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  • Writer's pictureAlan Shoebridge

Two books to inspire and educate the healthcare marketer

With the year winding down, it’s the perfect time to read and reflect. To help you do that, here are two excellent resources for anyone in healthcare marketing. Although not connected in any official way, I found that they complement each other quite well. I hope these summaries will encourage you to pick these books up for yourself or someone you know this holiday season.

The final entry in the Joe Public trilogy, Bevolo’s book makes a convincing case for the evolution (pending extinction) of hospital marketing. His premise is that leaders and innovators in hospital and healthcare marketing have simply become great marketers who think strategically, execute sophisticated marketing campaigns and measure the results. Joe Public III celebrates progress from the first book, which was published in 2011, and shares current best practices.

Bevolo sets the scene by explaining that the complexity of healthcare is the driving force for the innovators in the field who have left the negative descriptor of “hospital marketer” in the dust.

"There is no greater time of upheaval in the healthcare world than today. Fundamental changes to our business models, to our industry, to the competition we face, to the audiences we serve, to the ways we reach these audiences. Confusion and uncertainty reign. Marketers at hospitals and health systems face a world of chaos unmatched by our peers in other industries."

Bevolo makes a persuasive argument that we can no longer hide behind being “hospital or health system” marketers. Instead we should strive to be great marketers who understand the fundamentals of marketing and execute at a high level. To help provide a roadmap for those who are still early in that journey, the author lays out five imperatives:

  1. Digital dominates

  2. Marketing as a business driver

  3. Owning the experience

  4. Data-driven marketing

  5. Turning sick brands into healthy brands

  6. Low-threshold leadership

All of these imperatives certainly resonated with me; however, the last one might be the most impactful. The terminology of “low-threshold” leadership was new to me. Although the concept is simple to describe, actual execution is difficult. The idea behind low-threshold leadership is doing things differently than everyone else:

"…it’s those with a low threshold for collective behavior who strike out on a different course, no matter what the competitors are doing. And it’s these leaders who set the bar for the rest."

One example of this is the focus so many healthcare marketers still place on service line promotion. Most of us know that the audiences for specialty care services are extremely small and specific. Yet, we pursue broad audience marketing to please physicians and leaders because our competitors are doing the same thing. We need to push through that and focus on the right marketing that will show tangible, repeatable results.

The book closes out with words of wisdom on leadership traits from the various experts featured throughout. This quote from my SHSMD board colleague Rose Glenn sums up the attitude I think all of us would like to see in our bosses and leaders,

"Protect your team when they take risks and make mistakes. If you don’t inspire new thinking and accept that failure is a natural outcome of that, there can be a real fear that results in sticking to the same old approaches. You have to show your team that you have their back and create a safe environment for innovation. We can fail as long as we fail fast, learn from the failures, and do better next time."

Bevolo closes out his book with some helpful guidance on how to get from the current state – where most healthcare marketers are stuck – to the ideal state – where the best marketers are now.

Speaking of that …

Seth Godin’s book makes a perfect companion for Joe Public III, as he pushes all marketers to move beyond traditional thinking. I agree with his belief that this mindset is also the one that we all truly want to have. It’s simply more rewarding and more fun. As Godin writes,

"The marketing that has suffused our entire lives is not the marketing you want to do. The shortcuts using money to buy attention to sell average stuff to average people are an artifact of another time, not the one we live in now. You can learn to see how human beings dream, decide, and act. And if you help them become better versions of themselves, the ones they seek to be, you’re a marketer."

Godin focuses on defining modern marketing as solving problems that people have. There is a constant refrain of focusing not on us, but on them. He bluntly points out that, “People don’t want what you make. They want what it will do for them.”

Could there be any better summation of what often happens in healthcare marketing? We push technology, awards, quality measures and other information that we care about internally, but which has little resonance for those we serve. A better approach would be compelling storytelling about how we can help solve the problems they have.

Godin also promotes being market-focused, not marketing-driven. This means getting past tactical solutions and actively thinking about how you can solve problems for a specific audience. He points out two common mistakes marketers make:

  1. Assuming that the people you’re seeking to serve are well-informed, rational, independent, long-term choice makers.

  2. Assuming that everyone is like you, knows what you know, wants what you want.

Godin explains that avoiding that trap requires you to accept that your product is not for everyone. You need to focus on the smallest viable market. Then you must "earn and keep the attention and trust" of those people. In short, your marketing needs to create tension and interest that moves them to action.

I also appreciated his helpful advice on brand marketing and how many marketers get caught up in trying to measure something that really defies immediate measurement:

"If you’re buying brand marketing ads, be patient. Refuse to measure. Engage with the culture … if you can’t afford to be consistent and patient, don’t pay for brand marketing ads."

Building on that theme, he also offers what I think is some of the most reflective advice I’ve read this year:

"The best marketers are farmers, not hunters, Plant, tend, plow, fertilize, weed, repeat. Let someone else race around after shiny objects."

In summary: Buy these two books!

I’ll keep this simple: I highly recommend both of these books and encourage you to support the authors. I read the two books consecutively, but I wouldn’t say that is a requirement to enjoying them. They are both interesting and informative, and relatively quick reads as well. If you’ve got some extensive travel time coming up next week, I think you could read one on each leg of your trip. Enjoy!

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