Marketing is crucial to the digital health revolution. Just how crucial is it?

OK, I admit it. I’m a marketer. I’m cut from the mold of Proctor and Gamble and the single-minded proposition. I don’t only like listening to people’s perceptions of a brand or movement—I like to shape them. I like focus and defining that reality around an idea that “sticks to the roof of your customer’s brain.” I like getting things down to a single concept or even a single word. Marketing is a bit of a science too, and I believe it’s an important part of the digital health revolution. Unfortunately, it’s a part that gets funded after the science and technology—with a budget that is more defined by “what’s left over” than “what’s needed.”

When it comes to digital health, I see two critical realities. The first is around the amazing opportunities in technology and health that will change the face of medicine. The second is the marketing opportunity—no, the marketing imperative to empower innovation with communication. Yet my concern is that many innovators rely on the “power of the device” to drive adoption. The strategy is simple—build it and they will come. The problem starts with “it.” Defining a digital health device beyond a sensor requires a solid understanding of the market. And translating a core feature to a higher order benefit and/or value can be tricky. This becomes even more complicated when parity devices fight for market share based less on technology and more on brand position and personality.

The other part of this simple statement is the “they.” After you build it, just who is “they”? The simple answer in digital health is often the patient—or consumer. After all, it’s the era of patient empowerment where the individual stands up for their health and takes control. Right? Nope. Many devices and newborn brands rely on this assumption and move to market with a single-minded strategy that doesn’t take into consideration the complicated buying process that engages both the rational and emotional decision-makers. Simply put, the audience for digital health is a complex array of stakeholders—from the patient and caregiver to the physician and payor. And one of the biggest challenges can be audience stratification and resource allocation.

One thing is for sure. Like a device itself, one size doesn’t fit all. The role of the healthcare provider can be a critical path to driving adoption and long-term use. Yet, in other instances, the validation by parents can be equally as powerful. The key is to leverage key influencers in meaningful ways.

The power of innovation, medicine and the entire digital health movement is a function of the story we all craft. And that story can be as simple or complex as we want. Certainly, the technology exists to manufacture many interesting and important devices. These devices will always live on a shelf. But the brands will live in the minds of our customers. Let’s make sure that we empower digital health with the resonant communication it deserves.