Healthcare Marketers – It’s Time for a New Rallying Cry

Sometimes words can make all the difference in the world.

Take the changes that are buffeting healthcare marketers these days, from population health management to embracing the “new paradigm” of digital, content, and personalized marketing to the emergence of affiliations, networks, and provider-sponsored health plans. As I’ve spoken at conferences across the country and worked with health systems facing these changes, the watchword has been “transformation.” As in, “We’re witnessing the transformation of healthcare marketing.” I’m not alone, of course – everywhere you turn, we hear about this transformation.

I’ve come to believe that our reliance on that word – “transformation”-  might actually be doing us a disservice. Certainly, things are changing – our channels, our customers, our employees, our leaders, our businesses, our industry. But when we use “transformation” to describe what’s happening to us, healthcare marketers and communicators, it conveys the sense that we’ve all been caught up in this great wave of change, and that it’s sweeping us to a new place. As if, simply by being healthcare marketers and communicators, we are part of that transformation, and we will be carried forward to a new world. The problem is that transformation, when used that way, leaves us in a passive position. Transformation is happening to us, and we’re all along for the great ride. As if we’re in the pupae stage, and some day soon, we all transform into a beautiful new butterfly.

The truth is, transformation doesn’t just happen to us, we have to make it happen.

Maybe, over a long, long period of time, the world around you will overtake you, and you will be in a different place. But if you want to thrive in this new place, if you want to leverage all the great benefits of the new paradigm, you have to choose to go there, and then you have to do the work. If transformation represents a passive receiving of change, then we need a more active word to describe the very hard work of making change happen. For that, I’m going to get in my time machine and go back two decades to the 1990s, where a business movement called “reengineering” emerged. We’re going to co-opt that word moving forward to describe what it takes to move to the new world.

Here’s a definition from Wikipedia, one of my go-to sources for generic definitions:

“Re-engineering is a business management strategy, originally pioneered in the early 1990s, focusing on the analysis and design of workflows and business processes within an organization. Re-engineering emphasized a holistic focus on business objectives and how processes related to them, encouraging full-scale recreation of processes rather than iterative optimization of sub-processes.”

Reengineering does a great job, then, of describing what it takes to explicitly and actively move your organization into today’s new world of marketing communications. It focuses on workflows and processes, two of the main components of your marketing organization that need to change most (in addition to team structure and philosophies). In fact, workflows and processes are often forgotten by leaders seeking change. This definition also captures the overall nature of the change required – “a holistic focus” and “full-scale recreation.”

Moving to the new paradigm requires more than incremental change. It requires wholesale change.

The other reason I like moving to “reengineering” from “transformation” it that it sounds hard. It sounds like work – tough, disciplined work. Which is good, because this is really, really hard work. At this year’s annual SHSMD conference in Chicago, I’m co-presenting with Jill Austin, Chief Marketing Officer at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. We’ll talk about the difficult – sometimes grueling – work undertaken by their leadership since the beginning of 2015 to fundamentally change their approach to marketing communications. The title of our presentation? You guessed it – “Reengineering Marketing for the New Healthcare World.”

So join me in making a slight semantics change that could have a profound impact on how we view the world around us. No longer will we be expecting a magic “transformation.” Moving forward, we’re going to roll up our sleeves and reengineer our approach to marketing and communications.

We’ll be sharing more on reengineering and our presence at SHSMD in the coming weeks through blog posts, podcasts and a reengineering assessment. Where are you and your marketing leadership when it comes to reengineering for the new world? Stay tuned for more.

July 25, 2016
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