Health Care and the Earned Brand

According to Edelman’s recent Earned Brand study, 50 percent of respondents said that they want to see innovation tomorrow in health care, more than any other industry. However, the same study also found that only 25 percent of respondents say that they are seeing innovation from the health care industry today. This resulting 25-point innovation gap tops all other industries and brings to light some of the challenges that the health care industry currently faces, as well as some opportunities that are ripe for health care brands looking to associate themselves with innovation.

The five key insights from the Earned Brand study have some specific implications for health brands:

People believe in the promise of innovation. In the health care industry, innovation is demonstrated by new drugs, medical devices, health technology products, diagnostic solutions and even new approaches by payers and providers to communicate more directly with consumers. The fact that people believe in the promise of innovation, and want considerably more than they have seen to date, means that health subsectors such as biopharmaceuticals, medical devices and even service providers like insurers have the green light from consumers to actively pursue and invest in efforts to bridge this gap, and the support and interest of consumers in their efforts. Companies across the spectrum of health care should continually communicate about the innovation challenges they are assuming and how these efforts will lead to better care.

Consumer acceptance of brand innovation cannot be bought. It must be earned. Health care innovators – such as health insurance startup, Oscar, or diagnostics company, Theranos – are looking to up-end traditional insurance and diagnostics business models. The initial experiences that consumers have with these brands – and their ability to deliver on the simplicity, cost-effectiveness and transparency they promise – will have a dramatic impact on their ability to advance their businesses and fuel the positive word of mouth that drives an earned brand.

While the promise of innovation inspires, people first need to be reassured.The sharing of clinical trial data by pharma and biotech companies is one example of a tactic that can help to reassure people about emerging innovations. Additionally, efforts to demystify the science behind such innovation – through science or data visualization, for example – can serve to further alleviate consumers’ concerns.

“I rely on my peers to reassure. Because their experience is my evidence.” The “Yelpification” of health care, through sites that allow for ratings and reviews likeHealthgrades*, means that consumers are increasingly relying on the experience of their peers in choosing a doctor or hospital. A famous brand or degrees from the best medical schools may no longer be sufficient in attracting patients/consumers; providers must realize that wait times and the way in which patients are treated are now public record and can influence consumer decision-making.

Messaging alone doesn’t work. It’s about how your brand behaves. CVS Health’s* decision to stop selling tobacco in their stores – at the expense of $2 billion in annual revenue – exemplifies how this insight can be made actionable. The company recognized that to credibly realize their vision of “helping people on their path to better health” that they needed to “walk the talk.” That single action spoke volumes more than words alone ever could, demonstrating what behaving as an earned brand is all about.

Consumers want significantly more innovation from the health care industry.  Companies from all verticals within health should consider how they deliver innovation in ways that earn their corporate and product brands the respect, trust and recognition that comes with being an “earned brand.”

Kym White is the global sector chair, Health.

*Edelman Client

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