Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How do You Market Healthcare IT Solutions?

Having worked on marketing in the hospital, healthcare group purchasing and IT vendor side in Radiology Information System, (RIS), Picture Archiving Communication System (PACS) and Electronic Medical Record (EMR), the marketing challenges of selling into two spaces simultaneously, against a bevy of competition, seems to be increasing exponentially.

Just an observation, but everyone may be starting to look the same. It's easy to lose that differentiation every company craves, when selling similar products and services . In respect to all, the Healthcare IT space is beginning to look a little commoditized with a lot of product sameness.

So why is this happening? Lots of reasons. Let's take a short look at some common marketing techniques and what could be done to break the log jam. Less is more.

Key Messages

Leading provider, reducing cost, improving quality, reducing medical errors, innovative, next generation, improving productivity and efficiency, easy to use, interoperability with all systems, IHE, user groups that deliver real information, increasing satisfaction for the physician, C-suite and patients are key messages everyone is using. What is wrong with this picture? The pun is intended!

Sales and Marketing Integration

Marketing and sales really need to be more highly integrated than they are. It is much more than sales saying "marketing makes things look pretty", or marketing saying "if the feet on the street sold it the way we tell them it would work".

There needs to be a sales and marketing advisory committee, that is set up with sales reps from the various regions. Agenda driven, these weekly calls discuss what going on is sales, issues in the marketplace, what they are hearing about competitors and feedback on how the sales tools are being used. Marketing should be listening, understanding and discussing what is coming up. The sales force should be soliciting comments from the larger sales team and carrying information back.

Marketing should also be on the weekly sales funnel calls. Joint goals and objectives should be developed for sales and marketing collaboration. Share in the gain share in the pain. Marketing should also be going on sales calls and have access to trip reports in the Sales IT system. And, marketing staff should be trained in the sales methodology that is currently being used.

Case Studies

Case studies are important, and I would think everyone agrees on that point. Maybe however, our audiences suffer from information overload. The observation is that those documents are way too long. Sometimes, it seem like we get paid by the word, or we are so enthralled by our own system prowess, that we must write in excruciating detail. If I have learned anything about case studies and white papers for physicians and the C-Suite, it's two pages tops. And even that needs white space. Organize as follows; Background , Solution, Outcomes. And yes they can be written in two pages or less. Just because they are shorter doesn't mean you're treating your audience like an idiot. They most likely will appreciate the brevity.

Also, if you keep them shorter you can use them as the basis for email campaigns. But that too requires creativity. Use a video spokesperson to introduce the white paper or case study, to drive the audience to your web site. Its electronic and can be done for $15,000 or less, including email list procurement.

White Papers

White papers it is believed, add a measure of thought leadership to your space. They do, provided you are putting them out on a regular basis and (this is the important part), are more than you writing about what you know about. White Papers need to be used as mechanism for thought-leadership, not simply writing what you know about. To be a thought leader in your field, you need to write like a "thought- leader". That means taking on topics you may not feel so comfortable about. It may mean becoming a visionary and projecting out where an industry may be going. To be seen as a thought-leader, you must generate though-leading content.

For example, those vendors who operate in the international space, think of the lessons you have learned in single payer government sponsored healthcare systems, or in Europe where there is a mix of payers where everyone has health coverage. How do those lessons translate into the transformation of the American healthcare system? That is thought leadership.

Association Meetings and Trade Shows

Exhibits are what they are. But adding workshops, presentations and discussions on the booth are a must have. You are the focal point with the doctor, hospital, whomever is playing a supportive testimonial role. Yes, you do have a role as a presenter but this is the soft sell and credibility established as a the content expert, as well as showing you understand the pain and can make it go away. Consider being a major sponsor as well to access key decision makers one-on-one. Sales must have pre-established appointments on the booth. No appointments, no go. Immediate lead generation and follow-up on every booth visitor is another must.

Webinars

Needed, yes. However it seems that most people are still in the 9-5 mentality. Most physicians and professionals I know, are usually working in their office or the hospital. So why not have these webinars in the evening or early morning before they start reviewing x-rays? If they are not reading x-rays then they are not making money. Don't infringe on that valuable time. Be more responsive. For the C-suite, lunch time is usually good for them scheduled later in the week rather than early in the week or the middle.

Internet usage

Interactive, interactive, interactive. Readers neither have the patience nor the desire to have to read the fine print to see what they want. Make sure your site is user friendly and designed for mobile access. Use video messaging. Don't forget about facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, Plaxo, blogs, YouTube etc. Your audience is out there. Messages delivered across multiple channels are more effective then a one size fits all approach. Build a following. Have apps for your site. Use QR codes linked to account executives, white papers, case study or web site as suggestions.

Customer Evangelists

Got to have them. If your hospitals, doctors and others won't stand up for you, then you have a problem. You're just another vendor who can be replaced. Testimonials, implementation success stories, outcomes, data transparency, anything that show others are passionate about your product. Third party conferred credibility is a powerful medium and message. Don't lose sight of it. Find them and leverage.

And rankings do matter. KLAS is important. Add in ECRI and Hayes as well. Tie them all together if you can for your products with customer evangelist testimonials.

Media Relations

More than just press releases, this is the down and dirty of getting coverage. Major stories in targeted publications will do more for you than any advertisement, banner ad, webinar etc. people do believe what they read. You need a steady stream of news and information. Be proactive, build press relationships. Use the Business Wire. Target your messages for the specific press you are trying to attract. Build your news around current events in healthcare. Don't be afraid to issue a statement on your position on a topic of importance. Be seem as a content expert so that when news develops around the industry you're in, you become the go-to organization for the quote. it confers strong expert credibility for you and your companies solution products. Copies of articles can be used a leave behinds and in campaigns. Can't buy that kind of coverage and credibility. Build more than a press page- build a bio of the senior team and a speakers bureau for conference, seminars etc. If you are not out in the market presenting, then you are not being seen. Presence builds preference.

I have gone on long enough and probably too long for that matter. But from what I have seen in the segment of the healthcare industry, everybody is starting to look the same.

If you're not the lead dog, the view never changes.





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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Do Your Employees Like Your Patients or Customers?


This may seem like a silly question to ask, or even to write about. But truth be told, beyond the customer or patient satisfaction numbers, chances are, your employees may not like your customers or patients all that much. I am not saying that your employees are treating customers and patients with open disdain or contempt. But, the lack of employee enthusiasm, concern and caring, communicated verbally and shown non-verbally in the workplace, with average to mediocre employee satisfaction surveys, may be a pretty good indication that your employees may not like your customers or patients a whole lot.

And that doesn't really help your efforts to improve the patient or customer experience.

When little differentiation exists to tell hospitals, doctors, specialty pharmacies, home health care and other providers apart, employees, liking their customers and patients, can set you apart from your competition. And with little opportunity existing now, and in the future, to differentiate yourself in your competitive healthcare vertical, success in experience improvement will only came when your employees like your customer, patients and you the employer.

Besides, they are your front-line brand ambassadors. The visual and emotional representation of your healthcare brand. And if they don't like your customers and patients, then what does that say about your brand?

This isn't rocket science. Employees are the best brand ambassadors that exist. They can do more to create customer and patient evangelists than you may even imagine. But, if they don't like you or your customers/patients, then creating brand evangelists will be even tougher.

Marketing has a role to play. And it's not just making things look pretty.

Marketing should be analyzing customer, patient and employee satisfaction data with HR to identify trends, challenges and opportunities for improvement.

Marketing should have a mystery shopper in place to document and feedback on employee interactions in three planes- live, on the phone and in social media.

Marketing should be involved in creating or purchasing that customer or patient service training programs.

Marketing should be working with HR or Talent Acquisition to develop that employee branding campaign.

Human Resources or Talent Acquisition as the case may be, has a lot on its plate in this too. But that is a topic for another day. It is also beyond the scope of this blog.

So if you want to strengthen your brand, become a market leader and succeed in your experience improvement efforts, then your employees are going to have to like you and your customers.

Can't have one without the other.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Has Healthcare Marketing Failed to Articulate Value?


On Monday, October 10, 2011, Deloitte released their latest Issue Brief, The Public View of Health Care Reform. I would also recommend highly that you read the 2011 Survey of Health Care Consumers in the United States.

Anyhow two items caught my attention from the Public View report out of many. The first is that and I quote: "Consumers perceive a complex, wasteful system sensing a lack of value for what is spent". "Consumers are critical of the U.S. health care system performance: 22 percent give it a favorable report card grade of "A" or "B" while 36 percent of consumers give it a grade of "D" or "F". In the second report, 2011 Survey of Health Care Consumers: " Satisfaction with U.S. health care system is low. 8 in 10 consumers see no system improvement and 3 in 4 believe other countries' systems are better. "

When you look at these consumer perceptions, one realizes very quickly that healthcare organizations are unable to articulate value. All that time, energy, resources and creativity spent to communicate that you are a quality healthcare provider has failed.

Why?

It is simple really, healthcare organizations have never talked about value. Never defined their brand in terms of what is the value, of what you do for the consumer. Much healthcare marketing communication is about you having "best" physicians in the region, or great high-tech equipment, we care and pictures of shinny new rooms and buildings. My favorites include "spa-like atmosphere", "world-class" and "unique".

Anyone wonder, why the giggle factor goes way up for consumers when they see this nonsense? They don't believe it, and it doesn't mesh with their experience. It may make you feel good and your Board happy, but at the end-of-the-day, it's not working.

What you are is doing is damaging your brand.

Sooner rather than later, you are going to have to articulate your messaging around the value that your brand brings the consumer. You can't run away or hide from it anymore. If you're not messaging brand value, then you are not being heard in the market. Sometimes, the reality of what you believe to be true, clashes with what the consumer wants from you. If you were doing your market research, you would have known this.

At some point, healthcare organization will have to develop strong value propositions. And communicate those brand value propositions to consumer. Communicating in meaningful ways about value that refrains from insulting the consumer with simplistic, self-centered messaging, that only increases the giggle factor in your market.

If you don't, that sound you hear, are the 40 percent of people in your market (Deloitte, 2011 Survey of Health Care Consumers in the United States), that would leave for what they perceive are better healthcare services starting their cars.




Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How Integrated is Marketing Into Your Organization?

In a day and age, when consumers are bombarded from all directions and media for attention, it would seem, that marketing should play a more important role your internal organization and culture, than it may appear. No intent is made to downgrade your activities and internal communications about what marketing is accomplishing. But rather, asking a thoughtful question to consider.

Is marketing at the table then the Finance Department is staring to develop the annual financial plan and budget assumptions?

Is marketing at the table when the yearly business plan is in the initial stages of development?

Is marketing at the table when the product managers are deciding new product enhancements, new products, features and benefits?

Is marketing at the table when Human Resources is putting its headcount budget together and recruitment strategies?

Is marketing at the table when the annual sales plan is developed?

Not simply yes or no.

I think it is more a question of perception and opportunity, than what is right or wrong. But it seems to me, with so many avenues for consumers to learn about, and experience you, a marketing operation that is highly integrated into the organization and its culture, will find more success, brand awareness, market strength and revenue, compared to those companies where that's not the case.

Think of the power of a highly focused organization where marketing is fully integrated into most, if not all decision-making and planning? Employees become your strongest brand advocate through their engagement and contact with customers. Products and services are developed with enhancements that consumers want, not what someone thinks are needed. Growth plans based on market trends and developments, that have you meeting market demand and creating new markets, instead of adjusting your products and services to meet the financial plan revenue and return targets, forcing consumers into what you want.

Seems backwards to me, but that is U.S. business when compared to many other parts of the world, where it starts with the customer first and plans are developed and executed from there.

The world is so interconnected, that companies can no longer afford to have planning and decision-making processes that do not include marketing. That is more than an employee newsletter. Or sending out some update emails, displaying the new ad campaign or holding organizational meetings to explain what marketing is doing,

It is really about fostering and growing a marketing culture in the organization, where everyone has a stake in the outcome. That starts with leadership and a champions voice in the organization, C-suite and Board leadership that no longer accepts the status quo. This is about organizational change and the willingness to be not just successful, but a highly successful market leader. Without that, then a marketing focused organization is not possible.

Remember, if you're not the lead dog, the view never changes.

You can find me on:
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/krivich0707
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mkrivich
Web site: http://www.themichaeljgroup.com

If you are interested in exceptional strategic marketing consulting, you can reach me through my web site the michael J group; email- michael@themichaeljgroup.com; or phone, by calling me at 815-293-1471.



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