Why does Healthcare need to be the good-guy tuna company?

“If this is a medical emergency, please hang up and dial 911.” May we waste a minute of our lives to dissect this phrase?  It makes me nonplussed. “Please hand up and dial.”  Did they add that bit of instruction because there are some people who dial without hanging up?

I think the phrase in on par with the pictorial instructions in restaurant bathrooms that show you how to wash your hands.  If you require that level of assistance, no amount of hints are going to help you.

When you arrive at the ED, there are always people on hand doing triage.  That is because the people going to the ED do not have the skills to decide for themselves what constitutes a medical emergency.

If asked, half of the people in the ED could not tell you how a thermos knows whether it is supposed to keep something cold, or whether it is supposed to keep something hot. (I am one of those people.)

Each of us has heard the same voice message when we call our doctor.  What bit of our medical training are we supposed to use to know what to do?  My qualifications to know who to call are limited to the following.  I studied math. I’ve been a patient. I know how to dial 911.  If answering that question requires more skills than what I have, I am out of luck.

Big segue.  Kim Kardashian meets healthcare.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened. Maybe it was at HIMSS, but I don’t think so. It’s been going on for decades. As a matter of fact, I don’t think healthcare got its marketing strategy from Kim, I think she got her’s from healthcare.

The Kardashian marketing strategy. Draw attention to yourself. Love me. Pay attention to me on social media. “Like me.”

Healthcare’s marketing strategy. Draw attention to yourself. Love me. Pay attention to me on social media. “Like me.”

Follow me on Facebook. And Instagram. And Snapchat. Read about ME. Like ME. And when you do, you’ll quickly discover that there is no there there.

It’s a marketing strategy that is all hat, and no cowboy. That dog don’t hunt.

If you disagree with me, tell me.

Whether your firm is a provider, a payer, or is in life sciences, this is how your patients, members, and customers view when you market to us.

  • Billboards showing a photo of your urologists. NPR commercials referencing some procedure that makes your system the go-to system for that treatment. Television commercials that tell you, if you want to schedule an appointment, go to ourladyofonline scheduling.edu. And when you go to that website, you cannot even find the word ‘scheduling.’
  • Television commercials trying to entice you to hire them as your payer. They feature Stepford wives and Stepford children having a picnic. Life could not be more wonderful. Until you file a claim. And then you learn just how wonderful wonderful can be.
  • Miracle drug cures that you and your doctor just don’t know about. The same Stepford-wife approach, but using different wives. A thirty-second commercial extolling the benefits of the drug. Five seconds explaining the drug’s benefits. Twenty-five seconds warning you of the drug’s possible side effects. It could kill you, but you will have had a wonderful time at the picnic.

There is no there there.

The purpose of marketing is two-fold. To build brand awareness, and to acquire and retain new patients, members, and customers. But for your strategy to be effective, there has to be a cowboy underneath the hat.

Imagine, however that your marketing strategy was more aligned to Steve Job’s marketing strategy instead of Kim’s. What would your strategy look like?

When Steve marketed, it went something like this. “Do you want to carry every song in the world with you wherever you go?” Steve holds up a device that is smaller than a half-dollar. “Then buy this.” “If you want the Swiss Army Knife of electronic devices, then buy our iPhone.”

And here’s the kicker. If Steve said his device did something, it did it. His marketing commercial was not eighty-percent disclaimers. He didn’t make promises he couldn’t deliver. Steve never said, “You may or may not be able to send text messages on the new iPhone.” If anything, Steve over-delivered.

Healthcare marketing never over-delivers. So, what should healthcare marketing look like? How about something like these?

  • “At ourladyofonlinescheduling.edu, if you call us about a need you are having, we will meet that need in a single phone call, at any time of day, and without transferring your call. And if you hate having to call us, at ourladyofonlinescheduling.edu, you can carry our entire system around on a mobile device; on any mobile device. And, you can do anything you want, at any time, every time. It will be as simple as using an iPhone.
  • “At com, if you call us to learn how to file a claim, we will help you do it correctly the first time you call. If you call us to file a dispute, we will help you every step of the way. And we guarantee that your dispute will be resolved to your satisfaction the very first time you call us. No longer will we make you call and call and call until we wear you down and you simply give up—that was the old payersRus. And if you hate having to call us, you no longer have to. You will be able to do anything you want, at any time, every time. It will be as simple as using an iPhone.

If you are still confused about how to acquire and retain patients, members, and customers, I encourage you to show Warren Beatty’s movie Heaven Can Wait at your next board meeting.

In this scene, Warren Beatty, the CEO of a conglomerate that sells tuna, pitches the following marketing campaign to his board of directors.

“As everybody knows, we can tuna, and in netting the tuna, we kill a number of porpoises. Since they’re mammals of alleged high intelligence, there’s been an outcry. I would just like to ask you a question. We have a responsibility to thousands of shareholders of moderate means, less well off than the ecological groups fighting us.

If we were a football team, would you call this a winning season? Would you say we got a winning season? On balance, we’ve had an extremely good year. We’ve got a winning season. What do you do when you’re ahead? You don’t make mistakes. You don’t gamble unnecessarily. You protect your lead. You don’t pass from your own end. You make sure nobody gets hurt.

You got to use these guys in the next game. We won this game. We got to stay in shape for the rest of the game.

It’s like when everybody was supposed to stop eating grapes. I didn’t (stop) because I like grapes. A lot of guys will keep eating tuna.

What if we had a good-guy tuna company on the porpoise team? A lot of guys would buy that so their kids wouldn’t get mad at them. We don’t care how much it costs, just how much it makes. If it costs too much, we charge a penny more. Would you pay more to save a fish who thinks?

We handle all lawsuits that way. Let other teams build plants in the wrong places. Let the other quarterback throw a gurgle so newspapers get hold of it and stockholders don’t like it.

Let’s be the team that makes the rules, plays fair, that gets the best contract, that’s popular. Forget these nuclear power plants until we know they’re safe. That refinery, we’ll have to relocate it. It’ll cost us millions, but we don’t care, because we’ll come out ahead in the end.  That plastic stuff we’re making, we’ll have to stop. We’re not here for just one game. We’re going all the way to the Super Bowl! And we’ll already have won!

Healthcare needs to want to be the good-guy tuna company.

Or, let them eat grapes.


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