One of the biggest changes that has happened in healthcare IT (HIT) public relations over the last 10 years is the increased demand for vendor-neutral byline articles, blog posts, and other materials.
It makes sense from the publications’ business model perspective. With ever-thinner margins they can’t afford to keep a legion of writers on-staff, or even to pay a legion of freelancers to write for them.
So, they supplement their own articles with content provided by various vendors. The caveat, of course, is that it must be vendor-neutral. In other words, it can’t overtly promote a particular company’s products or services. Instead, it must address a general industry topic, or adopt a general industry point of view.
While it makes sense to those of us directly involved in HIT PR, the idea of being vendor-neutral doesn’t always appeal to everyone within the organization. Especially those who are closest to the products, such as product managers.
“What’s the point of writing an article or a blog post if we can’t link back to our product (or service)?” they’ll ask. “Do we think customers or prospects will hunt for it on their own?”
While it’s easy to understand their concern, it represents transactional thinking. They expect readers will be so wowed by a product or service that they’ll click on the link immediately. And start engaging in the sales process.
That would be nice. But it doesn’t represent reality. Most products and services in HIT tend to have long sales cycles due to the cost, complexity, or disruption involved in replacing what an organization is already doing with a new solution.
That begs the question, “If the goal isn’t to secure a direct sale, then where’s the value in contributing the article at all?” Actually, there are several benefits.
Opening the conversation
In some cases, organizations who have been doing things a certain way for a long period of time may not realize they have a need. Or there is a different, better way to accomplish what they’re doing.
For example, a health payer may have systems and technology in place that enables them to process claims at a rate that keeps them profitable. But they may not realize they could be doing it in one-quarter of the time at one-eighth of the cost.
Or a provider may have analytics that are giving them a comprehensive view of what is happening in the organization. But they may not realize the same data could be telling them what to do next instead of looking back on what they’ve already done.
The vendor-neutral article or other materials become the opening salvo, alerting them to possibilities they haven’t even considered. That doesn’t mean they’re going to run right out with a credit card in their hands. But if they come to realize everything isn’t as hunky-dory as they thought, it creates an opening where none existed before. And guess who they’re going to look to when they start looking into solutions?
Establishing expertise around a topic
What if they organization realizes on its own that it needs to make a change? If the decision-makers don’t know how to address it internally, or they don’t have the resources to dedicate to it, most likely they’re going to perform some type of search to see who has expertise around that topic.
Returning results tied to articles from respected industry publications will have far more credibility than simply returning sales sheets. It will show your organization understands the problems HIT faces and is trying to help solve them. As opposed to your competitors who are simply trying to sell products.
Offering these vendor-neutral articles or other materials in a knowledge center on your website also helps establish your expertise. And your desire to work with them as a partner.
By demonstrating you understand what is happening within the big picture of healthcare, customers and prospects will get more of a feeling you’ll help them address their specific issues. Rather than just try to sell them whatever product you have that comes closest.
Once they feel you understand their needs, you can direct them to the product(s) or service(s) that address their issues.
Building your brand
Most vendor-neutral materials are created with the express desire to have an immediate impact on sales at some level. But they also provide another valuable function. They help build the brands of companies as well as the individuals attached to the materials.
Typically, we will ask clients what they want to be known for in a branding exercise. The answer is never a product. It’s always some sort of solution to an industry problem.
There’s no better way to get that message out there than to create materials that support this point of view. If you want to be known as the company that simplifies collecting from patients, producing a series of materials that explain what the need is and what needs to be done, at a high level, helps you capture that position. Especially if all your competitors are only offering up product-related materials on their own websites.
Establishing a strong brand gives buyers confidence that they are making a safe choice in a risky, uncertain world. That’s especially valuable for start-ups and/or companies venturing into new areas. You’ll be chosen more often if you look like the smart choice.
Accelerating the sales cycle
One of the least-understood aspects to public relations, especially in the digital age, is the value doesn’t come solely from the original placement. It’s what you do with the placement afterwards that really makes the difference.
A vendor-neutral article that has been published in a respected industry media outlet opens up all sorts of additional, sales-accelerating opportunities.
It can be added to your website, preferably in a knowledge center as mentioned earlier. That way, when a customer or prospect is looking around your website they get a sense that your organization is an industry expert, not just a seller of products.
It gives salespeople another reason to contact customers and prospects – with a twist. An email that shares knowledge from company experts is far more likely to be read than another overt sales pitch.
Sales can use it both in an email blast to everyone and as an answer to specific inquiries, too. Imagine the power of a response that includes both the vendor-neutral article and the product or service that fulfills the needs the article lays out.
Vendor-neutral materials are perfect for sharing on social media. The organization can use its own channels, and even post in groups it belongs to (where appropriate). High-quality content will be of much greater interest than a product message that can be easily dismissed.
The more you use them, the more customers and prospects will become groomed to the idea that you have the solutions they need.
Taking the long view
For most HIT products and services, the sales cycle is a long one. It takes multiple touches, many of which will come before you’re even aware a buyer is interested.
Authoring vendor-neutral articles, blog posts, or other content helps you raise awareness of your organization. It also demonstrates you understand the challenges facing customers and prospects. It’s then a shorter leap to demonstrating how your products or services solve those challenges.