Healthcare marketers attracted to the idea of Lean Marketing, based on the success obtained within consumer industries, have little direction on implementing Lean Marketing in healthcare. Most Lean Marketing articles that I found focus on consumer industries. As a result, it might be worthwhile to examine Lean Marketing to see how it could be applied to the healthcare industry. After all, there are vast differences between healthcare and other industries, so tweaks may be necessary.

Lean Marketing was established on the “Lean” principles first articulated by James Womack and Daniel Jones when they described the Toyota Production System. The key tenets of Lean are: examining business activity differently, eliminating waste, and creating value with less work. When applied to marketing, Lean seeks to make marketing activity more efficient. Companies adopt Lean Marketing to generate speedier revenue and greater ROI.


Why should the healthcare industry need its own lean marketing process?

There are significant differences between the healthcare industry and other industries that have already implemented Lean Marketing. Some of these differences include:

Difference with the healthcare industry


Purchases are less of an emotional buy


Emotive collateral and marketing tactics do not stimulate purchases. Decisions are based on hard facts such as clinical outcomes and economic benefit

Purchases are more likely to be made by a multi-disciplinary team

Requires targeting of multiple customer types, each of which have different purchasing objectives and decision criteria.

Purchase decisions are not snap judgements; they are usually made over a longer time frame

Customers won’t be pressured into quick purchase decisions by the “fear of missing out” tactics often used in consumer industry campaigns

Payers and users are two distinctly differently buyers


Benefit and economic messaging is evaluated by different groups. Lends to greater scrutiny and more skeptical evaluation of company positioning

Customer community is smaller

Using a live message testing methodology is riskier because it reaches a higher proportion of the customer base. This base is more likely to discuss content, which means bad messaging can potentially be disseminated

 Implications for Healthcare Lean Marketing?

The Lean Start-up process, by Steve Blank and Eric Reis, was initially thought to be irrelevant for healthcare companies. The differences cited in the above table were most often provided as the reason. But the Lean Start-up process has been so successfully applied in healthcare that the NIH is more likely to award grants to companies that utilize this customer discovery technique.

This success provides evidence that the basic principles of Lean are relevant for implementation of Healthcare Lean Marketing. The methods just need to be adjusted to accommodate the industry-related differences. So, let’s examine some Lean Marketing approaches used in consumer industries (based Moira Vetter’s blog, “The Future of Marketing is Lean for Businesses Big and Small”) and see how they may need to be modified to fit Healthcare Lean Marketing.

Vetter uses a Lean start-up concept called the minimum viable product (MVP) to describe Lean Marketing activity. She ascribes the following activities to the Marketing MVP: “select target audience, (develop) a sketch of the customer’s buyer journey, (develop) a well-reasoned positioning of product, (develop) a potentially compelling value proposition and (develop) testable offers or calls to action.”

Without question, selecting a target market is an essential first step. And the final step of testing offers using mass market approaches using Internet ad A/B testing to validate compelling value propositions is effective and efficient for the consumer market because the size of most consumer markets is vast. However, by proposing a buyer journey sketch, a well-reasoned positioning and a potentially compelling value proposition, Vetters shows a bias for one particular lean attribute – speed – at the expense of others. Undoubtedly, in the tech and telecommunications industries, where product life cycles only last six months, speed is essential and her focus makes sense.

But in the healthcare industry, where the need to obtain clinical trial data and regulatory approvals before commercialization, speed to market is less important. And trying to increase speed by not taking the time to validate customer messaging before mass market exposure creates risk of turning off a higher percentage of prospects. For these reasons, healthcare marketers will obtain more traction by focusing on other lean benefits like:

  • Performing marketing activities differently
  • Eliminating waste
  • Creating value with less work

The next section describes techniques that should accomplish this.


Healthcare Lean Marketing techniques

A better Lean customer message validation approach for the healthcare industry would be to establish virtual client panels organized to review positioning and messaging. This technique meets Lean objectives with the following advantages:

Only a limited number of customers are exposed to unvalidated positioning and messaging, so poor statements do not reach the larger market; they have no material impact on revenue.

  • Panel members already know that they have been assembled for testing purposes, so poor messaging does not have a lasting impact on their purchase behavior.
  • By establishing groups up front, the company can obtain customer validation more quickly and inexpensively, using the Internet. In a matter of days these panels can validate the marketing message.
  • Panels allow the company to delve more deeply into likes and dislikes, which allows more effective statements to be developed. Follow-up questioning can help the company understand why a message is viewed positively or negatively, which helps to improve messaging.

Using the Internet to drive customer engagement through educational webinars, clinical articles, educational videos or technical papers is a second Lean Healthcare Marketing technique. Today, face to face dialogue with clinical customers is becoming more difficult. Clinicians just can’t spare the time to communicate directly with the sales team. And administrators are known to restrict sales rep access to preserve clinician time for clinical care. Implementing Internet customer engagement frees up the external sales teams from the need to identify and qualify prospects, which allows them team to focus their direct selling efforts on closing interested customers. Internet engagement activities also help to reduce purchase barriers before the direct sales team could encounter them. This improves selling efficiency, another important Lean Marketing benefit.

A third technique would be to utilize medical science liaisons to communicate clinical data. Positive clinical data drives purchase behavior in the healthcare industry. However, clinicians have always received manufacturer-driven data with skepticism. Peer-reviewed journal articles are much more widely accepted. Almost as important as the source of the data is the credibility of the data deliverer. And that is why the utilization of a clinical liaison is important. Liaisons with a clinical background have more credibility with their clinician counterparts, and as a result their message is more likely to be accepted by clinical customers.

Each of the aforementioned techniques are focused on the clinical buyer. But since they are not the only stakeholder in medical product purchases, it is essential to identify techniques for the other key buyer – the financial buyer. Since this buyer type is focused on the economic impact of healthcare technology acquisition, cost effectiveness data is required. A technique to accelerate the purchase process is the development of financial models that allow this buyer type to estimate the costs and savings from the manufacturer’s product purchase. In the past, just presenting a generic calculation would suffice. But in today’s market, providing tools that will allow the buyer to analyze their own scenarios using their own data is both efficient and effective.


These approaches can help healthcare companies successfully implement marketing activity that meet the Lean Marketing goals of performing their marketing activity differently, eliminating waste, creating value with less work and should help deliver improved commercial results.