Time Capsule: Some Hospitals Make System Decisions Based on What the CIO’s Buddy Thinks, So Aim Marketing Accordingly
I wrote weekly editorials for a boutique industry newsletter for several years, anxious for both audience and income. I learned a lot about coming up with ideas for the weekly grind, trying to be simultaneously opinionated and entertaining in a few hundred words, and not sleeping much because I was working all the time. They’re fun to read as a look back at what was important then (and often still important now).
I wrote this piece in January 2008.
HIMSS and marketing agency O’Keeffe & Company, Inc. just released the results of their “Healthcare IT Marketing Sanity Check Study.” The announcement says their report reveals “significant disconnects” between vendor marketing strategies and provider decision makers.
Here’s where I start making stuff up since I’m not $995 worth of interested.
The report’s teaser says that peers are the strongest influence on provider IT executives. That’s obvious, don’t you think? Hospitals are highly local and generally non-competitive with each other (like schools and government agencies), so there’s no reason not to call up a peer to get a first-hand report.
(That’s a nice way of saying that hospitals aren’t good at methodically evaluating their needs vs. system capabilities. Some CIOs would rather base multi-million dollar systems decisions on gut reaction to the off-the-cuff comments of a complete stranger at a similar-sounding hospital, overlooking the fact that it’s often not lack of product knowledge that causes bad outcomes, it’s a lack of knowledge about their own organization. Also, that those helpful peers are sometimes paid or threatened by their vendors to be positive even when there’s little reason to be).
Another conclusion is that advertising is ineffective. That’s also obvious. Few decision-makers read the free rags that go straight from inbox to trash can. Fewer still read the ads and even fewer remember them when making selections. Would we forget that Cerner, GE, and McKesson are out there plugging away if they stopped running multi-page glossy ads tomorrow?
MBA marketing class starts with this underappreciated fact: marketing and advertising aren’t the same. Advertising is a tiny part of marketing, especially for anything other than low-priced consumer products. Marketing is choosing the right product, place, price, and promotion (years after the class, I’m still proudly reciting the 4Ps of marketing like an obnoxious child who can and will spell “Mississippi” at the slightest provocation).
The best hospital marketing is relationship based. I’m not happy to admit that because it brings up mental pictures of glad-handing sales schmoozers sucking up to ego-driven CIOs who are easy marks for shallow flattery (the “ashamed” part is because I’ve seen that work in places whose people should have known better, with the unimpressive results that you might expect).
I’m betting that your $995 would tell you to establish a peer relationship with hospital decision-makers. Help them with their need to be educated, to solve problems, and to look smart back home. Work through your existing customers, not around them. Provide opportunities for CIO and user collaboration, offer video tours of hospitals using your solutions, integrate process change education into demonstrations, and don’t ignore blogs, newsletters, and independent consultants in your marketing strategy.
(All of this presumes that your product really works. If not, you’re in big trouble anyway, so spend your money on product improvement or maybe bribing decision-makers to pick you.)
There is nothing inherently dishonorable about marketing. It’s true that dishonorable companies often use it in a scam-like fashion, but even honorable ones need to carefully craft and deliver their messages. The nearly universal availability of information, however, will change the methods that will accomplish that. In healthcare, it’s about relationships and the total package, not glossy ads or sprawling HIMSS booths.