The healthcare information technology market isn't exactly easy street for newcomers looking to gain a foothold. So how can you make inroads and track progress in such a complex, high-stakes industry?
The answer is in effectively harnessing data. Data, of course, is beneficial in all marketing: it helps you understand your customers and predictably respond to their behaviors. In healthcare information technology (HIT) marketing, the trick is having the right data.
To be effective, your data tracking has to target the right stakeholders and reveal real patterns of behavior. Data in HIT can't stop at the surface level; instead, it has to speak to the inner workings of the marketplace so that you can derive useful insights. You need to know that your data can help you cut to the heart of this challenging market.
When you can rely on your data, you can draw well-supported takeaways, plan strategies based on those insights, gain and retain customers, prepare for potential market shifts and more.
Why are refined data competencies so essential in healthcare marketing? The answer to this question begins with some challenges unique to healthcare — and especially to HIT — newcomers.
Roadblocks to Healthcare Marketing
The healthcare information technology market is a tough industry for a few big reasons.
First, the market is incredibly saturated. There are competitors with robust name recognition and a deep legacy in the industry. At the same time, new ideas are introduced constantly. To make any waves, you need to come in with something truly innovative.
Even when you have that novel concept, it's difficult to know where to start in marketing it. Healthcare marketing is inundated with noise. Vendors are scrambling over each other to compete for the same customers, and most of them are willing to try numerous strategies to capture attention.
This results in the less-than-refined tactic of trying everything in the hopes that something will work - essentially, throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. For marketers just entering the scene, this can be overwhelming and confusing. How do you know what strategy to try?
Second, the healthcare information technology market is high-stakes. There are a number of regulatory pressures, many of which can change over time. Providers and HIT professionals are pressed for time, and any decisions or product changes they make will impact patients. Mistakes and failed products can have significant, tangible consequences on a vulnerable population. In extreme cases, like that of Theranos, these consequences can also wipe out a company.
All of this means that it's vital to enter the healthcare market with a strong, well-supported strategy.
Third, credibility is necessary, but hard to earn. Because the stakes are so high, the market can be incredibly wary of newcomers. Disruption in the healthcare space is difficult to achieve. The market has been burned in the past: new ideas have been built on empty promises, profit chasing or incomplete value. Again, see Theranos.
This loaded history works against newcomers and market disruptors. In other words, your idea should make waves, but it shouldn't "rock the boat" too aggressively. Your idea also needs a substantial body of proof behind it, or the backing of an established name in the HIT industry.
That's where data comes in. Deploying the right data and drawing the right insights will help you mitigate and overcome these challenges. A good data strategy goes beyond research and into data usage and management. Data that is properly vetted, maintained and analyzed powers success in healthcare marketing.
Creating Data-Driven Solutions
You can gain traction in the healthcare market if you have the insight that comes with effective data practices. If you look in the right places, you'll see that you have far more resources than you might initially think.
Data aggregation and inventory analysis should be your first step so you can know where you stand. Take stock of available knowledge from:
Existing campaign or program performance data
Avenues for contact demographic data or behavioral trends
Third party data for research or for plugging internal gaps in knowledge
Attempting to enter the healthcare market without knowledge is like stepping onto a tightrope without looking where you're going. It's just as important to know the location of the empty space as it is to know where the rope is. With data, you can locate gaps in your knowledge (the space) or existing expertise (the rope).
Bringing in additional data and shaping your team's strategies around the insights the data provides will help you turn that rope into a bridge, so you can enter the market with confidence.
How your team actually achieves that goal will depend on your abilities with, access to and expectations around your data.
A good data strategy starts with understanding the state of your team.
Take a long hard look at your team. Be honest with yourself; don't try to pad what you see. Chances are, you and your team already have all sorts of actionable insights and useful expertise. But again, to know where you're coming from, you need to assess what you know and acknowledge what you don't. You can think of this process as an insight inventory.
Healthcare marketing knowledge is a limited resource. Even when your product is created or backed by a known entity, your marketing team might not have much industry experience. At the same time, healthcare marketing experts are few and far between.You might be lucky enough to work with former healthcare professionals turned marketers, or with marketers who have racked up years of experience specific to the healthcare space. But rarely do you find a healthcare expert and a marketing expert in the same person.
Don't discount your team's abilities, though. Ask yourself: what knowledge does my team already have? What can we pull from other divisions? Do we have any legacy data from our own past experiences? What data is available to us, and what answers can we get from that data? What challenges or opportunities do we get from those insights?
You should also account for the broader context. Consider these questions: how well does the market know my brand? How well does the team for my brand know the market?
These questions will clarify what weaknesses your team has, and so, how to address them before your competitors exploit them. For instance, taking stock of your inventory can show you where you need to supplement with external data and insights. You'll also have a clearer grasp of the strengths of your team and your idea, and so you'll know how to accentuate the advantages you have over other market suppliers.
You'll also know how to keep learning. Both experts and newcomers are most effective when they continue to evolve with the market and search for new insights.
In HIT marketing, your team's situation isn't always ideal. But when you've identified the challenges you face, you'll see where data can benefit you.
By taking stock of where you are and where the market is, you'll have a much more comprehensive and incisive understanding of how to differentiate your message within this saturated market. When you start from the data — rather than from the message crafted without data — you can tailor your message to meet the realities of the healthcare market.
Don't be afraid of the data you don't have.
If you struggle with credibility, or want to understand long-term healthcare information technology market trends to prepare for potential risks — in other words, if you need data beyond your own sphere of influence— a partner institution will be your best ally.
HIMSS Media is one of those institutions: we are stewards of the HIMSS community's data. We cultivate valuable insights from that data while also ensuring healthy, constructive interactions between all stakeholders at the healthcare IT table. We're one of a few groups that can provide this type of data and insight, culled from the HIT market across transactions, organizations and time. The point is, you don't have to go it alone — it's always good to find help and external resources where available.
Data that goes beyond the usual purview of your organization is a huge asset that will expand your horizons. Rather than starting from scratch, you'll have a clear-cut lay of the land. You'll also have a clearer understanding of what data might be most valuable to your campaigns, including how to validate the efficacy of your product.
When choosing a partner organization, make sure you verify that they ethically source all of their data. This is crucial in healthcare, where data has some of the most tangible impacts on the lives of real people. Data from credible, impartial, ethical sources will be an invaluable resource to your team.
Partner data can act as your guide to the healthcare market and boost the credibility of your efforts. Using partner data is like installing handrails and stronger floorboards on that bridge you're starting to build.
Keep an open mind for effective data analysis.
Think of it like this: starting from your assumptions and working backward is like trying to force feed someone your favorite food. Working up from the data and letting hard facts guide your strategies is like researching that person's favorite food and where they like to eat, then serving it on their preferred dishware.
Don't go into your data analysis with an answer in mind. When you've done that complete inventory, you should know what you can learn — as opposed to what you want to learn. Keep the current state of the market in mind, rather than your desired state. You can then start to get creative.
You want to break into the healthcare market with a fresh idea. Data will show you how to present that idea, so stakeholders will understand how it's fresh. You can specialize into where your product is truly novel and differentiate yourself in an impactful way.
The key here is that in order to change the narrative, you need to know what the current narrative is.
Some key ideas to remember
With data-driven strategies, you'll know how to get your message across and break into the healthcare industry. Build this strategy by approaching your data from three angles:
1. Data Abilities:
Be honest about your team's strengths and weaknesses when it comes to healthcare marketing. Pull any data you already have — there might be more than you think.
2. Data Access:
Supplement your data and boost your credibility with the help of partner institutions — don't feel limited to the knowledge base you start with.
3. Data Expectations:
Use the data to craft your strategy and message, rather than working from your desired conclusion.
When you use data effectively, you put successful marketing in the healthcare industry within reach.