Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rational Conversations

The other day, Seth Godin, top marketing guru, wrote a post about rationality in marketing. He could just as easily have written about rationality in obesity conversations. Certainly the frustration level is the same. The marketer has done the research, refined the product, gathered the testimonials, made the brochures and yet the customer (acting "irrational") ignores the sales pitch and buys from another company.

Switch "health care provider" (e.g. physician, nurse, dietitian) for "marketer" and you can see the similarities between the 2 scenarios. The healthcare provider has collated the patient's information (e.g. BMI > 30, labs look like pre-diabetes, blood pressure risky), provided the health assessment and suggested next steps (i.e. lose weight sensibly, join this program, consider surgery etc.). And yet, the patient ignores the "sales pitch" and goes with the other company. In this scenario, the "other company" might be trying some risky quick diet regimen, drug or ignoring the advice altogether.

The marketer's frustrations is very similar to the healthcare provider's frustrations and leads both to consider the rationality of the customer/patient. Afterall, how could a person not make changes in light of all the convincing evidence presented? As Seth Godin puts it:

The problem is that your prospect doesn't care about any of those things. He cares about his boss or the story you're telling or the risk or the hassle of making a change. He cares about who you know and what other people will think when he tells them what he's done after he buys from you.

The opportunity, then, is not to insist that your customers get more rational, but instead to embrace just how irrational they are. Give them what they need. Help them satisfy their needs at the same time they get the measurable, rational results your product can give them in the long run.

The obesity-related conversation can switch to one based on developing understanding and rapport. It might be an opportunity to explore ambivalence to change or eliciting change talk. Getting frustrated or even worse blaming the patient likely will lead to a stalemate. Your patients need you to help them change not to challenge their rationality.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Are we having the right conversations?

Recently I've been thinking a lot about conversations or more specifically how frequently we have the wrong conversations about obesity. This really hit home to me when I attended an obesity forum at the Democratic National Convention last August. The Obesity Society sponsored the event and there was an impressive panel of both policymakers and obesity scientists. Given the role that the obesity epidemic plays in this nation's healthcare woes, the forum was very timely.

However, timeliness and relevancy weren't enough to carry the conversation to a useful outcome. Very quickly, it was obvious that although a conversation was taking place, no one was listening. Strange nuances occurred: the scientists spoke about the potential impact of the obesity "tsunami" and the policy makers spoke about their personal experiences with food and weight issues. The policy makers were concerned that people aren't cooking any more and kids have nowhere to play. The scientists spoke of complicated webs and cautioned that there are no easy answers. No one had an adequate answer for the intrepid journalist from the Congressional Quarterly who asked about the opportunity for taxation on junk foods. There was definitely an air of defeat at least among the some of the scientists.

Since August, I've paid closer attention to how we are discussing obesity issues at all levels - global, national, local and personal. What is the right conversation for scientists to have with policymakers? What has to happen for both sides to listen and collaborate with each other for a useful outcome? What are the markers that will really inform us that actual change is taking place?

A couple of organizations working on ensuring the obesity conversation is kept alive - Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance and the National Campaign to End Obesity. Check out their web sites and see what you think about whether the conversations are the right ones to have.