Marketing follows the same rules regardless of the industry. Whether a company is selling widgets at rock-bottom prices or offering a unique service like telemedicine companies do, the rules are always the same. Unfortunately, a quick walk through any conference, like the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference, reveals a problem in the telemedicine industry - a glut of "me-too" marketing.
Sure, the technology on display is amazing and some of the products will be top of mind, but will people remember what technology belonged to each vendor? Will they be able to distinguish what one telemedicine offers compared to another? Anyone in marketing would bet on the answer being "no" to both questions. Every banner, brochure, business card, slogan, and lanyard in the telemedicine arena feels identical. They are all selling savings and value, commoditizing telemedicine and forgetting to focus on utilization. In any field, but especially in a crowded area like telemedicine, a company needs to advertise what makes it different and what problems it can solve that other companies cannot. It needs to grab attention with a unique message displaying its strengths.
The Rules of Marketing
There are four key rules to marketing any product or service.
It is essential to:
- make the product or service known
- take the competition seriously,
- relate to the client's needs, and
- make customers happy.
While all telemedicine services follow some of these rules, few put them all into play, and most are just marketing their cost savings. The customer needs to have an emotional connection to the message and feel like the problems they face can be solved by a particular company. Generic advertising and branding can't do that. In fact, generic messaging does just the opposite, making customers feel lost among a plethora of look-alike providers, none of which has their particular interests in mind. To attract customers; it is necessary to identify a company's unique selling proposition.
Identifying a Unique Selling Position
A unique selling position (USP) is what sets one company apart from another. The best way to define what the USP is for a company is to take the role of a customer and ask what that company is offering that would convince the customer to invest in it over all of the other alternatives. In other words, it is necessary to figure out what is special about a company to create a USP.
A USP is more than just a recitation of services or products offered. It has to sell what the company is offering. For instance, all telemedicine companies provide a means of communicating quickly and efficiently, but some may offer more robust services with downtime guarantees and prompt response times. These companies isn't selling response times, though; they are selling peace of mind. It is essential that telemedicine companies focus on how using their products impacts a customer's work and not on what their products cost because everyone is focused on cost.
By Way of Example
The best way to understand a USP is to look at companies that have been successful in constructing a unique position from which to sell their products. Walmart is a great example. The company has always sold bargains; that is the unique benefit they offer to customers. One can argue about the ethics of how Walmart can offer low prices, but the fact remains that the retailer made its name by offering savings. Classic USPs from Walmart include the "Always low prices. Always" slogan as well as the newer "Save money. Live better." banner. Other examples include:
- Apple - "Think Different." - The company sells an identity and status.
- McDonald's - "I'm Lovin' It" - The company sells pleasure and gratification.
- Verizon - "Can You Hear Me Now?" - The company sells connectedness.
The founder of Revlon used to joke that he didn't sell makeup; he sold hope. His USP was that his product could inspire people to be the best versions of themselves. When it comes to telemedicine, it is important to get to the core of what a customer wants. Does a service provide a better relationship, a healthier bottom line, a bargain, peace of mind, or agility?
Using a USP to Define a Brand
The interesting thing about defining a USP is that it will help to define a brand. L'Eggs hosiery was the first brand to think of selling in grocery stores (a unique selling proposition). The choice to sell in grocery stores led the brand to put its product in egg-shaped containers so that they didn't feel out of place amongst food stuff. This choice also meant the leggings need not be pressed or carefully folded, so the company saved money and could offer the product at a very low price. The identification of the company's USP defined the brand; it's packaging and even its pricing. The same is true of every company that defines what makes it unique and then finds a way to communicate that to customers.
Formulating a Strong USP
Once the unique qualities of a company are defined, it is necessary to refine those qualities into a marketing message. The message should be different for every company, but the basic construction of the message is the same. It needs an opening with a hook, a promise of uniqueness, and an explanation as to how that promise will be kept. Here is how marketing professionals approach the construction of a USP.
1. The Unique Opening
This is the hook moment, where a company makes a bold claim that is interesting to the customer. It is essential to grab the customer's attention in the first few words. Common hooks often start with phrases like "We are only ..." or "We are the world's ..." and then go on to state precisely what makes a company different.
2. A Unique Promise or Benefit
Whatever it is that makes a company unique needs to be emphasized. It may be a large reach into far-flung markets, or it may be a small, friendly environment that makes a company special. It could be a particular service, how that service is delivered, or a particular product that sets a company part. Whatever it is that is special needs to be shouted from the rooftops.
It is a common concern that either a company has no unique characteristic or that what it does have is undesirable. Neither concern ever turns out to be true. There is always something that one company can offer that no other company can, and there is always a group of clients looking for just such an offering.
3. Explaining the Promise
Customers want to know how a particular benefit will solve their problems and how it will be delivered to them. Is the benefit saving them time, putting them in touch with new clients, providing technology they need, helping them cut overhead, providing peach of mind that allows them to focus on other problems, or something else entirely? This is the point where the product or service offering is translated into an emotional appeal.
The Coup De Grace
Having a USP is great, but to make the message stick, it needs to hit at a guttural level as well as at an intellectual level. Clients should feel that the message speaks directly to them, that the company is concerned with their needs, and that they share similar values. Researching core clients and what attributes they share can be a good way to start building an emotional USP.
It is at this stage that a company defines not just what it does, but what it sells. If Walmart is selling bargains and Revlon is selling hope, what does a telemedicine company sell? The answer is that it could be anything. It may sell access to experts, which is hope. It may guarantee uptime, which is peace of mind. It may sell rapid growth, expertise, or something else entirely. This is how companies differentiate their offerings and stand tall among the competition.