Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.”

This quote, most often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, perfectly embodies the innovator’s mindset.  Find a better way to do something or to build a better something and you will be rewarded as the world beats a path to your door with dollars in hand ready to be exchanged for your ‘better mousetrap’.  Yet, it doesn’t often work that way in healthcare.


If you are looking for reasons to be optimistic about the future of healthcare in America, you have only to look at all of the new, wonderful technologies and services that have been or are soon to be launched.  There are so many advancements that it is hard to keep up.

From remote monitoring that allows patients to stay in the home longer to virtual health that allows us to receive care at our time and place of choice to concierge medicine to urgent care that comes to you at home to advancements in immuno-therapies to the discounted and convenient bundling of services to consumers to…to…to you name it!  We are swimming in a sea of health and healthcare advancements. One would be forgiven for thinking that there are now well-worn paths to the front doors of those responsible for these innovations. The truth is that many of these health and healthcare innovations are experiencing a slow adoption curve that has less to do with the real improvements they bring to the market, and more to do with a failure to deliver that message to the right audience and in the right way.

We often assume in a marketplace that is so synonymous with frustration, confusion and disempowerment the way that healthcare is, that new products and services that improve the experience will be immediately embraced. We’re wrong for that assumption. We’re wrong because it isn’t enough to solve the problem, we often have to go back and highlight the problem itself in the process of presenting the solution. We have to educate and inspire as we market.  We have to account for the fact that those that we are really marketing to have become indoctrinated into the bizarre world of American healthcare and that their default behaviors are to follow the frustrating, confusing and disempowering experience of American healthcare. In healthcare, you can’t just market a better mousetrap, you have to first educate your audience on what makes mice bad and what makes their absence good.

Let’s borrow an example from Apple to help make the point.  

Much has been made of Steve Job’s obsession with the design of Apple’s products and the positive impact it had on those same products’ success in the marketplace.  The praise for Apple’s design superiority is very well placed. They made products that were just ‘that’ much better than the competition’s and they have reaped the benefits all the way to becoming the world’s largest company.

As much as it is true to say that superior design was a major competitive advantage for Apple, it did not move mountains alone.  Were Apple to have only designed better products than the competition, it likely would have succeeded, but it would never have dominated the spaces it plays in so well as it has without another key, and grossly under-appreciated advantage.  Apple’s marketing may be more impressive than its design. More specifically, Apple’s ability to create or refine a transcendent product category and then educate us on how they fit in our lives as it simultaneously entices us to buy them is admirable.  Healthcare needs to take note.

Do you remember the iPod?  Think back to the first commercial for the iPod.

No, not that one… This one…

(link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mE_bDNaYAr8)

While not nearly as visually iconic as the Chiat/Day campaign that followed with its dancing black silhouettes, white iPod and earbud cords cast in motion against bright backgrounds, the very first commercial did a wonderful job at conveying the most important benefits of the iPod and allowing it to form a previously unoccupied place in our mindsets.  It features a man at his computer listening to music through his computer speakers. He begins to bop his head to Propellerhead’s ‘Take California’ and then in a few quick and simple motions drags the song on his desktop to the iPod icon, reaches down and ‘unchains’ his iPod from the computer (the moment captured in the screenshot above), pops in his earbuds and dances around his home in a painfully awkward and uninhibited way, and all the way out the back door.  The only voiceover needed is “iPod – A thousand songs in your pocket”.

What Apple did in that simple commercial, with its awkward stand-in for every one of us that has ever bopped our head along to a song or danced around our homes, is clearly carve out a place in our minds for iPod to occupy.  We can now have a thousand songs in our pocket and be unchained from our computers or the need to carry around dozens of CDs or tapes with our music. It was an instrument of liberation that became, through time, a symbol of identity.

What most know is that iPod wasn’t actually the first MP3 player.  There were others in the market when iPod arrived, but their message to the marketplace was very different.  At around the same time that Apple was creating these images of uninhibited liberation facilitated by having one thousand songs in your pocket, companies like Creative were marketing their ‘memory capacity’…  You have an audience who is just beginning to understand digital music and you’re marketing to them about ‘memory’?!  In hindsight, it feels like a commercial geared to engineers and other technical types, not the everyman and woman that you need onboard to build a marketplace.

Apple won the MP3, and many other, battles because they understood that they were responsible for creating the market as much as they were for marketing to it.  Their advertising was educational, subtly so but educational nonetheless. ‘This is how you use an iPod’. ‘This is the benefit you get from an iPod’. And perhaps most importantly of all ‘This is how an iPod makes you feel’.

For new innovations in healthcare to take hold, for them to make the way that we all experience healthcare better and for them to ultimately enrich their creators, they are going to have to take a lesson or two from the early days of Apple’s iPod marketing.  We have to understand that we are working against generations of learned bad behaviors on the part of consumers and not just institutions. We have to educate as we market. Then and only then will we see all of these wonderful advancements take full effect and only then will the world beat a path to our doors.

Featured image from Business Insider

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