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Brand as Friend and the Amazonification of Healthcare

A page from Amazon’s strategy playbook for healthcare marketers

In January 2018, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase rattled the healthcare industry with a major announcement: Spurred by the high costs of medical treatment in the U.S., the three titans would collaborate to create an independent healthcare company for their own employees, harnessing technology to simplify the process. What’s more, they might eventually extend their solution to all Americans.

Since that announcement there has been much speculation about the move’s potential to reshape healthcare, from prescription drug distribution via Amazon to self-administered health benefits that eliminate plan providers and other intermediaries.

Amazon’s success at entering and dominating new markets is a phenomenon that has earned its own buzzword: Amazonification. For healthcare companies that hope to compete in an Amazonified industry, it’s time to take a lesson from this global disruptor and consider how they can dial up their own audiences.

It’s about friendship

We looked at Amazon through the lens of Mower’s own Brand as Friend® approach, which leverages the scientifically proven drivers of friendship to help brands build deeper relationships with their customers based on affection, relevance and trust. There are nine such drivers — advising, caring, connecting, honesty, listening, loyalty, story, style and surprise — and Amazon’s healthcare marketing strategy effectively uses most of them to not only create loyalty among its customers but develop them into champions of the brand.

As healthcare companies brace for the impact of Amazon’s entry into the market, here’s food for thought on seven of those drivers:

1. Connecting

Amazon’s healthcare marketing strategy builds community

Amazon has done an excellent job of connecting — building an extraordinary platform that has created flourishing communities of like-minded people. The healthcare industry, meanwhile, leaves a lot on the table in this area. Too often, the industry’s efforts to connect are motivated not by a desire to do the right thing but to comply with laws and regulations. Case in point: ACA-spurred customer satisfaction measures tied to Medicare reimbursement. So how can healthcare companies learn to connect in more meaningful ways?

ZocDoc is a great example of a healthcare player that does it right. An online community to rate providers (think Yelp, but specifically for physicians and hospitals), ZocDoc has designed a platform that enables patients to connect with the highest-rated doctors, schedule appointments directly, and review their experiences in great detail. Providers and health insurance companies in ZocDoc’s markets have taken notice, and many have developed their own “find a doctor” or “rate your experience” tools. These have yet to build the kind of community that ZocDoc has, however. And even ZocDoc pales in comparison with the review and rating system that Amazon can offer.

Healthcare companies will need to be creative in seeking new ways to connect. A good place to start would be to ramp up social listening to tap into the perceptions of both their own audiences and those of their competitors.

2, 3, 4. Listening, advising and caring

Amazon continuously educates itself on its customers’ needs and pain points

Being a better listener is also essential to better advising. If they hope to compete in an Amazonified industry, healthcare companies need to make the effort to get to know their customers well enough to anticipate the kind of questions they’ll have. Providers are increasingly adopting a continuum of care approach — integrating systems from emergency to physical therapy to urgent care and in between. And as they do, they need to ask themselves if customers’ questions can be addressed along that care chain, or if that aspect is still siloed.

In addition, advising is intrinsically linked with caring. Cleveland Clinic is an excellent example of a healthcare entity that gets this right. Known for its patient-centered approach, the clinic has launched a “YouFirst” campaign advocating for better self-care for women. The initiative provides resources through multiple channels, from online articles and Q&As to YouTube videos that target women with the message “Put yourself at the top of your to-do list.”

5. Loyalty

Amazon inspires customer loyalty by keeping costs down

Customers are loyal to Amazon, in large part because of the measures the brand takes to drive down costs. Contrast that with the steep cost of prescription medicines, which creates a real trust problem for the healthcare industry. With Amazon eyeing an entrance into prescription drug distribution, gaining licensing in at least a dozen states to function as a mail-order pharmacy, this is an issue the industry can’t afford to ignore. Several pharmacies and insurance companies have responded to Amazon’s move by eyeing cost-cutting mergers; CVS hopes to close in late 2018 on a $69 billion acquisition of Aetna, and there’s speculation that Humana and Walmart are considering a similar deal.

6, 7. Story and style

A distinct personality keeps the Amazon brand relevant

Amazon and founder Jeff Bezos have a distinctive style and a compelling story to tell, growing from the company’s early days operating out of Bezos’ garage to the behemoth that has made him the richest man on earth. Few players in the healthcare industry can claim that kind of panache — with Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic among the exceptions. What can others do to create a persuasive personality that connects with customers and turns them into brand champions?

Start building a friend-worthy brand with Mower

With Amazon’s entrance into the industry, healthcare companies will need to leverage all the drivers of friendship to create the kind of active communities around their brands that Amazon has so successfully done with its own. It will require building platforms that enable all players — patient, caregiver, physician, drug brands and so on — to engage in new and meaningful ways.

Through Brand as Friend, Mower’s brand development team helps companies find and build on the best opportunities to turn customers into friends and friends into fierce advocates. To start the conversation, contact our VP-Insight Director John Leibrick.