Sunday, May 1, 2016

Customer Buyer Journey & Healthcare Vendors, a Solution for Driving Growth?

As provider markets for health care for vendors continue to consolidate through merger, acquisition, liquidation or disintermediation, there is one clear outcome. Fewer providers mean heightened competition with the hospital or health system becoming more in control of the buying process than vendors can manipulate during the sales process.

It’s a  new way of thinking and marketing for growth, and that is why the evolution of the successful vendor moves in a better direction that is more customer-focused and responsive to their needs.

Customer Buyer Journey

In this environment, companies can lose meaningful differentiation along products and services. Take population health firms for example.  In essence, all population health solutions do the same thing. How they do it is different with variations on features and benefits across the continuum of population health, but still at its most basic level are substantially the same. 

Of course, brand reputation can be a powerful influencer but where some vendors struggle is when they don’t have a considerable brand reputation or more than basic customer understanding. Just because you have developed personas doesn’t mean that you fully understand the customer or their buying journey.

Now that being said, this discussion is not for the highly successful vendors that are already using buyer’s maps and building customer evangelists along the way. Sales and marketing are highly integrated, and leadership has set the strategy, vision and executes on a nonnegotiable customer-first strategy.

The change that is required?

The requirement is to move from an overreliance on features and benefits marketing to an organizational customer focused culture and strategy. The sales and marketing operation becomes highly integrated and a shift to inbound marketing and sales providing the content within the right contextual framework at exactly the right time in the customer's buying journey takes place.

Influencing the costumer’s journey is about highly effective marketing.

When marketing and sales jointly understand the buying processes, then marketing becomes far more useful. Marketing moves from the funnel approach of filling the top of the funnel for sales with MQLs in the hopes that they will become SALs and not waste sales time, to a defined process that enhances sales success.

Next steps

Creating a buyers map takes time and resources. Let me be clear that this is some heavy lifting needing to happen. No shortcuts are allowed.

There are many different ways to map and a search on the IoT will provide one with all the templates necessary. But at a minimum, the following information is essential to the process and understanding coming from multiple sources. Some are marketing. Some are sales. And some are sales and marketing. Keep a singular focus as one gathers information on the buyer stages of Awareness, Consideration, and Decision.

1.    Initial moments that lead to the first contact.
2 .       Process steps the buyers take and conversations they engage in to find solutions.
3.       The flow of the process steps and experiences leading up to purchase.
4.       Items associated with purchase and consumption
5.       Ongoing experience and reactions to the purchase

After all, the companies in your vendor vertical that are successful are in a great measure due to understanding the Customer Buyers Journey. They successfully sell, cross-sell, and up-sell in greater amounts than you with the right content, at the right time, in the right context. And that only comes from an understanding of the Customers Buyers Journey.

And simply put, that is why you are losing in the market.

Michael is an internationally followed healthcare blogger, business, marketing, and communications strategy thought leader. 

For more topics and thought leading discussions like this, join Healthcare Marketing Leaders For Change, a LinkedIn Professional Group.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Communicating Value is The New Hospital Marketing Currency

How are you the hospital marketing and communications expert telling the value story to the healthcare consumer and patient?  It is an important question. With the healthcare world turned upside down, and consumers are now becoming an involved new stakeholder, how you answer the question will quickly determine market success or failure.

The hospital and health system are in an undifferentiated market.

It’s not about quality. Quality is equal among hospitals in the consumers mind. We all know it’s not, but hospitals have done remarkable work using marketing communications without any quality substantial proof points to back up the claims.  It’s the adage if one says something loud enough and long enough, people will believe. As an inadvertent consequence of the effort, quality as a differentiator is off the table for the healthcare consumer.

It’s not about clinical services and programs because hospitals try to be everything to everyone and have similar if not the same offerings. Most of the marketing communications when one analyzes the content across the spectrum of hospitals in a market is pretty much the same.

So if it’s not about the quality or what the hospital or health systems has in the way of capability, now what?

In today's world, it's about value, for the healthcare consumer.
Can you answer the healthcare consumer’s question of why should I use the hospital or health system? After all, with the diagnostic and treatment options available to the healthcare consumer, the hospital is only needed for three things, emergency care, intensive care and acute care for medically complex conditions?

Enter Value Marketing Communications

Value marketing is making the case to your healthcare consumer how you are solving their medical problem, offering a solution, giving results and even making them happy.  

Value marketing communications are about a creative exchange between people and organizations in the marketplace.  It is a dynamic transaction that always change based on the needs of the individual compared to what the healthcare team has to offer.

So instead of communicating about the mundane everyday activity, talk meaningfully about the value and benefit. Compelling content with the right context can engage, build relationships and in-and-of-itself provide value.

Instead of talking about programs and services, talk about the value and benefits those same programs and services and what they bring to the healthcare consumer, i.e., outcomes, price, experience and convenience.

Try not putting buildings and the latest high-tech gizmo at the forefront, talk about the value and benefit of what they bring to the healthcare consumer and patient.

Talk to the new stakeholders about the value and how the healthcare enterprise can solve their health problem by offering value-based solutions to their healthcare needs.

The healthcare consumer is awakening and demanding more.  More value and benefit for them, not the healthcare enterprise.

Michael is an internationally followed healthcare blogger, business, marketing, and communications strategy thought leader.  

For more topics and thought leading discussions like this, join Healthcare Marketing Leaders For Change, a LinkedIn Professional Group.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Chief Communications Officers in health systems, advocates and publishers?

In an article written by Agnes Estes and posted on LinkedIn April 6, 2016, Modern CCO “No Longer Explains the Company to the World, But the World to the Company” posed some interesting observations. The title of the post came from comments by Christof Ehrhart, EVP, Corporate Communications and Responsibility for Deutsche Post DHL Group in the  Arthur Page white paper on The New CCO: Transforming Enterprises in a Changing World. (Both of those thought leadership pieces are must-read for all communicators.)

After reading the materials, I started to question initially the impact of how the new media environment changes the health system role of Chief Communications Officers.  A second issue that comes to mind is how does that role change in the light of all the public data that is available which can either support or contradict the communication effort internally and externally? 

The challenge now for CCOs is a previous healthcare one-way data street has become a two-way public thoroughfare.

One side of the data-street are the bytes and bits coming together into the health system to manage individuals care, populations, operations, or build a network for example.  On the other side of that data-street stands the publically available data, good and bad that a patient, physician or health care consumer can access.

It only gets better.

The quandary faced by many CCOs is that sometimes the message or story of the reason or the anticipated results of action may not match up with the reality of the information spreading across multiple media platforms. The tail, in essence, begins to wag the dog. The incongruity of messages and information can touch the very soul of the health system brand, reputation, and culture.

Self-inflicting wound?

It doesn’t help when the senior team has decided what the message should be without the involvement or least a serious discussion with the CCO on the implications of positions. Well meaning no doubt, but rife with unintended consequences. Unintended consequences because of the changes the way information is transmitted nearly immediately and globally feeding the demanding media ecosystem, whose audiences have short audience attention spans requiring sensationalism with shares being the new currency.

The CCO has several competing roles in one.

It’s several roles in one. The first role is that is communications strategist. The second role is that of a tactician. The third role in this new age of consumer-driven media and data is the internal advocate on how communications impact the health system reputation, values, and culture. And the fourth role is the leadership responsibility to have those tough internal discussions and educate the leadership team on the implications and impacts of communications as their fundamental business model changes. The fifth role is that of the publisher.

This new paradigm, whether the data is related to health system performance or a national study implicating all health systems, can call into question the transparency, values and truthfulness of the organization.  The bright lights of the media distribution channels bring message inconsistencies (this is what I say, but the data shows otherwise) more quickly to light impacting the reputation, culture, brand, and truthfulness of the health system.

From earned media placement to media publishing company

It’s no longer about only earned media. Though while the story in USA Today or US World and News Report is great, the game for the health system CCO is now content creation and how that content matches, supports and builds the values and reputation of the organization. It’s about becoming the publisher across a multitude of channels and vehicles that often overlap with engaging content or compelling stories not pitching and placing.

Health system executives today have a lot on their plates and may not fully appreciate the impact of communications, the new media environment, and the effects their actions may have on the reputation, values, and brand of the organization. In today’s world, though attention spans are short, people pay attention and look for the slightest inconsistencies between words and actions.
In the past people believed what the health system communicated. In the world of data-driven transparency, that’s no longer the case. The actions in any given situation are just as important as how the health system communicates the message.

And that is the role of the CCO, publisher, leader of change, and advocate for the health system reputation, values, and culture.

For more topics and thought leading discussions like this, join Healthcare Marketing Leaders For Change, a LinkedIn Professional Group.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Is the disintermediation of hospitals a market reality?

In 5 areas of healthcare ripe for disintermediation, Becker’s Hospital Review, March 30, 2015, Emily Rappleye, outlined five areas Paul Keckley, Ph.D., managing editor of “The Keckley Report” made in identifying areas of disintermediation.  Three players-  large health systems, pharmaceutical retailers, and major insurers have the ability to take out several healthcare layers. Just click on the embedded link in the title of the story to read.

On an aside, I can see a lot of vendors whose data solutions and services like those provided by Truven Health (soon to be an IBM/Watson Health Company) and others face disintermediation as well. But that is a subject for another day.

In reading the article, I started to consider the broader implications of disintermediation, and how population health may have a greater impact on those three players as well.  If society desires real healthcare reform resulting in improved quality and lower price, then the model needs to change, and hospitals become disintermediated.

Hospitals are ripe for disintermediation.

Let me repeat hospitals are ripe for disintermediation and in many cases; it’s already happening.

If you consider from my last post on the idea of healthcare beginning to look like a distributive computer network, “Is the transformation of healthcare leading to a distributive network?” LinkedIn, March 28, 2016, then this isn’t such a crazy idea.

Now, we will always need hospitals in some form, but do they need to be at the center of the healthcare universe? 

Not if more of the current inpatient and hospital-based outpatient clinical services can be done by others more cost effectively, efficiently and with an acceptable level of quality with a better experience. And that my friends, is disintermediation at its finest. New entrants and innovation are driving the disintermediation of the hospital at an ever accelerated rate.  

A distributive care network is a disintermediation concept.  So while health system and hospitals in some cases, attempt to figure out how to manage risk capturing a significant portion of the $1 trillion spent annually on healthcare, hospital disintermediation is the new barbarian at the gate.

In building the hospital system, it should be constructed with a disintermediation strategy that is not dependent on acquiring other hospitals but adding those necessary pieces that can disintermediate, the hospital.  Otherwise, it is a strategy for closure and defeat by not paying attention and responding to the direction and the velocity of change in the market.

After all, what is a hospital needed for in healthcare reform? I can think of three essential items, and they are emergency care, intensive care, and complex medical acute care. After that everything else can be delivered to the individual in a free-standing ambulatory or home care setting, that will be more cost-effective and efficient for the patient or healthcare consumer with comparable if not better quality than in a hospital.

It’s about being in the healthcare business, not the hospital business.

For more topics and thought leading discussions like this, join Healthcare Marketing Leaders For Change, a LinkedIn Professional Group.