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HIStalk Interviews Larry Kaiser, Chief Marketing Officer, Optimum Healthcare IT

February 8, 2024 Interviews No Comments

Larry Kaiser is chief marketing officer of Optimum Healthcare IT and its sister company Clearsense.


Tell me about yourself and your work.

I have been in healthcare IT for just over 20 years now. I started with Keane, which was acquired by NTT Data in 2010. They sold two EHRs. I started as the RFP manager and then moved up to running the marketing department. In 2016, I shifted to Optimum Healthcare IT, where I launched the marketing function from the ground up, built that, and helped grow the organization to about $160 million in revenue. I left Optimum to go to our sister company Clearsense for a couple of years. Now I am back at Optimum as we look at the next level of growth in the organization that is not centered on core EHR services. That includes ServiceNow services, Workday staffing and implementation, and cloud migration and cloud services.

How would you describe a marketing organization to someone who doesn’t know much about it?

Marketing is something different every single day. That’s what makes marketing interesting. That’s what makes it exciting. 

In the case of Optimum, where I was building an organization, I could look back on my experience at Keane and NTT Data over 10 and a half years. I saw how things were done from a corporate perspective and from a divisional perspective, how different people did different things, and learned from that. When you’re building a marketing department from the ground up, you have lots of examples of what worked and what didn’t work. You need to start very basic.

When I joined Optimum, it had a logo and a website that was built on the 2012 version of Drupal and had never been updated. This was in 2016. The first thing we had to do was to look at our public-facing presence and determine what we wanted to be. That started all sorts of internal conversations with many subject matter experts on how we should portray ourselves, the services that we offer, and start molding those together in a fashion that had never been done.

We worked on the website and the website content, getting it to a modern platform. Then we focused on pieces of collateral and slowly worked our way through that. Then we worked on thought leadership and exploring different types of white papers and case studies to allow us to show that we know what we’re talking about and to promote the successes that we had as an organization. From there, it goes off into many different areas, such as partnerships with industry organizations such as CHIME and HIMSS.

It’s really just understanding and taking an inventory. The marketing plan I put in place focused on several things across the board, looking through all of those, understanding from an organizational perspective and having all of those conversations, and then taking all that knowledge and executing it. Every day, I was doing something different. Having never been on the services side versus the product side, every day was an education for me, and I would learn something every single day. That allowed me to work through this process methodically to strengthen the brand position, promote that thought leadership, fuel that demand and lead generation, and ultimately educate the employees on what we would be doing  to grow the organization.

Have shortened attention spans changed the way that you create content?

Analytics plays a big role in that. If you talk to any marketers, whether it’s healthcare or any space, it’s all about the analytics. If I’m producing articles for a blog that will be mentioned on LinkedIn, X, or HIStalk, I have the necessary coding within those URLs to understand how many times it’s being clicked and who is looking at it. That helps drive the kind of content that we create. If we create infographics and find that traffic to those pages, clicks, and downloads are high, we will shift our attention to that.

White papers have traditionally been that lone piece of gated content that an organization will put up on their website. The challenge with that is when people fill out a form to download it, they will put Mickey Mouse for a name or a fake email address, because probably nine times out of 10, the form doesn’t check the email address and just opens the PDF for any entry. Emails sent by your marketing automation bounces back, but that person has already obtained that piece of content. It’s a challenge, in this day and age of cybersecurity threats and people’s phones and emails being hacked.

Social platforms are doing different things. LinkedIn offers newsletter capability. At Optimum, we have found that over the last couple of years, fewer people are filling out a short form that asks for name, organization name, and email address to subscribe to our thought leadership in their inbox. People don’t want to give their personal information.

This week, we launched Optimum Pulse, our new newsletter. That goes out to our 55,000 followers, and we’re up to 4,200 subscribers. Our strategy on our website now is that instead of asking you for your personal information to subscribe, we will put a link out for people to subscribe to our content on LinkedIn. Each week, we will publish a newsletter with a little preview and a link to our website. That link will be appropriately tagged for tracking. That will give us insight into what pieces of content are working.

From a white paper perspective, we haven’t published one in several years, for similar reasons. We didn’t have the bandwidth, because we’ve been so busy. They really weren’t being downloaded too much. We shifted to more case studies, blog articles, and when we had the bandwidth to do it, more video. We did lots of spotlights on some of our Optimum CareerPath students, and that has resonated in the market. Our target market of CIOs for the Optimum CareerPath program likes to view those videos of the people who have gone through and have had success.

It’s a challenge and it’s a constant struggle. It’s a constant monitoring of all those analytics to figure out what content your audience is reading.

How do you differentiate between brand awareness versus lead generation?

First and foremost, I don’t think brand recognition ever really goes away. That’s always going on. I’m of the belief that your public-facing website should be touched at least once every 18 months to update the look and the feel of that website to keep it fresh. That’s something that we’re doing at Optimum right now.

From a lead generation perspective, or demand generation perspective, for our basic core EHR services, our brand is recognized so much that we don’t really have to do demand generation in that space. People come to us, and that’s fantastic. But in the new areas of growth — ServiceNow services, Workday implementation and staffing, and cloud migration services – we are having to start from the ground up and focus on demand generation programs and developing those, because we’re not known for those things right now. That has been ongoing for the last several months.

For our ServiceNow practice, we hired a specific firm that specializes in ServiceNow demand generation. They are helping us develop the necessary content to start doing that demand generation.We will learn from that and probably do a little duplication of what they’re doing for the other practices as well. It’s definitely a shift as the organization grows into new areas and needs to focus on demand generation for them.

I’ve noticed on LinkedIn some health tech folks whose title involves “growth marketing.” How is that different from marketing in general?

That’s a toughie right there. A growth marketing individual is someone who is 100% focused on doing the B2B strategic, data-driven approach to building a pipeline in conjunction with your sales team. I’ve seen that same title a lot out there as well.

At Optimum and Clearsense, we have not necessarily had that individual. The marketing department is working with sales to generate the pipeline, qualify the leads, and make sure that everybody is doing what they need to do to move that opportunity through the buying cycle of the pipeline. Every organization will have a different cycle it goes through. I think it’s an extension, similar to saying that you’re a social media marketer or an influencer. It’s a small piece of the overall picture. It’s probably more like an inside sales rep, ultimately.

How do companies plan their involvement with health tech conferences?

I’ve been doing HIMSS for 20 years. For 16 or 17 of those years, we had one conference in healthcare IT, and that was HIMSS. If you didn’t go to HIMSS, you really weren’t relevant in the space. 

Because of COVID and how some things were handled, CHIME and HIMSS were no longer associated, and they went off and did the ViVE conference. The second year was much better than the first year. Clearsense went into that conference in 2021 in a rented booth from them and we really didn’t know what to expect. As a young organization promoting our SaaS product, we didn’t know who was coming. It was a little bit smaller, but year over year, it grew. Having CHIME associated with it brought our target market to that.

HIMSS was really struggling. I think that had a lot to do with how they handled the 2020 show. It wasn’t until last year when, all of a sudden, HIMSS appeared to be relevant again. At Clearsense, we had no idea what to expect at HIMSS last year. We were very pleasantly surprised. Our booth traffic was just as robust as it was at ViVE, to the point that we had a wait list to get demos of our product.

Clearsense is a product company. We are heavily invested in ViVE from various sponsorships. We built our own booth because financially it made more sense to build it and store it than to rent a booth every year. HIMSS is less of an investment, but I could see that investment growing in the future if the trend of growth and recovery for HIMSS continues.

As to HLTH, I have never personally attended. We explored the possibility of exhibiting at HLTH this year. I sought the opinions of many people. The folks at HLTH and I are friendly. They shared the breakdown of attendees. It’s more tailored to provider and payer now, where the angel investors aren’t as prevalent. But then when I have conversations with people, they tell me the exact opposite from their attendance. We chose not to invest in HLTH.

We are a main sponsor of ViVE, but we don’t have a booth. We have a pretty hefty investment in ViVE. Several years ago, we were no longer a HIMSS sponsor, but with these new areas of growth, it’s an area that I think we need to start investing in again because all the players are at HIMSS, such as AWS, ServiceNow, and Workday.

For both of our organizations, ViVE is number one, HIMSS is number two, and HLTH is a distant third, just based on the attendance.

Have you received any early indication of how the HIMSS conference will change now that Informa Markets is running it?

It’s too early to tell. The running joke in the industry is that maybe the aisles will have carpeting again this year.

Most of the HIMSS people that I was friendly with have moved over to the new company. In the questions I’ve been asking and the conversations that I’ve been having, we won’t see major change in HIMSS until 2025. What that change is, I don’t know. They haven’t really said what it will look like. Apparently HIMSS is still dictating the education at the show and Informa is doing the show itself. We’re all sitting back and waiting to see how it’s going to change.

HIMSS24 is too close to the acquisition to make changes for this year. It will be interesting to see what it becomes and whether they can return it to its glory of many years ago. I’m not going to say that it’s not relevant now, but they are playing second fiddle to ViVe now, unfortunately.

Companies reduced their spending to weather the investment and economic downturn. How will they restore the marketing function as conditions improve and companies have to reestablish their competitive position?

2023 was a tough year in general for healthcare IT companies, whether you sell services or products. Historically, marketing is usually the first to go and the last to get rehired. Organizations that had a strong financial footing may have done some some RIFs, some layoffs, but they didn’t eliminate the department across the board. I have seen some organizations cut their entire marketing department, which Is interesting to me because you still need to maintain your brand. You still need to maintain the marketing activities that you were doing in order to grow pipeline. Marketing and sales go hand in hand.

This year and going into 2025, I think you will see a slow reinvestment in marketing. A number of articles from well-known publications have said that from their research and conversations, providers are opening their purses up again. When providers start buying again, an organization has to have marketing to successfully engage with them. Probably by the middle of this year, I think you’ll see an uptick in healthcare IT marketing expenditure to bring teams back in. It will happen methodically. An organization that cut everybody will probably bring in a leader first and have that person assess where they were before, where they are now, what needs to be addressed, and what roles need to be brought in. Then you’ll see a trickle down effect of them slowly ramping up their marketing departments again.

I’m very much plugged into the healthcare IT marketing organizations. I can open up my my browser to X and I have a chat with about 15 other healthcare IT marketing folks from various organizations. We have a chat every day, and just this morning, someone said their entire team was let go. We are seeing that a little bit, but by mid-year, you will see a real push to reestablish those teams.

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