Marketing a car as "safe" can only work if the market knows what a car IS

By Brad Dodge on November 12th, 2009

Huh? It may sound ridiculous, but it illustrates one of the most significant marketing and PR challenges facing healthcare IT companies today. Many innovative healthcare companies are pioneering products and services that are ahead of the market—helping improve patient safety, enabling better care delivery or delivering greater efficiencies to business operations. Yet your prospect often doesn’t even realize they HAVE the pain your product sets out to ease. And if they do recognize the pain, they probably have no clue that a product exists that can ease that pain. And if, miraculously, they DO know that such a product exists, it’s highly unlikely that they know that it’s YOUR company that has the best product available.Until your market acknowledges the need for your offering, it’s futile to plaster the healthcare equivalent of “safe” or “best available” all over your ads, collateral and trade show exhibit.If you fall into the “ahead of the market” category, here are three communication tips to deliver compelling messages and maximize the chance your market will understand that you exist, you can ease their pain, and you’re the best at what you do.

  1. Get out of the inner circle:The fastest way to see if your messages resonate is to test them on someone who is a total stranger to the industry. A spouse, for example. Or a friend. Take a minute to deliver your 60 second elevator pitch (what’s an elevator pitch?) and see if they understand what it is you do and why it should make any difference. You’ll probably find that there is significant jargon in your pitch that others don’t understand. (ask about “interoperability,” “SaaS,” or even “portal.”)

     And it’s not just jargon. We assume that most people are familiar with the same things we are. (Case in point: This Ingenix study shows that fewer than HALF of physicians are familiar with ARRA and the impact it will have on their practices. Wouldn’t you have thought that number would be more like 100% given the attention we’ve all paid it over the last year?) Break down your pitch so it’s understandable by anyone.

  2. Adjust on the fly:You don’t want to talk over their heads, but you don’t want to talk down to them. How can you get the right level, often when you don’t even know the audience’s level of understanding? An effective communications technique is assume-they-know-but-explain-anyway. “You probably know a lot about interoperability—where disparate computers communicate and share information with other computers—right, Mr. Prospect?” It’s a win-win technique. If they already know, you’re covered. If they don’t, they can save the embarrassment by saying they know now that you’ve helped them with a definition.Another gauging technique is to ask. What a concept. “Before I get into some of the technical details of our service, I want to get an undertstanding of how familiar you are with these technologies.” They’ll help you level-set the subsequent portion of the presentation so that you’re presenting at just the right level.
  3. Category first. Benefits second.Walk around a tradeshow floor or peruse home pages of vendor sites and you’ll be surprised how often you will have no idea what companies do. There’s often a focus on “save money, reduce costs, improve efficiency” without any mention of how. Yet without an understanding of what category you’re in, (are you a consulting organization or a software developer? A product company or a services company?) benefits like these will not resonate with the buyer. They’ll walk on by without your brand having made an impression in their mind. Let the market know who you are first. Then, tell them why that’s important to them.We hear it all the time. “Our product is unique.” “No-one does what we do.” “We don’t really fit into a category.” “Our category is new.” “We’re so different than the category the market wants to put us in.”Let’s assume all that is true. You still need to make the potential buyer aware of what you do. Take the car example. A crossover is still a car, even though it’s something more/different/special. So, the communications technique used is this: “You’re familiar with a car, right? Well, the crossover I’d like to sell you starts with that concept, and from there it’s more/different/special.” Same idea selling technology to the healthcare industry. The audience needs to understand where you’re starting from in order to understand what you have. It’s like, “You’re familiar with a consultant, right? Well, we’re like that except we’re more/different/special. Or, “You’re familiar with how hospitals are using the Internet to help communicate with others? Take that idea and add this new, new thing.” Letting the audience have a baseline of understanding from which to start will take you a long way towards having them understand your offering.

There is a lot of noise out there. It’s hard for the market to understand it all—all the opportunities available to them. The harder you work at keeping your message simple, clear, understandable and relevant, the quicker you’ll achieve the elevated levels of brand awareness that translate to company growth.