stimulated HIPAA marketing

A few years ago, I helped write a book about healthcare marketing and HIPAA. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a major uptick in the number of media inquiries and emails from healthcare marketers who want my take on the HIPAA changes in the ARRA bill. I thought the interest would die off as time went by, but people still seem interested so I figured it would be good to go ahead and post what I’ve been telling people.

There were lots of changes to HIPAA in the ARRA (a.k.a. American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a.k.a. Stimulus Bill, a.k.a Porkulus Bill, etc), but there are two big changes when it comes to marketing and HIPAA:

1) It fundamentally changes the world for Business Associates
If you’re not a student of the exciting world of HIPAA, a Business Associate (BA) is any third-party person or organization that performs work that involves use or disclosure of Protected Health Information (PHI) on behalf of a healthcare Covered Entity (CE). Previously, Business Associates just had to sign a Privacy Agreement with the CE. With the new legislation, a Business Associate now has to set up the same safeguards and protect PHI the same way a CE would.

What does that mean? Basically, I think it means we’ll see lots of direct mail vendors, telemarketing companies, and other marketing support companies dump their healthcare clients because they don’t want to deal with the bureaucracy. While at the same time, I think we’ll see a new breed of these marketing support companies that will accept the added government imposed hassle for a higher fee. And that fee will be passed through the healthcare organization to me and you.

2) Definitions of “what is marketing” under HIPAA
This is the biggest change. ARRA further limits how CEs can use PHI for marketing without the individual’s authorization. ARRA limits the right to use information for marketing if the communication is paid for by an outside entity. It provides exceptions for treatment and communications about pharmaceuticals. And it mandates more options of an opt-out for fundraising communications.

What does that mean? It means healthcare organizations need to closely examine all of their marketing communications that are using PHI. Err on the safe side as the ARRA also increased fines.

The Big Picture
Are you familiar with Duck and Cover? I think that’s the stance that healthcare marketers need to take in 2009. As the Obama administration starts to tinker with the fundamentals of the present healthcare system — all bets are off for everything healthcare related (especially HIPAA) until we get an idea of what their final picture will look like. Either by a little or by a lot, the healthcare industry will change over the next 18-24 months. There’s no need to develop healthcare marketing plans for a worldview that may not exist in a few months.

Please remember that I am a marketing guy — not a HIPAA consultant or legal advisor. Please consult your HIPAA legal counsel and PO for the most up-to-date info.

hey brother, can you spare a dime? I’m a little venti

Starbucks is concerned that you think a $4 cuppajoe is an extragavance in a tight economy. They’re planning an ad campaign to rid your little mind of the “myth” of a $4 sbux treat.

Since they’re knee-jerking and killing the high-end coffee brand image they’ve cultivated for years, I’m willing to help out in this endeavor. Here are some other budget conscious ideas for Starbucks and their customers:

  • Order a venti double decaf hot water and make ramen noodles with it
  • Ask your barista to write a “the way I see it” quote on the side of your thermos filled with Folgers
  • Forget all these ‘value paired’ Starbucks breakfast combos. Two words: Pop Tarts
  • Why stop with breakfast? Go lunch and dinner. Two more words: Tuna Casserole — an artisan blend of store-brand tuna mixed with store-brand mushroom soup, government cheese, store-brand noodles, and topped with a crunchy store-brand corn flake blend
  • If rough times last until this fall, pick up an unfinished pumpkin latte off of an unbussed table. Pour it into a discarded jack-o-latern at the curb and enjoy a rustic pumpkin soup.
  • Water down the drinks.
  • Save electricity on the grinding. Pour the beans out in the parking lot each morning. Let the traffic crush them up. Sweep up, place in the espresso makers, and introduce the new “Asphalt blend”
  • Charge for wi-fi access … oh wait.
  • Put Starbucks kiosks into the local Dollar Stores.
  • Get Obama to bail you out
  • Organize customer biscotti potlucks
  • What’s your idea? Put it in the comments.

connecting the dots

Another printed newspaper went away today and with typical media self-absorption, the paper reported their own obituary with an in-depth report complete with a full page front page farewell. This death comes on the tails of last week’s Pew Research report that apparently shows that the public is not concerned with the demise of newspapers.

First off, I think the reports of the death of newspapers are widely overstated — because they’ve been over reported by the subjects themselves.  The Narcissus Media demands that other news orgs report on other news orgs. So the Seattle and Denver news deaths were front page news from the NY Times down to the Podunk Weekly Times (circulation 51).  The editors of other papers were interested in the deaths of these papers so they thought you would be too.

Plus some of these papers (which are actually for-profit businesses!) needed to die just like some banks need to die right now. Over-consolidation and over-monopolization of newspapers have caused unrealistic expectations from shareholders of these bloated behemoths corporations. (Radio, you’re next!) The reality is that with more available media outlets some markets can no longer support more than one major daily newspaper. (but what about the San Francisco Chronicle, you cry? Prediction: If the Chronicle does go under, there will be a new nimbler newspaper pop up in its place within a month.)

Despite the naysayers — there will always be a market for news and information. Sure, now is a rough economic time for any industry that depends on ad dollars — but a sensibly run media organization that’s looking to the future will be OK in the long run. That doesn’t mean that information will always be printed on sheets of dead trees and thrown on your doorstep. That model is going / will eventually go the way of the dodo. I think the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is a good coal mine canary to see if a traditional newspaper can transition to a new distribution model.

Every pundit, guru, and almost everyone in media has put their two cents in about the journalism “crisis” and have come up with a plethora of ideas from micropayments to new distribution models to crowdsourcing. Some have merit and some are “just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic” (a favorite phrase of the pundits). From my seat in the nosebleed section, I see that newspapers (and all traditional news media) have two main problems that need to be solved before the ship sinks:

Problem 1) — a house divided against itself cannot stand
I rail and rant against organizations that have no marketing/business strategy. And while having no strategy is a bad problem, there’s something that’s even worse — and that’s having two strategies. News organizations are particularly prone to this problem because of the supposed “editorial wall” (there’s a great post here about this problem). Walk into any traditional media outlet and ask 5 people what’s the organization’s plan for dealing with the new realities of communication, and you’ll get 5 answers that will be biased by the side of the wall they’re on.
REALITY: People read the newspaper for news. Go try to sell advertising in a paper that has no news content and see how far you go.
REALITY: Reporters want a paycheck. That Mac needs electricity to run. Advertising supports the economics of journalism.
SOLUTION: Every news organization needs to kill their separate internal tribes, come up with one war strategy that everyone agrees on, and fight the white man before he takes your land.

Problem 2) — the Brand has been forgotten
There’s a disconnect in perceptions when it comes to news coverage. While the news orgs are saying “You’ll miss us when we’re gone!“, the public is saying “uhhh, no we won’t“. It doesn’t matter who is right. But guess which group’s perception matters to the bottom line and staying in business?

Brand is perception. Perception is reality. What changed the public’s perception of the news brand into something they think they can live without?

Alot of people blame the emergence of online media for journalism’s current troubles. And while it’s a major factor, online is not what is killing newspapers. Newspapers saw the Internet coming way before you had your first AOL account. The trouble was that their first line of defense didn’t work in Web 1.0. When Web2.0 rolled around, they saw they missed the opportunity so now they’re trying to out amateur the amateurs — which is killing the brand image they’ve been cultivating for 50, 75, or 100 years. It’s not hard to find ameutuer-ish crap on the Internet, but it is hard to find sources of information that you’ve trusted for years.

The news media have not done a good job selling their USP. Instead of focusing on the one thing that they could do better than anyone else (local news), they wrapped 2% of news into 98% of other stuff that could easily be replicated by competitors and sold it as such.

The sale to the news consumer is not “you can’t get this type of information anywhere else”. It devolved into “buy a subscription and get a CD and an umbrella“.  News media have forgotten what they’re really selling so the consumer has forgotten as well. The public thinks they won’t miss the newspaper because the newspaper has cultivated a brand that they are the place to get the items that the public can now get other places in better ways. But there is no better way to get local news.

Problem 2 is the bigger problem and the one that will take the longest to fix. But the fix needs to start today.

Plus there’s a third problem of trying to fit old mass media models into new media which I addressed last fall.

oprah eats zuckerberg

oprah facebook zuckerbergWell, in case you were wondering, it’s official. Facebook has now gone completely mainstream. Zuckerberg was on Oprah today.

Apparently, Zuckerberg likes to have a weird interview every March. There was his fiasco last year at SXSW and then there was this Oprah thing. You could tell he had been coached but watch the video — was he really interviewed? It was worse than a Kathie Lee/Hoda attack with the hosts playing the part of the interviewer and the interviewee.

I liked when they asked him what to do when someone you don’t like wants to be your friend and he just completely ignored the question. He could run for President. And it was that way for most things they “asked” him. What does it mean to “poke”? How do people buy you drinks? Etc. I’m waiting for some Oprah addicts to request friendship from me now.

btw — did you read my facebook conspiracy theory tweet today?

marketing using fear

the_screamIn today’s economic climate, I see lots of companies abandoning sound marketing strategy and retreating to adopt a fear based marketing strategy. While fear can motivate, it also camouflages real underlying problems. If you want to survive these unsure times, you need to have a plan that will keep you afloat today and lets you emerge as a stronger business at the end of the tunnel.

First off, kneejerk short-term strategy is always a bad idea, both in grim times and in upbeat ones. When you’re implementing plans that reflect what’s going on today, you also need to look at what those plans mean for tomorrow. Ask yourself if the cost cutting changes you’re proposing would also make sense if it was a boom time. If they don’t, then you’re making a mistake.

Right now, lots of companies are pulling back on customer service options, cutting off communication paths to potential markets, and cutting back on the quality/quantity of the goods they sell. All bad ideas because they hurt long term relationships with the customer.

And it’s a slippery slope. Sure, eliminating one customer service rep, cutting the ad budget, or making a quarter pound hamburger with 3.5 ounces of meat saves a few bucks today. But when you think you’ve gotten away with it, you are tempted to go further and further. Eliminate an olive today and become a hated industry tomorrow.

I’ve heard some marketers say it’s a great time to make the most of the situation and use the fear that’s out there to the company’s advantage. I say becoming an advocate of today’s fears makes you look like an idiot tomorrow after the real or supposed danger has passed. Remember the companies who thought it was a really smart marketing move to capitalize on Y-2-K? They marketed their products using fear of the millennium bug in the same way that lots of companies are using fear of the recession today. Fear marketing hurts your long term brand equity.

I’m not saying that you should keep marketing as if nothing has happened. The zeitgeist has changed. People have adjusted their buying habits. The first thing you need to do is reevaluate the mindset of your customer and adjust your marketing plan accordingly. If you’re a necessity, then there may not need to be much adjustment. If you’re a luxury, then major modifications may be needed. Or maybe you need to really step back and figure out if your customers view you as a necessity or a luxury.

But as you adjust, remember this: A strategy of fear makes you look weak. It infers that you’re unsure. And just like animals, people can sense fear.

There is a huge opportunity for marketing right now. I’ve always said you should market against the grain. While everyone is cutting back on marketing, step yours up. It will be more impactful. And while everyone is running fearful and pessimistic marketing, be bold and market like you’re going to win.

may i have your attention

I had a conversation today where one of the participants said that most people consider advertising annoying.

I responded that people don’t think advertising is annoying. They think irrelevant advertising is annoying. But these days it’s hard to separate the two.

I’ve often used the example that advertising is like the biblical parable of the sower. Too many advertisers broadcast their message to eyes and ears that really don’t care. Some of it takes root and grows, but most of it is wasted. It’s better to narrowcast the message to an audience that you’ve cultivated. You’ve done the work to find people who might be interested in your offering and are more likely to pay attention to a message that is relevant to them.

Narrowcasting takes more effort on the marketing side, but the ROI is incredible. It’s much more effective and cheaper just to talk to the people who have need of you. Today’s targeted technology helps. But you can also do a good job narrowcasting using traditional media too.

This type of advertising is extremely useful to the recipient. When you deliver a marketing message to me that solves a problem that I have, then we both win.

When you do a generic message thrown out to the masses, then…
You’ve wasted your money.
You’ve wasted your time.
You’ve wasted my time.
You’ve wasted my attention.

While money and time are important, the real trouble here is the attention. People recover pretty quickly after a waste of time or money. (some even enjoy wasting time and money)

But after you’ve wasted my attention a few times, I’m just not going to pay attention to your message anymore. And that’s a death knell that you can’t recover from.