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Steve Jobs' Three Lessons for Healthcare Marketing

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Steve JobsLess than a month ago the business news of the day was dominated by Steve Jobs' announcement that he was stepping down as CEO of Apple Inc. A few days later, he was on the cover of Newsweek, headlined: American Genius, Steve Jobs, How He Changed Our World.

Both iPhones and iPads are so popular among doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals that they seem to outnumber stethoscopes as a primary tool of the trade. Chances are that you own one or more of Apple's exceptional products (as we do), and you see Apple personal electronic products in daily use in healthcare delivery as well as in medical marketing.

The iPad—not yet two years old—has been credited with revolutionary advances in healthcare. On our Healthcare Marketing Exchange blog, we've written about the various ways this device is changing hospital marketing and public relations.

But there are larger business lessons from Steve Jobs that apply directly to the business of medical marketing. We see three principles that stand out as useful to hospital marketing as well as doctor and physician marketing and advertising.

With credit to Steve Jobs, consider how you might embrace the following business concepts from the Apple playbook.

FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCTS: The difference between an evolutionary improvement and a revolutionary advancement in a product or service is sometimes no more than a willingness to follow your instincts. Steve Jobs is viewed as having an instinctive desire to innovate to what consumers want, rather than creating incremental improvements to what exists. Successful healthcare marketing and advertising requires a measure of instinct, and a willingness to venture into new territory, new techniques, new technology and/or new tactics.

The New York Times wrote about Steve Jobs, "In the last decade, Apple has redefined the music business through the iPod, the cellphone business through the iPhone and the entertainment and media world through the iPad. Again and again, Mr. Jobs has gambled that he knew what the customer would want, and again and again he has been right."

This is an approach that may not be suitable for every situation. But in a 2005 commencement address at Stanford, Steve Jobs-who never graduated from college-challenged graduates, "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something-your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life." (The full text here is well worth reading.)

PUT PRODUCT FIRST: Recently we had a conversation with an individual who wanted to create his advertising in a style that had the same look and feel as the iPad ads. The process of successful advertising doesn't begin by mimicking someone else's work. Although the iPad ads are well done, the iPad isn't successful because of its clever ads. The iPad is successful because it is, first and foremost, such a great product.

Of the "four Ps of marketing"—product, price, place, promotion—most people forget the importance of beginning with a good product. Many people forget this and rush directly to promotion. And in the end, that does not work...for personal computers or in healthcare delivery. The lesson for healthcare marketing is to infuse maximum quality into the work, including patient benefits, patient experience and the fabric and texture of your brand.

TAKE RISKS: There's an element of risk in believing in yourself, following your instincts and putting every ounce of quality in the product first.

From The New York Times: "The big thing about Steve Jobs is not his genius or his charisma but his extraordinary risk-taking," said Alan Deutschman, who wrote a biography of Mr. Jobs. "Apple has been so innovative because Jobs takes major risks, which is rare in corporate America."

Physicians and surgeons are familiar with risk-taking in their daily work. They rely on their training, experience, continuing education and following best practices to minimize risk. But healthcare decision-makers are sometimes reserved in their approach to marketing and advertising. Intelligent risks in healthcare marketing and advertising can produce exceptional results, while doing little or nothing will always produce little or nothing.

Instinct. Product. Risk.

These three lessons from the workbook of Steve Jobs all have applications to success in healthcare and hospital marketing. He didn't invent them. He doesn't own them. And the lessons of Instinct, Product and Risk are just as available to you as they are to Apple Inc. You might be amazed by what comes of it.

"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do." - Steve Jobs

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