Finding Your Vacuum: Systematic Solutions

At the recent National Pediatric Innovation Summit in Boston, doctors, scientists, VC firms and hospital executives discussed earth shattering developments in the treatment of cystic fibrosis and autism, as well as the latest findings in genomics and DNA sequencing. After taking in the passion and brilliance of the participants, it was the closing keynote speaker, Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon, writer and public health researcher, who finally connected the dots between healthcare and marketing for me.

In speaking about systematic care, Gawande told the story of how clinicians at Boston Children’s Hospital adopted a more methodical approach to helping inner city children suffering from asthma. The doctors not only prescribed inhalers to their patients, but did everything they could to learn more about the root cause of their illness; specifically the environment in which they lived. This approach uncovered the surprising fact that 50% of these children’s families did not own or use a vacuum in their homes. After supplying vacuum cleaners (which were less expensive than the medication), the readmission rates of the children dropped by over 80%!



For marketers who are constantly seeking unique solutions for their business challenges, this is a simple story with a powerful message. To find the most effective, and sometimes most efficient solution, marketers should be methodical about exploring the overall conditions or the system in which their target consumers exist.

Successful Systemization Factors

There are three key steps in successful systematic marketing:

1. Data – Gathering as much data as you can get will bring scale and predictability and lead to a more reliable understanding of the situation.

2. Innovation – Gleaning insights from the data and extensive demographic, psychographic and lifestyle information of your best prospect will help you find your best opportunities for innovation. In other words, it will help you find your vacuum

3. Implementation – Having a strong concerted strategy for implementation is essential. You must be methodical in your execution.

Marketing Practices Using Systematic Solutions

  • Research – Lack of research, data collection and thorough interpretation are the primary impediments to successful marketing. You must profile your audience and explore the extensive life they lead. Armed with this knowledge, you will be able to reach your target at the right place in the right time and with the right message. 
A great example of the successful use of research is a campaign we developed targeting individuals suffering with depression. Through research we learned that these individuals typically try to “game” their condition through distraction. We also learned that they tend to suffer from insomnia and spend many of their waking hours online. Most of their online time is spent not on healthcare websites, but rather on gaming sites. We therefore decided to test online advertising on gaming sites. The campaign was a resounding success. 
A strong systematic approach to campaign development enabled us to fully realize the opportunities and leverage the learning to create greater results for our client.
  • Programmatic Systems – Real-time bidding systems for advertising placement are the latest tools used to efficiently manage the tremendous amount of data and choice in the digital media world. At first glance, this approach would suggest that the benefit is solely in the efficiencies that are gained. However, the more valuable benefits are the learnings that are gained and the increased relevance to the consumer. A healthcare consumer is a complicated individual since most high value actions such as “Request an Appointment” involve a significant number of steps in the decision tree. The steps an individual takes throughout their decision making journey can be an invaluable source of learnings. 
  • Attribution modeling – Establishing a database of information and insights for evaluating the journey the consumer takes in their decision tree are cornerstones for systematic marketing. Attribution modeling takes into consideration the entire decision-making journey and assigns values to those actions that have contributed along the journey’s path. How much value should be attributed to a direct mail drop, a TV spot, a Facebook like or the final click on Google that directed the consumer to a site where they took action? With privacy a major consideration in healthcare, it’s imperative that marketers use as many of the innovative technological tools available to them to help glean as much insight and learning as possible. 

Clearly, systematic approaches are critical in healthcare. These same principles, when applied to marketing, can also lead to dramatic positive results. 

1 comment about "Finding Your Vacuum: Systematic Solutions".
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  1. Marie Lemerise from the tapestry group, October 10, 2013 at 10:59 a.m.

    Great examples of the value derived from a deep dive into the consumer's life and of the Patient Decision Journey. Understanding the whole person, their assets and limits often produces the nugget that Dr. Gawande cites. Thanks for putting this into the larger context of Attribution Modeling.

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