Healthcare Marketers: Lessons from the Shark Tank

Healthcare Marketers: Lessons from the Shark Tank

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.  Healthcare marketers were eager to learn business lessons from the hit reality television show “Shark Tank.” Healthcare 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.  If it leaves you swimming with questions or additional thoughts, I look forward to hearing from you. The Waters are Murky for Healthcare 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 healthcare 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 healthcare 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 and in-depth knowledge of your customer base.  And also 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 also 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.  Knowledge and vision 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.  It is 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.  You’ll also want to know 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 must 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 marketers.  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.”  Finally, you will also 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...
Healthcare Brands Require Strong Internal Engagement

Healthcare Brands Require Strong Internal Engagement

Whether a hospital system, specialty practice, medical association, or device company, healthcare brands will only thrive with strong internal engagement. This is especially important with the rapid consolidation in the healthcare industry today. For providers, where referrals among medical staff members and sub-specialties make or break the system, engagement is paramount. When we conduct focus groups with internal teams at leading health systems, most employees do not know the “5 W’s and H” within their own organization: “who it consists of” “what’s expected of them” “why should they care” “where they should refer” “when” “how” As a result, organizations experience great leakage of patients, and revenue. Communications strategies help address many of the unknowns. Internal campaigns including brand overviews, videos, books, and other tactics can explain the size and scope of the organization. Of course, graphic standards manuals are essential. Especially in terms of presenting healthcare brands in a consistent and unified manner, no matter which architecture strategy is being developed. Online tools and staff profiles will also help facilitate referrals from one practice to another or among sub-specialties. Most healthcare professionals understand “when” referrals should be made.  However, soft reminders are sometimes needed for family physicians who would rather treat their patient than “lose” them to a referral. Key here is to develop protocols.  These ensure the primary care provider gets their patient back after specialty procedures or consultations are performed. That takes care of most of the W’s and H. Let’s focus on the “why”. Really(!?), employees have to be told why they need to care about keeping patients within the health system? Unfortunately, they do. It’s always eye-opening and mind-boggling when you meet with internal stakeholders and suggest they be accountable to their organization for patient referrals. And being accountable means knowing the who’s who and what’s what within the enterprise. The “why” should be answered with “because it’s your job, and you lose risking it because there won’t be enough money for your paycheck!” In all my years working with healthcare companies, I’ve only heard a couple CEO’s be this overt and direct with employees about keeping referrals in-house. There’s not an “I” in accountability, but there certainly is a “Y”. By the way, both of these CEO’s and their organizations are extremely successful. Most employees want to support their employer and do what’s necessary to see it be successful and remain gainfully employed. The issue is, most aren’t told the “why” in the most direct fashion.  As a result, they don’t pay enough attention to the other “W’s.” Internal engagement strategies are hugely important for brands to be successful, regardless of the industry. They just need to be bolder, more emphatic, and include language that hit both the heart and wallet of their employees. If this strikes a chord and stirs your senses, give me a call to discuss healthcare brands at 847.398.4920 or email Rob@springboardbrand.com. You can also contact us...
Can you write a healthcare ad without using the seven “deadly” words?

Can you write a healthcare ad without using the seven “deadly” words?

George Carlin will always be remembered as an original with many great comedic acts, but his “seven deadly words” bit (what you can’t say on network television, back then…) is a classic. Under this theme, branding expert Paul Szablowski (former Senior V.P., Brand Engagement of Texas Health Resources, CHW, etc.) and I teamed up on an article of a similar title for a popular healthcare ad / marketing publication. It’s been about ten years since it was published, but that article generated more talk value than any I’ve received since. The article was about the seven “deadly” words you shouldn’t use in hospital advertising because they make little sense to consumers and are non-differentiating for the brand. After attending a recent healthcare advertising trade show and competition, I am prompted to again write about these words and why hospital marketers should not be using them. Because I heard a lot of them! Okay, here’s the list: Interdisciplinary Ask ten consumers on the street what this means to them and their health and you’ll quickly understand why it’s a waste of space and benefit. Other like words that don’t officially make the list, but should, include continuum, integrated, and coordinated. World-class Technically two words, but often used as one thought in healthcare. After a decade, there is still no need nor regulatory act to substantiate such claims and as a result even a two-bed hospital in you know where, can claim to be “world class.” By the way, in case you’re looking to be less global and more local, “nationally-recognized” doesn’t do it, either. Quality – okay healthcare folks, it’s a cost of entry for your organization. Sort of like the word “trust” – if you have to say it, you probably aren’t. Good copy line, but not fit for a strong tagline or headline. State-of-the-Art Similar to “world-class” in that it is often used as one thought in advertising. In this industry, as soon as you say it, you’re out-of-date. Care See “quality.” That’s like a food brand talking about tasting good. At least use a unique adjective to describe your care. Close-to-home – another multi-word, single thought phrase often used by hospitals. Study after study reveals that being convenient is not a primary selection factor for certain kinds of specialty care beyond ER and primary care. Compassion – See “care,” see “quality,” see just about every hospital in the country. Back in the early days of hospital advertising, and most likely at a similar time as George Carlin’s original rant (1972), these words and phrases were common because the marketing discipline in the industry wasn’t. Amazingly, they are still being used today in a more sophisticated industry of brand development and differentiation. Go ahead and write your next headline or tagline for a healthcare ad. See if you can avoid these words. If so, you’re using terms and phrases that are more unique to your brand and the customer experience. This is such an important strategy in today’s keyword society. If you find yourself relying on these deadly words, kill them before they do the same to your brand. Did I miss any? — If you would like to learn more about Springboard and writing an healthcare ad, contact us...
Why some brand identities make you cringe

Why some brand identities make you cringe

When you stop for a brief moment, and let’s face it – a very brief moment, to look at a brand identity, there are some that make you nod approval and others that make you cringe. You know, that look on your face when nose and lips almost meet and your eyes squint. What makes a brand identity cringe-worthy? Why can’t they all be simple and powerful like Apple, Nike, and FedEx; each telling a story well beyond the icon or tagline. After studying and creating various identities over the years, here’s a quick list of some reasons brand identities might make you cringe: What is that? These are the brand identities that you can’t even identify. They contain strange symbols, layers of “brand” elements, and iconic images that only a client would love. Typically, these are client-led ideas that nobody had the guts to say, “this looks like guts.” The remedy – listen to what the client meant, not what they said. And translate into an identity accordingly. Size matters Agency folks, especially art directors, for years have told tales about the client “wanting to make the logo bigger.” I’ve secretly sided with clients on this request because, after all, it’s important to know the brand anchor behind the ad, brochure, or other piece of communications you’re reading. Interesting that today, where digital media receives the majority of brand spend, identities are getting smaller and more difficult to read on social media posts, banners, and other applications. The remedy – brand identities need to be responsive (like websites) to adapt to the space that’s allotted. This means there needs to be flexibility built into graphic standards so different applications can be used for different spaces. You know the old saying, “you can’t stuff ten pounds of you-know-what in a five pound bag! The lost symbol If you stand on one leg, look in the mirror, and close one eye, you’ll see it! Just like the FedEx arrow! We all know these identity types. With the over 6,000 forms of messages, symbols, icons, and other forms of communications we’re exposed to on a daily basis, good luck getting someone to spend more than an eye blink trying to get the hidden meaning within your brand identity. The remedy – design a brand identity that identifies and supports the position/promise first, and if there’s an element of it that tells a brand story over time, or is lore at internal meetings, that’s great. The blank slate Creating a brand identity is part of a brand strategy and should be developed within that context. Not on a design island all on its own. When your organization has determined the need to reevaluate its brand identity, it means you should be reevaluating your overarching brand position. What a great opportunity to use the brand identity as one element of bringing the brand position and promise to life! The remedy– don’t start with a blank piece of paper. It should be filled with research findings, goals, messaging considerations, and other brand insights that need to be taken into account when developing the identity. The sea of sameness Those same turbulent waters that capsize ad campaigns also swell around identity development. When creating a new brand, use the opportunity to be fresh and different. To stand out in a crowded market. To differentiate. The remedy – pin up the identities of other brands competing in your market. Evaluate what makes them the same (colors, shapes, type, etc.) and include those in your creative brief. Encourage your designer to go outside the norm and consider new ideas that will make new waves in the industry. The “two is better than one” With all the consolidation taking place in most industries today, identities tend to have split personalities. Borrow a little from pile A and a little from pile B and, wallah, we have a pile! The remedy – instead of trying to create a Reese’s cup, capture key elements of the merging entities and/or the value of the new enterprise to develop something new. Of course, if it can be as tasty as chocolate and peanut better, bring it on. I know there are other reasons some brand identities make you cringe. Feel free to add them here. My hope is that as a result of reading this, there will be one less snarled face out there trying to decipher the story, hidden meaning, or undifferentiated blob used as a brand identity. Contact us at Springboard to learn...
Creating a Heartbeat Brand Requires Knowing Your Audience in New, Relevant Ways

Creating a Heartbeat Brand Requires Knowing Your Audience in New, Relevant Ways

Most research studies provide excellent insights into your brand.  For example, knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions people have of your brand, their intent to use, and likelihood to recommend.  In addition, there’s data collected on who replied to the survey; gender, age, income, etc.  Yes, this tells you about what people think of your brand.  However, it doesn’t tell you anything about the people who use it, or want to use it.  Creating the highest level of relevance with your brand requires knowing more about the people you’re targeting than has been customary. Just like in good advertising practices, it’s about them – not you.  A heartbeat brand is one that appeals to the interests, lifestyle, visions and dreams of your audience.  Use your market research to help you understand these traits so your brand can be more effectively positioned and modified to meet their needs. There should be a section within your questionnaire that asks people about what matters most in their lives.  How they spend their time, activities they enjoy, hobbies they pursue, etc. Armed with this information, you can begin to reflect these passions and interests in your brand communications. Images become more than design background; they become eye-catching relevant scenarios. Your audience sees themselves and how their life intersects with your brand, not the other way around. Knowing your audience in new, relevant ways will help you create positioning and messaging platforms that break through and become noticed.  Why?  Because you’ve captured the essence of what’s most important to people you’re trying to influence, not trying to influence them with your brand message. Contact us today to learn more about your heartbeat...
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