Organizing Healthcare Marketing in the Digital Age is about a unique industry with arcane rules and Byzantine politics, but we’ve pulled out three lessons that apply to any business.

Before we dive in, a piece of business for healthcare and pharmaceutical marketers: as part of our coverage of these industries, Econsultancy is conducting a survey in partnership with Ogilvy CommonHealth. If you’d like access to the whole report when it’s complete in September, please follow this link to complete the survey.

If you’re in the United States, you may also be interested in attending the Healthcare Marketing Summit, where Econsultancy and OCH will be premiering the research results as part of a very strong lineup of content. 

When you read Organizing Healthcare Marketing in the Digital Age, you’ll discover that the industry has a long way to go when it comes to digital transformation. But it’s under diverse and enormous pressures to evolve. Change is happening in fits and starts, just as it has in every other industry that’s reformed itself in the last decade and a half.

Looking at the scoring system in the report that helps organizations identify their strengths, weaknesses and next steps, it’s apparent that while the industry is unique, some issues are universal.

A focus on outcomes isn’t just good for patients

In the United States there’s a slow shift toward 'outcome-based' care. Instead of making money for the volume of procedures and drugs administered, rewards are based on how well patients stay healthy, how quickly they recover, etc.

It seems remarkable that it’s taken so long to reorganize around this principle, but the real mystery is why many in the business world are still stuck.

Our interviews with marketers identify a continued emphasis on control and reporting mechanisms at the expense of capabilities and outcomes, and one that is hardly unique to healthcare.

This is a side effect of institutionalization. A start-up that’s nimble and unencumbered is far more likely to have compensation models and other systems that encourage a particular end result than a long standing company.

Every year that passes, every new acquisition and every added policy makes it harder for organizations to move. Inevitably the weight of process and politics slows time to market, encourages design by committee, squelches creativity and increases turnover by the most talented staff.

The solutions are as complex as the issue itself. We’ve devoted an entire research area to the problem. The good news is that there are examples of both massive, top-down change and small, team-level advances that can grow to affect the larger organization.

Good intentions but little assessment

The lack of a formal self-evaluation methodology is one of the factors that contributes to organizational stagnation. Companies can’t be responsive or progressive when they don’t know their own capabilities today or without a plan to grow competency over time.

In almost every organization studied for the report, there was no existing audit of digital or digital marketing capabilities. Instead companies add capabilities ad hoc and often in ways that are redundant across teams, divisions or geographies. Little time is spent assessing how to approach skills in a way to build them as a key competitive advantage.

At more than 70% of the companies interviewed for the report, there was no framework in place for evaluating competency in digital roles. In those companies with some framework, it often lacked the specificity and measurability necessary to be useful.

Evaluation isn’t easy. One place to start is the report itself. It contains a scoring system to begin the process.

The “test of time” isn’t a test

Students of logic will remember the 'Appeal to Tradition Fallacy'. It states that X (an idea, process or procedure) has been around for a long time, therefore X is better. Business people will simply recognize this as 'life at most big companies'.

The problem isn’t that something has become tradition, but rather that it doesn’t get tested, by time or anything else.

One way in which this manifests is that specific digital capabilities will be located within a certain team or under a certain individual because of past decisions made when the capability first came into use.

Instead of evaluating how it should fit in the organization, how it can advance, etc., it simply resides there for perpetuity.

Again, the issue isn’t that the traditional solution is a poor one, but that it’s not examined. Time and again marketers expressed frustration not only with the status quo, but with its intractability and the lack of processes designed to regularly evaluate it.

Once executives or teams 'own' something, it’s natural that they want to keep it. They might gripe and groan at the responsibility, but loathe giving it up.

The solution for some is to take it to the ultimate arbiter of the CEO. Unfortunately this isn’t always effective because they don’t understand digital to force an issue. Things stay the same and marketing executives learn the lesson of not rocking the boat. 

The better answer is to take the personalities out of the equation. Whether it’s by instituting regular internal audits by impartial teams that look at where and how capabilities should be situated, or the use of an outside party, the key is to rely on a process not a person.

The full report, Organizing Marketing in the Digital Age: How healthcare companies must adapt through digital transformation is available to Econsultancy subscribers. 

If you'd full access to our upcoming report, please take the survey here, and again, if you'd like to attend our Healthcare Marketing Summit in partnership with Ogilvy CommonHealth, please register here

Stefan Tornquist

Published 11 August, 2015 by Stefan Tornquist @ Econsultancy

Stefan is Vice President of Research (US) for Econsultancy. You can follow him @SKTornquist and connect via LinkedIn.

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