Category Archives: branding

Happiness as Competitive Advantage? A Challenge for Health Companies

company_happinessYou may be familiar with the Kingdom of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) index. This small Himalayan nation is the only country in the world that measures and aims for national happiness as its most important objective. The intent is to build an economy and culture based on spiritual values more than on material wealth. It prioritizes GNH over GDP. Bhutan’s commitment inspired the United Nations to pass a resolution that placed “happiness” on the global development agenda.

What does this have to do with you and the success of your company that’s in the business of health?? Potentially, a lot. As you read what follows, consider the notion of balancing both profitability and happiness as guiding values and major indicators of success.

Bhutan’s young King Khesar put it this way in his coronation address: Yet we must always remember that as our country, in these changing times finds immense new challenges and opportunities, whatever work we do, whatever goals we have – and no matter how these may change in this changing world – ultimately without peace, security and happiness we have nothing. That is the essence of the philosophy of Gross National Happiness. Our most important goal is the peace and happiness of our people and the security and sovereignty of the nation.

Most companies in the health industry base major business decisions on financial metrics like ROI to shareholders, quarterly numbers, and EBIDTA. Which makes sense. You need to be successfully financially and deliver a return to investors to be a going concern.

Money matters, no matter how dedicated your company is to improving health and saving lives. “No margin, no mission,” as the late Sister Irene Kraus, former CEO of the $3 billion Daughters of Charity National Health System, is credited as saying.

And, and… maybe happiness can matter just as much as money, and measurably contribute to your company’s financial success.  Especially since you’re in the business of health. Many start with employee happiness and well-being. Kaiser, Genentech, Mayo Clinic are a few of the health companies that have a reputation for really investing in the well-being –  and thereby the happiness – of their employees.  And there’s much further to go.

Let’s do a thought experiment: What would if happiness of your employees was a measure of your organization’s well-being? What about delivering  happiness to your customers?  Can you imagine happiness as part of your brand promise? Part of your unchanging core values? A key differentiator in highly competitive market? A metric you proudly talk about to shareholders and investors?

Be happy??

Med Devices, Butterflies, and Increasing Sales: The Little Things

I was leading a workshop recently for a client bringing a new critical care device to market. As one step in the process, we were doing wide-open brainstorming to generate a large quantity of ideas on what the value proposition might be that we would later synthesize and vet with customers. We were specifically looking for meaningful differentiation.butterflies

One savvy marketing person bravely expressed that as a former clinician, she knew that little things, as silly as it might sound, can make the difference between winning the hearts of critical care nurses and getting the sale – or not. The example she gave was butterflies. As in enabling butterflies to appear on the monitor display (out of the way of patient data of course). Then she suggested other simple ways of allowing personalization.

These “humanizing” gestures cost almost nothing to med device  manufacturers, and can mean a great deal to the customer.  They convey that you understand the realities of the emotional toll it takes to provide critical care day after day. And they make you in a simple and profound way a valued partner – not just a vendor of commodities – which is where you want to be.

Obviously, butterflies and other personalization aesthetics are not going to be the core value proposition for any med device. But these kinds of things can enrich your value proposition, differentiate on an emotional level, and enable a deeper more meaningful connection with your customers.

So… what’s your butterfly?

Why Should Hospitals Buy Your Device (10 Words Or Less)??

Med device and other life science companies often engage us to help them improve their marketing and make more money. One simple and revealing “litmus test” question we ask at the get-go is this:

Why should customers choose your product? (10 words or less!)

Often company execs, product managers, and marcom folks struggle to provide a clear, compelling, and jargon-free answer. Why? They naturally get caught up in their products and in doing what needs to get done. As a result, they lose sight of the “why” from a customer point of view.

The antidote is putting the customer first in all you do, and building that into how you operate day-in and day-out. It’s not easy, and takes long-term commitment, even when money is tight.

One step in a customer-first direction is challenging your team to create a set of answers to why customer should choose you. Keep them short, 10 words or less. Then test them with customers. Compare them to what competitors say and could say. Keep iterating until the answer is both persuasive logically and emotionally with customers.

Do this for every product and service you offer. Build it into your R&D process at the earliest stages. You’re on your way to a set of cohesive, distinctive and effective value propositions that can make all the difference in your marketing success.

Start now with your top of mind answer: Why should customers choose your product?

 

Does “Emotional Connection” Really Belong in Sales and Marketing?

I’ve gotten interesting feedback on a recent post in which I challenged med device and other health tech companies to love their customers. The word “love” in business triggers strong reactions.  Some are put off by the whole topic – it’s too touchy-feely and way outside their comfort zone. A few say that the culture of business is far too cutthroat for companies to risk making love a core value. Others insist that it would never work, that love is at odds with maximizing profits.

So here’s another way of approaching it. No one will argue against the value of establishing long-term relationships with customers, right? It’s proven to be far more profitable in the long haul.

And what’s at the core of meaningful long-term relationships Emotional connection. As my colleague and brand guru Denise Lee Yohn wrote in Forbes magazine: “People decide which brands to buy and which ones to stick with based on how they make them feel. That’s why brands aren’t in the business of selling products—they’re in the business of forging close emotional ties with their customers.”

Emotional connection start with a deep understanding of the problems your customers face, their unmet needs, and the way they want to feel and be. This means suspending your ego and observing customers and really listening to them, with open minds and open hearts. Not easy, but very doable.

There are huge opportunities in the B2B health space for manufacturers to win big by being a partner, not just a vendor. And that requires investing in developing emotional bonds with customers that will keep them coming back year after year. Emotional connection.

How does your company forge emotional ties with customers and creating lasting relationships?

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.

Blast Off! Branding & NASA’s Area Code

Guess what part of the U.S. has the area code 321 (think countdown 3-2-1 liftoff!)? Yup, it’s the “Space Coast” in Florida where NASA launches take place. The story goes that a savvy citizen wanted to honor the space program by acquiring the uniquely appropriate area code of 321 (which had been designated for somewhere in Chicago).

This is very clever example of implementing a brand strategy that recognizes that everything about an organization- even its area code, speaks. And can be harnessed into an asset.

How can you extend your brand in clever and effective ways?