How Can Buzz Hold Your Health Startup Back?

Image by Cynthia Zhu

I’m struck by how often the primary objective of “brand building” for health and wellness startups is: “We need to create buzz!” This mandate comes directly from the company’s Founder or CEO and represents the total value that some business leaders equate with the branding and marketing of their companies. And just as frequently, the marketing leader is caught in a difficult position.

Don’t let timeliness trump timelessness

Look, I get it. It’s all about business development and growth. Get the word out, show up on the right lists of “top health innovators” and speak at the right conferences. We live in an on-demand world where instant gratification and the need for “real-time” business results are the new norm. In this charged environment, who has the time or patience to invest in a long-term brand strategy and wait for the payoff?

But here’s the reality. The most successful go-to-market and PR strategies start first with a core vision and an enduring brand strategy. I’m still amazed at how many companies skip this step and as a result, promote themselves inefficiently and ineffectively. In the race for results, it’s just not good enough for a company to battle at a product level or to say they’re trying to solve the broken healthcare system without providing a unique point of view.

Pumping precious resources into pricey PR retainers or creating a paint-by-numbers website is not going to get the job done without getting your core story right first.

While a new health tech startup is seemingly funded daily and every company claims to be on the verge of disrupting the industry, it’s just as critical to land on the core story of who you are as a business and how you help people in a meaningful way as it is to have the latest and greatest tech. Pumping precious resources into pricey PR retainers or creating a paint-by-numbers website is not going to get the job done without getting this important step right first.

Success in the short and long-term comes from a commitment to a core idea and brand strategy that guides all market facing activities. This idea should be the critical lens through which all business defining decisions are made — from traditional marketing functions like communications, customer acquisition & engagement through to product & service innovation, strategic partnerships and internal culture.

What Flatiron Health got right

Success stories like Flatiron Health don’t happen by accident (and don’t fall into the trap of using their founder’s association with Google as a crutch).

Prior to its $2.1 billion acquisition by Roche, Flatiron didn’t tout that it had the greatest technology. Rather, Flatiron built a brand strategy that was purpose-led and customer-centric, a truly refreshing approach for health tech companies. The core of the Flatiron narrative was centered on the problem the company was solving: unlocking insights from unstructured and fragmented data and the organization’s commitment to learning from every single cancer patient. Success came from Flatiron’s relentless desire to learn what truly matters to oncologists through fostering collaboration between engineers and physicians and then acting on it.

Don’t hold your health startup back

So, as you begin to think about your go to market and PR strategy, make sure you can answer these fundamental questions first:

  1. Why does my company need to exist?
  2. How does my company make the future better?
  3. Who is my customer and what is my best guess at the problem I’m solving for this customer?
  4. What is the primary reason a customer should choose me over others?
  5. How will I know if I’ve succeeded in one year? In five years?

This tension between brand timeliness and timelessness is not new. Being able to tell people a consistent story about who you are as a company, helping them to understand how you can help them and why they should choose you instead of someone else needs to be a fundamental step in a company’s overall go-to-market strategy.

If done right, “buzz” will follow.


About the Author | John Breen

John Breen is Executive Director, Health Strategy & Analytics at RedPeak Branding, where his boundless curiosity and customer-driven mindset help clients to innovate amidst disruption. With nearly 20 years in the industry, John leads RedPeak’s thinking and practice in the complex health & wellness space and is the primary architect of the agency’s POV on brand measurement overall.