The Little Things in Healthcare IT Marketing: Four Short Examples to Shake Things Up

Andrew Moravick

In healthcare IT marketing, the big, bad questions like “why didn’t this work,” or “what did we do wrong” can arise out of the littlest things.  Sometimes, it’s little in the literal sense of size. Sometimes it’s how little thought a trend, behavior, preference, or element gets. There are obviously big differences between healthcare IT and other industries, and most marketers aim to account for those. Still, there are little, day to day things, that may mean everything to healthcare IT professionals, but may not even come to mind for marketers to address in their efforts.  

To help give you a better big-picture mindset for effective healthcare IT marketing, here are four examples of little things that may dramatically change how you market to professionals in this space.

Little Word, Big Impact: Why “Medical” in “Medical Devices” Carries a TON of Weight

In an apt HIMSS article titled, Medical Device Regulation in an Evolving Health IT Landscape, the authors note:

Simply stated, any product—be it hardware, software, manual, electronic, radiation emitting or not—with an “intended use” as defined by the FFDCA, is a device. Thus, if a product is labeled, promoted, or used in a manner consistent with this definition, it will be subject to regulation by the FDA as a medical device, including pre- and post-marketing controls.

The article goes into exquisite depth on the importance and impact of this distinction, but the point is, marketing a generic device with potential medical applications as a “medical device,” comes with some heavier than expected implications. Conversely, marketing a generic device, like a wireless router (as explained in the article), for networking data from other medical devices, as if it were any other generic device may actually be a misstep. Because the intended use on the buyer’s side is entirely medical, it actually fits the regulated “medical device” designation. To a healthcare IT buyer, the generic device you’re marketing will be a medical device, and that buyer may have a lot more questions for you to answer in order to be ready for a purchase.

Ultimately, the point of this story is that the typical marketing concatenation– product + use-specific segment = product label (shoes for running = running shoes, sport utility vehicles for the luxury market = luxury SUVs, devices with mobile use cases = mobile devices  etc.) – should not be an automatic calculation in healthcare.

Quick tips for healthcare IT marketing word choices:

-          Make a habit of searching for/ researching relevant regulations.

-          When possible, ask existing customers / target prospects about loaded / stressful words or phrases.

-          Always be willing to bend with the language as needed – what words mean to healthcare IT professionals may be different than what they mean to you, so always be willing to accommodate the differences.

“Phenomenal [Organizational / Technical] Power, Itty-Bitty [Working] Space…”

In the Disney classic, Aladdin, Robin Williams’ Genie sums up his lamp-confined situation as “phenomenal cosmic power, itty-bitty living space.” Along with working technical and / or medical magic on a daily basis, healthcare IT professionals are also like the Genie in another way…

It may seem like a little thing that office space in technical areas of healthcare, like healthcare IT, doesn’t always grow proportionally with the gravitas of the office holder’s title, as it does in other industries.  However, the difference this situation can make is huge! Particularly, for a lot of older healthcare institutions, the facilities may predate the very concept of information technology (or electricity), by decades or even a century or two. Thus, that VP of Operations you may be targeting may only be operating out of a converted equipment room with no windows and minimal (if any) climate control – because it’s all that was available, and they’re barely there between meetings anyway.

In such scenarios, you’re not likely to reach someone like this at their desk, and if you do, you may actually be ceding valuable likeability ground the longer you keep them there. While there are also plenty of healthcare IT professionals who may have much nicer, more comfortable working spaces, where target HIT professionals do their work can’t be taken for granted.

A few quick implications:

-          Always provide convenient options when reaching out.

-          Time-sensitive offers with time-consuming requirements are a recipe for disaster if not demonstrably worth the time.

-          Can your targets go mobile with your message (is your outreach easy to visit or revisit on different devices?).

-          Offer options for your HIT targets to pivot to their preferred channels of engagement – email, phone call, text message, face time at the next conference, etc. You (and they) may not want to be in their office, but you definitely want to be in their comfort zone.

The “Do It Yourself” Appeal Isn’t the Same for Healthcare IT Leaders:

Necessity in healthcare IT can make typical “if I can do it myself, I will” business attitudes (the kinds of behaviors that make “talking shop” with sales people or reading “trade secret” marketing materials seem appealing to most prospects) a bit more unusual or even absurd in healthcare. Healthcare IT leaders often rise because they’ve already been there, done that, and now oversee teams and even automated processes that do all that and more. So a hospital’s Chief Technology Officer is not only apt to delegate researching new technologies to supporting team members, she or he may even outsource it to a specialized consulting firm for procuring healthcare technology, or researching options for investment. These leaders are functionally the brains of their operation, but their teams / support systems are their eyes, ears, muscles, and more to observe the world they’re working in, and act as needed. That means if you want to reach that CTO at your target account, you need to reach that executive’s deputized specialists within the buyer collective.

The implications:

-          Be open to unusual or even external members comprising your target account’s buyer collective (don’t write off the consultants or specialists too soon).

-          Accept and accommodate indirect paths for communication – healthcare IT professionals may not want to hear from you… from you. Their designated team members may be your best go-betweens for most of the conversation, and that’s ok.

-          Diversify tone and perspective – “you” language may be effective in most marketing communications, but what “your patients” or “your organization” can get out of the proposition can sound much more appealing, and unifying to the team of targeted stakeholders in this space.

It’s A Small World in Healthcare IT After All

As a final example, the very world of healthcare IT is relatively (I’m being delicate, it’s extremely) small. In most marketing environments, we take it for granted how unlikely it is for any of our prospects to talk to each other. Most marketers don’t even dream of having nightmares about all their prospects being in the same room, comparing notes of the marketing missteps they’ve encountered.

In healthcare information and technology, though, the higher healthcare IT professionals rise, the more likely they are to know each other.  When there are questions or challenges for top healthcare IT executives to tackle, their best sources for information are generally other healthcare IT executives. It’s why if they’re not all already in the same room(s) as panelists, speakers, or VIPs at conferences, they’ll pull each other into rooms or conversations independently as needed to talk. Sure, it’s also a small world because of the uniquely blended skill sets, but it’s also small because there are advantages for everyone in healthcare IT from knowing everyone else in healthcare IT.

It’s why a certain healthcare non-profit that rhymes with “whims” exists – to help facilitate the kinds of value exchanges that occur when healthcare IT professionals come together.

It’s also why marketers need to have higher quality standards for the healthcare IT space. It’s not the kind of “plenty more fish in the sea” environment that affords making mistakes en masse. It’s a small pond. The fish know each other. They talk to each other, and they’re often watching out for each other. 

That means:

-          Treat the lowest-level healthcare IT professional you’re targeting as you would the highest executive.

-          Aim to fit into the conversations healthcare IT professionals are having; don’t try to dominate discussions. Marketing to healthcare IT professionals (via any channel) is like being in a room with healthcare IT professionals – effectiveness means awareness leads to acceptance, not avoidance.

-          Everybody talking about your brand in healthcare IT can be as much of a risk as it is a reward. When in doubt, market like everyone is watching.

Of course, there are plenty of other little things to look into and account for in healthcare IT too. Hopefully, these examples have been a helpful spark to ignite further thought. As the healthcare IT world is a small one, it benefits us all to lean on each other for the answers we can’t find ourselves. When it comes to marketing in this space, be as knowledgeable as you can on your own, but be willing to lean on experts who can help as well. It’s a community, not a collection of individuals, so there’s usually a helping hand nearby for whatever you may need

About the Author

As a Senior Marketing Manager for HIMSS Media, Andrew Moravick leverages extensive B2B & B2C marketing experience to oversee and optimize HIMSS Media's content marketing and demand generation efforts. In previous roles, Andrew has worked for Aberdeen Group, Snap App, PUMA, and Eloqua.

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