Long before I entered the world of health IT marketing, I remember my father telling me “Ask an engineer what time it is and he’ll tell you how the clock was made.” I don’t actually recall the reason he said it – although there must’ve been one since he wasn’t one to speak in adages normally – but I do recall the lesson.
The adage has taken on new meaning today. One of the cool things about working at Amendola Communications is that I regularly meet brilliant people doing brilliant things to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare. I’m frequently amazed that they can not only think of innovative products and services to develop but also can put them together.
Yet therein lies the rub, so to speak. They are so justifiably proud of the thinking, work and effort that went into their products that they forget the average user isn’t interested in all the inner workings or how they got to where they are. They just want to “know the time.” They care more about the ‘why’ than the ‘how.’
Jargon and technobabble
One of the biggest challenges these engineering-oriented folks face when it comes to health IT marketing is the technologist’s love of jargon and technobabble. Throw in the healthcare world’s love of acronyms and abbreviations and pretty soon you’ll have an incompressible communique that might even baffle Alan Turing. (For those not familiar with Turing, he’s the man who led the British efforts to break the Nazi’s “unbreakable” Enigma codes in WWII, which helped shorten the war by several years. The movie about that effort, The Imitation Game, is an excellent watch by the way.)
One popular phrase that seems to have accompanied most health IT marketing announcements over the past 15 years is “open and interoperable.” Given the healthcare industry’s well-documented and ongoing challenges with interoperability, at first glance that would seem like an important benefit. But in reality, the phrase has been so over-used and mis-used that it has really lost all meaning. Besides, if every technology that made that claim actually was open and interoperable, health IT wouldn’t be in the state it’s in right now.
The same goes for many of the facts, figures and specifications often touted in press releases, data sheets and other materials. While this information has its value, that value is not in leading the discussion. It’s more support to assure potential buyers that a product they are now convinced solves their problem will also work within its existing infrastructure.
This difference between facts and useful information really came home to me a few months ago when I was asked to look at a press release and data sheet to determine how much editing would be required to make them effective for health IT marketing. I diligently read through the press release. I then diligently read through the data sheet.
Finally I gave my response. I thought they both needed a lot of work because after all that reading I wasn’t quite sure what the product did or why anyone in healthcare would want it. I knew what sorts of protocols had been used in its creation, and the alphabet soup of standards it met. I’m fairly certain I even knew what type of software development was used in its creation and what they people who worked on it liked to eat for lunch.
The only thing I didn’t know is exactly what it did. Or why I should care.
The Imitation Game
This time I’m not referencing the movie, but instead the way organizations seem to like to imitate the language used by competitors or big players in the industry to make their marketing materials seem more “official” and important. This is especially true on websites.
When we start with a new client, or are pitching a new prospect, one of the first things I and most of my colleagues do is go to the client’s/prospect’s website to learn something about them. Sometimes this is a very fruitful venture that provides great background and insight into the organization’s purpose and objectives.
But there are definitely times when I come away less informed than I was before I went onto the site. Platitudes, clichés and marketingspeak picked up and (slightly) repackaged from the websites of companies someone on the team admires rule the day. It makes me think that the company has no idea what it does and who its audience is. Or that it has a solution that’s in search of a problem to solve.
Rather than trying to sound like everyone else, and one-up the competition in the use of meaningless phrases, smart marketers will understand who they’re trying to reach and what problem(s) they have. They will then craft their messages to address those audiences and their issues directly. And simply.
It’s like a FedEx Super Bowl commercial from the last decade. A group of underlings in suits are trying to explain to the CEO why they need to switch to FedEx. They start out with an MBA-level discussion which goes right over the head of the CEO. Then they simplify it to more of an undergrad-level explanation. Still nothing but crickets.
Finally someone says, “For every dollar we spend we’ll get two back.” Sold!
If all your competitors are trying to outdo each other with technical information and complex explanations, don’t look at it as a guideline. Look at it as an opportunity.
Remember Apple didn’t get to be the world’s valuable company by selling technology and specs. That’s what their competitors tried to do. Instead, Apple sold solutions and simplicity. In fact, their whole brand was based on making their technology so easy to use and un-intimidating that you didn’t even need an owner’s manual. You could figure it out for yourself.
Keep it simple
Whether you’re creating a press release, white paper, collateral piece, video or some other form of communication it’s important to focus first on the benefits to the user. Even the most technical audience needs you to identify what problem(s) you solve or improvements you deliver before they will invest any more time. Answer the question: “Why should I care?”
If they don’t understand what the product or service does immediately, and why it will make their jobs easier/lives better, all the rest is unnecessary detail. Especially if your audience is clinicians; they already have enough inner workings to worry about in the human body.
It’s great to be proud of the technological breakthroughs you have created; celebrate them fully. But when it comes to PR and marketing, remember to focus on the WHY. Being able to tell time is WHY we buy a clock.
To learn more about how to communicate technology benefits more effectively, click here.
What has your experience been? Have you ever gone to a website or read a brochure and left more confused about what the company did than when you started? How do you address the people within your own organization who want to stuff marketing materials full of jargon and marketingspeak?