Reflecting on SHSMD18 – An Interview with President Ben Dillon

Ben Dillon, President of SHSMD, spoke to Healthcare Scene about this year’s conference (it was the largest ever), key trends that have emerged in healthcare marketing in 2018 (be frictionless) and what the future holds (marketers have to be nimble).

At the end of the last full day of the 2018 Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development Conference #SHSMD18, I had the chance to sit down with SHSMD President Ben Dillon. Dillon is also the Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Owner of Geonetric, an agency that provides technology, hosting, consulting and creative services exclusively to healthcare clients.

Below is a summary of our wide-ranging conversation.

It is rare to see an association or professional society elect a president who is from a vendor/sponsor company. Why is SHSMD so vendor friendly?

First of all, I have been very fortunate. I have been on the Board of Directors of SHSMD for 8 years now. SHSMD has always embraced the full spectrum of people involved in the marketing industry. The organization understands that internal marketing teams work closely with external agencies to build programs together. Often the relationship is so strong that vendors are seen as an extension of the internal team. To exclude vendors from SHSMD leadership would be incongruent with how the industry works.

Also, I think SHSMD is stronger because we have both perspectives on the Board. We get the insider’s perspective from the people who work in healthcare organizations. We get the outsider’s perspective from people who work across the industry. The blend is powerful.

Lastly, I think that people have become more fluid in their job roles. We’ve had so many people from across the association and on the Board who have moved from a role in a health system to an individual consultant, then onto an agency and come back full circle to a role at a different health system. If we had a rule that prohibited people who were not employed by a healthcare systems from contributing to SHSMD then we would lose the knowledge, talent and energy of these people for a few years. That doesn’t really help anybody.

I think this is why SHSMD has been so welcoming to vendors and external agencies becoming part of the leadership of the association.

What are some of the initiatives or tools that SHSMD has produced that you are most proud of during your time on the board?

The Bridging Worlds study was one of the most comprehensive looks at our industry that had ever been done. That study helped us answer a key question that our members had been asking – in 10 years, what will healthcare marketing look like and what skills or expertise will I need to still be successful and relevant when we get there?

SHSMD Advanced is a self-assessment tool that came out of our work on Bridging Worlds. Members can go online and answer questions to get an evaluation of their skillset. Based on that evaluation, members can then sharpen their skills in areas that will help them achieve future success.

Both of these assets are helping our members in their career journey.

What trends have emerged in 2018 that has surprised you?

The concept of being “frictionless” has been something that I have heard a lot recently – as in: how do we make things easier and more frictionless for patients. This encapsulates the mind-shift that is happening in the industry where we don’t think of patients just as patients anymore, they are consumers as well and they have consumer expectations.

Marketers are being asked to consider questions like: How do we keep patients healthy? How do we make it easier for patients get access to the care they need? This is partly because of new competitors entering healthcare and partly a recognition that if they don’t do something about the experience patients have in their facilities – they might not come back at all.

Another trend that has emerged is building out the marketing technology stack. In the past you heard marketers talk about implementing a CRM tool, or a physician matching tool or a content management system in isolation. Now I’m hearing more and more people talk about the entire ecosystem of tools and how they work together. It’s now about the entire stack and not just one-off applications.

Lastly, I’ve heard a lot about the “fun stuff” in marketing. Things like voice search, AI chatbots, etc. These new technologies are really changing how patients interact with health systems. It will be interesting to see how these technologies evolve in the next couple of years.

As SHSMD18 draws to a close, what are your takeaways from the event?

From the association perspective I think SHSMD18 has gone very smoothly. There we no major hiccups and attendees are saying they have had an excellent experience. SHSMD18 was a bit of a risk for the association. We booked a much larger space than we have traditionally used. We chose a city that isn’t on the regular healthcare conference circuit (Seattle). But it looks like that risk paid off.

For me personally, I think the quality of the sessions and keynotes has been excellent. For every session that made it onto the agenda there were at least 10 submissions that were not selected. That is an indication of the quality of the material.

I also think the networking has been outstanding. I have seen so many connections being made at the various mixers, in the exhibit hall and just in the lobby of the convention center. In fact, I heard a story from an attendee today that they met someone in the elevator of a SHSMD conference 14 years ago and they have now been married for 11 years.

What has been your most memorable moment of SHSMD18?

If I had to pick just one moment from SHSMD18 I would have to pick the opening. That was when I was able to walk on stage and welcome everyone to the conference. That moment is something I have dreamed about doing for a long time. It was just incredible to stand in front of 1,500 people and kick things off. The energy and enthusiasm of the crowd is something I will never forget.

Where does SHSMD go from here?

Things have been going very well for SHSMD, but we can’t stand still. While we have resources, while we have bandwidth and while we have the capability – we need to ask ourselves what are the things that are coming down the pipe in our industry that we need to be aware of and plan for. What we realize is that SHSMD as an organization needs to be ready to change and adapt quickly as our industry changes. We need to be nimble and flexible.

Above all, we need to keep listening to our members and continue to build the tools, services and offer the opportunities to them that they want/need.

What advice would you give to SHSMD members as we enter the last 3 months of the year?

First, for anyone that attended SHSMD18 I would strongly encourage them to watch a recording of a session they missed. We had so many concurrent sessions this year that there were bound to be at least two in each timeslot that they wanted to go to. Take the opportunity in the next few months to watch those sessions you missed. In fact, why not arrange a little lunch-and-learn and watch one with your entire team. I am planning on taking one lunch hour each week to go through a session from SHSMD18.

Second, for those that didn’t attend the conference, I would recommend going through the latest edition of Bridging Worlds to understand the concepts and challenges that our industry is facing. I would then suggest they take the SHSMD Advance self-assessment (free to any member) and get a plan for areas they need to work on. There are hundreds of resources available from SHSMD to help them develop the necessary skills to succeed in the future.

Third, I would like to see our members take the time to look outside their organizations to assess what is happening from a competitive standpoint and think about what they will have to do to adapt to that. Since it’s budget time, they should then make sure they allocate the necessary funds to do the things that they will need to do to stay competitive.

About the author

Colin Hung

Colin Hung

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.