Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Taking a Product to First from Worst

A few weeks ago, I was quite proud, and more than a little amused, when I read the 2012 "Annual Best" awards from KLAS, a research firm in the healthcare industry. KLAS* gathers data and the opinions of thousands in the industry on software, services and medical equipment, choosing their best of the year. ("The best of KLAS," is a commonly accepted term in the industry.)

I chuckled because the results showed that a laboratory information system from one of my previous employers, Siemens Health, was chosen as one of the best of the year. I remembered the time when the product, now called Novius Lab, was quite the opposite of "best." Or even "good."

I was working in marketing for the company (then known as Shared Medical Systems, before Siemens* acquired it) when management declared that their lab information product known as OpenLab was a loser. Lab information systems manage the ordering, testing and results reporting of lab orders in a hospital. This particular system was designed to integrate the patient's clinical information from a variety of  facilities and then turn around the test results quickly. It reduced costs while raising efficiency. 

However, the salespeople said that they couldn't sell it because "everyone hated it." They said that OpenLab had a terrible reputation. The company wanted to drop it and get out of this product line altogether. My boss, the head of sales & marketing, did not want to concede this market. He came to me and said that a big lab conference was coming up. How could we save the product at that event?

The first thing I did was NOT presume the sales force was correct. Instead, I conducted a marketing survey of both the current customers and the market place. Well, the current customers did NOT hate it; in fact, they LOVED OpenLab. They thought it worked great. What we found was that others in the medical lab market who did not even own OpenLab thought it was a bad product. (We believed that this reputation could be traced back to a former sales employee who bad-mouthed the product, though we could not prove it.) But the challenge remained: How could we get new customers if they all believed the product was no good?

I advised rebranding the product altogether...essentially take OpenLab off the market and replace it with a new name. The upcoming lab show was in Dallas. An internal copywriter and I brainstormed and  thought a cowboy theme would work for a new campaign. She came up with a slogan similar to the old Western movie cliche that there was a new sheriff in town. But instead, she wrote that "there's  a brand new new lab system in town!"  At the time, SMS was renaming their newest offerings with the prefix "Novius,"derived from the Latin word for "new." I advised that we rename this project Novius Lab, wiping out the previous, besmirched name as the final step in creating a new impression.

When visitors came to our booth at the conference, we gave them a blinking badge that had this slogan. We encouraged them to wear it, because a "sheriff" from our booth would be walking the floor occasionally, and if he saw their badge... well, he would just invite them back to the booth for a prize!

People were pleased to wear the badge and were excited when he "sheriff" (really, just one of us guys in a big Stetson) collared them and brought them back to our booth. The prize, a horse doll for their kids, was a big hit. More important, we made an impact at that trade show, beginning the introduction of a new product and replacing what was for many a bad memory.

My manager and I have since left the company for other opportunities, but we still laugh about that campaign over a drink every now and then. When the company was ready to abandon this product, we believed in it. We got to the root of the problem and solved it. A product that was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars each year today is one of the company's biggest, most reliable money makers. It also continues to serve its market, much to the surprise of many in the company. And to top it off, this product is consistently rated at the top of its class by acclimation among the decision makers in healthcare.

Shakespeare once asked, "what's in a name?" Apparently, there's money. And vindication.

*References to KLAS, Siemens and SMS should not be inferred as an endorsement of my work by these entities.

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