What healthcare marketing can learn from tech startups (Part 1)

When you think about it, it’s amazing.

Google started with a couple of Stanford grad students in someone’s garage back in 1998. By 2004, they went public for $85 a share. Now, their stock hovers around $1200 a share, and most of us don’t remember what life was like before Google.

Same with companies like Amazon, Netflix and Dropbox—explosive growth that shifted how we communicate and do business, starting from somebody’s garage or bedroom.

I’ve been immersed in Chicago’s tech startup community for the past two years, soaking up knowledge about the best practices in digital marketing.

Even though tech startups have a different business model than healthcare organizations, there’s a lot healthcare marketing teams can learn about being productive and dominating a market.

Here are 3 principles healthcare marketing teams can learn from rockstar tech startups:

1) Don’t be afraid to fail—fast

Usually, a mess up in healthcare means a serious injury followed by a lawsuit. But that aversion to failure doesn’t have to carry over into marketing. It should be a space to take creative risks.

If you’ve ever been to a startup pitch contest—or seen the show “Shark Tank”—you see a bunch of nervous teams bring an idea out of their heads to face a panel of vicious judges.

“My job is to kill your business,” one venture capitalist said to a startup team during the 2012 Chicago Health Tech Pitch Contest.

That means he’s looking for flaws, deal breakers, major holes and oversights that are better to discover early before the teams waste their time and money.

This process forces the teams to think through every nook and cranny of their ideas. If the idea survives strict scrutiny, it’s probably solid. If holes are identified, great. Now they’ve learned what they have to fix to be successful.

Which leads to the next suggestion:

2) Instead of having brainstorming sessions, have pitch contests

Give your colleagues and team members 5 minutes to present 5 to 10 slides about their ideas for the next health fair, viral video, blog, whatever. Then fire off questions and feedback like you’re in target practice.  Let clinicians and patients on the service line participate, too. (This is much cheaper than paying an agency to brainstorm with you, by the way.)

Just require that the idea be compelling. So if someone says, “let’s do another newsletter called ‘Connections,'” politely let them know that the healthcare organization down the street has one with the same name and move on to the next idea.

3) “Get out of the building”

This is the rallying cry of the Lean Startup movement, which is a method of starting a business—or starting anything—that’s based on building out your idea fast and getting immediate feedback.

Say you want to launch a new website. Have your team members whip up sketches that convey the general concept and then start putting it in front of your most opinionated patients and your most hard-to-satisfy stakeholders. Ask them to rip it apart. Giving people a mini, half-baked version to react to renders much richer feedback and direction than just brainstorming.

Even talking to 5 people can determine:

  1. if they even care about the new site and
  2. how well you understand their needs and expectations for the site

The earlier you get out of the building and actually walk through your healthcare organization talking to people about your idea, the better.

You can design pretty decent mockups of your healthcare marketing vehicles in PowerPoint in like 30 minutes, if you don’t have a graphic design background. This can also help meetings go more smoothly when you decide to bring on an agency partner to bring your idea to life.

Next week, we’ll share Part 2 of what healthcare organizations can learn from startups.