The Cure for Big Healthcare Systems’ Sameness Syndrome


As large, big-box-style regional hospital systems become the norm in our healthcare system, lack of differentiation is poised to become one of the biggest epidemics facing healthcare marketers. As entities merge and grow bigger (and more indistinguishable), they will have to tell some really compelling stories to engage consumers. And touting of “compassionate care” or “the latest technology” isn’t going to help them, because who doesn’t already expect compassionate care and high-tech facilities from their provider?

Organizations that use these sorts of claims are not giving consumers any tangible reasons to turn to them. But, the good news is, beneath this one-size-fits-all messaging, hospital systems actually have unique specialties, facilities, doctors, and outcomes to set them apart, along with the capacity to truly engage in their communities in meaningful ways. The other good news is that people today are actively seeking ways to feel better and more informed about the health care decisions for their themselves and their families.

If you are charged with innovation and growth strategy for a hospital system, the key is to understand the health- and wellness-related “jobs” that people in your region are seeking to get done and going after the jobs that are most valuable and make the most strategic sense for your organization.

What are “jobs” and what do I mean about winning them? Jobs are rooted in motivational theory. People are motivated to make progress in their lives—they have jobs to be done—and they hire various services and products to help them. These jobs are not just functional, they are emotional: I want to feel more confident, so I’m going to “hire” a new, tailored suit, or I am going to “hire” a fitness club. In other words, people can choose more than one solution for the same job.

The same applies to people’s health. People are seeking to make progress in the job of feeling good—or less tired, or more in control, or any number of things; jobs can get pretty narrow the more you drill down into people’s true motivations—so they hire a range of solutions, from vitamins, to acupuncture to yoga to health information. But they also have different situations that influence their choices: personal finances, mobility, location, need for certain specialists, in-network insurance, current health. Since not every health system can meet every job to be done or satisfy every situation, they need (through strategic research) to identify their jobs to be won. In other words, the jobs that are most valuable and viable for their organization to pursue. Once a hospital system’s Jobs to Be Won are identified, differentiation can follow.

Here are six key ways that the Jobs to Be Won approach can help healthcare leaders prioritize their initiatives, make their institution stand out from the rest, and grow their market share.

1. Take the temperature of the patients you’ve never had.

Large consumer brands (not just hospital systems) tend to study the people who turn to their brands already, but they don’t take the time to step back and study people’s lives at a macro level—including people who don’t turn to their products or services at all, or people who don’t even engage in their category. In the context of the healthcare industry, this means pulling back and examining not just your patients (as important as they are), and not even just people who are sick, but also understanding the overall solutions people in your region are seeking in the larger health and wellness category. Where do they buy their vitamins? Where do they do yoga? What establishments are part of their larger wellness orbit? Since growth depends on attracting people from outside of the existing base, hospital systems must ask themselves: What solutions are people turning to when they are not choosing our hospital (or our category)? And what opportunities could we be stealing away from adjacent categories?


2. Identify gaps in care, and be the ones to fill the void. 

Do you have a hospital near an area that has a lot of young, new families? New parents always have health-related questions about their children, making parenting anxiety a huge, tap-able market. A close second is childcare (can you help stressed-out parents take better care of themselves by making it easier for them to visit their doctor with their baby or toddler in tow?). Is English a second language in the neighborhoods near one of your clinics; in certain markets, non-English speakers can be a valuable segment. Finally, how about serving needs outside hospital walls. Home health care is the wave of the future. Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark T. Bertolini spoke about the need to treat people at home, saying, “We shouldn’t wait until people are broken; we should be engaging with them as closely as we can to their home… we’ve got to get from the exam table to the kitchen table.” Find out where other providers are not getting the “job” done for people. If you know what those jobs are—and take the time to measure the demand for each of these jobs—you can unlock new growth opportunities by better leveraging your existing asset and capabilities or strategically augmenting your services to get hired more often.

3. Get your existing patients back to the hospital—when they’re healthy! 

Your current patients already trust you. Keep them engaged. This can be done through tailored website (or app) content; onsite health and wellness classes; and strategic partnerships with the other wellness services and products they would be likely to seek out, or which, based on their current health needs, could benefit them. 

4. Build a family of brands. 

Big corporations have brand portfolios; Proctor & Gamble, for example, includes Dawn, Pampers, Bounty and others.  The parent company has an overarching brand ethos, but each individual product has its own personality and marketing strategy. In consolidated healthcare, the model of parent brands with subsidiaries is not so different; in the latter scenario, it is the specialties—neonatal care, the cancer center, the women’s health clinics—that make up the “brand” portfolio. Thinking of a health care system this way makes it possible to identify the Jobs to Be Won of each “brand” in the portfolio, and tell multiple, smaller, Jobs-to-Be-Won-driven stories that ladder up to larger parent-brand narrative.

One marketing success story in the health industry has been California-based Sutter Health, and it is no coincidence that its chief marketing and branding officer, Arra Yerganian, has a background in consumer packaged goods. As AdAge put it in an interview with Yerganian, “Taking cues from his time at Procter & Gamble, his team spearheaded the effort to create, essentially, a family of brands.” Yerganian says, “I had a vision…to create a brand management structure along the lines of service like heart care, cancer services, women’s health…” Yerganian combined big data and research to arrive at relevant content for users, including an advertising campaign with the umbrella messaging, “Smile Out” that could be modified to tout the virtues of individual specialties (or “portfolio brands”) such as “Sniffle in, smile out,” for a general doctor’s visit, or “Limp in, smile out,” for a visit to an orthopedist. We believe that this approach is extremely powerful if you base messaging on each specialties’ Jobs to Be Won.

5. Organize your “medicine cabinet.” 

Many healthcare organizations have already made great strides in becoming more in tune with people’s lives, changing their approaches to both marketing and innovation. Examples include: advertising campaigns with a decidedly lifestyle bent (depicting more hikes in the woods than doctors checking blood pressure); tech-savvy, user-friendly patient services (virtual visits via apps, for example); hospital experiences that are, simply put, more pleasant (comfortable waiting rooms, better food options); and channels of care that are more enmeshed in people’s daily lives (satellite clinics at pharmacies, for example).

But with so many initiatives out there, it is increasingly challenging for hospital systems to connect all the dots, from patient experience to cutting-edge medical advances, under one master growth strategy. Moreover, prioritizing these various initiatives and evaluating their business value and marketplace viability is messy. There are simply too many unknowns—questions such as: What do people care about more, convenience, atmosphere, or medical advances? And in what situations are these factors most prevalent? Or, is it worth investing in this new initiative that we’ve been considering, and if it is, among which segment is it likely to be most successful? Jobs to Be Won offers a way to size, prioritize, and scale the many possibilities.

6. Use Jobs to Be Won as an organization-wide blueprint for growth. 

When an organization’s Jobs to Be Won are aligned across an enterprise, they become the basis for a holistic growth roadmap. Among our clients, this approach helped the Indianapolis Museum of Art grow its audience by stealing share from the zoo and the movie theater—while still meeting the jobs of its core members—through new programming, staff allocation, and strategic planning. This example has a rather surprising parallel to a hospital setting. With the IMA, our research showed that an activity such as mini-golf would attract more people to the museum. This idea had the potential to be a turn-off to both the serious curators on the museum’s staff and the serious art lovers/museum members. Our research helped identify that programming sweet spot (a golf course that was designed by artists) that appealed to museum stakeholders, members, and the general public. Similarly, a world-class surgeon might not initially like the idea of his world-renowned research hospital promoting, for example, its onsite yoga studio, but once he sees the research into people’s lives behind it, he may think differently. A Jobs to Be Won blueprint would identify strategies that are valuable, viable and winnable at system-wide level and can help leaders make important decisions about where to invest today to keep their healthcare systems healthier into the future.

The main takeaway is that more deeply understanding people’s lives outside the doctor’s office and understanding your own health organization’s Jobs to Be Won can organize (and galvanize) your growth and innovation strategies. This, in short order, will lead you closer to a cure for the all-too common case of behemoth-healthcare-system sameness.