Case Study No. 114 – Columbia Wesley Medical Center


Birthing Center Reclaims Its Market Share Through 'Softened' Campaign In recent years, Columbia Wesley Medical Center's long-time dominance as the Wichita, Kansas, leader for birthing care was being threatened by increased competition from two new birthing centers. Its market share, dipping to between 51 and 55 percent, had descended to an all-time low of 46 percent in 1994. To protect its 75-year-old turf as the preferred place to give birth, Wesley embarked on a re-positioning advertising/PR campaign that would restore its 60 percent market share and soften its high-tech, critical care image. Wesley, highly regarded as a medical innovator in the market (it was the first in the region to introduce neonatal air transport, paranatal transport and a level three emergency care unit), was also struggling with an exaggerated consumer perception of being exclusively specialized in these areas of high-tech, high-risk birthing care. To bolster a family-oriented image, Wesley invested in an $11 million freestanding BirthCare Center and launched an award-winning $230,000 ad campaign that used graceful animation and striking original music to communicate its new philosophy: "Birthing the way you want it to be." Agency Draws Emotional Path to New Moms' Hearts Columbia's AOR of 10 years, Sullivan Higdon & Sink (SHS-Wichita,), literally went to the drawing board for its creative execution, crafting an advertising campaign that employed attractive line drawings and soothing original music to support the BirthCare Center's launch last September, within the ad budget. "We had to portray the birthing situation as a natural and joyous event," said Tammy Allen, SHS account manager, explaining the motivation behind the campaign's unique animation which dominate its TV and outdoor advertising. The Challenges Since the BirthCare Center was not yet completed when the creative was done, earlier marketing messages could not provide vivid visual descriptions of the centerMaking expectant mother aware of their birthing optionsBalancing input from physicians and consumers on campaign strategy. The campaign's intriguing animation and family-focused positioning strategy proved to be a big market draw for expectant mothers. After eight months of being open, the center's birthrate is on a steep incline, delivering 159 births in April and 196 in May (four births short of its monthly goal of 200). Baker is confident that by July and August-the busiest time for births-the center will have exceeded its goal, dominating the market for family-focused birthing care. The three TV spots, which earned Wesley and SHS a silver Telly (a national non-network and cable award, nationally judged by producers and agencies) for one of its commercials and a Bronze Telly for the whole campaign, feature a mother-to-be and her husband eagerly anticipating their big day. Viewers are drawn into poignant portrayals of impending motherhood through pastel, flowing animation that includes a mother-to-be admiring her pregnant profile in the mirror and her husband gently placing his ears and hands on his wife's pregnant stomach. New age music underscored the mature animation with minimal voice overs. Simple, assuring taglines read: "A new place for family/ A new place to begin/A new place to dream." The campaign strategy to address the emotionally compelling nature of birth was inspired by local consumer research, conducted by SHS and Wesley, which revealed that new and expectant mothers positively responded to endearing visuals of mothers and babies. The campaign's soft, animated look worked. Soon after the three spots aired in April/May of last year, the agency immediately received calls from viewers commenting on the commercial, some viewers were so taken with the catchy music they wanted to know where they could purchase it. The TV ads, which aired through December, were the campaign drivers reaching 90 percent of its target of women 25-34 with a frequency of 11 percent in Wichita, on KFNW, KAKE and KWCH). This reach was supported by outdoor and print ads in local newspapers and magazines (which also used the signature animation) as well as radio. Wesley's three-person PR team primed local media about the new BirthingCare Center with key messages that focused on its family-oriented services and comfortable home-like environment. Local TV stations, and print publications (The Wichita Eagle newspaper, Wichita Business Journal and Alive & Well Magazine) ran stories about the center being the first of its kind in the state. Right before the grand opening, on-site media tours were especially effective at generating timely coverage on the look and feel of the birthing rooms, the range of birthing services and the center's convenience, according to Casey Baker, Wesley's director of PR. Capitalizing on Physician Input The campaign's secondary target of physicians, employees and payers was reached through several stories in Wesley's in-house newsletter, In Touch and the Physician Bulletin. In fact, physicians were kept in the loop throughout the process, from the planning stages (they were involved in the center's design) to campaign strategy and execution. Allen attributes much of the campaign's success to this key physician input. "Coming to a consensus on what the physicians and consumers wanted was challenging at times, but most obstetricians had an intimate understanding of what their patients wanted. that made the process relatively smooth and productive." Heightened advertising and media exposure in August and September generated tremendous public interest for the center's open house. About 2,000 local journalists, prospective parents, physicians, health plan execs, and even video camera-toting fathers attended the Sept. 16 grand opening. "The objective (for the open house) was to show people, firsthand, that the center was very upscale but approachable and accommodating," said Baker, who also used the opportunity to showcase the medical staff and highlight the birthing services. (SHS, 316/263-0124; Columbia Wesley Medical Center, 316/688-2018)

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