Healthcare Marketing

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Ain’t technology grand?  A new drone delivery company, Zipline, is getting ready to use drones to deliver cold blood supplies and pharmaceuticals to hospitals and docs in need, in Rwanda. It’s genius. Life-saving genius. If you want to lauch a new technology or business, it helps to save lives.  Rwanda makes sense because they need just in time, refrigerated delivery and the red tape is easily cut through. The gub-ment in Rwanda is malleable enough to make smart things happen. Drone delivery in the US has a ways to go. We have enough stuff flying around overhead. Combine that with all our misters of transportation, refrigeration, taxes and such and it will be like waiting in line at the DMV before action. Probably a good thing.

I was lucky enough to be involved with a healthcare start-up, Ketofast, that wanted to launch in the US a couple of years ago. It was a doctor supervised weight loss modality that helped morbidly obese people lose 9% of their body fat in 10 days. It was not particularly invasive, had been tested with over 50,000 people in Italy, and offered a lower recidivism rates, by 3 times, than other weight loss alternatives – including surgery.

Problem was 50 state insurance orgs. needed to approve the modality. Insurance and Medicaid had to get on board. Red tape upon red tape. In a country where just about one in three are considered obese, and diabetes is rampant, this product could have been a revolution. But for complicated governance. Sad, but true. Maybe we should have some members of the Rwandan government come on by and give a speech about health urgency.


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When I first went to work in the advertising business on the AT&T account, word was, the huge company didn’t know how to market. Prior to the breakup of the Baby Bells, AT&T was one big monopoly. You either used their service or you didn’t. Deregulation came along and competitors (MCI, Sprint) raised their heads. The initial spanking AT&T took was quite a wake-up call.

Then I moved into the healthcare industry. Word was, they didn’t know how to market either. Healthcare systems and big hospitals were physician-driven, physician run. They knew nothing about brand as a marketing principles, though they did understand the power of brand. Participating in an era when large healthcare companies began acting more like consumer packaged goods companies was exciting. And the fur flew.

One of the last bastions of poor marketing these days is the area of education. That is changing somewhat thanks to the introduction of technology products, services and devices to the class room. Education orgs. suffer from a similar fate of the healthcare industry; they tend to be run by academicians and teachers. Not a marketing hot bed for sure. Thumb through the pages of education newspapers or teaching and learning magazines and the level of creativity and salesmanship you see is juvenile. That said, education company Amplify is beginning to do some nice work. So hopefully .edu is pointing in the right direction. Oops, and there’s the Bell.



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Big data is everywhere. The top three areas I’ve seen it taking hold are: education, healthcare and marketing. On the marketing side, IT budgets used to be the provenance of the LAN, WAN, hardware and software guys. Now that money is controlled by the marketing peeps. (What good are wires and iron, if you can’t do something smart with them?) As for education, we’re on the cusp of using data to better learn how to learn. Or teach, i.e., individualized lesson plans based upon a student’s learning style or where s/he is on the learning curve. Once we figure this out, thanks to data driven assessment and some smart pedagogy, we’re on our way.

But nowhere is big data to be more impactful than it will be in healthcare. EHRs (electronic health records) also known as ISIL, I mean, EMRs (electronic medical records), are the next big platform battle. As is the case in free enterprise societies, new technologies often develop sloppily. That is, without a clear cut winner to start, the market is like a burlap bag full of cats. In my area of NY, there are 30 electronic health records companies serving physicians, hospitals and labs – very few of which speak to one another. It’s messy. And with the Affordable Care Act facilitating the need for EHRs, the battle is only now starting to occur in earnest.

Data done well will turn all doctors into good doctors. (Question: Do you know what they call a physician with a C average who graduates med school? Answer: Doctor.)  Big data in healthcare has the ability to make healthcare in America the envy of other nations. Right now it is not. These are exciting times and when the politics wear off, we’ll start to really see some wonderful outcomes. Great docs and great data will make for great patients. And that’s a home run. Peace.



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The headline above is the tagline for the extraordinary Brigham and Women’s Hospital, or so it appears on advertising and the website. It reflects a tripartite brand strategy. Maybe 4-partite if you define “giving” two ways. Most hospitals don’t really get branding. They understand the need to fill beds, increase revenue and improve reputation, but don’t really know how. So they establish a marketing board, fill it with retirees who once worked at Clairol, and raise money for an ad campaign. Someone at the new ad agency writes a poor brief and a lazy ad pops out about the latest treatment, a survivor story or an award. All tied up in a tidy little tagline like Life. Giving. Breakthroughs.

Taglines are claims. Claims that meet at the intersection of what a brand is great at and what consumers want. If you take the periods away from the Brigham and Women’s tagline the strategy is about breakthroughs. Not a bad place to be if you can prove it. New York Presbyterian’s line “Amazing things are happening here” does a better job of making this claim from a poetic sense. But again, the strategy only works when you prove it by sharing amazing things.

Healthcare, which makes up 18% of the GDP, is the consumer category that needs brand strategy the most yet employs it the least. Here’s a tagline and brand strategy that work. Tell me if you know the brand. “The best cancer care anywhere.”  



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In my blog I try to not be political.  I save that for Twitter. If my political underwear is showing today, forgive me. I have a thought about moving the Affordable Care Act forward…helping insure many of the uninsured, focusing on preventative health care, and lowering overall cost.

It was reported today that the Californian insurance Exchanges are cranking. The especially good news is that the about 1 in 4 new signees are of the age between 18-34: part of the demo that is the healthiest and that will make the economics work better for other age groups.

Here’s the marketing idea.  Target Millennials and make them early adopters. Many Americans have what I call Peter Pan Syndrome and would love to be forever young. Great grandmas on Facebook. Boomers with Fitbits. Xers drinking cold pressed juices.  We follow the younger because they are in tune with what’s next.

If we create a flow of adoption among Millennials ahead of the rest of the market, and they do so for all the right reasons, perception among other age groups will chance.  Especially if they are taking the moral high ground. (Underwear, sorry.) Millennials care more about the planet, they care more about sustainability, on average they are less xenophobic.  Should they lead the way — even at the cost of opening their own smaller pockets — the floodgates will open. They will, they shall, and whoever is marketing these plans should target them. Peace. 

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NY Pres heather

A couple of friends in the ad business, Peter Rabot and Orson Munn, used to do some of the best hospital TV ads in the country.  Their campaign for NY Presbyterian anchored to the line “Amazing things are happening here ” are Spielberg-esque…probably better.  If you were in the business and saw one of these black and white, close-up first person stories of NY patients, including one with Mayor Ed Koch, you stopped talking and watched. If you were not in the business you did the same.

It was advertising that made you feel something then do something.

I understanding NY Pres. was not perfect client to work with (Who is?) and Munn Rabot has taken its craft and moved on.  They now work with NYU Langone.  NYU likes print ads which are harder to do well, especially in this category.  And especially without an idea.  I haven’t seen the idea from NYU yet, but it’s coming.  

Having Munn Rabot do a generic awards ad or clinical practice ad in print sans idea is like asking a goldfish to “sit.”  That’s what’s happening now. The agency and client have only worked together for a month or so; they are in that getting to know one another stage.  Let’s hope they land on a brand idea and that the hospital allows the agency to do what it does better than anyone else. These guys are specialists. Artists. Patients don’t argue with their surgeons.  

The work will tell the story. Peace.  

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Michelle Obama and Jimmy Fallon did a nice piece on TV the other day where they danced together. It has already been in The NY Times and had 14M views on YouTube. They can both dance but Ms. Obama really seems to like it.

Dance may be the healthiest form of exercise there is.  “Let’s Move,” or whatever the first lady’s health program thingie is called is a well-intentioned idea. It’s the same as the NFL’s “Play 60” which asks kids to play actively for 60 minutes a day. “Stevie, go out, find a friend and play.”

Eating well, more fruit and vegetables, and exercise are all good. But dancing is fun. It’s infectious. Even if you can’t dance you can learn. Learn rhythm? Oh yeah.  It’s like learning a new language. Start small.  So what do we need to get dancing?  More music. More dance in school. More dance parties. Better dances. (Kate Upton does a nice Dougie.)  A rave or two. Dance is sexy. That’s why birds do it.

When you’re dancing you are not eating, drinking, bad-mouthing or slothing around. And please, no dancing in front of a video game unless you are learning a move. Peace.

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Doing good’s work is the brand idea I wrote not too long ago for a not-for-profit called Bailey’s Café, in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.  A noble, noble women by the name of Stefanie Siegel allowed me to participate and attempt to organize her brand. Check out the site. Jay Leno, is a fan.

For about 7 months, I’ve been working at a for-profit in the education space.  The goal of that company and brand, not dissimilar from the goals of all educational companies, is to improve student achievement. Again, noble, noble work.

For 5 years I did strategic planning and marketing in healthcare, the objective of which was to convey a systematized approach to improving patient outcomes in the communities it served. Noble.   Today I read about how HCA hospital corporation’s profitability is spawning purchases of a number of other hospitals across the country by private equity firms, hoping to cash in on certain margins that can be squeezedand others that can be expanded.  

Somewhere between selflessness and profit is where America ethos lies. Brands that see this, be they for-profit or not, are the brands that win.  They are also the brands I would like to plan for. Even Doctors Without Borders needs someone with a sharp pencil watching over them. Let’s all try to do good’s work. Peace!

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UnitedHealthcare (one word) is an insurance company with 78 thousand employees serving 70 million Americans. Those are some big numbers. And big numbers are what drive the company’s current advertising campaign. “Health in numbers” is the idea. With lots of data in hand and lots of analysts managing its output, the promise to consumers is an improved healthcare experience. That’s the micro promise; the macro promise is “we’re huge and can offer better insurance pricing.”

I’m pretty sure Ogilvy is the ad agency for UnitedHealtcare and, sadly, the ads are forgettable. Today there’s one in The New York Times showing a 60-something man riding a motorcycle with a flurry of animated numbers flying in his wake. That’s the visual idea. I know this advertising is targeting number crunchers in corporate America more than patients, but this is high school stuff. The copy in the ad is focused on “knowledge in numbers” and how data records can prevent contra-indicated medicines from being administered to patients, so as a brand student I can see there’s a plan here. The other brand planks are: strength in numbers, humanity in numbers and comfort in numbers. (Okay, I didn’t say a good plan.)

Here’s my diagnosis: Good strategy, not so good creative, poor client brand management. I’m betting the work was the product of a team of clients that couldn’t agree and therefore went with a hodgepodge, duct taped effort. The revenue was there for Ogilvy, the B team delivered a product, and the agency will live to see another campaign year. Maybe.

Ogilvy is better than this. And a company that can analyze data in a way that can save lives, is better than this. Peace!

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When first working on the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System business I thought I was going to dislike the category. Now I’m a fan.  Perhaps I was conditioned to think healthcare was bad and unexciting because the ads were so bad.   My agency,  Welch Nehlen Groome, made recommendations to North Shore to manage the brand as if a consumer packaged good: land on a strategic idea, organized it, stick to it and use the it to manage the client. The approach paid off. In our market “Setting new standards in healthcare”- a promise every healthcare provide would aspire to – was better known than “the best cancer care anywhere” the promise of Memorial Sloan Kettering.

What turned me around on healthcare was the depth and complexity of the sell. It offered very fertile ground for connecting with consumers.  If you did your homework, you could hear great stories about the human condition. Talk about finding the pain?  Stories about relationships, e.g., caregiver, doctor patient, etc. Even stories about heroism.  Then there was the science side of the storytelling.  What the docs did. The role of diagnosis, R&D, the team.  Suffice it to say a lot of info could go into the making of an ad.

The Hospital For Special Surgery ran an ad in the NY Times today that is half brilliant. The headline is “Our doctors work hard to perfect joint replacement. Our scientists work hard to prevent them.” Buried in the copy are no less than 5 awesome stories waiting to be told —  waiting to convince people to jump in their cars to go to HSS. But the stories won’t be read; the headline was either written by a tyro or a beat down writer too busy to connect. Too busy to change or save a life.  When we get advertising right in the digital age, those five stories will be linked web videos. In print, they will be underlined and printed in blue to let readers know there is multimedia attached. When we get advertising right in the digital age, we will write headlines that jab us like a needle. Peace!

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