The marketing trades are replete with calls for Big Health to innovate more smartly, to use data more aggressively, and to play into the rapid consumerization of patients. And savvy readers would do well to recognize that, as marketers, authors of these pieces want their clients to speed up, take more risk, and, above all, spend more on marketing, because that’s what gets them out of bed in the morning. Innovation – marketing what’s new – is always exciting.
But birthing innovation will always be hard for big business – and especially for Big Medical and Big Pharma.
Innovation requires new ways of thinking. Driving disruption from within can mean taking a sledgehammer to existing relationships, while thinking different introduces huge amounts of risk into businesses that have made a career out of building predictable and sustainable operations.
So how should healthcare marketers move fast and break stuff? How much inspiration should they draw from the incessant calls to ignore their best instincts and plow forward into the unknown?
Successful innovation has its own well-defined set of rules that any budding revolutionary can follow. Here are three.
Rule 1: Revolutions frighten people, but evolution is an accepted fact.
Marketers of all types are in the idea business. Every product, drug, or innovation starts as an idea. And every idea, no matter how fanciful or revolutionary, has supporters.
Many marketers know this strategy as Chasm Theory and apply with ruthless abandon what this model tells them about market penetration. According to Chasm Theory, revolutionaries have specific characteristics. They are often the first on their block to welcome a new idea. They like to be the first to champion change. They move quickly. Revolutionaries are few, fiercely independent, and willing to fight for change.
Evolutionaries, on the other hand, are much more numerous and way more prudent. They too are aware of the need for change, but they will wait patiently for new ideas to prove themselves before welcoming them into the fold.
Marketers of all sorts can use this rule to their advantage. Ask yourself: Does my audience seek revolution or evolution? Can I get further by presenting my case as a chance to support radical change or would I be better served by wrapping my case in the soothing language of logical next steps?
In my experience, evolution is a far more effective strategy for seeking support from pragmatically oriented healthcare executives.
Rule 2: How you think is as important as what you think.
I spent my formative years in advertising learning from giants in one of the world’s largest and most famous ad agencies. Developed to serve enormous manufacturing and distribution companies like Kraft, their globally renowned branding process included more than 20 steps. When I attempted to bring that same model to emerging businesses in Silicon Valley, I was laughed out of the room.
Now I tell clients of all types that if they can’t make significant progress in a quarter, they will fail. Period.
One of the easiest ways to change how you think about marketing is to make the process more inclusive and open. Big companies like their hierarchies, but excessive structure can often feel like wasteful politics to innovators toiling away in the depths of an organization.
Emerging companies don’t suffer the same disadvantage. They can quickly assemble the executive team for group meetings designed to work through opportunities.
Big companies can follow suit. By encouraging senior executives to hash out opportunities in a series of short workshops, savvy marketing teams can quickly understand opportunities and map out the easiest paths to success—and avoid months of costly primary research and lengthy review cycles.
Rule 3: “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”
Apparently, Steve Jobs used this Picasso quote when he introduced the iPhone. But the idea that borrowing ideas is inferior to outright theft has been with us for a long time. “One of the surest of tests is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal,” wrote TS Eliot.
Back in 2000, the dot-com industry fell in love with the first-mover advantage granted to those brave enough to think and act differently. But 18 years later, success has become more transparent and open, and often goes to companies who are building on ideas pioneered by others. Google’s Android phone followed the iPhone; Warby Parker aped Amazon and Zappos to win in prescription spectacles.
To use this third rule to win, healthcare marketers should look outside their immediate category for inspiration. For example, Vituity, formerly CEP America, spun what it learned on the battlefield into a billion-dollar operation focused on, among other things, optimizing emergency-room traffic.
Never before has innovation in adjacent categories been so easy to apply to new areas. The key here is to look for similar applications in different industries. Rapid iteration benefits from the diverse perspectives drawn from groups who have attempted to drive the same change in another industry. It turns out that stealing ideas that your executives can relate to is a very easy way to introduce new thinking into stodgy operations that are struggling to change.
Mark Williams is CEO of Mortar Advertising