Emergic: Rajesh Jain's Blog

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How to Market Something that is Free

September 22nd, 2009 · 11 Comments

My friend, Dr. Aniruddha Malpani, wrote to me requesting assistance on an innovative idea. Perhaps you can give some suggestions. Here is Dr. Malpani’s post.

HELP is a free consumer health library we have been running for over 10 years now. The website is at www.helpforhealth.org.

While I am happy to fund the library ( which means we do not need any financial assistance), we do need help to increase awareness about the unique services HELP offers, so that more people will make use of our services. We do not have a marketing budget; and are having a difficult time marketing HELP.

Logically, one would expect this would be easy to do. We offer a unique service, which no one else offers; and because we help patients to talk to doctors and provide free Information Therapy, to empower patients to get the best medical care, one would expect people to be very happy to use our free services. We have no hidden agenda; are not looking for money; and are trying to improve the doctor patient relationship and to heal the sick Indian healthcare system by making sure patients are well – informed – all of which are laudable goals !

While the media does write occasional article about HELP, the fact still remains that we have not done a good job in marketing HELP, because not many people know about the services we offer.

Part of the problem is that because our services are free, they are not valued ! ( After all, if you get something for free, you don’t think it’s of any importance). I am quite certain that we do not want to charge for our services, because I believe patients need to have all the information they need and want, if they want to get the best medical care; and this is part of our mission.

We offer free online Ask the Librarian services as well, where we provide reliable authentic information to users by email, thus acting as infomediaries who are Information Therapy specialists.

I would like suggestions as to what we can do to market HELP ! We need help in marketing HELP !

You can email Dr. Malpani directly, or leave a comment here.

Tags: Uncategorized

11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 kasi // Sep 22, 2009 at 9:22 am

    Indian patients are much more conservative than in other parts of the world. Some of them don’t even reveal their illness to their close relatives. There is very little chance HELP will grow by approaching patients directly.

    My humble opinion is ” HELP should approach doctors to promote the services of HELP”. Patients listen to their doctors. If a doctor recommends your site…then i am sure there is a 90% chance that the patient will come to HELP for help. So Help should think of how to help the doctor community who in tern will help the HELP grow.

    This is my personal view and not any survey report so take it with a pinch-of-salt.

    Kasi

  • 2 Rohitaash // Sep 22, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Hi Rajesh,

    Here is my feedback for your friend after spending few minutes on this website.

    Before I say anything I must comment on what he said about site being free and not valued.

    I want to tell him that its the “customer experience” of his offering that drives the valuation and unless he is charging unfair amount for his service, which he is not, price has little to do with it.

    Now the list of possible improvements:

    1. Whats that “foreigner” doing in the video on the side on a website supposed for Indian audience?

    Apparently waiting for users to hover their cursor over it so it could start talking!

    I wanna say that if it has anything important to say, pl. make him say it when the site opens up. Also, An indian middle class face will serve his site’s purpose better.

    2. Site hardly offers any “pull points” so I could start to engage.

    Unfortunately its just a website. World has moved on to an engagement model where if you can not engage the users and offer so much at once that they have to come back to take it all in, they are not coming back at all!!!

    3. What is the site about?

    Honestly if I hadnt read your blog entry, it would be hard for me to make out.

    The product or service must be explained within 2 seconds of visitor’s arrival on the website.

    Maybe thats what the video on the right was trying to do but if its really an innovative concept, and if it was me designing it, I would use moving images (like cartoons of people or actual faces) with visual indication of how they are using this website or some examples of how its being used or move the intro video right in the center or all of these things and more!!!

    4. Few miscellaneous questions:

    Whats the target age of visitors? their profession? Where is their community?

    What are visitors talking about? WHats their reaction to this site? How are they using the website?

    Where is the life transformation happening? What problem is this site trying to solve?

    What value addition can this site do beyond information? Is this site REALLY a content enabler?

    Why would a user come back again and again to see the same static page?

    Can I get the same information at youtube and google? If so, why would I use this site?

    Anyways, I think targeting a niche audience instead of trying to please all of India may be a better strategy to get answers to all these questions.

    I wanna add from my recent experience that whenever I consult people on customer experience, I realize they are so much in love with what they have built and where they wanna head to that they hardly listen. I sincerely hope your friend is different. I wish him all the luck.

    Thanks and Regards,
    Rohitaash

  • 3 Siddharth Chawla // Sep 22, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Rajesh,

    Looking at the HELP website it does not inform me immediately why should I use the website. And after spending more time at the website it appears to be library which if I am not a doctor may not need it.

    I use so many medical sites to look up so much of information but could not get myself to understand how to use this site.

    And I really do not understand what is free compared to WebMD and similar other sites.

    And Rohitassh’s analysis seems to be on target.

    Siddharth

  • 4 Brian Hayes // Sep 23, 2009 at 1:51 am

    Kasi, Rohitaash and Siddharth put strong points on the table, all boiling down to “customer experience” rather than any tenets of leverage or marketing. My thought is rather small, but after sleeping on the challenge, it seemed to me that populated sites are often user-driven. Yes, I know that’s pointing to some sudden ingenuity we all wish we could invent and rake in a wealthy fortune. But I wondered, “The site is offering answers which are simple and boring not problems which are difficult and exciting.” We see things that way whether we should or not. Laughing at myself, I thought people would rather visit if the site were provocative, slightly horrid and miserable, (it’s illness after all), controversial but forthrightly examining tough challenges, thus simply exciting. I hope I’m not just being silly.

  • 5 Dhruvank // Sep 23, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    Just saw the site. Is it targeted to doctors or the average patient. If i were an average patient, here is a progression that i would follow:
    1) Do a quick search on google for the ailment of choice and get some background information
    2) Ask friends/ family for a doctor/ specialist in that field and visit the doctor

    I dont think i will ever read books on medicine.

    And if this is for doctors then, a first level menu classification on ailments etc would be much more useful then what it is currently.

  • 6 Dr Aniruddha Malpani // Sep 23, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    Thanks so much for all your comments. I agree we need to do a better job with designing the website !

    Any suggestions as to what we can do to ensure that every hospital in India has a Patient Education Resource Center ? Patients have lots of questions – and doctors don’t have time to answer them 🙁

    Also, while google is great , there is very little India-specific content on the web 🙁

  • 7 udayapg // Sep 25, 2009 at 12:56 am

    Sidharth hits it right on the head, Rohitaash’s points are valid and Dr.Malpani seems to agree.

    Is there a market for the product as it is? Hardly…
    Will a site redesign solve this problem? Hardly…
    Will better SEO solve the problem? Hardly…

    The doctor’s intent being better patient education, I suggest he put his librarian to better use.

    The simplest thing the librarian can do is to provide a simple list of diseases and the books he has on the topic*, tag them as beginner and expert and also provide a concurrent list of external resources on the net or offline.

    Just one (well designed) page of this and the site will be more useful even in its present form.

    For instance I have a relative who seems to suffer from early AD and I downloaded a book, “An Atlas of Investigation and Diagnosis – Dementia” and passed it on…to eventual good karma.

    My problem during this search was in finding that one good reference, it took some time to separate the wheat from the Google chaff, here is where your librarian and his list of resources can help.

    It goes without saying that linking to existing quality medical content on the net, we all know that there are many, will enhance the usefulness of the site, a human sorted directory of medical resources does really make sense for a searcher desperate for quality information. And include all kinds of media, today’s world is multimedia.

    Allowing people to download books and material by topic is another good addition to user satisfaction. Imagine that I want to know about fertility and I get a expert graded set of reading content from the site, oh, it will have me coming back for more.

    Copy this list and provide them to hospitals, have them display it, thus promoting your site.

    However I doubt if doctors will thank you, overworked as many of them are. Sick people and their relatives can at times become paranoid and additional information can at times make them more so.

    One can improve the site with a good internal search engine, the current model is broken, but I guess it can be too much effort. Better to let Google do the Job.

    Oh ya, get a good Web design team, and let them convert your statement of values into a good web product, rather than vice versa, which I suspect was the case here.

    And Dr. Malpani, you do write a good blog.

    Good luck.

    Udaya

    *And break them down into mainstream medicine and alternative medicine, you seem to mix it up, which can turn some people off.

  • 8 g.e. // Oct 7, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    Something interesting..
    http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/06/start-ups-aim-to-transform-visits-to-the-doctor/?ref=technology

  • 9 jeff dobkin // Oct 17, 2009 at 6:38 am

    I’ve written a book, How to Market a Product for Under $500 – that might be very helpful. While it’s mostly for offline, it’s base is in direct marketing. It’s probably the best 23 bucks you can spend at Amazon. Or the best twenty buck download you can buy instantly.
    To give you a very good idea of what my writing – and low cost marketing campaigns are like, I’ve posted about a hundred or so marketing and direct marketing articles on danielleadams.com. While I continue to work on the site – it’s all free and I hope you find it of great value. Jeff Dobkin

  • 10 joji // Feb 20, 2010 at 9:35 am

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  • 11 joji // Feb 20, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Established in 1997, St. Gregorious Edu-Guidance is a leading education consultancy services providing exemplary service to students all over India. We deal in Admissions to all major professional courses in Premier Institutes across India. We are your one step solution for all career related needs, it may be MD, MBBS BE, BTech (ALL BRANCHES), , MDS, BDS, BPharm, BArch, MBA, MTech, MS, , PhD or any other courses. We provide personalized career solutions on an individual basis keeping in mind the aspirations of our client as well as the affordability factor.
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