One of the most important jobs marketers have is to try to predict or imagine what the future will look like and perhaps do it better than their competition. Looking towards the future requires hard work and constant diligence. It requires looking at published data and widely available articles and interpreting them appropriately for a specific business. It is also important to look at what people are saying. This can be done by regularly talking with customers, being involved in wide circles of people and reading. One of the best places to look for what people are thinking is in the “letters to the editor” section of every paper in the country.
Take a look at one set of four letters in The New York Times. The letters are in response to an earlier article on the role of the physician and ordering tests for which there are new recommendations. One of the advantages of these type of letters, as compared to Internet chatter, is that they are signed by people who often disclose their background and the city they live in. This helps put context around the opinion.
How much can you glean from the letters? Note that the physicians are worried about being sued, old habits, the role of the Internet, consumerism in healthcare and a variety of other things. The patient calls out one of the key factors, money. If their insurance companies are not paying, they want to know ahead of time and then be a part of deciding what they are going to buy. Perhaps the letter most on the edge may be the last one that talks about how the communication between patient and physician can take place on a more neutral playing field. In addition to the actual content of the letters, it is also important to note the tone.
These letters are meant to just start the process of discovery. If this is of interest then the next step would be to broaden the search. Are there letters in the LA Times or the Sacramento Bee that are similar to these and show what those in the west are thinking? How about more conservative papers or areas of the country? How about the Wall Street Journal?
Now balance this grass roots digging with much more formal research. This recent piece looks at the long term growth of healthcare spending as reported in an in-depth study by the folks at CMS. Note they see healthcare spending growing at slightly over the GDP growth rate so that in a decade healthcare will be just under 20% of GDP. They do a nice job teasing apart the Affordable Care Act and looking how each new piece will impact this growth in expenditures. Note that they predict a slower growth rate for pharmaceuticals due to the patent cliff.
This is a very interesting report and I would bet is extremely well done, but what are the odds that they are right? I would bet a lot that they are wrong, but would be less sure if their numbers are too high or too low. This is where the work with the letters really comes into play. You see everyone will read the CMS report and it will be widely reported as to what is going to happen. This report, and others like it, will form the basis for government debate, tax policy and business forecasting. But the important point is that everyone has the same report. In order to do a better job than your competition you need to marry together the grassroots work with what everyone else sees and identify the opportunities others do not see.
To add one more layer to the discussion, take a quick look at this piece that looks at the bias towards optimism as a way to survive. This is perhaps one of the most important lessons in business. It is vital to recognize when things are being looked at with “rose colored glasses” while at the same time understanding the need look for the upside opportunities in order to survive. Look around your organization and note that the dreamers or those who have a more positive bias rise to the top and the naysayers do not. Am I right?
Take some time and think about how you are obtaining information on your markets and how you are interpreting the information. This is where the art and science of marketing really comes together and what makes the profession so exciting. When asked who knows best, if you do this work right, your name will be on the top of the list.