What If We Gave Ribbons for EOL and HPM?

Wednesday night during the hospice and palliative medicine (#hpm) chat there was a great deal of discussion on how to improve the HPM message to achieve wider acceptance. The question was; why aren’t more people supporting/using/talking HPM? It was a veritable Mumbi traffic jam of brain cells crashing into one another and tweeting ideas. There were the headlines, tag lines, messages, data, and a slew of tactical other recommendations. Some were good, some were not, overall the earnestness of those wanting to fix this demonstrated how critical it is that we once and for all get a handle on HPM and bring its benefits to more.

The literature is filled with references, data, studies, support, and more for the value of HPM. There is no shortage of organizations and groups promoting and advocating for HPM. We know the data. But we also know the other data, neither HCPs nor patients want to talk about it or learn it. Once they do understand it they are more likely to discuss it.

We have Death Cafe’s  and Death with Dignity The CAPC is an amazing resource for HCPs. With all this and more in place and the brave new digital world we live it should be a slam-dunk to change how we view, use, and accept HPM. The reality, it’s moving at a glacial pace. What can be done to change that?

It’s time to role out P&G, MickeyD’s, Big Pharma, etc. marketing departments and attack this problem as if we are selling soap on a rope. I will lean heavily on Greg Satell at Digitaltonto. His keen marketing and digital insight will help guide this discussion.

Last October Greg posted ‘The Post-Promotional Paradigm‘ which looked at how consumers and brands interact in the digital era. He presents three pillars of the brand (HPM for this discussion) awareness, advocacy, and sales.

Yes I said sales meaning physicians speaking about HPM and patients understanding it and adopting it. Have we been converting awareness to uptake? How efficiently are we converting awareness to use to avocation? I am not sure I’ve seen the data that shows growth in both understanding and use of HPM between both HPC and patients. We need to measure change to know if what we are doing is working and how to adjust it.  

Awareness is clearly critical for HPM. To create awareness you can spend money or you can be clever. People are aware but the accuracy of that awareness is sorely lacking and misguided. Greg states rightly so that consumers are likely to buy your brand if they are familiar with it. With HPM they need to be comfortable with it but most patients are aware of the wrong message. You need to convert misinformation to good information and that effort is harder than simply raising awareness. You need to replace misinformation with accurate information.

Advocacy is not simply someone speaking well about HPM. It is a complex interrelated process. We have advocacy galore with all the chats etc. but it is our echo chamber. Advocacy as Greg sees it is part of awareness. Those who come to understand and accept HPM need to advocate for it and means a sea change in peoples attitudes. It means they must accept it for themselves and then speak up for it, which currently has a degree of discomfort.

Greg further presents a framework that fits with HPM. It is seed, convert, and share. Seeding is the action of non-paid media. We seed messages on FB, G+, Twitter, Blogs, etc. It and of itself is only part of the an overall strategy it needs the addition of paid media to succeed. For our discussion of HPM paid media can be as minor as local hospices placing small space ads.

Share is where brands or those of us advocating HPM share our messages with others who advocate similar messages or messages within the same ballpark. I would agree with Greg here sharing as we currently do it does not have the consistency of message we had all hoped for. It is not reaching who we need to reach. We talk to ourselves and share with those who already have similar views. That may be changing.

Greg ends his article by addressing the fact consumers (i.e. learners) haven’t changed how they talk to each other. We are assuming that we should stop promoting in favor of conversations. We assume the Internet and social media will help change awareness and understanding of HPM. In reality we need to build a more traditional approach to promoting and marketing the benefits of HPM.

Okay I’ve given you marketing 101 according to Digital Tonto. This is as helpful as tossing URLs on Tweets. Here is how I would apply Greg’s views to HPM. And one caveat this is marketing and communications, there is not one yellow brick road but a super highway to sell HPM.

Humans are little tiny hope machines. They exist for hope, for belief in the future and life. That is at the core of why HPM is not selling like the strawberry pancakes at IHOP. Hope trumps EOL. We have an infinite loop of ribbons and survivor stories. People are donating to find cures and data shows improved survival rates. Our war against cancer is working. People are no longer shunning the word cancer. HPM and EOL pales next to this. Both have huge benefits. I won’t go into that since I’ve posted it before here and other place. HereHere

Most people consider HPM as the Darth Vader of medicine. It needs to become Luke Skywalker. So we have to change perception, gain awareness of a new HPM, position it as a benefit to patients, family, and HCP. We need to create awareness, advocates, and measure change. We need a SM message consistent with a paid message. This is a tall order for groups that are budgeted poorly, if at all.

The steps I would take would be: shock/awe, convert awareness, educate, create knowledge base, reinforce understanding, and measure uptake. I will speak to the first two and perhaps address the others later.

Shock/awe is my way of saying we need to dramatically move HPM EOL out of the musty dank dark trunk in the attic. It needs to burst into the sunlight. So to that end I propose we create a ribbon for HPM or EOL a black ribbon with a smile face. How dramatic would that be? The uproar in the media, the net, and among groups who have ribbons galore would create a natural platform to speak from and if enough media runs with this awareness of HPM would grow. Yes it could backfire and just reinforce the HPM EOL bad press or no press. But as Neil Young says, “It’s better to burn out than fade away” I double dog dare any group out there to have a HPM EOL fun run with ribbons. Money donated goes to supporting palliative care and education. Make your local media sit up and take notice. I’m a bit glib here and I recognize messaging of this is critical but the concept is big and bold. I’m open to other ideas within this context.

Following shock/awe is converting that awareness into useful knowledge by consumers. Once you create the drama you need to provide knowledge base for people. Here is where you apply traditional marketing with digital. Continue the discussion.

So do we politely talk and advocate for HPM and EOL? Or do we step up and tackle it head on with aggressive and smart marketing? HPM and EOL is not something you are left with it is a decision, a choice as critical and evidence based as any treatment option with well defined outcomes for everyone.

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