Why Your Brand Matters More Than Ever Before
“Where are all these competitors coming from?”
Let me guess: You have seen a significant—if not frightening—increase in competition over the past 24 months. Across the board, our HealthTech clients are seeing competitors emerge seemingly overnight and launch with an offering set that mirrors what it took the established companies years and millions of dollars to build.
If you have a HealthTech SaaS offering, are meeting a real need in a real market, and have not seen competition increase —you will.
I attended VIVE and HIMSS, this Spring and after spending a few days at each auditing offerings, meeting new entrants to the market and comparing messaging, the trend was clear. If you were there, you probably discovered at least one competitor you didn’t know you had.
We’re not just talking annoying, “gnat around your nostrils” competition where you can raise a small supplemental funding round to beef up your marketing budget and then swat them away. We’re talking real competition that is going to cloud your market and legitimately make it harder for you to win.
We are going to explore how this is happening and why it is more important than ever to invest significantly in your brand.
What is Feeding the Rise of the Competition?
There are two primary forces conspiring to spawn so many new market entrants: The unprecedented amount of money out there right now seeking potential places to invest and a dramatic increase in ease, and steep decrease in the cost of development. The latter vector is being diabolically mirrored by surging customer acquisition costs (CAC).
Andrew Chen, Andreessen Horowitz General Partner and former growth leader at UBER outlines the reasons for shrinking development costs: “open-source software instead of paid developer tools, AWS instead of your own data center, [and] off-the-shelf SaaS tools versus building your own.” Past that, as cloud providers build new data centers and vie for market share, the cost of putting computing and data storage into the cloud is also shrinking.
The Economist foretold this as early as 2015. “In the past three years prices are down by around a quarter….and further significant falls look all but inevitable.”
Microsoft innovated what is now the norm—providers offer their services free to startups hoping to convert them to paying customers as they take flight. A 2019 survey of nearly 1,800 software companies by ProfitWell, states the average blended customer acquisition cost has increased by almost 60% across both B2B and B2C in the past five years, and that trend is certainly continuing.
There are a handful of outbound sales tools such as Minmax and Outreach that are automating parts of the sales process but are driving up the noise in the marketplace. Andrew Chen writes “The result is that it makes everyone better. You and all your competitors understand your/their acquisition and retention bottlenecks. Everyone has an equal, data-driven shot at improving LTV [customer lifetime value] and, as a corollary, can spend more on ads.”
While all this is certainly not new news, what is notable is the hockey stick-ish rise we have seen in a remarkably short window. Many pundits align on the opinion that we have not seen anything yet. Your new feature releases will be matched in weeks—not months or years—and your CAC will continue to soar. It will become a constant challenge. The question is how do you answer it?
It’s Time to Invest in Your Brand
Throughout business history, B2B and “Brand” have been largely mutually exclusive. B2B has been about a well-tuned sales team picking up their suits from the dry cleaners on their way to the airport to go “make it happen” while “brand” (if you could call it that) was left to languish in the dreary world of clip art, stock photos, and cliche tropes. Creative brand development was for consumer companies. You likely know this day has passed.
It’s been a long-held belief B2B buyers are more about case studies and numbers than how a brand makes them feel. That is changing. Bottom line: Brand is quickly becoming the most critical point of differentiation for most B2B companies—including HealthTech.
Brand is quickly becoming the most critical point of differentiation for most B2B companies—including HealthTech.
In his 2019 lecture called “ The End of Software” David Cancel, Drift CEO and former Chief Product Officer at HubSpot, foreshadowed this move. “We’re in the third phase of SaaS. The first phase of SaaS was early Salesforce, NetSuite, etc. Most verticals had one, two, or three competitors that mostly differentiated through technology stack. When I was building companies back then, you could hide behind technology, patents, and trade secrets. You could hide behind technology moats and the fact that no one could replicate the thing that you built.”
Cancel feels the curtain closed on this phase when the technical know-how behind cloud-based software and multi-tenant products became ubiquitous.
In the second phase of SaaS, Cancel asserts “companies like Zendesk and HubSpot realized that technology was no longer a moat but that business models were a moat because no one really knew how to do inside sales well. At the start, no one knew what LTV was. No one knew what CAC was. No one knew what payback periods were or how to measure it.” As these models reached ubiquity, competing had to extend past optimizing SaaS metrics.
Just like previous technical leaps, business metrics were eventually widely adopted, and company leaders had to find another way to tune the competitive dials (to use an appropriately dated metaphor).
Cancel thinks we are in a third SaaS movement. “I call it the ‘Procter & Gamble phase’ because we have to figure out how we build brand affinity, how we stand out, and how we become number one in whatever our niche is.”
Cancel is practicing what he is preaching. Drift has launched multiple new product categories creating one of the innovative B2B SaaS brands out there. Cancel states “We’re not trying to build a software brand. We’re not trying to build a global software brand or a Boston brand. We think part of what we’re trying to do in this new world of SaaS is to build a global brand period if we’re going to dominate.”
Don’t get me wrong, your product certainly matters. You have to deliver real results to compete. Anyone who has ever sweated a go-live knows there is no worse reflection on a brand than failed performance. I remember being at HIMSS several years ago when IBM spent tens of millions of dollars on campaigns and two gargantuan booths to “take over” the conference with their Watson-related offerings. A week before the conference, a prominent report was released detailing how Watson fell on its face and wasted millions of dollars of a major health system’s money in a failed deployment. It let a lot of air out of their very expensive balloon and they’re still recovering from the hit.
It will always be important to deliver real value, but as it gets easier for competitors to match feature for feature and quickly adapt and/or jump ahead, a great offering alone will not ensure success.
Cancel continues, “Back in the early first generation of SaaS, there was a lot of value in software because no one could replicate it. Now everyone can replicate it, which is great. That means software is in everything, and it’s part of our lives. But that also means that software by itself has very little marginal value.”
A great product will get you in the hunt but substantial brand differentiation will be what wins the prize. Let’s be clear, we are not limiting the idea of “brand” to delightful, captivating designs, clever messaging, and the best swag handed out at a trade show. Those are now table stakes. It has to go deeper. Brand in HealthTech is all about value creation.
A great product will get you in the hunt but substantial brand differentiation will be what wins the prize.
The Anatomy of a VALUE-Able Brand
Creating value in B2B means developing a deep, intimate understanding of the world your buyer inhabits, then determining what you can give (not sell) them that will prove to be of real value. Healthcare leaders are facing a world of problems they are trying desperately to solve. How can you lend them a hand? How can you give them a perspective that could transform their approach and change how they do things? This is not a casual, occasional endeavor. It has to become a systemic part of your company culture and something every person in your organization understands and embodies. I have heard a number of consumer companies describe themselves as “customer-obsessed” and that is what we are talking about here. You need to combine creativity with an unyielding obsession about your customers to show them you know and care about them. This is how the relationship starts and it is the form your brand needs to take in this hyper-competitive market.
Here are six ways to consider creating VALUE that will demonstrate expertise, inspire trust, and encourage your buyers to explore.
1. Bridge-Building Rich Content
When you are bringing a transformative solution to market it you are asking people to see their world differently. In other words, you’re asking them to change. Companies often fall into the trap of assuming the required changes are no-brainers, especially in light of the promised windfall benefits. Alas, it is not that easy. We call this “technology bias.”
As a solution-creating HealthTech company, you naturally embrace and thrive amid the change technology affords. Thus it’s easy to enter into the subjective trap that convinces you the world is ready to welcome the change you bring. It’s as if you are standing on one shore of a river and yelling across to your buyers on the other side and telling them they should just jump in and swim across. It is not fair to ask that of your buyers. They can barely see the other side let alone trust the waters to take that step. You need to build a bridge for them to cross. Building it starts with rich content created specifically to help buyers clearly see that you understand the problems they are facing, have thought ahead and around those problems, and are qualified to solve it. Then it must open the door to reveal why technology is qualified and ready to solve it. This can take the form of a multi “chapter” treatise weaving in a number of voices, examples and showing prospects how entities like theirs have found their way to the other side successfully and what the rewards look like.
This asset can be become the cornerstone of your content strategy for a season as you parse and publish segments that lead prospects through the entire narrative and across your bridge.
2. Benchmark Studies or Trend Reports
If you ingest data as a part of your solution you are likely setting on a wellspring of insight that could be deidentified and published as trend reports or benchmarking comparison tools. This type of insight can provide valuable perspective to your buyers while demonstrating your company’s authority over and command of the space.
3. Productized Onboarding
For many companies, it is no longer enough just to be a solution provider. The dynamics in the healthcare market demand agility and flexibility. This means buyers increasingly want a solution partner. Showing your partner prowess starts by having a clear, concise and proven onboarding strategy. You can build trust and signal what it is going to be like to work with you by productizing your onboarding process (a clear explanation of the steps you will take to ensure success) soaking it in your brand voice and publishing it prominently. Then, surround it with case studies, illustrations and testimonies of successful heroic deployments where your team made it happen magically empathetic.
4. Buyer-Centric Messaging
When you can demonstrate through your content that you have an empathetic understanding of your buyers’ real-world problems, you draw your prospects toward you. They feel understood and are more likely to join forces with you to accomplish their goals. You establish common ground and become more attractive.
Remember, your brand visuals and language exist for the sake of your audience, not your company.
Messaging is one thing; your culture is another. As a leader, move your company’s soul to be for your prospect and for the market. Genuinely demonstrate you know what the market needs and you will gain traction.
5. A Thoughtful Visual Identity
Many organizations struggle to prioritize and maintain a strong sense of brand identity. However, in this day and age, every HealthTech company is competing against every other brand. B2B companies must behave like B2C companies because more and more influencers and buyers at your target prospects are digital natives. And if they are digital natives, that means they are brand natives. To them, everything is a brand. If your visual identity holds together, they will develop trust. If it doesn’t, they may not consider any more information about your solution. I have seen superior solutions with poor visual identities lose to weak SaaS products with weaker customer support because they didn’t look the part.
If you want to be a front runner in your market, your brand look and feel must be compelling and consistent to compete.
6. A Distinct Brand Voice
How you say what you say communicates a lot about your brand. Spend time cultivating a brand voice that reflects the attitude and distinctives of your company and train that voice into everyone who is creating content for your brand. A description of the voice and examples should be made available to your content creators and your editor must be at the ready to ensure what you put out follows suit. It will help your audience know what they can expect from you and start a relationship with your brand.
As always in marketing, the best time to start this work is six months ago but now is better than tomorrow. The list above is a good primer. There are plenty of other ways to let your brand shine. Take a step now. The competition is coming, build a great brand and you will be positioned to win. As always let us know if we can help.