Jeff Lutz – VP, Corporate Communications & Content

It has not been all that long since I was Director of Marketing at a healthcare organization that sold software and services directly to independent medical providers. Consider that for a second. Our target was an ever-shrinking audience, a community of doctors who essentially understood that their future would be better tied to a large corporation than on their own.

I’m the son and a grandson of urologists, two men who believed they could make the changes needed to produce better results for their patients and healthier communities. Both understood that change happens on a 1:1 level. If patients don’t believe you have the answer, how will you succeed? If referring providers see you as a hack, good luck.

But as marketers and communicators, we tend to look at healthcare the opposite way – from the top down. “It’s so big and complex, but there has to be a solution!” Coming at the problem from opposite ends can – and does – muddy the waters considerably. What we need is to simply meet and merge in the middle. The simple truth is that we are ALL consumers of healthcare. We don’t have to debate its effectiveness or how/if we would structurally change it in this country. We agree that healthcare is a human right, and we wish our fellow brothers and sisters to be healthy and happy.

So, if it’s that simple, why does it seem impossible to marry that message with our cause?

Healthcare organizations miss the mark in three ways:

  1. We lack a true definition of the problem we’re trying to solve.

    As a healthcare organization, communications strategy typically takes the “define problem, address solution” approach. What frequently happens, though, is that we talk about whatever technology/technique/pharma is hot at the time in terms of its physical benefit or result. We DON’T discuss how much R&D/think tank effort went into developing it and why.

    That upfront investment is an important part of the equation. If we can’t speak honestly about it, how do we expect to drive agreement with those who could be our greatest evangelists?

  2. We tend to see capital and integrated technologies as obstacles, NOT solutions.

    I love a brainstorm. In my agency-based career, brainstorm-driven strategies were limited only by the plausibility of execution. But in healthcare, the budget is the first and foremost factor presented on a marker board.

    If you’ve ever spoken the phrase, “The budget dictates the execution,” stop it. Place your customer at the center of the strategy. Craft a program that speaks to your audience, THEN adjust for budget. If you limit your thinking to the bottom line, you’re doing a true disservice to your customers. In fact, you’re tying your own hands.

  3. Healthcare communications often start as a bureaucratic viewpoint, but they must translate to a democratic solution.

    As noted above, healthcare is a very personal topic. We may not agree that healthcare needs to be delivered to everyone the same way, but we probably agree that we each deserve the best care. That’s the ultimate goal – a democratic answer. How do we get there?

    We can’t talk about healthcare like it’s something so rare you need a doctorate to decipher it. You have to speak to your audience in language they understand. Speak to people honestly, as you want to be spoken to. Use the power of storytelling to make a connection. And it’s particularly important to speak directly over social media, where your audience is in control.

Agree/disagree with the above? Want to learn more about any of the topics proposed and how they can assist your business? I can be reached at jlutz@hartinc.com.