In a time long, long ago (that is, before COVID) a lot of us used to enjoy taking the laptop and headphones to a nearby coffee shop to plop down and do a little work. Our oldest, who slipped in just in time to qualify as a Millennial, and I, just barely a Boomer, were debating our respective coffee shop preferences one day.
My choice was the ubiquitous one. I traveled a lot (yeah, this was long ago) and frequently had coffee shop meetings. I could count on finding my coffee shop on every corner, their Internet was reliable, and I didn’t have to stand staring at the menu for ten minutes trying to figure out how to get just coffee.
She stated that she preferred ‘authenticity,’ a central Millennial value that was a coded diss to all things Boomer. As typical, I was confused and agreed to meet her at one of her favorite places down in the old industrial part of town that was suddenly the hippest neighborhood around.
There I learned that ‘authentic’ for a coffee shop meant there had to be creaky wood floors, a dog laying by the door, extension cords pulled everywhere to power the laptops, and a dude behind the counter with a lot of ink and those big holes in his earlobes. There were no freshly pressed green aprons being worn by overly eager smiling staff who had completed 8 hours of corporate training on customer service.
Marketing experts frame this difference in customer values as my preferring ‘consistency’ while my oldest wanted ‘distinctiveness.’
As we explore whether the old axiom ‘All healthcare is local’ still holds true (or better, how true is it still?), part of the question pivots around this particular dimension – do patients want consistency or distinctiveness?
That may seem a bit odd given the set up of my prologue as most patients probably don’t seek out a doctor with the grunge factor of 1980s’ Seattle band, but let’s frame it this way: Do patients prefer getting to see the whites of the eyes of their personal physician or are they now increasingly trusting, and preferring, the ‘brand?’
I get that even asking that question will get me in trouble with some of my clients (not a good marketing strategy, regardless of your generation) who have patients who have been loyal to them for years, but we must ask it if we are to help you plan for the future.
There are plenty of stories about small players succeeding in the face of big brands by delivering ‘distinctive’ in a special way to a targeted and relevant audience. We love those stories. That truth will hold in healthcare as well.
But we would not be talking about these local success stories as success stories unless the larger backdrop were not about people increasingly opting for the known consistency of bigger brands. That truth is just as true for healthcare, and maybe more so since consistency, not unique and cool, matters more to my care than my coffee.