Could these famous business strategists, change the future of healthcare through their non-profit? The marketing challenges that need to be overcome

An interview with Ben Cordle, CMO of ICHOM

“Survival rates for chronic conditions across all developed countries are inconsistent”, Ben argues. He leans forward. He is intent on explaining why he does what he does. This is not a job. It is a mission.

As our interview progresses, it becomes clear. Ben Cordle, CMO of ICHOM is not driven by his marketing tasks. He is comfortable discussing marketing jargon like reach, keywords and click-through rates. But this is not his motivation. He works to deliver change.

Ben has extensive experience leading the marketing strategy for several health organisations. Yet, ICHOM feels different.

Ben has extensive experience leading the marketing strategy for several health organisations

Co-founded by Michael Porter, godfather of modern business

ICHOM is a non-profit organisation committed to transforming healthcare. It was co-founded by Stefan Larsson, Martin Ingvar and Professor Michael Porter. To any former business student, Porter is an A-list celebrity. He is the godfather of modern business strategy. ICHOM aims to unlock the potential of Value-Based Health Care. In other words, measure what matters to patients. The goal is to determine the effectiveness of a patient’s treatment.

Over the last ten years, ICHOM has gathered leading clinicians from across the world. Together with scientists, researchers and patient representatives, they have developed 44 sets of Patient-Centred Outcome Measures, which are a mixture of clinical and patient-reported outcomes (PROMS). Designed for use in clinical settings anywhere in the world, they cover various conditions and specific patient populations. These conditions are responsible for over 60% of the global disease burden.

Fighting inequality in health

We ask Ben, why this mission is so important. He pauses to compose himself. We get the feeling that might be a silly question. “In the US, you are 2-3 times more likely to face readmission depending on where you’re treated. And that’s for the same disease treatment in the same city.” There is inequality in health outcomes.

“In England and Wales, the same issues exist. The 30-day mortality rate for cardiovascular conditions can be four times higher in some sites than in others.” This is clearly a global problem.

ICHOM’s standards track things like “anxiety, mobility, depression and functionality amongst patients.” Ben says that this has achieved great results. “When providers start to care for these areas patients get better quicker. They also stay healthier for longer.”

ICHOM wants there to be a global standard in health so readmission is not dependint on where you’re treated

Can marketing ignite a movement? Finding the Al Gore of health

But what role does marketing play in this mission? It is about generating awareness and visibility. A social movement that demands adoption. It is like the climate change agenda. Until Al Gore took a stance and used his large platform, the movement lacked momentum. Now the climate agenda is in the public consciousness. From multi-national organisations to governments and social media influencers, people are talking. They demand action. Therefore, visibility is critical for ICHOM to start a new revolution. A movement that protects the future of human health.

Online visibility is needed now. Less than 50% of people trust clinicians

In 2020, it was estimated only 45% of people globally trust clinicians. This may sound low, but trust actually increased from 42% in 2018. This was despite the visible online polarisation resulting from the global pandemic. In comparison, journalists which is another profession that attracts significant online attention only had a trust level of 19%. Whilst clinicians appear to be more trusted than journalists, there is still significant room for improvement.  

This is no surprise. Our analytics state there has been an explosion of online misinformation. As social media and web usage rapidly increase, this is a problem going nowhere. Some health misinformation of course is based on truths. Stories ranging from waiting times to medical negligence can go viral in hours. This further erodes trust and ultimately human health. However, the issue is that these stories are often outliers yet drown out good news stories. Unfortunately, patient outcome health data is not always tracked. This means it is not cited or seen.

Furthermore, the last 20 years have seen an explosion of customer-centric organisations. From Amazon to Apple, people demand a similar level of service from health providers. In the face of a global recession and shortage of clinicians, how do we change this? Increased visibility for ICHOM is a great place to start. Ben says as a result of implementing the standards, people “feel more agency for their health. They also have better relationships with their clinicians.”

ICHOMs marketing team is working together towards the same mission

The marketing challenges that would keep Steve Jobs awake

However, Ben is facing significant marketing challenges. Challenges that would daunt even Steve Jobs. “When we have limited resources, but need to drive systemic change at a national level and around the world, we need to be very smart with who we talk to, and what we are asking them to do”, says Ben. “We know there’s an appetite among healthcare providers to move to a more outcomes-based model, and they know there’s a better way of caring for people, but that has to happen within the wider regulatory and reimbursement framework. For example, we know that many thousands of healthcare organisations have downloaded our Sets, but not all of them have implemented them in real-world clinical settings. And we see our role increasingly as helping them overcome the barriers to doing that.” Therefore, the challenges are clear.

ICHOM are in a similar situation to the environmental campaigners of 20 years ago. They are backed by some of the biggest names in world health. A quick scan of ICHOM’s Twitter followers reads like a Hollywood private party. From EU Health to Harvard, large organisations clearly care about ICHOM’s mission. Our analytics suggest that 17% of ICHOM’s Twitter followers have a social authority over 50. They have some powerful supporters.

However, leveraging that social following takes time. ROI does not come immediately and is often difficult to correlate. This is a challenge when ICHOM has limited resources, Ben states.

ICHOM are in a marketing paradox; almost all individuals within healthcare, and especially patients, know change is needed – and ICHOM has developed the means to do that. But inconsistent incentives and regulation means healthcare providers have no duty to adopt these measures, and in addition face great hurdles.

But, when there is such low trust in healthcare providers from the public, and when the “World Health Organization and OECD estimate 20-40% ($2-4 trillion) of all healthcare spending is wasted”, can they afford not to? A ground-up movement could help push regulators to take action.

A lack of regulation is preventing progress

In the US, there has been discussion about linking health outcomes to payment. Big healthcare providers like the Cleveland Clinic have taken a lead. Yet many, affected by unpredictable revenues are slow to do so.

However, these standards are not only beneficial for a private healthcare system. The NHS, the world’s largest single health system is also weighing up how to adopt the standards. Yet adopting these measures can have untold benefits to rebuilding public trust.

The NHS is weighing up how to adopt ICHOMs standards

ICHOM not falling into marketing vanity trap

So, what can ICHOM do? From a marketing perspective, it is all too easy to fall into the vanity trap. This sees organisations using ‘black hat’ tactics to build social authority. This includes using bots to increase social media following. This means social accounts look like they have lots of followers. However, the followers are not real. Alternatively, they may get links from dubious websites to increase their website authority. This is in the vain hope of getting higher on search engines.

Yet this will not generate any meaningful results. As Ben points out there is a lack of an immediate ROI. This can lead organisations to use tactics or agencies that try to use these quick ‘results.’ On the surface, it can appear that your marketing is increasing your visibility. However, it is not. It is like starting a movement by signing up your neighbourhood pets to join your rally. You might get a few barks, but it won’t go anywhere.

Building and focusing on an audience

Ben, as the CMO of an ethical organisation, has decided to double down on his audience. He wants to build something compelling yet authentic. ICHOM’s website plays a major part in his strategy to get visibility.

ICHOM has clearly defined their audience segment. This ensures they are laser-focused on their content. They have mainly targeted senior clinical professionals who are leaders in their field. Ben says they develop “detailed breakdowns of care pathways” to align their content, and to build a base of powerful advocates for healthcare transformation. This has helped drive “significant” organic traffic.

Creating long-tail content

By having such a focus, ICHOM is able to drive traffic using long-tail keywords. As an analytics agency, we know how powerful this can be. Long tail keywords are search terms people use when using search engines. By placing them in your content, it sends signals to search engines. It tells them that your content matches the user’s needs. This helps increase your visibility as you appear higher in search results.

Unlike short-tail terms, long-tail terms are more likely to attract your target users. This is one-way ICHOM gets increased visibility. Ben says that by focusing content on disease type they tend to get fewer branded searches like “ICHOM.” They also tend to get less general traffic due to terms like “Value-Based Healthcare”. In essence, it helps build authority with the right people. Senior clinicians who have influence.

Ben says this is just the start. He is thinking ahead. He wants to target other audiences too. Payer organisations and policymakers are part of the mission to grow visibility. In return, this can help drive ICHOMs message. Adopting a similar approach can have transformative results.

ICHOM has lots of supporters

Leveraging authority to build visibility

Our analytics show ICHOM has almost 8k unique websites citing their content. Many of these websites have high authority. This again sends signals to search engines. It tells them important websites care. Therefore, they show ICHOM content higher in search results. Ben says this is a consequence of their partnerships and quality content.

Creating content that uses experts, increases the chances of citations. ICHOM regularly pull together working groups of up to 30 experts. By agreeing on common standards, consistent and universal clinical research is enabled. This means there “is a lot of potential for high-ranking institutions to link” to ICHOM. Furthermore, ICHOM leverages their partnerships. Many partner organisations offer implementation services. These organisations often promote ICHOM content on their sites.

Ben understands the importance of building relationships to drive his marketing mission. This is something many organisations fail to do.

Merging the physical world with the digital to drive 360 marketing

Ben also recognises the power of combining the physical world with the digital. ICHOM will often attend and speak at industry events. Resource limitations mean ICHOM do not actively pursue these opportunities. But it is clear they do generate even higher authority and validation for their mission. It has even led to the co-founder, Stefan Larsson doing a Ted Talk. This is the benefit of 360 marketing. ICHOM’s target audience receives content in many ways. It helps to drive attention and visibility.

ICHOM, the future of healthcare

ICHOM has opened the way for the future of healthcare. The benefits of adopting their standards are clear. From providing better patient outcomes to building trust, their mission is critical. Yet, their biggest challenge now is to get the visibility to ignite a movement. A movement that governments and health providers cannot ignore. But to do this they must work with limited resources, yet transform global healthcare. This is no easy task. But with Ben driving the visibility agenda, they are moving forward. One step at a time.

ICHOM’s belief, and their message, is that all the tools you need to transform healthcare are here – they exist. There are no more excuses!


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