What Millennials will do to healthcare (and why you should care)

What Millennials will do to healthcare (and why you should care)

Just another article about how Millennials stink and how they are ruining everything. Right? *Insert eye roll*  While I disagree with this outlook on Millennials, possibly from personal bias, no one can ignore the fact that this generation is edging their way into the decision maker’s seat as they are now the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. Their buying power is growing as both consumers and as professionals.

Working their way through markets like bulls in a china shop, Millennials have changed/killed/rebuilt industries like transportation, retail, healthcare and may be credited for creating the IoT (Internet of Things). B2B companies will soon have to face the music and adjust as Millennials will inevitably change their industry too, that is, if their world hasn’t already been flipped on its head.

Here are 4 trends healthcare will see as Millennials make their way through the industry, and how health IT companies and health systems can relieve the pain.

#1 – They take it personally

The problems Millennials have encountered in healthcare themselves are now fueling their drive to fix it. Growing up in a consumer’s economy where customer service and convenience is expected at every turn, it’s no secret healthcare has been behind the curve of this trend-turned-tradition.

One out of five people surveyed by PNC listed unexpected/surprise bills as the number one billing-related issue. With out-of-pocket costs on the rise, millennials are more inclined (41%) to request and receive estimates before undergoing treatment. Only 18% of seniors and 21% of boomers reported asking for or receiving information on costs upfront.

Health IT companies that can show the Millennial decision-maker how their product improves their bottom line and fixes a problem they know personally will be the winners. The patient experience plus revenue generator should be an attractive buy for this generation.

#2 – Delight Millennials or face their wrath

This is probably where we Millennials get a bad rap. Or a least one of the many ways where we have supposedly ruined everything. It’s not so much that we need to be delighted because we are spoiled brats; rather, we grew up in a time of customer service innovation. Combine that with the social boom where anyone and everyone could have their voice heard and it creates both opportunity and risk. If we enjoy something, or worse, if we hate something, we know exactly how to get the message out to the masses.

Millennials’ opinions as customers are no longer limited to their personal social circles. The real danger or potential danger is that they think to tell the masses first. Their parents’ generation might go on Facebook after a few days and leave a review but, Millennials have already Snapchatted the problem to their peers, tweeted at you and your competitor, complained on Reddit, dropped a one star on Yelp, Facebook and Google, and started following your competition on Instagram.

This generation (and those that come after) take online reviews very seriously. Keeping a positive brand sentiment and the ability to track or improve it will be key for health systems and healthcare IT companies.

#3 – They won’t conform to traditional healthcare

While having a regular physician may be the best for care, it’s not the best for convenience.  Millenials expect doctors to be able to see all of their medical history at a moment’s notice and pick up wherever the last physician(s) left off. Their abandoned shopping cart follows them around for their entire life. Why can’t their health records? While it may be just a pipe dream to those who actually interact with EHRs, the complicated problems with interoperability are not well known to the public.

With little to no understanding of interoperability issues, staying loyal is more of a cost than a benefit. Options in telemedicine and doctor finding tools make it more convenient and cost-effective for Millennials to stray from their primary care physician. They can go anywhere that their insurance will cover, so why only go to their PCP during work hours?

Millennials are 31% more likely than their colleagues ages 35 and up to feel uncomfortable leaving work for preventive care appointments. Health IT companies navigating this process are attractive to Millennials and health systems looking to retain the healthy young clientele.

#4 – STOP and think before jumping on a trend

Facebook live streams, podcasts, Instagram accounts and the expensive mobile app are just a few examples of trends that need to be understood before they are implemented. Forcing apps when most Millennials have limited mobile space and few health needs is a cringe-worthy problem I have seen too many times. Baby boomers and Gen Xers certainly see these apps differently and could be a better market to target.

Do your research. Ask your target market if there is already a solution that solves the problem. Figure out how to make it better. Don’t just think outside the box, erase the box and start thinking. Uber didn’t help the taxi industry find customers easier. They changed the resource, workforce and access to transportation.

As this generation makes its way through healthcare, I expect to see many changes that could be painful.  Health systems and health IT companies will have adjust to the needs of the new decision makers, and disruption as we know it will be disrupted.

What Star Wars and Loot Boxes Can Teach Us About Avoiding a PR Crisis

What Star Wars and Loot Boxes Can Teach Us About Avoiding a PR Crisis

If you follow the world of video games like I do, you’re familiar with Electronic Arts (EA), a wildly successful, publically traded, developer/publisher whose industry prominence has earned them exclusive licenses to some of the world’s biggest brands, including the NFL, UFC, and Star Wars. EA is no stranger to controversy, be it a conflict over pricing or their purchase of smaller development talent. However, in late 2017, the company’s stock took a $3 billion hit after their latest controversy became a full-blown PR crisis, prompting legislative action that equated EA’s business practices to gambling, in addition to a major drop in consumer sales.

While the situation now stands as a shining example of a communication failure, the truth is, things should never have spiraled out of control. Hidden within this PR nightmare are lessons to be learned for communication professionals in every industry on how to better manage a crisis.

Lesson 1: Respect the Information Age

Before we can learn a lesson, we need to understand a little bit about the situation: The entire conflict centered on the release of Star Wars Battlefront 2, wherein EA placed “loot boxes” – a common video game item where players pay for a selection of in-game cointent to enhance play – in order to boost revenue for the game.

While gamers are used to loot boxes, the problem this time around was the relationship between the boxes and the actual game. Players who wished to play popular characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in Star Wars Battlefront 2 would find them locked, requiring upwards of 40 hours of playtime each in order to unlock.

Alternatively, players could pay to unlock the characters for $40 each, on top of the $60 cost to purchase the game. Naturally, a fire erupted on popular gaming forums and in the media, with players sharing what they had discovered during the game’s open, public beta test.

The more people began to dig, the worse the situation seemed. Educated players online calculated it would take upwards of $2,100.00 to unlock everything – or, alternatively, more than 4,500 hours of playtime.

What made matters worse was EA’s now infamous response to players justifying the cost: “The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.” The post became most downvoted post in the history of Reddit, a fact that earned EA even more negative press than the initial controversy.

EA now had a serious problem on their hands. With this response, the company doubled down on their messaging, and the facts of the messaging no longer meshed with the information players and journalists had already uncovered.

To be frank, EA’s response shows the company didn’t understand their audience and the concerns of their own customers. Video gamers are tech savvy, informed consumers supported by numerous media outlets and anonymous forums where leaks are a regular, everyday part of reality. Gamers talk to each other. They share information on social media and online forums, and they uncovered this controversy on their own.

EA’s response didn’t work for an informed audience that already felt as if their desires were ignored, and many felt the response essentially told them the way they felt was wrong. It’s not clear if EA knew what was already being said about the situation on popular gaming publications and forums, though one would hope they did. Regardless, the lesson here is simple: A crisis response that fails to address the heart of the issue will only make things worse, especially when emotions are high.

The era of print media – where a copy of Electronic Gaming Monthly came in the mail every month – allowed more control over messaging that simply doesn’t exist today. In the social media age, everyone has a voice, and any official response will be subject to scrutiny. No company in today’s world can completely control a conversation – and attempts to do so will be met with backlash.

The era of top-down, authoritative statements taken at face value are over, as any good PR professional can attest. As such, any response and messaging needs to be shaped for an information age audience, not one from the print era.

Lesson 2: Stay Consistent and Follow Procedure

The irony here is that the statement EA made was never necessary in the first place. Why? Because Star Wars Battlefront 2 was an unfinished game still in the final stages of beta testing, and changes were going to be made based on consumer feedback.

Less than one day before EA posted the most downvoted message in the history of Reddit, EA said it was actively making changes to the game based on community feedback. However, this fact didn’t mesh with their response on Reddit forums. Unfortunately, while EA did in fact make changes to their reward system prior to the game being released, PR teams had trouble getting that positive message to gamers because the response on Reddit seemingly said the opposite of “We heard you, and we’re fixing it”.

It’s vital that communication remains clear and consistent, especially during times of volatility. While it’s hard to resist the pull to respond immediately, taking a step back to prioritize clarity over swiftness is crucial; otherwise you risk a contradiction that could drown out anything positive.

Had the community manager, marketing leads, and everyone else involved with the process of public relations been on the same page, EA would never have delivered a message to the public that was in direct contrast to what they actually planned on doing. In this case, a procedure should have been followed where the important message – that this game was currently unfinished and changes were being made – was the only message the pubic heard.

Gamers wanted to hear that EA was listening, instead of getting a comment on how all of this controversy was actually a good thing. Sadly, that message of progress did exist and was part of EA’s larger roadmap for release, but no one heard it because responses were inconsistent.

Situations like this are why a crisis communication process exists. If an outlined process had been followed, a clear, consistent message from EA would have made its way into media reports instead of a rushed Reddit post.

Further, it seems less likely a clear, consistent message that outlined upcoming changes would have been the most downvoted post in Reddit’s history. Meaning it wouldn’t draw the negative headlines and social media ridicule the statement did, at least not to the same degree.

Lesson 3: Think Ahead

Most of us who play video games grew up in an era where games weren’t tied to a robust online community. Once a game was released, changing it was a rarity – loot boxes, patches, and digital content simply didn’t exist.

Video games were a simple transaction. All of that is changing, and whenever the landscape of an industry beings to change, thinking ahead on how the public will react has to be the guiding principle.

In this case, loot boxes and “pay to win” schemes are universally hated by video game players, often cited as a player’s number one gripe. Considering this, EA’s PR team should have been well prepared for a community backlash, especially considering the (admittedly) extreme nature of these particular in-game loot boxes.

Granted, it’s very likely PR teams had no idea what the game would be like, since games are developed and published by different, disconnected teams behind closed doors. That said, not having well-developed counter messaging ready to go – the least of which includes a statement for social media – is an oversight that stands as a lesson to companies on ensuring every team involved with the sale and distribution of a product is kept in the loop.

If PR teams had known in advance about the game containing loot boxes, not to mention the specifics of the in-game locked content in Star Wars Battlefront 2, then it’s very likely things would have unfolded differently.

Lesson 4: Education Makes a Difference

All of this drama over loot boxes actually has a reasonable explanation, and this situation stands as a missed opportunity for EA to educate the public on the why of digital content.

While admittedly it has something to do with greed considering the specifics of this case, the fact is that the cost to make video games is skyrocketing, with bigger games now carrying a development cost that rivals big Hollywood blockbusters. Yet, while the price of movie tickets has risen with inflation, video game prices have remained stagnant for a number of years. In fact, video games are cheaper than they’ve ever been when you factor in inflation.

As an alternative to raising the price tag of the game, the sale of digital content – including loot boxes – serves as a way to cover development costs and monetize games.

While the way this plays out will be determined by consumer tolerance and choice, it’s important for video game developers and publishers to let consumers behind the curtain a bit. That way players don’t just feel as if they’re being charged for content that at one time was covered under the cost of buying a game.

This situation was a chance for EA to do exactly that. But, once a crisis begins, educating the public isn’t going to be easy. Education should have been done in advance of any release, preferably through media engagement and interviews that discuss the specifics of the economics surrounding Star Wars Battlefront 2 and the larger video game space.

Not just the action but the reaction

With a little education, planning, and respect for the public, many of these PR crises can be prevented completely. Admittedly, even with proper planning, the unpredictable can still happen.

What matters then is how a response is managed. While there’s no substitute for a good blaster at your side, never doubt the power of a Jedi mind trick. The way PR responds can make all the difference, which is why examining incidents such as this remains so important, regardless of the space you occupy.



Crisis planning can east tensions during actual events

Crisis planning can ease tensions during actual events

A week doesn’t go by without news of a hospital or health system affected by a cyberattack or some other crisis.  Coupled with an always-on news cycle and social media ecosystem, a crisis can destroy reputations.  While the incidents themselves aren’t always preventable, organizations that thoughtfully do some advance crisis planning can emerge with their brands intact.

The ability to respond promptly to disasters or damaging reports can build confidence in constituents that the organization is on top of the crisis and a leader in its sector.

One thing to consider is that crisis plans should make very clear who is responsible for what.  Here are several recommendations for consideration to help your organization keep pace:

  1. Prepare in advance with inputs from the organization’s functional areas. The time to plan for a crisis is long before it hits. A well thought-out crisis plan is designed to help an organization communicate internally and externally with clear, succinct and timely direction. The goal is to minimize confusion and maintain confidence whatever crisis may occur.
  2. Identify stakeholders. Designing an effective crisis management plan also requires an understanding of stakeholders and their roles. Stakeholders are all those who have an interest in the outcome. For a health system, the list is generally long and can include patients, governments, administrators, board members, clinicians. Each might need slightly different things during a crisis, and they should all be considered as separate audiences.
  3. Identify a communications chain of command. Crisis plans should – in advance – identify all of those who will be involved with managing a crisis, what areas they are responsible for and who is ultimately responsible for making decisions. Then, all of those involved should receive the training they need to be effective in their roles. For example, specialists from all functional areas of the organization should be available to lend their expertise should the need arise, and executive spokespeople should receive media training.
  4. Create real-world tools that can be modified later. One of the most valuable things to have in a crisis is a head start. Messaging, scripts and spokespeople should be prepared in advance. The communications team can later assist in adapting standard scripts to specific situations the organization encounters.
  5. Ensure that crisis management messaging addresses various aspects of the crisis. When communicating bad news or another type of crisis, it is imperative that the organization’s spokespersons do the following:
    • Elaborate with the “what” – explain what happened with concise language, together with the organization’s position on the issue
    • Educate with the “how” – explain how audiences should respond to the situation and how the organization is responding
    • Engage with the “why” – explain the impact the situation has on operations so that impacts are not blown out of proportion

By giving thoughtful consideration to the development of a crisis management plan, organizations are more likely to be able to recover from bad news. In some cases, they might even exit the crisis with stronger brand relationships.

Tradeshow Trauma: Why “booth traffic was slow” is a lame excuse and how to prepare for conference success

As a marketing and PR professional who has spent countless hours in tradeshow booths and walked more than 20,000 steps at the HIMSS conference while wearing heels, I’ve experienced both the glory and the defeat of being an exhibitor. And while there is no better feeling than packing up your boxes, tearing down the booth and heading home after a job well done, there is also no greater pain than realizing that your company’s precious time and resources were virtually wasted because your conference strategy fell short.

After every tradeshow, it’s common to speak with exhibitors who complain that “booth traffic was slow” and cite that reason as the root of their conference failure. But let’s be honest — that’s a lame excuse. It’s the easy way out to blame poor performance at the show on exhibit hall organizers rather than reflecting on how your team may be at fault, or at least largely contributed to the problem.

In fact, upon much-needed reflection, those complainers would see that they are likely committing the cardinal sin of tradeshow marketing. They’re only focused on the conference.  They’re not focused on the holistic strategy that enables the smartest, more successful companies to succeed at conferences again and again and again.

To avoid this tradeshow trauma and emerge triumphant in 2018, it’s critical for companies to have a three-pronged approach that includes not just a conference strategy where you show up and wait, but also and even more importantly a pre-conference strategy and a post-conference strategy.

Here are 4 insider secrets to help you get started:

#1 Never rely on booth traffic 

Sure, booth traffic is nice and we all want it but it’s even better to drive traffic to your booth in advance. As savvy marketing professionals know, the best tradeshow marketing strategies start early and establish a regular cadence of communication. Most companies find that implementing a targeted email campaign starting 6 weeks in advance of the show is ideal but some may find that 8 weeks or 4 weeks works best for their audience.

These emails should be geared to both sales prospects to schedule meetings or demos and current clients to have a face-to-face touchpoint and determine cross-sale opportunities. As always, the top-performing emails are brief and targeted to attendees by role and job setting. It’s also best to have a form where attendees can schedule time and then receive a confirmation with a calendar invite. Why is that so important? It gets you on attendees’ calendars before they arrive at the show and are overwhelmed. Also, then your team can send them reminders about the scheduled slot or reach out if they don’t arrive as planned.

#2 Winning is great but winning isn’t everything

Pre-conference email campaigns can also invite attendees to activities in the booth such as speaking events or games instead of just meetings and demos. They can also offer attendees “a chance to win” and highlight big prizes, but they must not rely on the allure of a gimmick alone. There are few too many promotions for your giveaway to break through the noise. A pre-conference strategy that shares quality content, in addition to touting “a trip for 100 around the world” is the safest, most effective way to not only illustrate thought leadership but also to create brand awareness of your company as leader and innovator that offers far more than just a chance to win – but rather real ROI.

#3 Think like an attendee

Spoiler alert for those many hours spent in the booth. Nobody wants your marketing brochure! It will end up in the next trash can even if they take it, and if it makes it back to their room, it will end up in the hotel trash can. They also really don’t want a folder with multiple product one-pagers and a recent press release about your new product. Please note that this realization also spares your marketing team and admin hours of folder stuffing. Yes, you’re welcome.

The big idea here is to remember why attendees are at the conference. Most attendees are there to learn, not to purchase your “ground-breaking, best in class, fully integrated solution.” So, give them what they want like client case studies with real-world insights and thought leadership that demonstrates your knowledge and unique perspective. That’s the true value proposition that won’t get throw in the trash.

#4 Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up 

It’s great to have a successful show, but it’s what companies do afterwards that matters most. It’s all about the follow-up communications, which should include a series of e-blasts, with the first prepared ahead of time and sent within 1-2 days of show close. The post-show e-blast should provide an opportunity to continue to engage with your company by downloading a new piece of content, registering for a webinar, or scheduling a full product demo for their broader team. However, the e-blast is not enough. To see results, it must be complimented by personalized follow-up from the sales team where there is even a small percentage chance of generating new pipeline. Without this timely and dedicated post-show communications, it’s impossible to reap the benefits of your hard work pre-show and at the show.

Remember, it doesn’t matter how many people attend the tradeshow. Only that the right people make it to your booth.

Instead of leaving success to chance, put together a three-prong plan that will tip the odds in your favor. It sure beats coming up with lame excuses later.