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Ready or not, here comes…Amazon!

April 30, 2018
Health System, Healthcare, Marketing, Operations, Strategy, Trends

9 Ways to Safeguard Your Healthcare System (and Your Job) When Amazon Disrupts the Healthcare Industry.

It doesn’t take an oracle to know that Amazon’s entrance into the healthcare marketplace will be a game changer. Even if the disruption focuses more on the payment-side of healthcare than the delivery of it, the entrance of such a consumer-centric brand with a proven history of driving efficiencies is going to have a “big bang” level impact on the healthcare ecosystem.

As a healthcare marketer, you’re often focused on driving market share for a single hospital, or even a regional system of hospitals. The national scope of Amazon-related change may feel remote, or even undefendable in your current role. But failing to safeguard your health system from industry disruption could end up costing you, as well as your organization.

Here are 9 tips to get you started identifying what Amazon’s entry into the market means for your brand and how to lessen the impact (or even come out on top).

1. Catch Up On Your History

Healthcare is not the first industry to face disruption. Look to the lessons of the past for inspiration. Remember when Blockbuster and the VHS were supposed to signal the end of movie theaters?1 Or when the Swiss watch industry—reeling from the rise of quartz watches—saved itself by transforming watches from jewelry into fashion items with Swatch?2 Learning about how these and other companies stayed relevant in the face of rapidly changing industries can help feed your own creative ideas and solutions.

2. Study Your Disruptor

For each of your core service lines and functions, identify where and how Amazon’s strengths are likely to have an impact, both initially and over time. Then put these alongside your differentiators and advantages to find the weak points. What can you do to shore up your weaknesses while making it harder for Amazon to gain similar advantages/differentiators?

3. Dig Deeply to Identify True Differentiators

Forget about the tiny ways your products or services are different than the rest of the marketplace’s offerings. What makes you truly different? What part of the service or experience is completely unique to your brand? What opportunities exist to further grow that differentiation or diversify your services within that area? Can you shift the conversations from something everyone is doing to something completely new? Consider the health marketing landscape in 2004—dominated by physician images and messages about treating conditions. Instead of approaching the landscape with messages about superior expertise, access or services, Kaiser Permanente launched its Thrive campaign and changed the conversation, making healthcare about a personal path to wellness.

4. Crystallize Your Purpose

Putting your organization’s purpose at the center of your messaging and communication efforts is called purpose-driven marketing. In short, instead of telling people about what you do (your services), you tell them why you do what you do (your purpose). People who believe in your purpose will be less likely to switch to another brand, which is one reason why companies with clearly-defined and differentiated identities are best positioned to thrive in an era of disruption.3

Amazon is a purpose-driven company with a base of believers who value that purpose. Identifying and clearly articulating your company’s purpose isn’t easy—but you’re not likely to succeed against a purpose-driven powerhouse like Amazon without it.

5. Focus on The Customer Experience

Healthcare is a uniquely personal industry, but it is also infamously opaque.4 Think about what Amazon stands for—more ease, convenience and speed without compromising quality. The Amazonian effect will force healthcare to become more consumer-centric. Walk through every moment of your customer experience and ask yourself, “What would Amazon do?” with each step – then beat them to the punch. Imagine what scheduling an appointment, talking to your pediatrician or getting your mammogram results could look like and work toward that enhanced customer experience.

Take one major pain point for patients across healthcare – price transparency.5 Imagine how Amazon would tackle this issue. Probably much like they do everything—with a combination of consumer insights and convenience-centric technology. Consider their recent rollout of Dash Buttons. Amazon identified the need for even simpler, speedier reordering of common products. Their answer ads both buttons to your website experience as well as connected physical buttons in your household. They solve problems across their customer experience and in ways that support multiple product and service lines.

You may not have Amazon’s technology resources, but there are things you can do now, such as:

  • Make sure all front-line staff understand their role in price transparency and how to address patient questions (go beyond “it’s complicated” or “talk to your insurance company” and provide real value)
  • Reward loyalty with concierge-level cost estimates
  • Ensure pricing resources are front and center of your website as well as all patient communication
  • Message your transparency efforts across all owned channels

6. Don’t Forget The Employee Experience

You aren’t the only one reading headlines about impending changes in the healthcare industry – your marketing coordinators, doctors, nurses, kitchen workers and maintenance staff are reading them too. Clearly communicating your purpose and how you are approaching the challenges (and opportunities) of disruption will be critical both to overall morale and your ability to execute on brand-wide initiatives. An internal activation plan can build an army of advocates that helps your organization adapt to change and socializes your purpose in the communities you serve.

7. Broaden Your External Activation

Approach your external activation where people conduct their daily lives with a truly tradigital mindset – brand building across traditional channels and strong, micro-targeted and personalized messaging in the digital spaces. The most savvy brands, like Amazon, Coca-Cola, and Nike, understand that their customers coexist in both traditional and digital spaces – sometimes interacting in both simultaneously. You need to map that consumer pathway and determine the best strategies to reach them on each stage of their journey.

8. Embrace the Disruption

Most industries facing disruption spend substantial time and resources fighting against the trend – a fight they usually lose. Instead, embrace the change and fix broken business models, focusing on the areas of your business that will bring the most meaningful positive changes for your customers. After all, if the industry is changing for the better, you want your brand to be positioned as part of the new era, not the old guard.

9. Learn To Speak M&A

During times of disruption, mergers and acquisition (M&A) become commonplace.6 Acquiring a disrupting company is a tried and true way of preventing market loss (Blockbuster famously passed on acquiring Netflix) and merging companies can often structure products and services to better benefit the marketplace and their bottom lines. Your CEO isn’t likely to enter M&A discussions with Amazon anytime soon, but there may be other opportunities in your market. 

You Don’t Have to Go It Alone

Disruptions are unruly specifically because they often come at problems from a completely unique perspective. Yours would not be the first company that struggles to understand the potential impact of a disruptor—especially one as large as Amazon. The right marketing partner can offer a fresh perspective to help you stay focused on the areas where you can make the most difference for your brand.

What are your thoughts on Amazon’s entry into the healthcare marketplace? Are you taking steps to prepare? Which of the steps we discussed do you think will be your most challenging? Get in touch below.

1  Vertafore.com: History of Disruption – 5 Companies Didn't Evolve Fast Enough
2  AnkushChopra.com: How the Swiss Watchmakers Tamed a Rogue Innovation
3  Strategy-Business.com: 10 Principles for Winning the Game of Digital-Disruption
4  Money.CNN.com: Amazon Health Care
5  Advisory.com: Thriving in a Price Sensitive Market
6  Health.Oliverwyman.com: Infographic 2018

Jason Brown

Jason is CEO & Chief Strategy Officer of Brown Parker & DeMarinis (BPD), an internationally-recognized advertising agency that is on a mission to make health systems and hospitals the most beloved brands in the world. A pioneer in hospital marketing, BPD works with clients to unlock the power of their Purpose inside and outside their organizations, resulting in highly engaged employees and physicians and dramatically higher brand preference and service-line volumes.

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