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The Cracking Egg of Healthcare Marketing

Eggs are amazingly strong despite their reputation for fragility. Did you know that you can hold an egg in your hand and not be able to crack it, in spite of how hard you squeeze it? Do you know why? It has to do with the egg’s unique shape. The egg is strongest at the top and bottom. And if you don’t position the egg properly, it can crack easily

What does this have to do with healthcare marketing? Many healthcare organizations, like an egg, can be cracked and broken from too much pressure somewhere in the system. And further, also like the egg, if the healthcare organization isn’t positioned properly, it will also crack and sometimes those cracks can rupture the entire organization.

Having just returned from the 2017 Healthcare Marketing and Physician Strategies Summit (HMPSS) HMPSS Brochure.jpgin Austin, I am struck by the two very different states of healthcare marketing. On one hand are the healthcare organizations that are progressive in their view of marketing’s role and demanding more from their investments and are tracking progress with sophisticated analytics.

On the other hand are the healthcare organizations that are more traditional in their marketing program and are moving on a different path to modernize their operations. The reasons for this are myriad. There are systems in more rural communities where there is no (or little) competition and the marketing efforts need only be marginally improved. There are also systems which are led at the top by CEOs who may be more operationally-minded and haven’t yet invested in marketing efforts to propel the system forward.

But the truth is there are many reasons why a system begins to advance their marketing efforts. At the HMPSS conference I heard many stories from marketers who were investing in CRMs or beginning to rediscover the many target audiences in their communities. We even had our own team from NDP participating in a panel discussion; providing insights on media opportunities and ways to gain competitive advantage with digital marketing programs. But the fact is that many healthcare organizations we spoke to were “squeezing the egg” and finding their efforts were tracking well and delivering ROI.

In spite of this, the question that wasn’t addressed at HMPSS was whether the healthcare marketing egg was being squeezed to a point of cracking or rather, was it properly positioned to sustain great pressure without breaking.

Again, it comes down to positioning, or more specifically, creativity. There were numerous sessions on healthcare CRMs but where were the sessions on creativity and innovation in marketing? Not just creativity in the media mix or the A/B testing schemes, but creativity that is driven by deep insights into consumer behavior and decision making. At the conference, the argument seemed to be that those insights are being delivered by segmentation, big data and content consumption and that creativity comes from this understanding.

But is it?

The fact is that consumers – you and I – cannot be as easily quantified or segmented. There is so much about human behavior and interaction that even the greatest social scientists don’t entirely understand. Big data is glorious in delivering to us information from moments of brand contact or marketing transactions and then interpreting that information into insights about consumer behavior.

But does it? Does big data provide that equal pressure around the egg which prevents it from cracking?

I read that astrophysicists who study the universe are really only discovering the portions of it where light exists – the transaction points, if you will – and are fascinated by the dark matter. 

DarkMatter.pngDark matter eludes observation. Dark matter is defined as a place that does not absorb, reflect or emit light. And further, according to my non-scientific Google search, dark matter makes up about 95% of the universe. That means the part we can see and study is about 5%.

I’m not suggesting that big data only gives us 5% understanding of consumers. I believe we get a tremendous amount of insights from big data that are useful for improving and refining our marketing programs. I’m an advocate of big data.

And I know this: big data provides insights on moments, which are essentially the marketing pressure points. I also know that an egg will crack from pressure points. I don’t want us to be blind to the fact that our life is made up of more than segmented moments. Our understanding of human behavior is minute. I would not want us to ignore the other 95% of a consumer’s “universe” by only focusing on the interpretation of a moment as being the same as having real empathy for and insight into the consumer.

The hen can sit on an egg and not break it because it provides even pressure around the egg. But a chick can peck insistently on a point and break it easily.

If I looked at the 2017 HMPSS conference as a reflection of healthcare marketing today, then I saw a lot of healthcare marketers pecking in one spot. In fact, I believe we all know this isn’t the true reflection of our roles. We cannot research or CRM ourselves to empathy. No proprietary methodologies can replicate and deliver the real fabric of life for consumers.

As healthcare marketers, we must seek to provide the even pressure around our very precious egg. It requires science, with help from the many terrific proprietary and open source technology providers at HMPSS. But it also requires art, with help from artists and writers and social scientists who were noticeably absent.

Because if you don’t position the egg properly … it will crack.

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