Branching Out

By Jason Brandt (@jasondmg3)

Moving beyond your niche is a tricky thing.

Done wrong, you end up like New Coke or Michael Jordans baseball career – forced to retreat, tail between your legs, becoming infamous for letting greed blind you to the folly of following a bad idea and abandoning the great thing you had. Done right, however, you become a superstar: diversification is what makes successful small companies into worldwide corporations.

For one of the most famous examples, consider the Virgin brand. It began in 1970 as a mail-order company selling records, after Richard Branson had gotten his start selling them at discount prices from his car. Today, his enormous ownings stretch from planes to trains to racecars.

They also, interestingly, include healthcare offerings like alternative-medicine clinics and cord-blood banks. Thats the interesting thing – many companies find their way into healthcare. GE doesnt just do “electric anymore, do they?

But why arent more healthcare companies branching out? These days, many product providers are realizing that in this information economy, they have to become a source of information, not just goods, to their consumers. In some cases, this gets silly: as humorist Bill Bryson notes, do we really need a toll-free hotline on the back of our dental floss? But in others, its become a part of success. Consider Apple: from apps to music, they certainly dont focus on hardware anymore.

Were going to have to get better at providing information to our patients – and not just about our products.

Some healthcare companies already know that, of course. Merck figured it out a century ago with the Merck Manual, which has become an iconic, but still useful, feature of most healthcare professional offices.

The Mayo Clinic has figured it out, if more recently, offering not only a comprehensive website for patients to learn about a wide array of conditions, but also tools like a fitness tracker to help them manage their health.

If I were a betting man, Id guess that Johnson & Johnson will make the next big step in information-providing by a pharma company. They were just recognized as the Dosie Awards Company of the Year in social media, and thats not an award you get by launching and leaving. They appear truly committed to making the social space a helpful, accurate one for patients. I hope Im right that their trajectory will continue this way.



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