Marketing in Disruption: Case Study – Healthcare

As the last of the cars that came with a CD player hit the scrap yard, and mp3 sales continue to decline in favor of streaming services, we can look back and get an idea of what digital disruption does to an industry. We can ask How did record label execs not see it coming? How long did the industry think it could sell $18 products with only two good songs on them, while completely relying on scarcity? Why in God’s name did they sue their customers?

When you are in the industry, it’s more difficult to see the ground falling out from beneath you. If you could predict disruption, it probably wouldn’t be disruptive. Those of us working with traditional health and wellness companies right now are trying our best to heed the lessons of the past, but it isn’t easy. The resistance to change is strong.

In a talk I gave at Columbia University’s School of Medicine, I explained Apple’s HealthKit, IBM’s Watson, and Dr. Eric Topol’s concept of “the democratization of medicine” to a room full of doctors. I was greeted with skeptical glances and rolling eyes. “We already have no time. If all this is on its way, what’s coming off our plates?”

I made the mistake of answering, “Diagnosis?” The room exploded.

Right now we’re at the epicenter of two giant forces colliding—the Era of Convergence and the Age of Empowerment. In the empowerment bucket we have informed patients taking control of their healthcare experiences. They are enabled by mobile, energized by social, and less enslaved by “Because that’s the way it is.” Dr. Google is the Napster of once-proprietary medical information. In the convergence bucket, we’re looking at an industry where 30% of spending in this country is WASTE. That’s $750 BILLION a year wasted. Digital doesn’t allow that.

These two forces coming together will break everything in Health in the next 10 years. Self-diagnosis, telehealth, virtual hospitals, ingestible and injectable sensors, nano-health, precision medicine, FDA-approved algorithms, reimagined diagnostics and labs, big data diagnosis—they’re all here already about to rip the rug out from under time-honored products and processes. Any of these could be of iPhone proportions, which not only hurt Nokia, but also Nintendo, Garmin, and Nikon. Convergence.

But what about the established players in Health doing? Are they learning from the record execs? Are they making investments that will successfully move their businesses forward into the transformation? And how does that reflect in how they market their products?

Luckily, many have figured out the secret to marketing in a post-digital world, which is that a “digital” focus is actually a “customer” focus. That’s it. That’s where the record labels fell. Not only could they not keep up with their customers, or adapt to their needs, they actually sued them!

As a marketer in an industry that is rapidly transforming (disrupting), we are responsible for aligning with changing consumer expectations that are being driven by the entirety of their experiences with brands, not just those in a particular industry. I bring my AirBNB experience to hospitals, and my Amazon experience to my insurance provider. Today, the role of a brand is to make the customer the heroes of their own story. The stories are what people share. They’re the currency of marketing.

So what’s an agency to do? Adaptability is key. Try new scary things. Diversify your client base to include intriguing startups that might not be able to pay what the established players do (for now). Hire new roles and skillsets. Fail fast. That’s how species survive disruption. It’s the most exciting time ever to be working in Health. Maybe some of our clients fall, and that’s okay as long as we keep our eye on that patient because in the end, the consumer wins.

After all, the music industry might be half the size it was 10 years ago, but we’re listening to the best music ever.


This article originally appeared on Advertising Week Social Club