How do you segment your customer base when you are marketing
medical tourism services? Do you really understand who your customers (or
potential customers) are and what media you need to use to get your message
across to them?
New research looking at cosmetic surgery tourism
shows that different destinations are targeting potential customers in
different ways with different messages. Whether this is intentional
segmentation or is because the destination believes all of its customers come
from a particular segment is up for discussion.
At the British Sociological Association’s annual conference, the researchers from the Leeds’ Centre
for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies and the University of Leicester in the UK
and the Sydney University and the University of Technology, Sydney in Australia
presented an analysis of cosmetic surgery tourism websites, the first of its
kind, and found that marketing strategy “seems to betray class preferences.”
Spain... cosmetic surgery for the working class?
According to the research team, Spanish cosmetic surgery
sites are marketing themselves to working-class Britons by showing images of
obvious wealth such as photos of yachts, while Czech sites are appealing to the
middle-classes by being more understated. For instance, the images of yachts on
Spanish sites “could be taken as rather clunky signifiers of status and luxury”
which “serve to connect cosmetic surgery with beauty and success, specifically
in the form of wealth.” This would appeal especially to people who were not wealthy.
The researchers found that the Spanish sites treated women
“primarily as body parts” with photos of breasts, thighs, stomachs, buttocks
and faces but none of the complete body. They also equated women’s high
self-esteem with their looks.
Czech Republic..... cosmetic surgery for the discerning patient?
By contrast, Czech websites “depart markedly from those of
their Spanish counterparts” and “emphasise skill, hygiene and regulation. This
practical, information-led and sterile approach is fundamentally different from
the exotic, evocative and eroticised version of cosmetic surgery offered by
Spanish websites. There is very little emphasis on body parts or before and
after pictures, foregrounding instead waiting and consultation rooms, theatres
“Tourists to the Prague clinics are addressed as largely
gender neutral, highly informed clients who are able to talk over the possible
risks of their surgery with their local GP. They are assumed to be astute and
demanding consumers who have high levels of cultural capital. No reference to
self-esteem is made, instead clients might undertake surgery for reasons
including wanting a ‘younger, fresher look’ or ‘relief from back pain’ or
‘getting your body back in shape after child birth’. In sharp contrast to the
Spanish sites, Czech clinics represent both patients and surgeons as women and
This new research is part of a larger investigation by the
team into cosmetic surgery abroad.
Market segmentation in medical tourism.... by intent or by accident?
The research team has drawn some interesting conclusions.
But do these reflect a conscious decision by clinics in Spain and Czech
Republic to target different segments of the cosmetic surgery market? Or are
they a reflection of how cosmetic surgery is viewed within these two countries?
Given the immaturity of the industry, it is not surprising
that the concept of market segmentation in medical tourism is underdeveloped
and rarely applied effectively.
Different consumers in different countries do indeed require
a different communications strategy and different promotional messages to
maximise the success of medical tourism marketing.
In most cases, medical tourism marketing is still about being
all things to all men and women of all
classes. Time to move forward....
Date published: 11 April 2012
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