Toshiba targets associations to reach C-level hospital execs

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Objective: As part of its overall marketing strategy, Toshiba America Medical Systems wanted to break through to C-level hospital executives—a group that can be difficult to reach.

Strategy: After conducting market research, the company increased its association marketing efforts.

Results: Though the imaging market has retrenched over the past five years, Toshiba has grown 11% in that time. The company has expanded its customer base in the larger hospital segment, and it continues to do very well in customer satisfaction rankings by third parties.

Toshiba America Medical Systems, a provider of diagnostic imaging systems, sells to administrators, physicians and technologists in hospital radiology and cardiology departments. The company also markets to C-level hospital executives and boards because some of its systems cost more than $1 million and require the review and approval of upper management.

The company's overall marketing efforts include event marketing, print advertising, online advertising and public relations. Reaching the C-level segment, however, can be challenging because these executives typically don't have the time to speak with sales reps, said Cathy Wolfe, director of marketing services at Toshiba America Medical Systems. “For the most part, they want their specialist [such as the radiologist] to make a recommendation on what they should purchase,” she said. “But in order for them to purchase, they [C-level executives] have to be aware of Toshiba.”

Toshiba conducted market research and determined that the top ways C-level health care executives gather vendor information about imaging systems is through publications, industry associations and from colleagues. “It took that research for us to really understand, particularly with the C-suite group, how we need to approach them—what would be successful and what would not,” Wolfe said.

In addition to advertising in industry publications, the company decided to increase its investment with key industry associations to build awareness and acceptance among top executives. For example, it began working more closely with associations such as the American College of Healthcare Executives and the Healthcare Financial Management Association, running ads in their publications, pitching bylined articles and presenting product information to association groups.

“We had thought about doing this work with the associations in the past but, because it was so costly, we never went for it,” Wolfe said. “It wasn't until we were able to get the research that showed us where [our audience] really pays attention that we could justify it to upper management. Research isn't cheap either, but if it helps you spend your dollars more wisely, particularly when you're looking at relatively large investment, then it's worth it.”

Toshiba also refocused its association marketing to reach its department-level audience of administrators, physicians and technologists. For example, in addition to standard trade shows, advertising and PR efforts, the company recently created a program with the Association for Medical Imaging Management, which still goes by its previous acronym, AHRA, to sponsor grants that are provided to hospitals and imaging centers to improve on care of patients. It also has focused more heavily on specific subsegments within the market. For a new CT product that has low radiation emission—which could be of particular value for pediatric patients—the company has been sharing case studies with associations such as the Society for Pediatric Radiology and the Society of Chairs of Radiology in Children's Hospitals.

Wolfe said she is pleased with Toshiba's efforts, noting that the company had 11% revenue growth over the past five years, while the imaging market retrenched during that time. The company has expanded its customer base in the larger hospital segment; such institutions are expected to fare best under health care reform, Wolfe said. Also, Toshiba continues to hold many of the highest rankings as measured by independent third-party analysts on customer satisfaction, she said.

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