by TAKUDZWA HANYANI
Nike, Pepsi, Apple, Samsung, Coca cola, Adidas, Blackberry, Microsoft all these are brand names of some of the world’s biggest and most famous brands. Commercial marketing which has made these brands a success globally depends highly on behavioural economics which influences consumer choices, preferences and perceptions. Stakeholders and shareholders invest an indispensible amount of resources in understanding the customer and directing his/her choices towards their brands. Imagine if we could add HEALTH to the list and start considering it in such a manner. Will it sell? Is it marketable? Does it have a target market? How do we promote it? What would be its price? All these are questions associated with marketing and distribution of brands and as we have seen over the past years, people are now paying significant amounts of money to stay healthy and be in good shape. Can we influence people to think of health as a brand?
Typical marketing strategies consider McCarthy’s four P’s which include Product, Price, Promotion and Place. Some organizations call it the Marketing Mix which is a business tool for marketing and marketers. In service marketing the four P’s are expanded to the seven P’s or eight P’s to address the different nature of services. Using the Marketing Mix in healthcare and health services has been used mainly by private and profit making entities however there is room for innovation which allows typical health ministry’s to use this matrix. For example in healthcare to begin with the first P, PRODUCT can be used to develop the habit of looking at healthcare and health services. Are our current health and healthcare services in Africa appropriate and suitable for the market and customers of today? Are these the right services for our customers today? Price will look at continually examining and reexamining the prices of health and healthcare services. In healthcare literature it is well documented that close to 65% of households in Africa have no access to healthcare services mainly as a result of failing to pay for user fees required by institutions, the question is are our prices too high or payment methods inappropriate? In Africa there is still need to reduce cost of healthcare services and most governments are on verge of reviewing user fees or out of pocket spending for primary healthcare services. However despite these commendable initiatives out of pocket spending remains a big impediment to access to healthcare services.
Health mainly focuses on awareness and information, and it is important for healthcare consumers to be well informed before making decisions. Good decisions on effective health care and health promotion behaviours require timely, accurate and relevant information. In cases where the healthcare consumer is uninformed irrationality follows suite in decision making processes and hence compromising health. Citizens require information to choose healthy behaviours to demand effective policies and services and at times to hold their governments accountable for the allocation and use of resources for health. Becoming brand conscious is important particularly in making the brand a success. Typically in most African settings, stereotypically health can only be attained through a medical procedure or through immediate attention of nurse or doctor. Becoming brand conscious requires constant advertisement, marketing and aggressive communication with the healthcare consumer. Patients as consumers are likely to make decisions based on brands which they acknowledge. Have we aggressively marketed health in Africa and its inherent benefits?
The success of most brands largely dwells on the notion of “customer focus”, paying immediate attention to needs of the clients. Marketing researches customers in depth and listens carefully. Over the past years we have had a paradigm shift in disease onset particularly the rise of non communicable disease. However, when people are diagnosed with hypertension, cancer, diabetes, or heart disease; these diseases have developed over a long period of time and their manifestation is through following a certain pattern of unhealthy behaviours. Physicians and nurses attending to the visible aspects of the disease are certainly fighting a losing battle as there is need to understand underlying behaviours. Healthcare consumers, whether at public or private institutions are customers and should be understood in their preferences, behaviours, attitudes and knowledge.
Influencing and changing health behaviours is a long “steep” road which requires patience, commitment and endurance. Health behaviours are largely responsible for disease onset and hence are central in understanding and changing. For example unhealthy behaviours account for 85% of disease onset globally. However where customer behaviours and preferences are understood, there is likely to be a use of efficient strategies to change these behaviours. The success of behavioral change strategies accounted for a drop in HIV/AIDS prevalence in Zimbabwe. HIV prevalence in Zimbabwe was estimated to be 23.7% in 2001, and 18.4% in 2005 and further declined to 13.1% in 2011. Promotion of condom use, faithfulness to one sexual partner and voluntary HIV/AIDS testing are some of the “nudges” which were used to effectively change health behaviours in this particular success story. Pushing people towards the health brand requires consistent effort and new ways of thinking.
Thinking of health as a brand is a concept which can be used by policy makers willing to create healthier nations and citizenship. When people think or hear the word HEALTH, they should be more associated with it as a brand than shy away from it. The success of social marketing in health issues particularly the epic Soul City which is screened in South Africa says a lot of how we can use and start thinking of health as a brand. Think of health as a brand!