How to Position Your Brand as the “Safe Choice” in Healthcare When You’re Up Against the “Big Boys”

“No one ever got fired for hiring IBM.” That was a classic business cliche in the 1970s, and a true one, as a colleague reminded me recently.  Now for many Health IT companies (and some platform-based medical device companies) selling into hospitals, it’s the big EMR companies like Epic and Cerner with lots of APIs, apps, and extensions, that beat them out because customers feel the “big boys” are the safer choice.

Let’s say you are a small to mid size company. You can apply key principles of persuasion to increase your chances of winning business in this ultra-competitive space. Here’s a 3-step process you can use:

1. Emotional Alignment:  First establish empathy by emotionally aligning with the healthcare customer: a) Acknowledge that when making purchasing decisions like this, some people choose one of the big-name brands because they assume it’s a safer bet.  b) Acknowledge that for some hospitals that’s a reasonable way to go. c) Acknowledge – carefully – that for some people it’s a “CYA” decision and that may trump looking at what will be best for the hospital in some circumstances. d) Acknowledge that it can be hard to know when it may be a better choice to go with a smaller, more specialized brand.

Now the customer will feel understood and more open to considering other options. You have disarmed several points of resistance. You rightly have not pitched your brand yet.

2. Initial Decision Guidelines: Second, help the customer know when they should and should not evaluate different brands. a) Give them a few specific guidelines to inform this first decision – whether they should broaden their assessment beyond the big-name brands or not (have this as a tool you provide to them too). b) Explicitly explain the conditions under which it does NOT make sense to broaden their assessment beyond the big-name brands. This step is critical for you to be credible. c) Explicitly explain the conditions under which it DOES make sense to broaden their assessment beyond the big-name brands.  4) Walk the customer through the use of the initial decision guidelines for their setting.

You have now provided them with a reasonable way to decide if they should explore further and they should have arrived at an appropriate decision. Note you still have not pitched your brand yet – good job being patient!

3. Guided Influence: Third, if and when the initial decision guidelines suggest the customer should evaluate other brands, provide a set of criteria for comparing brands. a) Be sure the customer agrees the criteria make sense, and if needed explain the relevance of each. Be willing to add or subtract a criterion to better fit the customer’s situation. b) Now it is time to talk about your brand. Show how you compare on the criteria.  Admit when competitors are better on certain points. Reinforce that in this circumstance, your brand is actually the safer choice. c) Provide specific reasons to believe and an emotionally compelling story to support each of your claim of superiority.

Now do your thing as a professional sale rep to respectfully get an initial commitment, close the sale, or something in-between.

Recognize that once in a while your initial decision guidelines (Step 2 above) will lead customers to stay with the big-name brands, which means you’re done for the moment. That’s OK. You will have established yourself as a trustworthy partner concerned about what’s best for them – even if you did not get the sale. This is customer intimacy in practice, and it will pay off big – if not immediately, then certainly in the long-term.

The Dot: Brilliant Low Cost “Wearable” Leverages Culture to Save Indian Women’s Lives

A new take on wearable technologies: The familiar red forehead dot – or bindi – has been a traditional symbol of beauty in India and other countries in Southeast Asia for centuries. Now the cultural adornment doubles as a slow-release iodine patch, potentially saving the lives of millions of women in rural communities with iodine deficiencies and no other access to the much-needed supplement.

Continue reading The Dot: Brilliant Low Cost “Wearable” Leverages Culture to Save Indian Women’s Lives

Best Marketing Framework: 6 Ms, 4 Ps, or Customer-Centric 4 Es?

When I was serving on an expert FDA Risk Communication Advisory panel last week, a colleague described the “6Ms” marketing communications framework to the FDA staff we were advising. It’s been around for awhile and is still a useful mnemonic to remember what to consider when crafting a campaign. The 6 Ms are: Mission, Market, Message, Media, Money, Metrics.

Of course the classic marketing framework – or marketing mix – is the 4Ps popularized by Dr. Phil Kotler: Product, price, place (of distribution), and promotion.

Now the 4Ps have morphed into the 4Es: In our version, Product becomes Experience, Price become Equity, Place becomes Environment, and Promotion becomes Evangelists. I see this 4Es model as being the most customer-centric and thereby useful for developing a powerful customer/patient experience. More here.

What framework or mnemonic do you find most helpful?

Risk Communication: Where Logic Does NOT Rule

I serve on an FDA panel called the Risk Communication Advisory Council, and just got back from a two-day session on medication warning labels, drug addiction, and pregnancy. The key issue was how to effectively communicate warnings about side effects that won’t also scare off providers from prescribing the medication.

One point I made that applies to most health-related communicators is to NOT assume the target audience will engage in thorough information-processing and rational decision-making. Do NOT assume that if you just give people correct information, logical consequences will ensue.

Rather, plan for people to take mental shortcuts, make assumptions, interpret with bias, and react emotionally.  By creating messages that meet people where they’re at instead of requiring them to follow your agenda, you get engaged consumers who feel understood and are open to taking in what you want to tell them.

The Painful Cost of Disruptive Innovation: Uber & Cancer?

“It’s like a cancer,” he said. I was in a limo in DC asking the driver who owns a fleet of town cars and vans, what he thought of Uber. He told me his wife just had a recurrence of a serious cancer and he likened it to Uber’s relentless and heartless intrusion into his transportation business.

Bottom line, Uber has tremendously disrupted his business and he is pissed. What most people admire and call a brilliant business model (UberX), he considers unfair and unjust. And he’s not alone, as this Bloomberg article points out.

This is what disruptive innovation does. It stirs things up, hurts the status quo. It causes pain and suffering to people invested in the product or service that was disrupted.

Some pivot and take advantage of the disruption. Others get protective of their turf and fight back. Sometimes they have enough power to fend off or minimize the disruption.  Like with stethoscopes, which should by now be a relic, replaced by high-resolution hand-held ultrasound devices, as Eric Topol points out.

And sometimes it’s a long drawn-out war. Like between some med device companies and durable medical equipment suppliers (DMEs), many of whom may be replaced by other distribution outlets coupled with new patient monitoring systems.

Is disruptive innovation bad? No. By definition, it serves a higher good. But we need to acknowledge it does cause pain to some. We can disrupt with compassion for those who are supplanted. It keeps us all a little more human.

The Biggest Mistake with Most Med Device and Life Science Customer Research

I put on a workshop last week at the WLSA Convergence Summit on how to determine which new ideas to invest in — and which to avoid.

One key idea was the right way and wrong way to get and leverage customer input for new medical devices.

Wrong:  Ask customers what features they want in your products or services.

Right:  Ask customers what outcomes they want from using your product or service.

Most of the time, when we ask customers about solutions, we are abdicating our responsibilities and setting ourselves up for failure.  It is not the responsibility of customers to figure out what features will provide the experience they desire or achieve the result the want. What customers can meaningfully talk about is what experience and outcomes they want. Once we know that, then we can back into why those outcomes are important. Then we translate that understanding into a product requirement and validate its accuracy and importance.

For example, we might hear respiratory therapists tell us in focus groups that they want the mask to be a certain shape. That’s a solution. If we took that solution at face value and passed it on to the engineers and designers as a recommendation, we would likely be misleading them because we don’t yet know the desired outcome. Instead we dig deeper to reveal why RTs want the mask to be a certain shape and what outcome it will achieve. We learn that the outcome is about maximizing patient comfort in older patients, not about minimizing air leakage. We can then propose and validate a measurable requirement designed to achieve that outcome, such as “Maximize comfort for older patients wearing a mask for more than one week.”  Now the engineers and designers take over to bring the requirement to fruition.

Bottom line, asking the right questions gets customer input that leads to better products that solve meaningful customer problems.


Resource for more info:  HBR article about designing useful outcomes-focused customer research.