me thinking about how a small business can compete against larger, more entrenched businesses with strong brands and recognition. Here are a few ideas that might help you as approach your branding and marketing as a small business. Some of this is Marketing 101, but we often forget these things, and even more often we fail to articulate them via our social channels:
1. Focus on your strengths and highlight them– You can’t beat every competitor on everything. In fact, you probably don’t want to. You can’t always beat them on price, or quality, so find a way to highlight your strengths. In this case, the hospital does a good job of providing medical care quickly in their emergency room. This, positioned alongside some of their high ratings, can give them an edge, and will give a potential patient a measure of confidence.
2. Position those strengths against their weaknesses – One of the knocks against the larger hospital, and I’ve experienced this, is that sometimes you have to wait a long time to be seen. Clearly, because it is more popular and well known, it gets a higher amount of traffic, so that can be expected. By focusing on a short wait time, the smaller hospital is addressing a perceived or real weakness of the larger hospital. And the beauty of it is, you don’t even have to mention the competitor. Craft your messages in such a way that the comparison is made, without actually making the comparison yourself. Perhaps politicians could learn a lesson or two from this. Hmmm.
3. Position your perceived weaknesses as strengths – Our culture has told us that bigger is better. In this case, you need to find ways to prove the conventional wisdom wrong. We all have perceived weaknesses, not all of which are actual weaknesses. We live in a time where there is a backlash against big: corporations, banks, big box chain stores, etc., and a greater emphasis on supporting smaller businesses. For many, big = impersonal. The smaller hospital can tap in to this and use it to their advantage.
4. David doesn’t have to kill Goliath – There is a difference between being competitive and beating the competition. We’ve been conditioned that we need to beat the competition, but that’s not always the case. Big and little can coexist. There’s plenty of business to go around. You don’t have to aim to kill. Your goal is to do what you do, and do it the best, while making money.
5. Integrate – I have no idea how this particular campaign is working out for the hospital, but the ER waiting time is part of an app that you can download. It’s not only on a billboard, but also on their website. There’s even a texting version that will send you the current waiting time. Much of the message is awareness as opposed to an actual sales proposition, but they have integrated it across traditional and social platforms. It’s an integrated portion of their overall message, alongside other components touting some of their state of the art technology. No message stands alone; it’s a part of the greater whole.
6. Think long term, not short term – No matter how you slice it, this hospital campaign will not result in an overnight influx of patients. (Yes, there was a bad pun in there, but I promise it was unintentional). You need to nurture things along, especially if you are using social media. There are no overnight social or SEO solutions. Don’t be impatient. If you stick it out and see it through, you have a better chance of seeing the desired results.
How are you competing against your larger competitors, with their large staffs and budgets? What strategies and tactics are you using?
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