Ask a group of nurses how much marketing they are doing for their organization and the answer will probably be a resounding zero! I posed this question to a nurse who worked in an operating room one time and was quickly told that she was a nurse, she wasn’t supposed to sell people anything.

Unfortunately, this is the thinking of many nurses today. Marketing is seen as something that is done by people in another department who deal with newspaper ads and billboards. The time has come to tell all nurses that they are involved in multi-level marketing (not the usual MLM) up to their eyeballs. They have been marketing for a long time without even knowing it. Regrettably they have been doing the one thing that is worse than not marketing – bad marketing.

Let’s address the multi-level marketing issue to begin with. Nurses market on a minimum of three levels at all times.

* The profession of nursing
* Health promotion
* The organization that they work for (or are on staff)

Profession

As a nurse anesthetist, I have been asked many times about my job. What do you do, how hard is it, what type of training did you take and so on. Patients and family members alike either know of a nurse who has mentioned an interest in the field of nurse anesthesia or they may have an interest in going into nursing and are finding out the many opportunities that are available. I try to give some good general information and write down a reference (such as the Website for the American Association of Nurse Anesthetist) for them to find out more. As a professional, it is part of my job to portray my profession (nursing and nurse anesthesia) in a positive light. Sometimes that portrayal can simply be accomplished with a smile, genuine interest in the patient and some kind words while I am talking to them before surgery.

Many articles have been written on the shortage of nurses. Shouldn’t we all be doing the simple things we can to expose more people to a profession that allows you to touch so many lives in a positive manner? The alternative so often heard is something like “go to nursing school if you want to stand up for long hours, get yelled at and not get lunch on time.” With comments like this, that nurse will have many more days of standing, being yelled at and no lunch.

Health

Too many nurses seem to be stuck in the treatment of disease cycle. Hospital based nurses seem to be especially prone to this type of thought. Take care of the diagnosis that they came in with and leave the rest for someone else. How can we promote health for these patients? Simply put, look at the nursing process, apply it and use some good marketing skills. After all, many people need to be sold on good health. The advantages of good health are many and can be obtained in a reasonable amount of time but here is where the marketing comes in.

We need to be able to talk of the advantages and make it appealing to the patient. The diabetic who is overweight and taking oral medication is a good example. Talk about the need for that patient to take time for them (self importance) and do some simple exercises (walking). They will look better and feel better. They will probably have better control over their diabetes. Indeed, with weight loss they might even be able to slow the progression of the diabetes, its care (insulin shots) and its results (vision loss, poor healing). Now ask them which one they would like to do, walk three days a week now or worry about taking insulin later. Present the choices and then follow up with material or references (support groups, web sites) they can access to keep improving. Our responsibility is not just to get people out of the hospital; we need to do what we can to keep them out of the hospital (i.e. healthy).

Organization

One of my favorite things to teach nurses is that everything we do has a consequence. It may be good or it may be bad but everything does have a consequence. The patient or family who was treated rudely by a nurse may form their opinion of the entire organization based on a single encounter. Somewhat harsh of them to do that but it is what it is. Market research shows that probably 90% of those people with a bad encounter will not complain to anyone in the organization. What they will do is much more damaging and longer lasting. After they leave you, they will tell their friends, co-workers and family how bad they were treated. And they won’t tell the story once or twice either. Every time some mentions that organization, that person will relate the story of how they felt from that encounter.

Word of mouth advertising is the most powerful type of advertising there is. People may listen to a celebrity and give some weight to what they are saying. Billboards look nice but most people won’t base their decision on where to receive healthcare from those. The most trusted source of information is a close friend or a family member. Their opinion carries a lot of weight. The bad thing about word of mouth advertising is that people will be much more likely to share a negative opinion then they will a positive opinion. It usually works out that a bad opinion will be shared with 10 people while a good opinion will be shared with 3 people.

So what is the consequence of a negative opinion? They are out the door and we don’t have to worry about them, right? Wrong! Remember my words on “action – consequence.” Bad opinions translate into a bad reputation in the community, people seeking their healthcare elsewhere, decreased revenue and a host of other items. People who have had a poor experience will be more likely to seek out more negative things (did they overcharge me). While we may not be able to please 100% of the people in the end, shouldn’t we put forth the effort? After all, only 68% of people surveyed would definitely recommend their hospital to others.

So What!

Nurses need to increase their awareness of their marketing potential on all levels. Healthcare organizations also need to become more aware of the marketing (good or bad) that is happening with each patient/family encounter. Nurses have considerable power. For as Obi Wan said in Star Wars, “use your power for good; not evil.”