Breast imaging is a multi-billion dollar industry. And in spite of concerns over when, and whether, to begin breast cancer screening, every year nearly 40 million mammograms are done in the U.S. The largest breast imaging company in the country is based in North Texas, and it’s modernized its approach to generating, and keeping up with demand.
Shame and fear – that’s the way marketers have traditionally tried to convince women to strip down in a cold room and squish their breasts between two plastic paddles.
Dr. Steve Woloshin, a professor of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, remembers one American Cancer Society ad from three decades ago that stated “If you’re a woman over 35 and you haven’t had a mammogram you need more than your breasts examined.”
“That was the classic persuasive message telling women if you don’t get screened, you’re crazy, you need your head examined,” Woloshin says.
Scaring women about cancer is still the norm, but that could be shifting.
No Scolding Allowed
Avoid anxiety – that’s the mantra at Addison-based Solis Women’s Health.
At Solis, employees don’t just steer clear of scaring women, they avoid talking cancer at all.
“Fear is not a motivator. It’s typically something that will cause people to procrastinate,” says Kate Maguire, president of Motivation Mechanics, a group of research and marketing strategists who worked for Solis.
After interviewing women about what they wanted in a mammography experience, Maguire helped Solis – which already has more than two dozen locations in four states – begin a major marketing makeover.
Here’s a few examples of what Solis changed:
Terminology: Women are referred to as visitors, instead of patients.
Clinic Layout: There are two different hallways, one for women coming in for a standard screening and another for women who have been called back for additional imaging. This helps reduce anxiety for the women who are nervous after being called back, Maguire says, because they don’t see people leaving faster.
Tagline: The old tagline at Solis was “annual mammograms, it’s what smart women do.” That phrase, says VP of marketing Greg Scott, was a “bad girl message.”
Now, the tagline is “When you’re ready, we’ll be there for you.”
Breast imaging is big business. A report from Frost & Sullivan estimates revenues of one billion dollars in 2011, and an expected rise to 1.4 billion in 2016.
But, from a business perspective, there are two main barriers to getting women in the door for screenings: financial and emotional. The Affordable Care Act, by making mammograms a fully-covered service, has cut the cost obstacle.
Now there’s the psychological barrier – which Solis is trying to counter by alleviating the fear that comes with scheduling and going through with a mammogram.
Marketing director Greg Scott says Solis, by offering convenient, fast visits and fast results (within 24-48 hours by email if there is no additional screening required) is pushing past the competition.
Solis saw about 240,000 women in 2013, Scott says, and for the first quarter of 2014, growth was more than ten percent in Dallas-Fort Worth and four percent nationwide.
Steve Woloshin of Dartmouth says deciding whether to get a mammogram is much more complicated than any glossy brochure may suggest.
“The reason it’s controversial is the evidence supporting mammography, even though intuitively it seems like it’s got to be the right thing to do, the evidence we have isn’t so clear cut.”
Mammograms do save lives, Woloshin says, but they can also have downsides. Among them, false alarms, follow-up testing and over diagnosis.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association says for every 10,000 women, mammograms probably save five lives of women in their 40s, ten lives of women in their 50s and 42 lives of women in their 60s. Meanwhile, half of women screened for ten years have a “false positive” – a suspicious mammogram that leads to a repeat test or biopsy on a healthy breast.
Some of the cancers mammograms detect aren’t the ones most likely to kill.
Still, Woloshin likes the idea of companies like Solis doing everything they can to reduce fear. He just wishes companies weren’t behind the messaging.
Ultimately, decisions on whether or not to get a mammogram, he says, should be individualized, and based on information rather than fear.