At the 2015 Healthcare Design Expo & Conference (Nov. 14-17, Washington, D.C.), Ken Schmidt, brand visionary and former director of communications strategy for Harley-Davidson Motor Co., will present the opening keynote presentation, “Creating Customer Loyalty,” on Sunday, November 15.

In this conference preview, Healthcare Design talks with the speaker about bringing his message to the industry, overcoming challenges in a post-reform world, and using differentiation to drive demand and growth.

Healthcare Design: You spent a large part of your career working for Harley-Davidson Motor Co. and now you’ve taken to the road, talking to business groups and academic communities about how to build and improve corporate cultures and reach new customers in untraditional ways. How does your message relate to healthcare design?

Ken Schmidt: When we were struggling to figure out what to do with our business at Harley-Davidson, we found that we were focusing all of our energy on price and selling product. The problem with that is that if you’re known only for providing a specific product, service, or procedure, and people can find somebody else who will provide that for less money or more conveniently, that’s what they’re going to do. So we switched the emphasis from product to people and developing a greater sense of intimacy with the people who we serve as a company and as individuals. As we did that, we made all kinds of amazing discoveries of how we as individuals and as a business can fit into and enhance the lives of the people that we serve.

Can you share an example?

Every human on the planet is ego-driven and wants to be recognized, reacted to, and made to feel good about themselves. It’s getting harder and harder to get that in the digitized world we’re in. We learned that the faster we can validate people and get them to feel better about themselves or let them see that we’re doing something extraordinary for their benefit, they’re going to keep coming back to us and also tell other people. And that’s where reputation comes from.

In talking about customer relationships, you like to ask businesses, “What are you willing to do today that’s different from what you did yesterday and different from that guy who can put you out of business tomorrow?” Why is that important?

Differentiation doesn’t come from the color of your website or how nice your brochures are. It comes through the ultimate behavior of the business. How do we want to be known, how do we want people to see us, and what do we want them specifically to say about us? What business would ever want to be described using the same language that you would use to define a competitor or somebody who’s not any good? Everyone is too busy focusing on profitability, attracting/retaining employees, and all of those elements of business process, but they’re not looking at the bigger picture of being able to differentiate themselves as a tool to fuel their demand and grow the business.

What advice do you have for healthcare organizations adapting to a more competitive, post-reform world with new models of care delivery, reimbursement structures, and changing customer expectations?

Stop waiting for someone to push a button, develop an app, or champion legislation that's going to make it easier to run your organization in ways that deliver exceptional, meaningful value to those you serve. Also, frankly, healthcare organizations need to face the reality that they're competing for hearts, minds, and dollars the same way any other business has to. We don't and can't win in any market competing as we did in the past.

Click here for more on the 2015 Healthcare Design Expo & Conference, held Nov. 14-17, in Washington, D.C.