Saturday, February 9, 2008

The (New) Health Care Marketing Professional

Last Post Review

In my last post I analyzed the implications and particularities of the Public Health Care market. What I have seen in 5 different countries during the last years is that partnership can be described as the best relationship model with public agencies. Note that I’m using relationship, not business model.
Companies should aim to make long-term and continuous businesses in the public arena. This means seeking win-win situations that may be totally contradictory to the “low-hanging fruit approach” in some cases, but will certainly generate an outstanding pay-off in time.

The (New) Health Care Marketing Professional

Since this blog was created to generate strategic discussions around Health Care Marketing, nothing more logic than focus on the #1 strategic asset: people.

Based on my perceptions and conversations with innumerous other professionals, I have listed the most commented items companies are looking for in Health Care Marketing Professionals nowadays. I don’t have the intention to create a definitive description of how should a successful professional look like (BTW, this is not my core skill); on the contrary, my idea is to list a few major assets that in no way make a complete list by themselves. However, they might serve as a valuable compass to one’s career map.

Not Products Nor Solutions; Sell Health Care

I remember one of my former Marketing professors showing a drill to our class. Next, she asked what consumers were actually getting when they bought that drill.

Convenience, a powerful tool, the drilling itself and a hammer (!) were a few answers we all gave. All wrong.

When consumers buy a drill, my professor said, they are getting holes. Likewise, when consumers buy movies, they are actually purchasing entertainment. Of course, it varies depending on the product/service itself and the consumers: used cars may represent transportation while a Porsche may bring status. The fact is, we never buy things for what they are, but for what they can provide us.

When a patient buys a medicine, that patient is not buying a chemical compound. Well, based on the above paragraph we can infer that the patient is buying a solution for a certain condition (relieve for a headache, for instance). However, this is a particularity of current Health Care business: because of the limited resources and need for efficiency, products should not provide solutions. They should provide the best solutions.

A headache relieve may cause indigestion the next day. Although the solution was achieved, we created a new problem. In that sense, any health care product may lead to any possible complication, ranging from simple discomfort to severe complications. Companies that sell simply health care products are focusing on the activities and not on the value they should generate to patients.

Strong marketing professionals quickly realize this doesn’t mean shrinking your market to a few “ideal” individuals. On the contrary, there is an opportunity to reinforce the Marketing strategy by demonstrating to all stakeholders (not only patients) the benefits of a certain product in terms of health care.

Remember that headache? How about measuring the positive effects of employees’ productivity once they get rid from the pain? Same with lower drug costs to health plans.

In summary, health care marketing professionals should be focusing on the long-term effects of the product to patients, not on the product features to physicians or simply lower costs to health plans. Focus on Health Care is the same as focus on value for patients.

Value for patients, and nothing else, is the ultimate goal of our business. Any questions?

Multi-Stakeholder View

As previously described in my posts, the market is more than simply companies – physicians – patients. Other participants such as government, health plans, regulatory agencies, other medical professionals and employers are also equally involved in the health care cycle.

Marketing 101 again: STP: segment, target and position your message. Since we have multiple participants in the system (like it or not), the logic conclusion is that each stakeholder has a different value proposition. The cost-savings for health plans is different than the reduction in Operating Room Time for Hospitals.

“OK, but you just said that the business is all about value for patients!”

Indeed! And that is why once we determine the real value for the patient, we need to walk backwards and assess the specific value for each stakeholder. If you cannot do it; either you need some Marketing insight, or your product is not that good. Usually, the first option is what happens.

Health Care Marketing professionals should understand the fragmentation and dispute for power among the system’s participants. Successful strategies focus primarily on the patients and link secondary value-propositions to each of the participants.

As in investment, we should not put our eggs in just one basket. There is no single participant (physicians, patient, health plan, hospital etc) that is strong enough to deserve more than 50% of your product strategy.

Cross-Functional Work

Although this is not a new concept, it has gained a lot of importance lately. And if you want to know a little bit more about me, this is also the reason I temporarily left the “pure” Marketing area to work in a Market Access division.

Marketing campaigns should not start the moment products are launched in the market. The Marketing part should be involved since the beginning, during the product development phase. And I’m not referring to only Market Research.

Taking me as example, my Market Access experience taught me how to assess and estimate clinical and economic benefits of products in development. Later, I can validate those assumptions and estimations in the market, which will significantly increase my product’s chance of success after launch.

In order to better analyze a diversified and changing market, you should invest a couple of years working in or at least closely with different areas. Marketing professionals need to understand the major implications for their products, from regulatory aspects to health plans reaction. Once more, this is not a threat but an opportunity to be head and shoulders above others who only dare to use the Marketing perspective.

The great Marketing Professional is more than just a Marketing guy. He understands the market as a whole and how to apply cross-functional knowledge to shape the market.

Final Words

As I said, my intention was not to make an HR guide, but to focus on those personal skills that are among the strongest ones for a Health Care Marketing professional. There are others, and I invite readers to list them as well.

Hope you’re enjoying this blog as much as I am. Suggestions and critics are always welcomed!

Ernesto M. Nogueira