DEC 2, 2015

(4-5 minute read by Kevin Sandlin)

We are all capable of looking inward just a little too much, and not seeing what others see about us. In business and in life, self-awareness is a critical skill. Step 3 of the Vista Brand Roadmap encompasses the systematic approach to looking outside ourselves and learning what the market thinks about us. The results from Step 3 can be surprising at times, and we always learn something that we did not know before. Here, we highlight two healthcare companies, Greenway Health and Amendia, both very successful brands, and what we learned when we turned our focus to gathering perceptions from outside the brand.

Greenway Health - Discovering a new Corporate Character

In the case of Greenway Health, we learned three very important and brand-changing truths as we spoke to customers and partners, taking a 100,000 foot view of the marketplace that Greenway was serving.

First, we learned that Greenway’s brand identity did not match the perception that they wished the marketplace held about them. As a third party asking direct questions of their customers and partners, we received direct answers that Greenway management most likely would not have heard because people tend to soften their answers when speaking directly to principals of the company. While Greenway largely thought their identity reflected their deeply innovative spirit, their customers and partners perceived Greenway's identity as more antiquated, serving only narrow electronic health records (EHR) products. We knew the CEO’s vision was much larger than an EHR company and his views were much more forward-looking. There was an obvious disconnect in desired perceptions. Based on these “voice of customer” insights, we recommended a rebrand of Greenway. It was not an easy recommendation, but it was an honest recommendation, based on the unvarnished truth stated by the customer.

Second, we learned by researching Greenway’s competition that all the power players in the market were offering essentially the same products and services, with little to no brand differentiation. All brands offered the same features and benefits in their software. That’s when we discovered that Greenway had a competitive advantage: an unprecedented devotion to customer service. 

At their annual conference, PrimeLeader, we witnessed Greenway customers - doctors, nurses, and administrators alike - seeking out their customer service representatives, whom they’d never met in person, and hug them like they were long lost cousins. As desirable as this is in business, it is rare. These authentic customer perceptions gave rise to our new strategic story and supporting campaigns that highlighted Greenway’s warm culture and unique corporate spirit of service.

Third, in our 100,000 foot view of the marketplace, we found a clear and dramatic trend. During the previous year, the size of Greenway’s core market segment had changed dramatically. A year before, 83% of the US Healthcare ambulatory industry (and Greenway’s core market) were small physician practices with fewer than 10 doctors. During that next year, that nationwide number had plummeted to 46%. We learned that doctors were giving up their small practices to join large healthcare systems because challenging changes in technology, government policy and reimbursement rules required too much administration for small physicians practices to handle profitably.

We recommended, based on this external data and voices, that Greenway’s strategic story and growth drivers begin to showcase its unprecedented devotion to customer service while focusing on larger, growth-oriented market segments - enterprise healthcare providers.

Amendia - Simplicity is best

In Step 3 for Amendia, the message we received from the marketplace was much simpler, and did not require a change in market direction. We uncovered that the messaging the brand was sending to their customers was creating an unhealthy gap in expectations around what the company could deliver, and when.

Amendia was the only spinal device company that had developed 3D modeling, prototyping and manufacturing capabilities that could generate brand new, FDA-ready products in days rather than years. In fact, in the very beginning the company could turn around a spinal implant prototype, with the aid of 3D printing, to surgeons for refinement and approval within 72 hours. That nimble capability was an attractive and driving factor in Amendia’s initial growth. What customer surgeon wouldn’t like to see their idea in 3D form in a few days? However, because they had grown so fast, this created a large burden on the engineering function, one they could not sustain through their rapid growth phase. These brand stories of 72 hour prototypes became corporate folklore and part of their ongoing story, but did not change after the demand for the speedy turnaround could no longer be supplied. With good intentions, their messaging outpaced their actual abilities; they began to unintentionally over promise and under deliver.

What their customers told us was that they did not need a prototype in 72 hours. It was impressive but not necessary. In fact, if such a process could be completed in a month or two, that would satisfy the demands of Amendia’s customers. The brand’s inability to correctly manage promises and expectations started to create some disappointments and backlash. Of course, brand leadership wanted to strengthen customer goodwill not damage it.

That insight from the view of the marketplace enabled Amendia to take corrective action. They quickly streamlined their engineering function, updated their messaging to their customers, and executed on promises that they were able to keep. And in many cases, beat expectations. Benefiting from these outside perceptions enabled the company to rapidly improve both internal functions and external perceptions. 

From the Outside Looking In

We can all look at ourselves in a mirror and see some of our own flaws, but we cannot possibly see ourselves with the same eyes as our customers, prospects, partners, and community see us for the simple reason that we are not them. As one successful CEO confided in Vista's Steve Beshara, "Every company on the planet has warts, I want and need to know where ours are so we can fix them."

Therefore, working through Step 3, while sometimes surprising, is a necessary and valuable part of preparing for growth, because growth only occurs when our brand meets and exceeds the demands of the marketplace.