Confessions of a CEO – Marketing Mistakes and Lessons Learned and the Value Outsourced Marketing for Healthcare Startups
I have spent the last 2 decades founding and running various healthcare startups, and along the way have made almost every conceivable type of mistake in marketing. I am an engineer and finance guy by background, so the subtleties of marketing almost always escape me, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way to prove it.
The trick with small and (hopefully) rapidly growing companies is to recognize that your marketing will evolve as the company grows, and its value proposition becomes clear to customers.
As a startup, you have time and can afford to make mistakes as your marketing comes together – as long as you keep your budget modest and use outside marketing resources to give you the maximum exposure to new ideas, best practices, and techniques.
It is critical to keep your internal staff modest and focused on the control of critical marketing resources – like your website, Facebook page(s), other social media, and blogs/white papers.
In this blog I will dive into the lessons I learned from the battlefield and specifically how they relate to marketing with the hopes to give entrepreneurs and business owners some insights.
Without further ado, here are the 6 most important lessons I have learned from my experience with outsourced marketing.
You need to own your marketing strategic messaging, but let someone else brand it.
Great startups are intoxicating places to work.
Everyone sharing a strategic vision, and doing their part to make it happen – at least that is what is supposed to happen.
All too frequently I have seen strategy and messaging drift badly without top-down clarity. Be clear about your strategy, repeat it endlessly, and use an outsourced resource to turn it into a brand.
The best results that I’ve had are when I shopped around, paid a little development money to several marketing/design firms, and got the brand presence that best fit the company and its aspirations.
All marketing is aspirational, but particularly so with small companies. Bring the entire team into the process and coalesce around the effort.
In the end, great design and messaging are worth the effort – and lousy design and messaging take years to discard. Treat this process like you would approach a tasting menu and you will do fine.
- Biggest mistake: I was persuaded to change all our branding to a new look, for what was still a development stage company. The change lost the essence of what made us special, with a wandering message and incoherent brand.
- Lesson Learned: Change branding only if you need to! Don’t just change your brand out of a whim. Are you venturing into a market, expanding target audience, new product line, new vision and purpose? Are sales and branding recognition going stale? Consider all data points before making a move.
You need to own and operate your website, but let someone else design and build it.
Websites have morphed over the years from static brochures to dynamic portals where visitors have quick and ready access to key information about your company.
Building websites today is relatively easy, but keeping it controlled and up-to-date is a real challenge, and search engine optimization (SEO) is critical to making it valuable. Control of access to the website and real-time access to visitor information is critical to measuring what moves the needle in the number of visitors, repeat visitors, pages visited and the effectiveness of blogs, whitepapers, and supplementary information.
- Biggest mistake: I found myself with a small company with 5 different websites, controlled by 2 different marketing firms – one of which no longer worked with us. We had no control and no ability to update communications in a critical period. It took a while to get it all back under our control, and functional again. Never surrender control of your websites!
- Lesson Learned: Always have the “keys” to your digital properties, it’s a valuable asset to any business. This means admin logins to your website, maintenance portals, social profiles, and any other related online resources used in marketing (Social media publishing platforms, email marketing tools, CRMs, analytics, etc).
Blogs and white papers are critical communication tools, but let someone else write them.
Blogs and white papers are critical tools to communicate with audiences looking for an in-depth understanding of your company and its approach to complicated issues. These are powerful for targeting key audiences and drive SEO performance of your website.
The strategy of subject matter selection, frequency of publication, and authorship attribution are critical to success.
Who writes them is not. I have worked with several ghostwriters, some of them good some of them terrible. Choose your writers carefully, and work with them closely – you will appreciate the output, and it will drive traffic and followers.
- Biggest mistake: I allowed a new marketing firm the powers of editorial, subject matter, and writer selection. The result was a torrent of incoherent, expensive, and useless copy. I compounded the error by trying to edit the copy into some semblance of coherent material – which was much more time consuming than if I had simply written it myself.
- Lesson Learned: Whilst I penned many articles myself throughout my career, its important to provide your copywriters clear cut outlines and style guides so they can produce content that’s aligned with your brand, voice, and overall strategy.
Control your own video and be liberal in its use.
When I first started to use video, we had big productions, sets, and commensurate costs.
And I wasted a lot of money.
What I found was that people want to see what is actually going on – authenticity is valued by viewers, and they want lots of content. Frequency is key – both on the website as well as social media.The COVID-19 lockdown has even moved the networks into homemade sets and productions, and it is clearly working.
I have wasted a lot of time trying to edit video – for which I am hopeless.
A good outsourced firm can be a great editor and sounding board for content – but you need to control your own video. Homemade videos and testimonials are the most powerful content for most visitors, and fresh content reigns supreme – so get your team to start shooting!
- Biggest mistake: Wasting dozens of hours and thousands of dollars in elaborate video productions. Extensive shooting with ad-lib content means a lot of waste and complicated editing.
- Lesson Learned: Once we switched to genuine content with little editing required we got audience engagement, lower costs, and greater frequency.
The value of paid advertising is almost always overstated, but it is still worthwhile.
Healthcare tends to have big-ticket customers and patients.
Paid internet advertising can deliver clicks in local markets – a few of which turn into valuable customer and patient encounters.
A good system from a first-rate marketing firm can measure the efficacy of advertising into actual customer conversion. Managing paid campaigns can keep quite tedious like looking at stock trades. It requires a lot of observation on metrics like CPC (cost per click), CPL (cost per lead or acquisition), impressions, and conversion metrics, and individual keyword performance.
Let the marketing firm do their work – but make sure that you do yours. Study the customer encounter and customer journey to eliminate friction throughout your sales and marketing funnels.
- Biggest mistake: I set up an advertising program with an outside firm, that produced good output, including recordings of telephone responses from internet customers. My mistake was not putting in the time to listen to the recordings and see how we were doing. One of the clinics receiving calls was channeling them into a phone tree, and losing every single one of them. We fixed it, but it was an unfortunate waste for all involved.
- Lesson learned: Be involved and know what’s going in your campaigns. How are the leads being handled or triaged throughout the customer journey? Work with your agency to help optimize what’s not working. Minor tweaks can have a major impact on your ROI.
Social media marketing is the de facto reporting mechanism for all patients and customers – take it seriously.
Love him or hate him, Mark Zuckerberg changed how we all communicate.
Facebook and all the rest of social media are the dominant channel for inter-patient communication, review of services, celebrating success, and calling out failure. It is a powerful advertising medium and appeals to all demographic spectra. Outsourced marketing is critically important in the design and implementation of a social media strategy.
Biggest mistake: Not taking social media seriously sooner.
- Lesson learned: Take social media seriously as soon as possible. And develop a sensible cadence of posting that makes sense to your brand and audience. Keep in mind, the content must match the context of the network our posting on.
So there you have it – the 6 mistakes I’ve made as CEO in healthcare businesses. I could list more but these were the most significant. Stay tuned to this blog as I will also explore successes I’ve had and some use cases that can be applied to any healthcare organization or practice. By applying the lessons learned above, we were able to move the needle forward, which was very exciting.
To recap, your marketing strategy will evolve and you must be nimble enough to adapt. Your marketing arm, whether internal or outsourced, should have complete alignment with leadership and your sales team. Be involved in what is working and what isn’t and keep control and ownership of your assets.
Do any of these points resonate with you?
What lessons in marketing have you learned as a CEO or executive? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.