Lessons from the Shark Tank for Healthcare Marketers

Lessons from the Shark Tank for Healthcare Marketers

I had the pleasure to present at the SHSMD Connections conference in Seattle a few weeks ago.  My co-presenter, and fellow disruptor, Paul Szablowski and I were thrilled to see a full house for our session, as healthcare marketers were eager to learn business lessons from the hit reality television show “Shark Tank.”  And, at a time when marketers are under constant scrutiny from their CEO’s to demonstrate value and Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI), walking into a shark tank each time budgeting and annual planning rolls around is all too much a reality.

Here’s a recap of our presentation, “Lessons from the Shark Tank.”  If it leaves you swimming with questions or additional thoughts, I look forward to hearing from you.

The Waters are Murky for Marketers

Marketers in all industries are facing intense pressure to perform for their organization.  Many studies suggest that there is definitely a realignment needed between the C-Suite and marketing department in terms of expectations, accountability, and responsibilities.  Nearly three quarters of CEO’s want their marketing department to focus on growth goals and new customer acquisition, and the same percentage of marketers believe their jobs are not designed to let them achieve this for their organizations.

Perhaps this is why the average tenure of a Chief Marketing Officer is only four years – the shortest length of any position in the C-Suite.

Another reason is that marketers have focused too much on “marketing” and not enough on growth goals.  So before walking into your “shark tank,” this mindset  has to shift or you’ll be quick to sink in your organization.

Lesson 1:  Know your role

Yes, you’re The Director of Marketing (or V.P, CMO, etc.).  But you’re not meeting with your C-Suite to discuss cool tactics, gross impressions, or events that fulfill the mission of the organization.  You’re meeting to discuss how your insights on the market, in-depth knowledge of your customer base, and continuous discovery is leading the organization through the consumer-driven economy of healthcare.  Your role is that of a contemporary marketing leader whose job encompasses the entire enterprise and reflects the perspective of the customer leading to creating new growth for the organization.

As you enter the shark tank, tell them who you are and what you do; you’re leading marketing, not “doing” marketing!  You know how to motivate and inspire teams across the organization and draw them to a common vision of brand relevance.

Lesson 2:  The “Pitch” vs. The Dialogue

Your time in the “shark tank” is limited and you only have one shot to make a business case for the organization’s marketing investment.  As tempting as it is to make a “pitch,” you have to use that time to take on a consultative role with your leadership and create a dialogue that gets them engaged with your thinking and approach.

Remember, it’s not about you (and your pitch for dollars).  It’s about the organization’s growth and the investment required to attract new patients and revenue.  Move from being perceived as an expense to being an asset!

Lesson 3:  Know your numbers

The investment your organization is willing to make in marketing is the output from your time in the shark tank.  The knowledge and vision you have going in, is the input that will be required to talk with your leadership team.

Like any corporation, the C-suite is responsible for earnings, growth targets, and market share.  When you enter the tank, it will be important that you keep the marketing dialogue around these metrics and not necessarily those of a website dashboard.  CEO’s don’t really care all that much about digital impressions; they trust you know your marketing stuff and all that is effective.  What they want to know is marketing’s role in customer retention, new patient acquisition, lifetime value of a patient, contribution margin, and share of wallet; or the depth of an individual’s healthcare relationship with your organization.

Lesson 4:  Differentiation

If you’re a fan of the show “Shark Tank,” you’ll know that one of the first questions asked by the panel is “what makes you different?”  In healthcare, unlike consumer packaged goods, this answer is often difficult to provide.  Based on growth goals, you’ll need to know exactly what makes your organization or service line different, how you’re going to leverage that distinction and the optimized results it will generate.

Avoid the 7 deadly words (7 Deadly Words in Healthcare Advertising) of healthcare advertising.  They will not only NOT differentiate your enterprise, they will infuriate your C-suite and kill your dialogue.

Your brand differentiation must sync with your customer’s lifestyle, their passions and interests to create a heartbeat, not a chest beat. (Branding: It’s About Heartbeat, Not Chest Beat).  It must uniquely position your organization in a crowded marketplace.

It’s important that you carefully examine your brand and the real value it represents.  Regardless of where you think your brand is, making the pivot to the consumer requires truly understanding where your brand sits in the market.

Lesson 5:  Answering tough questions

Anticipating questions is as important as preparing for your discussion in the tank.  You have to be prepared, know your stuff, and know your audience.  Remember, you’re selling yourself as much as you are your ideas.  Mostly, it’s a dialogue you’re having about your “buyers” making an investment – not a “pitch” asking for funds.

Your ability to open the eyes of the C-suite with knowledge of financial terms and concepts, insights of the marketplace, and sources of new customer acquisition is what will generate a healthy discussion and position you as a leader within the organization, not merely a marketing director.

Keep swimming with bold strokes

Yes, the waters are getting murkier for healthcare marketing professionals.  But if you do more than stay afloat, and charter a course based on sound business strategy and strong insights, you’ll impress your leadership “shark tank” and improve your chances for attaining the investment you need to help your enterprise grow.  And that’s exactly what you’re being asked to do.

If you have questions about our presentation or would like a copy of the slides, feel free to reach out to me at rob@springboardbrand.com or 847.398.4920.

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