Four Health Tech Companies Walk Into A…Casino

Coming out of this year’s HIMSS Conference, I’m going to break my usual pattern — instead of ranting about how sales and marketing is broken, bemoaning the prevalence of industry jargon, or recapping our team’s tips on breaking through the noise, we’ll explore another takeaway:

The identification of four company models in health tech, and how each needs to approach marketing strategy, positioning, and communications differently.

The breakthrough came early. I was traipsing through the (interminable) booths at HIMSS, desperately seeking something fresh or creative, when I realized that the more interesting segmentation was in fact not in the repetitive positioning — but in the macro business strategy approach.

Indeed, almost all companies showing up at HIMSS fit into one of four models. To help you understand these distinct types, determine which one you are, and ascertain what that means for your market-facing activities, we’ll highlight four of our clients as examples.

The Technological Powerhouse

First, Intel Health & Life Sciences. They model the global technology powerhouse that recognized the immense opportunity in healthcare and the impact that their solutions can have at scale. Other examples are 3M Health Innovation Systems, Cisco Connected Health, and IBM Watson Health. (Note that I did not list Amazon — I’ll leave that level of theorizing to Chrissy Farr.)

These types of organizations have already earned global recognition as a trusted advisor and problem-solver in the most complex of technological challenges. But some within healthcare may consider them an outsider and approach their services with skepticism. Thus, their marketing and communications priorities must address three strategic imperatives:

  1. Demonstrating credibility and expertise in addressing healthcare challenges
  2. Articulating applicability of approach and products to the healthcare market
  3. Proving out their experience in healthcare deployments, from small to large

The Industry Leader

Second, Teladoc. They represent a business model conceived to bridge technology and healthcare, designed to scale and capture adjacent markets in an ongoing and iterative fashion. Others in this realm include Cerner and Health Catalyst.

These companies are well-established industry leaders and highly visible at events like HIMSS, but only now becoming truly mainstream in the enterprise healthcare landscape. They’re confident because they have the scale, vision, and know-how to make a much broader impact. They’re constantly transforming themselves to stay ahead of the market, and competitors are watching them closely to mimic their product development and draw from their messaging success. As such, these organizations must focus on:

  1. Holding pole position against rising competitive threats
  2. Showcasing the breadth and depth of their solutions
  3. Highlighting the impact they’ve made on specific market segments

The Advancing Innovator

Third, RxAnte. They’re paving the path for other earlier-stage innovators who may not have the scale and market clout of the industry leaders, but they’re nimble and entrepreneurial enough to make a big business impact for their customer base. Many of these companies are in their Series A or Series B funding rounds, backed by reputable investors like Bain Capital Ventures, UPMC Enterprises (see next section), and Health Enterprise Partners.

These companies are young, ambitious, and idealistic, but they can at times let their ambitions get ahead of market realities. As such, it’s essential that they center communications around:

  1. Real-world evidence of how they deliver more than the incumbent (or status quo)
  2. Customer stories that go beyond short pilots
  3. Clinical, financial, and operational ROI

The Healthcare Strategist

And finally, UPMC Enterprises. They epitomize the healthcare enterprise that believes it can transform the system from within, by investing in innovation, technology, and new models of care to push itself (and the industry) forward. One might also put Optum in this category, as the realization of UnitedHealth Group’s technological ambitions.

Perhaps Clayton Christensen said it best when describing how industry incumbents must disrupt themselves from within:

Incumbent companies do need to respond to disruption if it’s occurring, but they should not overreact by dismantling a still-profitable business. Instead, they should continue to strengthen relationships with core customers by investing in sustaining innovations.

In addition, they can create a new division focused solely on the growth opportunities that arise from the disruption. Our research suggests that the success of this new enterprise depends in large part on keeping it separate from the core business. That means that for some time, incumbents will find themselves managing two very different operations.

(Source: Harvard Business Review, “What Is Disruptive Innovation?”)

And therein lies the crux of this segment’s challenge. These self-disruptors must direct their marketing efforts towards:

  1. Driving a narrative of “why” that applies to both core and emerging businesses
  2. Highlighting the underlying business strategy advancing their investments
  3. Creating a global vision of what can be achieved

So while I left HIMSS bleary-eyed and slightly jaded by the preponderance of AI and blockchain, I was also reminded of why our agency stays so committed to this industry. Because it’s not just a single bloc of business models. It’s a myriad set of approaches and strategies, all requiring extremely nuanced approaches to marketing strategy, positioning, and communications.

And that complexity, in short, is what makes our work with these four companies (and many others) such a delight.

Your funding comes with strings attached — so where do you go from here?
Subscribe to the Weekly Hash

A compilation of supremely hashtagable content for strategists, marketers, communicators, and brand enthusiasts – all focused on healthcare.