Discomfort drives change. But by the same token, change creates discomfort.
The tension between these two paradoxical concepts lies at the core of healthcare marketing planning and communication. And
as healthcare marketers, our ability to leverage the comfort/discomfort paradox appropriately defines our ultimate success
in the marketplace. This is especially true of challenger brands, who need to make their competitive value instantly clear
by making direct hits on an emotional level.
Allure of comfort
We human beings are hard-wired to find and sustain comfort: comfort food, comfort zones, and old favorites. We are loyal to
the tried and true. We move to and try to stay in our place of comfort.
Yet our job as marketers is to change customers' perceptions, preferences, and behaviors towards our products or services.
Our job is to make people uncomfortable enough to change their current behavior. Their comfort is not in our best interest.
Left to their own devices, our target customers would choose to stay in their comfort zones, which means they wouldn't use
or even try the product or service we're offering.
Discomfort, unmet needs, and challenger brands
Obviously, not all product categories are populated by fiercely loyal patrons who cling to their comfort zones like intrepid
Chicago Cubs fans. Many categories of consumer products have users loyal only to the next coupon or sample. In our industry,
the challenge of changing customer preferences is made more intense by the seriousness of the healthcare professional's responsibilities.
Changing preferences for toothpaste carries a significantly lower risk than changing preferences for chemotherapy alternatives,
diagnostic techniques, or surgical protocols. There's got to be a very compelling reason to consider changing.
If we want to convince a physician to change prescribing behavior, we must first convince him or her that there is something
lacking with the way things are currently done. We must stir the pot a bit to create discomfort with the current brand, brands,
or processes that can only be rectified by changing to our brand. We must move them to the point of discomfort that creates
urgency to change, where not changing is simply unacceptable.
This process is especially true when developing plans for challenger brands that don't have the big budgets. Challenger brands
need to think differently from market leaders. They need to offer new criteria for choice. For challenger brands, a clear
path to leveraging your target customer's discomfort is critical to success.
Enter Maslow's hierarchy of needs. You remember: it's that pyramid-shaped chart (like the government's original food chart
that told us we couldn't eat Frito's and cheesecake with every meal). The idea is that our most basic of needs (like breathing,
eating, and drinking) must be satisfied before we can attain higher levels of needs (like self-esteem, respect by others,
morality, or creativity). Applied correctly, it defines the key areas of comfort and discomfort for our species (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Our job is to engage an HCP in a conversation about a product or service and point out issues that may: diminish confidence
in the status quo; limit problem-solving; or make patients less satisfied with the outcomes achieved. If we can demonstrate
how our product or service can help the HCP perform better, find a clinical issue that might make them doubt their current
preferences, or isolate a patient type that might better benefit from a different product, we can use this discomfort to drive