Supporting a product launch is a huge undertaking. But the process can be simplified by having a strong framework that gets the product and marketing teams working together. Today I’m talking with Jessica Shafer, VP of Marketing, and Michael Gonzales, Executive Vice President of Growth & Strategy at Marathon Health. Marathon Health launched a software product called Marathon Health Anywhere, and in this episode, we get to hear about the product launch process and the marketing the team is doing to support it. Jessica and Michael have several great tips to share, and I know you’ll enjoy the conversation.
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(4:25) Look for ways to build better relationships with your audience and make your services more unified and accessible.
A lot of what people see today is very transactional in nature. There’s no relationship built. So we really focused on how to build a care team model that develops a deep relationship with the provider and the patient, and that can then leverage the technology and systems that we have to build a better patient experience, so we could deliver this to more patients across the United States.
(6:51) When you launch a new product, start by ironing out your key message and how best to communicate that both internally and to your market.
We have a pretty robust campaign. In the healthcare space, we have to start internally educating our sales team, then the brokers, and then we get out and try to generate some buzz in the market.
(13:44) Involve your marketing team in the process of creating the product, so they can help translate your ideas into a concise message about your product’s value and differentiation.
As soon as the product idea came out, marketing was pulled right in, so I was involved from day one. I wasn’t brought in later to say, “Hey, can you help us market this?” It was from the beginning of actually building the product.
(16:50) Utilize your marketing team to communicate to your customer base what the product is and how it will benefit them directly.
One of the key functions that marketing takes on is, how are we telling the benefits of this product to the patient? At the end of the day, it’s a patient at the other end that has to clearly understand how the product will improve their life.
(28:01) Use your product launch as an opportunity to communicate your unique value as a brand, in addition to your product.
Launching a really unique product like this helps us try to get more of that buzz in the market: to get out there, be able to have more conversations, and explain who we are, what we do, and why we’re different.
(23:26) After launch, gather customer feedback to use as social proof and to inform your future messaging.
Once we go to market, and we launch, and we start to see how things are working, we’ll start to leverage some of those success stories and testimonials. The product is launched, but we need to continue to message. We need to continue to iterate. And then, as we start to have more experience with a product, how do we go back and tweak our messaging? And how do we leverage the information we can get from customers to help us go out and talk about it?
(Laura 0:03) Marathon Health is an onsite and network health care provider that’s doing some really innovative things around improving outcomes and changing the healthcare model. They just launched a software product called Marathon Health Anywhere. And today I’m talking with Jessica Shafer, who is VP of Marketing, and Michael Gonzales, who is Executive Vice President of Growth and Strategy, about the product launch and the marketing they’re doing to support it. They have some excellent insights for teams preparing for a product launch, and I’m really excited to share this conversation.
All right! Jessica and Michael, thank you so much for joining us today. I’m super excited to talk about product launches and everything that you guys have to share with us. So thanks for coming on the show!
(Jessica 1:46) Thanks for having us.
(Laura) Awesome. So let’s start with introductions. Could each of you just tell us a little bit about yourselves, and also give us a sense of what your role includes there at Marathon Health? Whoever wants to go first.
(Michael 2:00) Go ahead, Jessica.
(Jessica) Alright, I’ll go first. So I have been with Marathon Health about nine months, but I’ve been in health care for about 20 years. Prior to Marathon, I worked at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield for 17 years. My focus has always been in marketing. I’ve always been on the B2B side. I’ve supported a lot of salespeople in my life. So that is also my main focus here at Marathon. So I’m supporting our growth team, so, you know, everything we do from a B2B perspective: trying to generate leads, help the sales team go out and present, talk about our products and services, as well as our current clients — you know, how do we work on trying to either upsell or just generally communicate to them? So everything from, you know, kind of that whole B2B realm, and my team also supports all of the events here at Marathon.
(Laura 2:45) Nice. So just a few things.
(Jessica) Yeah, just a few.
(Michael 2:50) So I’m Michael Gonzalez, Executive Vice President of Growth and Strategy, really focused on our virtual primary care model, building that out and developing that. I go back, much like Jessica, 20 years in healthcare. So we both, you know, got started when we were about five or six years old.
But really, my path has started with a lot of product development and innovation, and looking at different unique ways to engage people in their health and wellness. And so, what are some unique models in healthcare that are really working? And how can we leverage them and grow? And so I got involved with onsite health many, many years ago, about 15 years ago. And then over time, really looking at that, since that works so well for patients — bringing healthcare closer to the patient — how could we then leverage technology: Bluetooth devices, medical peripherals, Apple Health, Fitbits? What are some new and unique ways to bring health care closer to the patient, develop new products and services to ultimately lower cost and improve health for the patient?
(Laura 3:56) Awesome. Yeah, and I love what you guys are doing at Marathon Health. Your mission is incredible. Yeah, it’s very exciting to see what you guys are doing.
So our topic today is product launches. And I’m super excited to hear the story of the Marathon Health Anywhere product launch. But, you know, let’s first back up a bit. Michael, could you share a bit about how your team first decided to add the software component to your current offerings?
(Michael 4:25) Sure, absolutely. Marathon has been in business for many years, 15 plus years. We’ve really grown up in this space delivering onsite health centers for employers: going on site, developing a health center, treating all their employees. We also then grew out and built near-site health centers, shared centers, where we would build a center in a specific geography — one or more — and then have employers come to those centers and share those centers with others. So we’ve done a lot with physical onsite health space.
Prior to COVID, we were starting already to deliver virtual services. COVID accelerated that, as it did with a lot of other people. And so, as we looked at that and said, “How do we bring healthcare closer to the patient, make it more effective for the patient?” Earlier this year, we said, “We need to take the things that we have developed at Marathon Health that work well, and build them into an advanced virtual primary care-type model.” Meaning, it’s got to be a full, robust care team, not just more of the fragmented, you know, delivery models that we see today. You know, a lot of what people see today, it’s very transactional in nature. Meaning, you’re going to go, and you’re going to see one doctor in a virtual visit for an acute care. But then if you need follow up, it’s with a different doctor. And so there’s all these different — there’s no relationship built.
So we really focused on, how do we build a care team model that develops a deep relationship with the provider and the patient, and that can then take the technology and the systems that we have, leverage that, and then build a better patient experience for them? And so that was really the focus of that, is doing that and expanding the reach, so that we could deliver this to more patients across the United States.
(Laura 6:15) Awesome. Yeah. And that’s really interesting. I feel like that is a model that a lot of companies are, you know, thinking about now, because everything is software, There’s so much that you can do with software. So, you know, in businesses like yours, where it’s traditionally, you know, face-to-face, you’re just expanding your reach, and your capabilities. I think that that’s really interesting, and a lot of people are looking to go that direction. So let’s talk about now, you know, the marketing campaign that was used to promote the launch and all of that. Jessica, can you share, you know, describe what that campaign looked like?
(Jessica 6:51) Yeah, sure. So, you know, I think our industry is unique, where we kind of have partnerships with brokers and consultants as part of our sales force. So our sales team is working closely with them. You know, sometimes we’re working directly with clients; other times, it’s with the broker. And so as we start to develop a new product, we have to figure out, you know, how are we going to be able to educate not only our internal teams, but these partners that we have out on the market as well? And they have a lot of stuff coming at them, right? So it’s, you know, all your healthcare vendors, benefit vendors, insurance, I mean, you name it. And so you need to break through the clutter, and make sure that they’re understanding what the new product is, and how to offer it, and when it makes sense for their clients as well.
So we really start our focus kind of internally. So, you know, I work with Michael on, how do we go out and present this? What is our key message? How do we differentiate it? So we developed a lot of materials to really just start that initial education with internal teams. You know, FAQs, that kind of thing. And then, you know, what do they need to be able to go out and talk to it? So the big chunk of work for the first probably four or five months was presentations, brochures, you know, we had FAQ’s, trying to kind of describe the member experience, so people could go out and talk about, you know, what is virtual primary care? How does this work? And other kinds of scenarios. So that they were able to, you know, we could hand these materials off to the brokers and consultants to be able to go and present, as well as our internal teams.
And then as we get closer to launch, you know, our focus really moves to the promotional aspect of it, right? How do we get out in the market, you know, leveraging something like this that is new and different, and generate buzz? So, you know, we do a press release, we did some prospecting. We have a really robust kind of demand generation program my team manages where we’re out, you know, trying to generate leads for the sales team, as well as, you know, really kind of cultivate them, so we can hit them off pretty warm. And this gives us something else to talk about. So we really focused on, you know, emails, we did a webinar last week that Michael actually presented on, and we had great attendance for that. So we can see this is generating buzz, where you have, you know, people are just coming to your webinar to listen.
And then, you know, we’re going to do some ABM and some advertising at the beginning of the year. We kind of hold off right now in healthcare, just because people are really focused on open enrollment and getting ready for all of that. But we’re going to do that, as well as some more — we’ve done some social media, and we’ll do some additional social media next year. And we also, you know, again, in our industry, it’s, you know, how to get that word out to the prospects, the brokers, the consultants, even our current clients? So we’re really pitching a lot of industry events on, you know, trying to get speaking engagements so I can get Michael out in front of more people talking about the product, why it’s different, and really differentiating us in the market. So we have a pretty robust campaign. And a lot of that is what we do kind of when we’re launching a product, you know, in the healthcare space, where you’ve got to start internally educating your sales team, then the brokers, and then we get out and try to kind of really generate some buzz in the market.
(Laura 9:50) Yeah, yeah. So that brings up a question. So this product, you know, is very new and very different from, you know, your existing offerings, but you know, you are serving the same core needs. So I’m curious, with your ICPs or your personas, was there any additional research that you had to do on that? How did that work? Or did you feel like you already had, you know, a really thorough understanding of what they would need in a virtual product?
(Jessica 10:16) I can speak to some of that, and I’m sure Michael can, too. We did do some research, because we wanted to figure out, you know, how likely are they going to be able to — will they feel like they’re going to have a relationship with a provider, if it’s all virtual, right? And that’s the type of thing we want to drive. If we’re going to send things to their home to have them do home biometric screenings, or manage conditions and do that stuff on their own, what is the likelihood of them? So we did engage, you know, with a consultant that helped us with some of that research and helped manage the product as we were rolling it out. So it was definitely important as we were developing things, and even developing the messaging. You know, I have a peer that will manage all of the work where we’re gonna go out and talk to the members and try to educate them right along with the employer. And so we’ve got to figure out the best way to do that so we get people engaged, to get them excited and using it and seeing it’s not just urgent care. It’s not a one time thing. You are getting a primary care, virtually, where you’re building a relationship with the doctor. It’s going to be the same doctor you’re going to be able to see and will help you with whatever that need might be.
(Laura 11:14) Yeah. Michael, anything to add?
(Michael) No, I was just gonna say, I mean, Jessica hit the nail on the head. I think it’s, you know, we wanted to focus on digging into, how is it different for the patient? In a virtual environment, it’s way different in a lot of ways for the patient, because they feel like they’re out on an island. Health literacy, we know, is really low for most people in general. And now you put this, you know, it’s a virtual environment. And health literacy makes it really hard to drive engagement and drive a really good patient experience. So we put a lot of time and effort figuring out on looking at things, how do you streamline that process, but make the patient experience just one that they absolutely love?
And we came up with several different things. One, it’s — yes — it’s a technology platform; that makes it easy. We’re leveraging the technology. But how do you do it in a way where it’s high tech, but high touch? So one of the major things that we did was, we put in a concierge care coordination program. Fancy way of saying there’s one individual, a person. If you have a question about your health — I have a referral. I need an X-ray. I got an explanation of benefits in the mail. What does that mean? What do I do? — you pick up the phone, you call the person, or you have a video visit, and there’s that one person who’s your advocate, who’s with you along your healthcare journey.
So that’s just like one example where we said, we don’t want to lose that high touch, that personal touch. So yes, we’re going to be high tech. We’re going to have lots of technology and tools to make this work. But we want to keep the high touch. So that’s an example of just, like, little things we put into this that are different from our existing business, very purposefully, though.
(Laura 12:59) Yeah, yeah, I love that, you know, translation. The way that you have, you know, really intentionally thought about how to bring the experience — which, you know, you obviously have done a great job with — and translate that into the virtual world. That is hard to do. But it sounds like you guys have been really intentional about that, so that’s really cool.
So I’d like to, you know, hear about your collaboration process. Like, on a practical level, how did you collaborate to, you know, bring this launch together? How did you figure out, Jessica, what Michael needed? And Michael, I’m sure you relied on Jessica for a lot of the, you know, just information that you needed. So I’d love to hear about that process.
(Jessica 13:44) You know, I mean, the way we work together, you know, started from the beginning, right? As soon as the product idea came out, marketing was pulled right in, so I was involved from day one. And I think, you know, that’s the thing I find — you know, I’ve done a lot of product launches in my life. And if you’re working closely, and you’re in the weeds, as they’re building the product, it really helps, you know, market. So, you know, I was on all the project team calls. I was on a lot of different work groups and things like that, so that I was part of that process from the beginning. I wasn’t brought in later to say, “Hey, can you help us market this?” It was from the beginning of actually building the product and working alongside with Michael.
So it was easy to kind of see — we’d have these meetings or whatever — it’s like, alright, here are the things that are coming out that we need, and we kind of build as we go, pretty much from day one, I would say. And then when Michael needs something, he says, “Hey, I thought of this.” Or he likes to create his own slides sometimes, and you know, I have to take them and fix them — but not really! He actually does a great job. Some days I say, “Hey, you should be in marketing.” Because he does a great job designing his own slides and getting everything ready for the sales teams. So it’s been good from that perspective, as well.
(Michael 14:50) Yeah, and I would just echo, I mean, it works really well with Jessica. Jessica and her team play such a pivotal role for us. Like, from a product perspective, like building it out. Like, to Jessica’s point, we’re in the weeds, and we live it day in and day out. And there’s a million different things that go into it. And all these work streams, we have 11 different work streams. And then when you start trying to boil that down to, what are the critical messages that you need to deliver to the market that talk about differentiation and the value that this is going to bring? As the product guy, I’m like, “Oh, we got to talk about this, and this, and this, and this, and this.” And then Jessica and her team comes in and says, “Whoa! Let’s boil that down. So let’s take what you’ve got, these are all great things. But now let’s translate that into a very concise message that is going to deliver the message that we want, which is the value, the differentiation, and all that.” So it’s been a great relationship with Jessica and her team, because I think that’s the role that they play really well and need to play well, is that, you know, we have all these ideas and all the details, but we don’t, you can’t get all of that out. And the end user and the clients don’t need all of that. And Jessica helps pare that down for us.
(Laura 16:04) Yeah, that is really awesome. I feel like that’s probably been very crucial to your success, you know, is getting marketing involved so early. A lot of times, you know, when I’m hearing about how product launches went, and all of this, it’s like, they pull marketing in at the very last minute. And it’s like, “Here’s this mess, and now you’ve got, you know, a month to figure it out — or less. Good luck!” So that’s really cool. And it’s very smart, you know, starting that collaboration very early on.
(Jessica 16:33) Yeah, it’s helpful from a marketing perspective. I’ve definitely learned that. You know, even though you’re on a lot of calls, where it’s like, oh, this doesn’t really like, you know, apply to you. But it does. Like, the better you understand the product and how they’re building it, the better you can help them message and market and things like that.
(Michael 16:50) And I think one of the key functions that marketing, especially at Marathon, takes on is, how are we telling the benefits of this product to the patient? At the end of the day, we all want to believe, oh, these are great things. They’re great features. They’re great programs for healthcare improvement. But at the end of the day, it’s a patient at the other end that has to clearly understand, what is this? How do I use it? What’s in it for me? How’s it going to benefit me? And so we just realized you cannot wait till the last minute and then bring marketing in and say, “Oh, by the way, here you go. Now you’ve got to translate the value to the patient.” So having them in early to understand the intent that, you know, why are we building this? What’s the problem we’re solving for? And how is this going to improve the patient, the members lives? You have to do it.
(Laura 17:36) Yeah. Yeah. Like I said, I love that intentionality. Did you have like a roadmap or something that kind of guided you through this process? Or was it more like iterative, kind of like, “Oh, you know, we realized we need to think about this and think about that”? How did the mechanics of that work?
(Michael 17:54) From a product perspective, we absolutely have the roadmap. So we know specific areas that we want to address. And really, it’s — we call it, “What’s the problem we’re solving for?” So let’s look for the problem. Or really, it’s, what’s the opportunity? And it’s looking at the data. So what does the data tell us about our clients or the patients or the members, the employees and their family members? So what are the problems they’re facing? Is it musculoskeletal? Do they need physical therapy? Is it a lack of primary care: they just live in areas that have no availability? What’s driving the claims costs? What’s driving the poor health outcomes?
So we look at a lot of that. And then that informs how we design the product, which is heavy reliance on primary care with a physician. But then we also said, as everybody knows, behavioral health, mental health needs right now are through the roof because of COVID, because of isolation and then coming back, and anxiety. So that showed up in the data, and we said, part of that care team needs to be physician, close behavioral health specialty. There’s chronic conditions that are, you know, blowing up right now. So an RN health coach focus on that.
So the data led us to what we wanted to do. We knew we were delivering a lot of these things. And then, you know, that just sort of translates into — and to your point, it’s an iterative process — so this is what the first version looks like. We refine it. And then, ultimately, we sort of cut that off to say, we need to develop this first version really quickly. And then we’ll learn as we go. The patient, the members, will tell us. The market will tell us the next thing that’s needed for this. So we’ve always said, this is version 1.0. And once we launch it, we’ll refine it. It’ll get better. We’ll add different features and functionality, whether it’s technology or clinical scope of service. But that all comes from sort of the market research, getting the information from the patients.
(Laura 19:47) And I imagine, on the marketing side, it works similarly. You know, you put that message out there, do AB testing, see how this works, and then yeah, very cool.
(Jessica 19:56) Yeah. And I think, you know, that’s one of the things — even, kind of, one of your questions around asking advice — you know, I think that’s one of the things at Marathon that we’re good at is, we test and learn. We say, you know what, it doesn’t have to be perfect, right? Like, we don’t kind of let perfect be the enemy of getting something out there. So we’re very open to making sure that we obviously are solid, but you know, we are leveraging: How can we get better? How can we test? How can we learn? How can we, you know, iterate those kinds of things? And we really do that a lot. And it helps us get to market faster, too. You know, I’ve seen that here, versus other places that I’ve worked, where we get to market faster. And we’re able to kind of learn from that and keep moving. And it really doesn’t hinder you at all, right? Like, I think you’re better off to kind of get out there than kind of, you know, wait and wait and wait, because something isn’t perfect yet. You know, I don’t think it’ll ever be perfect, right?
(Laura 20:49) Yeah, and like you said, until you get it out there, you don’t really know, you know, how it’s going to be received and what the actual needs are. You know, like you said, you have data that’s informing, but yeah, that’s a great point.
So that is my next question, is, you know, what advice would you have to share? Anything else that, you know, you’ve kind of learned, tips and tricks, along the way?
(Jessica 21:08) Yeah, I mean, I think that’s the big one, is, you know, it doesn’t have to be perfect. You know, if you feel solid, you feel like you have what you need. You know, I think too, as we started to launch this, this was, you know, one of our first really big product launches at Marathon. So there’s some learnings, you know, that we’ve talked about, you know, hindsight where we could have done things a little bit differently. Or, you know, maybe tweak things here and there. But I think in general, we’re pretty happy with how things have gone and the buzz we are getting. You know, I think it’s hard to get good buzz in this market, and especially in healthcare, right now. So anywhere that we can kind of help get our name out there. You know, employer sponsored health care is not something everyone understands what it is, right? So you know, we’re in the process of trying to get our marathon brand out in the market. It’s a huge piece of our marketing effort right now. And launching a really unique product like this helps us try to get more of that — you know, that buzz in the market, get out there, be able to have more conversations, explain who we are, what we do, why we’re different. So it really gives us a lot of opportunity from that perspective.
(Michael 22:05) And the only other thing I would add is just, you know — and everybody says this — you need to have buy-in from the top down from senior executives. But we really did. I mean, we started — this is a mind shift for a lot of organizations to come in and say, look, we can’t let perfect be the enemy of good. We had top, senior-level executives come in every step of the way to say, this is an iterative process where we’ve got version one, this is what we’re delivering, and it’s going to get better over time. We’re going to deliver a top-notch product, it will get better over time, so don’t be scared to make mistakes. Don’t be scared about the speed to market. Embrace it. And that was sort of a message that was sent all throughout Marathon. Which, you know, in a lot of places, that innovative message is kind of hard for people to hear, because everybody wants to do things perfectly. But that was something I would say is, really get senior leaders involved and make sure that they send that message clear to everybody. Let’s move fast. Don’t be afraid to fail. Get this stuff done. And let’s be iterative.
(Laura 23:09) Yeah, yeah. That is great advice. Hard to do, but very important. So, yeah. All right, well, that was the only other question I had. Is there anything else that I should have asked you that I didn’t? Anything else that you’d like to share with us?
(Jessica 23:26) The only thing I didn’t say which I should have is, you know, once we go to market, and we launch, and we start to see how things are working, you know, one of the biggest things we like to do from a marketing perspective is we’ll start to leverage some of those customers and success stories and testimonials. Which will help — you know, we get asked for that a lot, like case studies and testimonials, especially from like our big broker partners or consulting houses. So that’s something, you know, I feel like as a marketer, my job’s never done, right? Like, the product is launched, but I’m not done. Like, we need to continue to message. We need to continue to iterate. And then, as we start to have more experience with a product, how do we go back and tweak our messaging? And how do we leverage those customers, or, you know, any of the information we can get from them to help us go out and talk about it? So it kind of gives us another opportunity to get back in the market with a success story or something like that, as well. So that’s something we like to do a lot on our end.
(Laura 24:18) Yeah, that’s a great idea. And also, you know, just social proof, the more you have, the better.
(Laura) Awesome. Well, thank you so much to both of you. This has been fantastic! And I know that, you know, other B2B marketing teams who are preparing for a product launch are really going to take a lot of insights from this. So thanks so much for coming on the show.
(Jessica 24:40) Thank you for having us. Yeah, we appreciate it.