Positioning for Growth in the New Year

By: Jeff Cowart, MAH

[box]Market positioning and shaping audience perceptions is a critical driver of growth.[/box]

The dawn of a new year is always refreshing and daunting. On one hand, we have an opportunity to perceptually close the door on challenges of the year gone by. On the other hand, we get the chance to use what we learned the year before to craft a better year to come.

As we undertake that reflection in our hospitals and health care systems, here are two defining questions we might ask to frame our traditional tactical and process resolutions:

What’s your position in your market? And what do you want it to be?

Positioning as a routine practice is a concept more familiar to politics than corporate life, and I think even more so in health care. Our enterprise is in the grip of dramatic and disruptive change that seems to distract us from longer-term vision with day-to-day fire drills.

Positioning is the aggregate and unique perception an audience (or targeted audiences) has of a company, product, service or individual in relation to a competitive perception. This perception happens fully in the mind of the audience. It occurs whether we are proactive or passive about it.  We know from experience that positioning can be positively influenced by enlightened strategic actions.

Shaping perceptions of an audience we want to connect with – whether it’s physicians, consumers, or managed care providers – is a critical driver of growth.

Importantly, positioning should not be confused with marketing. The art and science of defining and claiming a position you intend to hold is a strategy. Marketing is just one of the many tactics we might use to advance position.

Positioning is advanced through the grand narrative story of your organization that an audience believes. That grand narrative story is crafted from the truly unique attributes of what we actually deliver rather than what we like to say we deliver in our typically tired marketing speak.

As we embark on a new year full of promise and challenge for our organizations, let’s take a look at our list of resolutions in the context of what they do to improve our position, particularly as it relates to growing the enterprise. Improving position is actively thinking about how each and every tactical and operational thing we do either advances or erodes our current position. We can’t just circle the wagons or get consumed by managing to the next monthly operating review and expect to grow.

Growth is really about increasing volume, which is primarily how we grow revenue. In my work across the country I often hear, “Our volume is down, but so is everybody’s in the market.” The comment is said as a kind of justification of condition. The market overall may indeed be down, but there is still plenty of volume in the market. A key question to ask for the new year is: “How are you positioning to take that volume?” Rest assured that someone else in your market is working to figure out how to take your volume.

This year, let’s resolve to not forget that enlightened strategic actions can positively influence the perceptions of the audiences that we must have to enable growth. And then let’s get to work on creating the elements of engagement with our audiences that measurably advance our position.