Category Archives: healthcare

Brains, Brawn, or Beauty: What’s Your Value Prop?

brain-brawn-beautyIn today’s hyper-competitive healthcare marketplace, getting your value prop right is critical to position your product to win. To open your thinking about the myriad of value prop possibilities, consider the triad popularized in popular entertainment: Brains, brawn, and beauty.

Yup, brains, brawn, and beauty. Like it or not, there’s lots that we in healthcare marketing can learn from what sells in popular entertainment.

For example, the long-running competitive reality TV show Survivor groups its castaways into tribes, like this:

The members of the “Brains” tribe use their intellect to get by in life; while the members of the “Beauty” tribe use their looks and social skills, and the members of the “Brawn” tribe use their brute strength. When put all three traits together, they actually make up the Survivor motto: Outwit (“Brains”), Outplay (“Beauty”), Outlast (“Brawn”).

Now apply the “brains, brawn, beauty” trope to see if it usefully expands your thinking about value proposition possibilities. Of course, do the customer and competitive research to both generate ideas to explore and verify what works.

As a starting point, recognize that most med tech value props emphasize “brains” in terms of smarter technology of some sort. Instead, consider winning at “brawn.” That would center your value prop on the idea of being the workhorse device or the most powerful technology, not necessarily the one that deals with the most complex situations.

Alternatively, you might win at “beauty” by having the most aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly product. This requires being able to score “cool” points and might mean you don’t provide advanced functionalities.

That said, in both cases, you still need to demonstrate parity in “brains” – or at least sufficient table stakes, to be considered a serious contender. However, it may lead to a value prop that stands out based on a meaningful and distinctive strength, and that doesn’t get lost with a “me too” claim with no emotional resonance.

Bottom line, think outside the box about what makes your offering unique and valuable. Will you win with brains, brawn, or beauty??

Population Health: The “Make or Break” Behavior Change Promise

A key promise of the population health phenomenon, so important to payors, providers, and suppliers is this: We need the public to get healthier. That requires participation. If payors pay, people will take advantage of free preventive services to get healthy.

Here’s how the Kaiser Family Foundation put it in their recent Health Reform overview (see bold): A key provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the requirement that private insurance plans cover recommended preventive services without any patient cost-sharing. Research has shown that evidence-based preventive services can save lives and improve health by identifying illnesses earlier, managing them more effectively, and treating them before they develop into more complicated, debilitating conditions, and that some services are also cost-effective. However, costs do prevent some individuals from obtaining preventive services. The coverage requirement aims to remove cost barriers.

The reality is that while cost is a barrier for some people, it’s not the only barrier. It may not even be the main barrier. Now you might be thinking, if preventive services have been proven to improve health and save lives, why would people NOT make use of them, especially when they’re free? What other barriers might there be?

In my two decades of experience working with CDC, CMS, FDA, and many public health efforts, behavior change is the holy grail. And maybe the hardest to achieve. The main barrier I believe is not money, but motivation. People will find all kinds of reasons (beyond costs) to NOT sign up for free preventive services, including: 1) I’m not sick, 2) I don’t need whatever those services are, 3) I’ll do it later.

Prevention has alway been a tough sell. The fundamental benefit promised is that something bad (illness) will not happen down the road. Many people don’t see that as compelling or personal relevant in a life with so many demands in the here and now.

The solution requires: 1) increasing immediate personal relevance, 2) making it simple to do. As my friend and colleague Peter Mitchell, head of Salter Mitchell’s MarketingForChange practice, says, make it fun, easy, and popular. Building on that, I like the FEFE acronym- Fun, Easy, Fast, Effective.

Research trends in the science of persuasion, behavioral economics and decision-making, social psychology, and marketing science, provide convergent evidence that motivating health behavior change and utilization of preventive services is no simple task, and requires far more than data, information, and logic.

Bottom line, population health players need to employ multiple approaches to motivate behavior change, and to not assume that a logical (and free) offer will do the job.

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FYI, here are a few more resources on motivating health behavior change:

Motivating Health Behavior Change: Three Dangerous Assumptions to Avoid

Getting People to Do What You Want: Two Paths to Persuasion

Ability-Motivation-Opportunity: Marketing’s Winning Trifecta

Behavior Change: It’s NOT Just the Person!

 

Great Technology, Or Are You Drinking Your Own Koolaid?

kool-aidSandy, a senior marketing manager at a med device company recently confided: “We’re so convinced our new technology platform is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It’s like we’re drinking our own Koolaid!” She was greatly concerned that her team had lost perspective and any sense of objectivity. They had become so enamored of their platform that they were no longer thinking of what customers might want or value. Were they building something that no one would want, use or buy?

I’ve heard this same concern from savvy marketing and product managers at health insurance companies, health IT companies, and health innovation labs. It’s what happens when people, however well-meaning, spend years developing a product, program, or idea,  and become so immersed in what they’re building, that they lose sight of its appeal and value to customers. They’re so close to the product or service that they can’t even see the question. They’re drunk, on their own Koolaid.

If this sounds like your team or company… well, from one perspective, it’s not your fault. It’s human nature to believe deeply in what you make or market. Why wouldn’t you? It can actually be unifying and inspiring to drink your own Koolaid!

On the other hand, drinking your own Koolaid can be deceiving. You start believing your own “propaganda” without healthy questioning. The resultant deception can blind you to disparities between how you want things to be and how things are, to differences between your company’s desires and the market reality.

Bottom line, it is your team’s responsibility to raise your heads and verify your assumptions, check out how customers think and feel about the benefits your product promises, and assess its usability. Inevitably, your solution has morphed over time, and what it is now may or may not meet market needs. In short, you need to be sure you’re still solving a meaningful problem and developing a unique solution customers will use and pay for.

Can you stop drinking your own Koolaid? It takes courage because you have a lot of sunk costs – and not just money, but effort and professional reputation as well. But as any investor knows, sunk costs alone do not justify spending more time and money. That’s called a money pit. It takes strength too, because once you have momentum in a certain direction, it’s tough to put on the brakes, or even pivot. But again, going further in the wrong direction helps no one.

So, set egos aside, ask the tough questions, get customer feedback, and make smart decisions. And quit drinking your own Koolaid!

Motivating Health Behavior Change: Three Dangerous Assumptions To Avoid

Behavior change is becoming more and more important to device manufacturers, health IT companies, pharma, and life science firms, as they expand their offerings into disease prevention. Whether aiming to get people to eat healthier, exercise more, participate in screenings, take meds as prescribed, monitor insulin levels, or conduct self-exams, successfully motivating behavior change isn’t easy.

The good news is that health behavior change has been a major focus in public health for decades, and there are a lot of lessons that health care businesses can apply.

One key lesson is recognizing and correcting the fundamental assumptions that derail most efforts to motivate health behavior change. Here are three of the most pervasive and insidious assumptions.

  1. Assuming people don’t know better: Many companies wrongly assume that the barrier to behavior change is lack of awareness. Therefore the thinking goes, if we just give people logical reasons for why people should change their behaviors, they will see the light and mend their ways. Typically these logical reasons center on reducing risks of morbidity and mortality (does that sound exciting or what!?). The reality is that more often than not, people are already well aware that certain behaviors are bad for them. Ask any smoker or obese person; they recognize their habits are harmful, and they know they should quit smoking or cut calories. Lack of awareness is usually not the problem. Therefore, behavior change campaigns aimed at increasing awareness will always fall short.
  1. Assuming people behave as they believe: Consider your own life. Do your actions consistently reflect your beliefs about what is and is not healthy? Or is there a disconnect? I gave a guest lecture today to a great group of grad students studying public health communication. To make the point that people’s behaviors don’t always match their beliefs – what psychologists call cognitive dissonance – I asked how many regularly sleep 8 hours a night, eat nutritiously, and exercise vigorously. Only a handful of the students raised their hands. While they all believe they should get good sleep, eat well, and work out, very few behave that way. (And these are young people making health promotion/disease prevention their profession. They really know this stuff!). Human nature is such that we don’t always do what we know we should do. We unfortunately have the ability to sustain high levels of belief-behavior inconsistency. Campaigns that are predicated on the idea that people’s health behaviors will align with their beliefs about health usually fail.
  1. Assuming big negatives trump little positives: It seems so obvious. If you sell CPAP devices, you may think: How can people possibly not use their CPAP machine?  They could stop breathing and die in the middle of the night! Similarly, if you work for an insurance company or hospital, you may think: How can people at high risk of heart disease possibly not choose low fat, low salt foods? They could die of a heart attack! Same with medication adherence. Same with breast self-exams. Clearly, stopping breathing or having a heart attack are big negatives. But they are only possibilities. The comfort of sleeping without a face mask and loud machine is a definite. A small positive but a definite one. Likewise, the definite pleasure of a rich dessert can eclipse the possibility of a heart attack. Never underestimate the allure of immediate pleasures.

All these mistaken assumptions are rooted in what I call “us” centered thinking. The solution is to adopt “them” centered thinking. Put your customers in the middle, not yourself. That’s the first step toward successfully motivating health behavior.

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More resources on health behavior change here:

Getting People to Do What You Want: Two Paths to Persuasion

Be Like Vegas!… and 6 Other Tips to Increase Wellness Program Participation

 

The Promise & Challenge of Customer Intimacy for Med Tech Companies

No, it’s not about low lights, mood music or negligees. Customer intimacy is a business philosophy that commits you to deeply connecting with your customers. The deeper you connect, the more you sell.

Fundamentally, there are two main aspects to customer intimacy: One is really understanding what customers want. The other is giving them what they want. And that makes for very loyal and profitable customers.

When you are customer intimate, you focus on specific customers and let go of others. You precisely tailor your offerings to what your customers want and need, and do (almost) whatever it takes to make them happy. That requires really tuning to customer desires, both stated and unstated. And it may mean using big data analytics to make optimal recommendations to customers – like Amazon does with products, Pandora does with songs, and LinkedIn does with business contacts.

As a result, your customers are thinking “How do they know me so well?!” And of course, if you are practicing customer intimacy, you also genuinely care about your customers.

Sounds good, right? Here’s the rub: Most every med tech executive will say they are committed to connecting with their customers. In thought, they are. But in practice, it’s often a different story. Customer intimacy is hard to achieve. It’s a long-term strategy that requires organizational commitment, a relentless “tuning-in” to customer problems and desires, and both responsiveness and creativity to solve those problems and fulfill those desires.

Customer intimacy also challenges and turns traditional revenue goals right-side up. How? Customer intimacy is about maximizing the lifetime value of a customer. It is absolutely not about about lowering prices to hit quarterly or end-of-year numbers. In terms of KPIs, long-term relationships trump short-term profit. This can be a tough sell in solely numbers-driven organizations.

On the other hand, because it is challenging for med tech companies to practice customer intimacy, those that do will: 1) gain a significant competitive advantage in a very tough market, 2) build a barrier to commodization of their products and services, and 3) create a unique and powerful brand promise that can be core to their very identity. And as Zappos, Southwest Airlines, and Nordtrom all attest, bottom line, customer intimacy can be highly lucrative.

The first step is to decide if you have what it takes to be customer intimate over the long run. Consider: Money aside, how deeply do you care about your customers? Do you commit resources to really understand them? How far will you go to satisfy them?

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Resources:

The HBR classic by Michael Treacy & Fred Wiersema: Customer Intimacy and Other Value Disciplines

Interesting Forbes magazine article by business technology expert Joe Weinman on how digital and big data is transforming customer intimacy into “collective intimacy”

Earning Real Customer Loyalty: The Challenge for Med Tech Companies

When it comes to customer loyalty toward med tech companies, the most common story we hear from hospitals and clinicians goes like this:

“The sales reps give us a lot of attention when they want to sell us something. Once we buy, we rarely hear from them or their company. All they care about is making the sale. There is no relationship or partnership. All they are to us is another vendor.”

Turns out that for most med tech manufacturers, their healthcare customers either feel no loyalty, or place their loyalty with the rep. While hospitals and clinicians may have a brand preference, it is quite rare that they feel strong loyalty toward a manufacturer. In fact, surprisingly often, clinicians don’t remember the brand of the devices they use, even those they use day-in and day-out.

What’s causing this absence of loyalty to the companies that make and sell important and often life-saving equipment? I believe there are two factors at play.

  • The business model of many med tech companies puts short-terms sales over long-term relationships. Hitting quarterly numbers (even if it means greatly discounting prices) trumps maximizing the lifetime value for a customer. As a result, downstream marketing does not invest in sustaining long-term customer relationships. That clearly hurts customer loyalty.
  • Many med tech companies still think they’re in the business of selling boxes or software. Really, they’re in the business of improving healthcare. But when their focus is so product-centric, it’s hard to see the need to invest in building strong relationships. This sets up a dynamic in which customers choose between product A or B. The promise of partnering to help hospitals and clinicians provide better care over the long-term isn’t even on the table. This too takes away the opportunity to create customer loyalty.

That said, some reps are so good that they overcome these obstacles and are able to engender extremely strong loyalty from their customers, like in these two stories:

“It was almost midnight and we suddenly had a serious malfunction with our new ventilators. We called Sandy, the manufacturer’s rep, who happened to be 8 months pregnant. She immediately came by and with profuse apologies got us up and running. Then she came back the next day and provided a more permanent fix. When we need new vents, we buy from Sandy. Doesn’t matter what company she’s with. We trust her and whatever she recommends for us.”

“Dan advised us not to buy his company’s newest monitors yet. He said they were still working out some connectivity kinks and to wait until next year. He recommended we buy from his competitor if we really needed new monitors right away. That was a huge trust-builder. We’ll stick with Dan forever!”

These are true examples and the kind of thing we hear occasionally from clinicians when we’re doing research for our med device clients about how to generate customer loyalty. These reps are like gold and should be valued as such. You want these reps to stay committed to your company.

However, to get healthcare customers to be loyal not just to your reps but to your company is a big lift. It requires a long-term investment in what we call customer intimacy. It also requires a different business model and compensation structure. And it requires a cohesive strategy for prioritizing what customers want and need over what your solutions and technologies can do. Finally, it requires you to convincingly demonstrate to your customers how committing to buying from you over the long-term (i.e. loyalty) will measurably improve their situation.

In the always-changing healthcare space, I believe that the few med tech companies courageous and committed enough to fulfill these challenging requirements will be the big winners.

How to Unseat the Market Leader: Hit the Right Emotional Chord with Customers

Here’s a tough situation med tech and health IT companies face in healthcare: The maker of a particular technology has more than 75% market share; they are the undisputed market leader.  unseat_pull_the_rug_from_underWhen their device or software was introduced 5 years ago, it was groundbreaking. Now, it’s the standard. But you have something better.

How do you effectively disrupt the market leader’s longstanding domination and win significant market share? The answer lies in the hearts and minds of the clinicians using the technology. You need to carefully and precisely determine which emotional chord will open customers’ minds in order for them to consider moving from the market leader’s technology (the “status quo”) to your new and presumably better innovation.

To reveal the right emotional chord, you must ask the right questions: Are they happy with the status quo? Do they perceive any problems? Can they envision a better state?  These kinds of questions will reveal the “set point,” i.e. where customers are before they know about your better device, service, or software.

In simple terms, there are four main set points based on the idea that customers are either satisfied or dissatisfied with the status quo technology, and they are or are not aware of a possible solution (or better state) a new technology might deliver. Once you know the set point, you need to identify the corresponding emotional chord, so that your messages will connect with customers and resonate at an emotional level. That resonance leads customers to feel understood, which will then open their minds to consider alternatives to the longstanding status quo.

Example: Let’s say customers are satisfied with the market leader’s status quo technology. They aren’t aware of any problems, so they certainly wouldn’t expect new solutions. Your job then is to identify the meaningful problem that: a) your customers will care about once they know about it, and b) your improved technology will solve. (And if no meaningful problem exists, then there’s really no need for your improvement, right? But that’s a different story!).

Once you determine the meaningful problem, be sure to verify customers do care about it enough to take action. Now you need to find the corresponding emotional chord. It could be frustration, as in “why didn’t I know about this problem for all these years!” Or it might be concern, as in “I hope this problem didn’t hurt our patient satisfaction scores!” Or embarrassment at not knowing about the problem. Or relief at knowing about it now. Or hope for a solution to the problem.

There are numerous possible emotional chords, and sometimes the difference between them is very nuanced, like frustration vs. concern in the example above. It’s really important to know with confidence precisely which emotional chord to tap into. Your message to tap into frustration will be quite different than messaging for concern or embarrassment or relief.

If you miss the mark on the emotional chord, then your customers will feel you just don’t get them. You will have missed your chance to open their minds to letting to of the market leader’s technology and to consider your innovation as a viable alternative. On the other hand, when you tap the right emotional chord, you may hear as we have, “Finally, someone understands what I deal with everyday!”  That deep connection is the magic that can unseat the dominant market leader and win you significant market share.

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More resources:

Why Selling New Technology into Hospitals is Hard: Overcoming the Status Quo Bias

The Emotional Hook: How to Win Your Customers’ Hearts

Developing Your New Market Entry Strategy: The 3Cs Framework

Imagine you’re a large medical technology company carrying a wide range of healthcare products. You see huge opportunity in a new market. How do you decide what innovation to lead with, what products to offer, and what your market entry strategy should be?three_c_V2

Here’s a framework that can help you narrow the universe of possibilities. We call it the 3 Cs, which stands for Company, Customer, and Competition. All three are critical factors that converge to reveal the sweet spot for market entry.

Company: This is often the starting point for med tech companies. They see a lucrative market, want a piece of it, and figure they have something good that will sell there. The driver is the company’s desire for growth and their belief in the solutions they offer. The “company” factor narrows the universe by identifying three things: 1) Core competencies and existing assets that can be leveraged for entry into a new market, 2) New competencies the company wants to develop, and 3) New care areas they want to expand into.

Customer: This is about identifying and understanding unmet needs and meaningful problems customers care about, as well as needs and problems they may not be aware of yet. The driver is what customers desire and will pay for. Determining these things requires being really tuned in to your customers. The “customer” factors narrow the universe by revealing 1) what customers want and need and will buy, 2) what their hidden desires and aspirations are and  what better state they envision, and 3) what customers don’t want, don’t value, and won’t pay for.

Competition: The competition factor focuses on identifying what customer needs are and are not adequately met by competitors, and what solutions you have that are already provided by others in the market you want to enter. The driver is finding an open niche of sufficient size for your innovation to take hold. Generally, companies will stay away from markets where there is domination by one or two competitors – unless they are willing to make a huge investment to unseat market leaders. The “competition” factors narrows the universe by specifying 1) where there is space for innovation, 2) what solutions exist and which are still needed, and 3) where there is good growth potential.

The danger is that the company’s hunger to enter a new market can lead to rash decisions and action without a guiding strategy. To mitigate that risk, give serious consideration to customer desire and to the competitive space. That way you avoid being driven by company solutions and wishes, rather than customer problems and desires.

What’s your experience developing new market entry strategy? What were your decision drivers? What lessons did you learn?

More resources:

How to Grow Your Business with Customer-Centric Innovation

How to Get to Breakthrough Innovation: Desirability First!

New Product Innovation: How to Determine the Winners

 

Think or Know? Disarm Dangerous Marketing Assumptions With The “Sandwich” Approach

Which new idea should you invest in?  What’s the right value proposition for your portfolio? How should you position your game-changing product for a winning launch?

These are significant questions that if not answered correctly, can cost you a lot of time, money, and trust. Here’s the “sandwich” approach we use to help med device and other health tech clients avoid making risky moves based on unspoken assumptions.

The Bottom Slice: Identify your high-risk assumptions. Gather your team together for a hard-hitting work session, with all egos aside. Set the expectation that you’re going to identify the key assumptions that must be validated because they’re so mission critical that if you’re wrong, you’re, well, screwed. Here’s how in detail.

The Filling in the Middle: Validate your assumptions. Do the needed research with customers to determine which of your assumptions were on target, and which need correcting. To get the most from your investment, focus on your top priority, highest-risk assumptions.

The Top Slice: Refine Your thinking. Bring your team back together. Review the assumptions you had earlier identified as high-risk and in need of validation. Consider the customer research results by noting which assumptions were right on target, which would need fine-tuning, and which were way off base. No shame, no blame. Now refine your thinking based on what your learned.

This “sandwich” approach works because 1) it gives team members much needed permission to not know everything, 2) it acknowledges that customers can provide many answers, and 3) it lets your team refine their thinking together and get on the same page.

Most important, the “sandwich” approach efficiently and effectively helps you avoid assumptions and wisely answer the tough questions that can spell the difference between success and failure.

Med Device Companies: Never Say “We Sell Boxes”

We know several medium and large med device companies that still claim, “we sell boxes.” They may not say exactly that to customers, but inside the company they use those words, and usually with a mixture of pride, arrogance, and I think fear. Unfortunately, that thinking insidiously infiltrates everything the company does, from new product innovation to downstream marketing.

But that’s how some med device execs, engineers, and product managers think about the business they’re in: Making and selling “boxes” with good medical technology inside. It’s an easy trap to slip into – especially if the company has had success. The reality is med device companies do make boxes. However, that’s not the business they’re in.

Every med device company is in the business of improving healthcare and saving lives. Solutions to meaningful problems is what they sell.

In 1960, Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt wrote a game-changing article called Marketing Myopia. He posited that businesses do better when they focus on meeting customers’ needs rather than on selling products.

His quintessential example of an industry that got it wrong was railroads. While the need for freight and passenger transportation grew, railroads shrank. They wrongly thought they were in the railroad business. They didn’t see they were really in the transportation business. Why? Because they were product-oriented, not customer-oriented. As a result, railroad companies let others take their customers away.

Though it was over 50 years ago that Levitt wrote about marketing myopia, I believe that product-centric thinking still dominates in healthcare. What do you think?