Why This Summer’s A Good Time To Get Sick In Phoenix Or Austin

What you have to go through just to see a doctor for the first time can be enough to make you sick. At least that’s what health care consultant firm Merritt Hawkins found when they phoned doctors’ offices throughout 15 metropolitan areas to set up initial, non-emergency appointments. The wait between making an appointment and actually seeing a family physician, for example, averaged as long as 56 days in Boston to as short as five days in Dallas. For an obstetrician/gynecologist, it ranged from 46 days in Boston to ten days in Seattle; for a dermatologist, 72 days in Boston to 16 days in Miami; to see a cardiologist for a routine heart checkup, 32 days in Washington to 11 days in Atlanta; and to see an orthopedic surgeon for a knee injury, 18 days in San Diego to five days in Philadelphia, Minneapolis or Houston.

And that was in 2013. Before Obamacare made 4.7 million households lose the health plans and doctors they’d been told they could keep – period. And before another 10 million with employer-based coverage – ten times the original estimate – will follow in their footsteps, according to Congressional Budget Office figures.

That’s an awful lot of people looking for doctors, and this week an online service called ZocDoc launched an advertising test campaign to help consumers find one, much in the way that Uber helps people find taxis. In addition to time lags between making appointments and seeing doctors, there’s what marketing vp Richard Fine calls “friction in the patient experience.” This, he wrote in a May 19 email, is “difficulty and frustration booking a doctor’s appointment—whether its [sic] excruciating hold time and music or a doctor not accepting new patients.” An audit of health care providers nationwide “revealed that 60% of patients are not able to successfully book an appointment on the first phone call,” he added.

Yet, even though there’s an impending shortage of doctors – a nationwide shortfall of 91,500 by 2025, the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts – doctors have a surplus of time. Cancellations, no-shows and shifting schedules can take up as much as 25 percent of a doctor’s day, and by accessing what Fine calls this “hidden supply” of potential appointment time, ZocDoc can make the claim that their “typical patient sees a doctor within 24 hours.”

That’s one thing that differs from the doctor referral services that hospital organizations like HCA have been advertising in media from television to email for decades. Three others are that, being online, ZocDoc works 24/7; it lets you check out doctors in advance with verified reviews, and it lets you fill out the reams of initial paperwork, including medical history, just once regardless of how many different doctors in their system you’re seeing.

This week, ZocDoc launched a test-market advertising campaign to run from now through this summer to communicate these differences to consumers in Phoenix and Austin. They’ve bought morning and prime time television on the four alphabet networks, along with cable channels E!, TLC, Bravo and Food Network; color pages in city magazines including Phoenix Magazine, Austin Magazine, Austin Fit and Raising Arizona Kids; radio on five of each market’s top ten stations, along with Pandora targeted only to subscribers in those metros; outdoor; and digital ads running online during midday and right after end of the work day, when most doctor appointments are booked.

While chances are excellent that target audiences will be exposed to the messages, the odds are longer that they’ll actually get the messages they’re exposed to. One reason for this is that the television/radio and print/digital campaigns have two completely different looks and feels. So instead of reinforcing the message, they’ll likely work to fragment it. Another is that, because it’s more interesting, the executions in all media dwell almost completely on an aspect of the problem and go just short of blowing off the solution – perhaps because they think consumers already know as much about ZocDoc as the client and agency do.

One television spot, for example, shows 25 seconds of a woman in a corporate cube farm furtively whispering her symptoms into her phone so no one will hear and just five seconds with information about the product. This information consists, in its entirety, of silent titles which say, “Book doctors online,” “Get better better,” and show a still shot of a smartphone, the logo, and the URL. Same for the second spot, in which a woman, at home, unconvincingly reels off imaginary rabies symptoms in order to jump the appointment line. Same deal in the last five seconds, except instead of saying “Book doctors online,” the title says, “Doctors when you want them.” And it’s not just a matter of time constraints; after some hilarious parody on-hold music while the patient holds the line, the 60-second radio commercial has just 6 seconds of specific product sell, but that’s enough to clinch the deal: “You can now find doctors, read reviews and book online at ZocDoc-dot-com. Get Better Better.” While the print, outdoor and digital ads  share the white-type-on-teal (the health care equivalent of blue pinstripes)-background look of the television’s last five seconds, they feature cartoon illustration rather than photography, so they look very different.

Between endemic visibility problems, abysmally low clickthrough rates, and the draconian restraints that the small space of digital ads imposes on copywriting, verbal clarity is essential. Many of the digital ads rise to the challenge (“Find the right doctor for what’s wrong with you” and “Next Thursday doesn’t always work for your malaria,” for example, along with “Focus on being a doctor, not a salesman” aimed at getting doctors to sign up), while some don’t (e.g., “Let us do the nagging for you”).

This underlines three lessons that all advertisers – regardless of product or service, regardless of medium, regardless of budget (or lack thereof) – need to learn:

  1. Never, ever, assume that your audience knows as much about your brand as you do or that your selling points are obvious.
  2. Consistency of look and feel from one medium to the next reinforces your communication instead of fragmenting it.
  3. Clarity of communication is essential – even if it means shortening the windup in your 30-second television commercial to add another second or two to the pitch.

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