Big Data and Brand Management

Big Data: big opportunities or big problems?  While most of what I have read seeks to position this question in the context of anticipated investments in human resources and IT infrastructure, I have a different take.  I think the most critical and salient difference in determining whether Big Data has positive or negative implications for healthcare providers will depend primarily on whether and how effectively it is utilized and managed in organizational branding.

Part I ~ Implications of Big Data
In explaining this, let’s start with a look at just a few examples of where and how Big Data will impact healthcare organizations. 

Clinical and Epidemiological Research
Healthcare providers have long been cognizant of the important role that cutting edge clinical and epidemiological research plays in helping educate and prepare them to provide evidence-based care.  They are also aware of the tremendous burden that misguided and/or shoddy research creates on both their time and talents.

At a clinical level, Big Data means being able to utilize previously prohibitive quantities of biomolecular data to test relational hypotheses much faster, while at the epidemiological level it means being aware of social cause and effect relationships much sooner.  In either instance, the impact and expectations of what to do with more information at an accelerated rate will have a significant impact on healthcare providers, as well as patient-consumers.

Consumer Empowerment
There are already literally thousands of smart phone/tablet app’s available to help individuals manage there own care.  A quite natural focus among these has been to design applications targeting chronic disease management.  As the Boomer age wave grows, so too will that portion of the patient population that is not only adept but very conversant in using electronic data and information to be highly informed and highly motivated self-care advocates.

Though Big Data is by far not the only force driving greater transparency of financial and operational performance metrics from healthcare providers, it will be the catalyst that transforms those metrics from merely data to usable information – and unfortunately, probably a good deal of misinformation as well.  Providers will have to be both cognizant and vigilant in assessing how this emerging trend will impact their market positioning.

The common thread of these three examples is what I call the Acceleration of Digital Chaos©.  More data is always beneficial to the extent that it creates greater awareness, enhances education, expands knowledge – and most importantly, creates wisdom.  But as we know, more data does not always lead to such hopeful results.  It also often leads to more confusion, more frustration – and worst, more risk of making critical decisions based upon faulty analysis.

Part II ~ The Importance of Brand Management
Wherever there is chaos and confusion that grows out of attempts to address a basic human need like healthcare, so too exists the double-edged sword of opportunity and risk: the opportunity to bring clarity amidst the chaos in the form of high-value solutions, as well as the ever present risk of making things worse.  And there too lies the associated challenge of branding: opportunities to leverage Big Data in ways that can greatly enhance the value of your brand – or facilitate its disintegration into a pile ashes.

To make sure Big Data serves your brand rather than destroys it will require an active awareness and understanding of where and how Big Data will intersect with Brand Management.  Several examples of these intersections are offered for your consideration.

Social Media
Social Media continues to grow in importance and relevancy to the healthcare industry.  Enter Big Data and now you have a tremendously powerful vehicle for gaining valuable information and insights on patterns and behaviors – of both consumers and competitors.  

To the extent a knowledge advantage can be gained through use of Big Data, that information can be used to help position your organizational brand in concert with consumer demands and expectations – and before competitors achieve that positioning.  I cannot think of a more important market-oriented investment that healthcare providers can make at this time than exploring and understanding how Big Data will transform the way data collected through Social Media can be used to competitive advantage.

Quality and Integrity
Examples in Part I above highlight the likely potential where Big Data will generate tremendous personal anxiety, confusion and frustration.  Take the average consumer-patient looking at knee-replacement surgery in the year 2015.  Armed with 30 published research papers on the advantages and disadvantages of different techniques; over 50 web site addresses stored in the web browser with pages and pages of performance data on surgeons;  15 different self-help iPad applications downloaded to determine the most effective means of post-survey rehabilitation.  You get the idea.

So the ability of healthcare providers to be perceptually positioned as a trusted resource to cut through all of the confusion and frustration will create substantial market advantages.  But, importantly, those healthcare providers that are able to achieve a sustainable advantage will not only facilitate a more efficient and helpful pathway through the confusion – but they will do so while backing it up with consistently higher quality care than competitors.  The two must go hand in hand.

Data Security and Corporate Compliance
I saved the most important for last.  This is a hugely tremendous risk to brand value that will be attendant to using Big Data.  We read of examples every day where patient data has landed in the wrong hands.  The consequences of being at fault – whether real or perceived – for a breach of data privacy and protection could erase years of investment in building your brand overnight.

Yet it is reasonable and plausible that a breach could happen despite the most advanced and diligent efforts of prevention.  In such instance, the organizational fallback position must be a strict adherence to corporate compliance policies that clearly make the protection of personal data the highest priority – not only in theory but in practice.

Please note this post is not by a stretch intended to be an exhaustive survey and consideration of either the ways in which Big Data will impact healthcare, nor the numerous ways in which it has the potential to impact healthcare providers’ brands.  It is intended primarily to help leadership teams of such organizations begin to perform their own assessment of how and where Big Data can have a Big Impact on their future branding efforts.