Meet Toshiba Medical's Secret Content-Marketing Weapon

Economist Helps Brand's Customers Make Sense of Health-Care Reform

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Toshiba America Medical Systems is using an economist to help it compete with cat videos and news stories for its customers' time.

The company, part of Japanese hardware maker Toshiba, employs health-care economist Tom Szostak to bolster its content-marketing efforts. "He's a secret weapon," said Nancy Gillen, VP-marketing and strategic development at Toshiba Medical. "He has helped us transform our organization."

Tom Szostak
Tom Szostak

Mr. Szostak joined Toshiba in 2005 as a business-operations analyst and was assigned to Ms. Gillen shortly after she joined Toshiba in 2013. The move was made at Ms. Gillen's request, spurred by a desire to turn the company into a resource for its customers -- physicians, hospitals, imaging centers, among others -- as they navigated the complexities of the Affordable Care Act.

At first glance, you might think there's little benefit for a producer of medical equipment such as X-rays and MRI scanners to have a full-time economist on staff to break down public policy for its customers. But the economics of health-care reform are influencing customers' decisions, especially as they potentially deal with millions more patients and replace equipment less often due to financial pressures. "They're utilizing their technologies longer than they ever have before," said Ms. Gillen. Toshiba isn't using Mr. Szostak's work to influence purchase decisions outright, but rather to educate customers in the near term and benefit Toshiba over time.

Mr. Szostak "says he is [an] employee but then he doesn't talk about Toshiba, he talks about health-care reform," said Ms. Gillen. "We didn't want it to be a Toshiba commercial."

On top of giving talks at industry conferences, Mr. Szostak has written a five-part series on health-care economics, produced video content, written white papers and published studies. One study on reducing costs in the management of stroke patients was published in conjunction with the Gates Vascular Institute in Buffalo, N.Y.

"Health reform is more than just a few acronyms and buzzwords that most health-care companies use to convince their customers and consumers that they understand the change that's taking place," said Mr. Szostak.

Tying work like Mr. Szostak's back to revenue will likely never be easy. "It's more top-of-funnel, early-stage activity that needs to happen in order to build your brand value," said Forrester analyst Laura Ramos. "This isn't middle-funnel, later-funnel stuff that creates the customer opportunities."