The Sledgehammer

Walk a Mile… In Their Orthotic Shoes

October 30, 2019

At any given time, there are 200+ actual sledgehammers present in the Heartbeat office. To celebrate the first year on the team, each HB’er receives their very own sledge—a nod to our daily pursuit of tearing down tiresome healthcare marketing. To determine what is built in its place, we often turn to outside industries, cultural forces, and personal experiences. We eagerly share them with one another, and now we’re sharing them with you. Clear the way—here comes The Sledgehammer.

As healthcare marketers, we are rarely part of the target audiences that we want to reach. Whereas mainstream marketers might personally be part of a demographic that enjoys a Coca-Cola or drives a Toyota, it’s not as common for us healthcare-focused folks to have the chronic disease or cancer that we are working on.

And while that’s of course a good thing (we all want to be healthy!), it does mean that we have to work harder and smarter to truly understand the trials and tribulations that face our target audience. Target interviews and research are a good starting point, but what more can we be doing to gain ultimate empathy for these sufferers that, in turn, could help us create more effective brand offerings and communications?

A few thought starters:

MIT’s AgeLab // To know your audience, become your audience

MIT AgeLab is exploring aging in all its complexity: what causes it, how to accommodate it, and to what degree it can be slowed. While their efforts are vast, one thing we found especially fascinating is a suit that simulates what it’s like to be old. Imagine gearing up with:
– Yellow colored glasses to mimic the yellowing of aging ocular lenses
– Bands around the elbows, wrists, and knees to experience stiffness of older joints
– Boots with foam padding to demonstrate loss of tactile feedback in elderly feet
– Gloves to reduce dexterity and make it harder to move your fingers

This kind of deep understanding of an audience is enabling the AgeLab to develop ingenious solutions to communicate with and address the needs of the elderly. Healthcare marketers can mimic these same insight-rich scenarios by engaging ethnographic marketing efforts, in which you physically observe the audience in the “field,” or relevant situations. While ethnographies require considerably more effort than social media scraping, there is much reward to be won. When done well, these studies often reveal that subjects behave differently than they claim they do!

Tommy Hilfiger // Overserved audience? Switch gears to a group in need

Tommy Hilfiger’s Americana-inspired fashion has been around since 1985, surviving all kinds of buzzy trends and fleeting fads. But how has it survived the sales dip that has plagued many retail and fashion companies over the past few years?

Rather than vie for the same audiences as every other fashion brand and likely work from the same marketing playbook, it expanded its purview to an audience that had been largely ignored: physically disabled customers. In 2016, the brand introduced a new clothing line, Adaptive. Partnering with a mother who wanted to ease the challenges of dressing her son with muscular dystrophy, Adaptive outfits feature magnetic closures instead of buttons, self-hemming sleeves, and vented pant legs to fit around prosthetics, as well as specially sized clothing for those in wheelchairs.

The line was met with massive acclaim—the disabled audience finally felt supported and the brand earned widespread goodwill. Now Tommy Hilfiger is set up to reap the market benefits—the global adaptive sector is forecasted at ~$400 billion in sales by 2026, up 43% from 2017 numbers. By delivering on the needs of a niche audience and being one of the first to do so, the brand has differentiated itself from its peers.

Is there an underserved subgroup in your audience that could use some tailored messaging, support, and attention?

Domino’s Pizza // A cautionary tale for not knowing your audience’s needs

If you keep track of “The Sledgehammer,” you might notice that this is our third mention of Dominos. Our love for pizza notwithstanding, the brand is a major mainstay when it comes to marketing headlines. This time, it’s for not-so-delicious reasons.

Domino’s was recently embroiled in a lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court, in which a visually impaired man successfully sued the pizza purveyor for the inability to order on the Domino’s website or mobile app—despite using screen-reading software. This has massive implications for any site offering online services, as these companies now also risk a lawsuit if they don’t make their websites and services accessible.

In our communications with audiences who are experiencing specific limitations, we must be sure to think through every step of their healthcare journey and do all that we can to make it easier. For example, our earlier friends at Tommy Hilfiger know they now speak to an audience with wide-ranging needs, so their website offers additional accessibility features.

Ready for an upper-hand in audience insights? Do as Heartbeat does and find creative ways to go beyond the knee-jerk instincts and fingertip-ready facts.

A good place to start: the article “Can We Live Longer, But Stay Younger?” from The New Yorker on the aging population, including a deep dive on the MIT AgeLab.