Business Research Methods, 14e/Schindler



Northeastern Ohio is a highly competitive health-care market, especially for the

care of seriously ill children. With powerhouse health care institutions like the

Cleveland Clinic venturing into the children’s care segment, Akron Children’s

needed a way to differentiate itself. The research profiled in this case helped

develop the positioning of Akron Children’s hospital and its promotional approach

that resulted in an increase in its bed-occupancy rate, a key metric in the health

care industry.


>The Scenario

Used with permission

of Pamela S. Schindler.

© 2008.

Akron Children’s Hospital, Part A

The Midwestern hospital market is fiercely competitive, especially in Northeast

Ohio. Akron Children’s Hospital, which competes in this environment, was

established in

1890 and today is the region’s largest pediatric care provider with 253 beds. It

offers 30 practice areas of medicine and surgery, specialized for children. Akron

Children’s operates, however, in the shadow of two nationally recognized hospi-

tals in nearby Cleveland: Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and the Cleve-

land Clinic. Rainbow, with 244 beds, has been ranked among the top five

children’s hospitals nationwide by both U.S. News and World Report

and Child magazine (which rates neonatal care at Rainbow second in the

nation). The Cleveland Clinic, with 47 child beds, is not ranked for pediatric

excellence but has earned a reputation as one of the top three hospitals in the


Even in such company, Akron Children’s has also distinguished itself for medical

excellence. It was the first to grow human skin for treatment of burns and the first

to offer intra-operative MRI for removal of brain tumors. It cares for the largest

Hemophilia B population in the world, is one of only two U.S. hospitals with a

pediatric palliative care program (which eases pain for terminally ill patients), and

is the only hospital among its competitors to offer cancer support programs for


Although innovative, larger, and well regarded, Akron Children’s was being

overshadowed by competitors in its core markets. It needed a communications

strategy to distinguish itself and to convey its commitment to children and to the

highest-quality and most medically advanced care.

Business Research Methods, 14e/Schindler


Akron Children’s Hospital-Part A

>The Research

Akron Children’s turned to long-time re-

search and communication partner, Marcus

Thomas LLC, for insights and recommenda-

tions. As the firm’s vice president and director

of research, Jennifer Hirt-Marchand, ex-

plained, “Akron Children’s had limited under-

standing of how parents arrive at the difficult

decision of where to take their children when

acute care [requiring more than three days of

hospitalization] is necessary.” Akron Children’s

wanted to overcome this challenge, and, since

it faced a difficult market in Cuyahoga County

where its competitors were based, it also

needed to devise a strategy to expand beyond

its Summit County home into Portage,

Mahoning, and Medina counties.

Marcus Thomas was asked to identify consumers’ hospital-choice decision

process and to index perceptions associated with hospitals in the market. Initial

research revealed that although consumers gave high survey ratings to medical ca-

pabilities and care they perceived as high-quality, their decisions in selecting hos-

pitals were often driven more by emotion.

To peel down to the emotional core driving these decisions, Marcus Thomas

conducted an observation study in the first phase of research. It negotiated per-

mission to shadow physicians, parents, and child patients as they worked through

testing, diagnosis, and treatment. Marcus Thomas researchers “were flies on the

wall while kids attended checkups, were admitted to the ER, were undergoing

surgery, prepping for surgery, and more,” according to Hirt-Marchand. “We spent

days in the hospital watching the interactions of patients with physicians, nurses

and other staff members.”

Researchers listened to, watched, and recorded first-hand physical and

emotional reactions and heart-wrenching conversations. Marcus Thomas partner

and creative director Joanne Kim shared, “We watched how the doctors talked

to the children about their health problems, in kids’ terms, rather than talking just

to the parents. We observed how parents were encouraged to stay with their chil-

dren at the hospital 24/7 and how this philosophy helps children with the healing

process. We saw how the staff, facility, food—everything about Akron

Children’s—truly focused on kids being kids.”

Their analysis resulted in what Marcus Thomas believed could be a compel-

ling brand promise, one that could be owned exclusively by Akron Children’s

Counties in northesastern Ohio

Business Research Methods, 14e/Schindler




Akron Children’s Hospital-Part A

>>>>>Discussion Questions

1. What is the management-research question hierarchy for Akron Children’s


2. What are the advantages/disadvantages of an observation study for this


3. What does the brand promise recommendation reveal about what researchers

experienced and concluded from their study?

4. If you were designing such an observation study, what would you direct

researchers to record/look for/listen for?

5. What ethical issues would surface in hospital studies in general and this study

in particular?

“2005 Child Magazine Ranking,” Child, accessed September 22, 2006 (http://


“2005’s 10 Best Children’s Hospital,” Child, accessed September 22, 2006



“2005’s 10 Best Children’s Hospital: Specialty Honors,” Child, accessed Sep-

tember 22, 2006 (http://www. jhtml?storyid=/



“A Continuing Legacy of Caring for Children,” Child, accessed September 22,

2006 (


“About Akron Children’s,” Akron Children’s hospital, accessed September 22,

2006 (


Akron Children’s Hospital TV and radio spots provided by Marcus Thomas

LLC via DVD.

“Akron Children’s Hospital,”, accessed September 22, 2006



Akron Children’s Hospital focuses ALL of the hospital’s resources

(energy, creativity, state-of-the-art technology, compassion, techni-

cal skill, competence, etc.) toward the simple goal of helping every

child reach his or her full potential.

If a parent believed the brand promise, then they would trust Akron Children’s

Business Research Methods, 14e/Schindler 4

“America’s Best Hospitals 2006 Methodology,” RTI International, accessed Sep-

tember 22, 2006.

“Best Hospitals 2006: Honor Roll,” U.S. News & World Report, accessed Sep-

tember 22, 2006 (


“Case Study: Akron Children’s Hospital: Renewing a Brand Promise,” Marcus

Thomas LLC, providedby e-mail, September 2006.

“Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital for Rehabilitation,” U.S. News & World

Report, accessed September22, 2006 (


Jennifer Hirt-Marchand, vice president, director of research, Marcus Thomas

LLC, phone interviews,August 20 and Sept 15, 2006, and numerous e-mails.

“Methodology: What It Means to Be Best,” U.S. News & World Report, ac-

cessed September 22, 2006 (


“Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, Cleveland,” U.S. News & World Re-

port, accessed September 22, 2006 (


Robin Segbers, manager of planning, Marcus Thomas LLC, phone interview, Au-

gust 20 2006.

Our grateful thanks for the willing participation of Akron Children’s

Hospital and Marcus Thomas LLC.

Akron Children’s Hospital-Part A

Business Research Methods, 14e/Schindler