Walking the Fine Line between Marketing and Education

Short Link: http://j.mp/4rQ9Aw

The title of this blog is “Electronic Health Record Workflow Management Systems” and I work for a company that develops and markets an EHR workflow management system [CW: true then, not now, insights still hold]. How much should you trust what I have to say about the subject?

Good question!

Last week I compared a bunch of identical apples to a juicy orange. I labeled the apples “EHRs” and the orange “An EHR WfMS”. I think my point was pretty obvious; most EHRs are as similar as apples but EHR workflow management systems are so different from EHRs that comparing the two is almost like comparing apples and oranges. I included the EncounterPRO logo above the orange because EncounterPRO is a good example of an EHR workflow management system.


I received two sorts of comments (although I wish folks would post them instead of calling or emailing them!): the professorial “Chuck, that looks like an advertisement.  Since you have an educational site, the commercial bias seems out of place and undermines your educational mission,” and the more partisan “Chuck, couldn’t you make those apples more sour and wormy looking?”

For years I’ve occasionally given a stock presentation with the title “Walking the Fine Line between Education and Marketing.” Its genesis was in the very first two presentations I gave at a trade conference. After the first presentation, the survey comments came back “Too commercial!” and “Infomercial!” I retooled and the comments came back “Excellent!” and “Very educational!” but also “Didn’t tell me where I could find a product with the described characteristics.” I began to wonder about the fine line between marketing and education.

1motivational_sequence3Above is one of the slides (based on Monroe’s much cited Motivation Sequence) from the resulting presentation. The column on the right is my application of Monroe’s motivational sequence to selling an idea, not a product.    

In the presentation I define a number of terms–selling, advertising, marketing, editorializing, informing, and educating–lying along a spectrum of benefit to the vendor versus benefit to the audience, and point out that there are many areas of overlap. In order to educate one has to persuade; in order to sell one has to educate, etc. The trick is to find a presentation that maximizes benefit for *both* the audience and a presenter.


This is a version of the disclosure slide that I recommend (although, of course, specific conference instructions and policies regarding disclosure take precedence). It accomplishes two very important goals. First, it of course alerts your audience to take what you have to say with a grain of salt. Second, if in fact they find your talk informative and persuasive, they sometimes take the next step and ask if you happen to know of a product that is a good example of what you are talking about. A classic win-win presentation.

4_savvy_audienceThe average adult American has seen more than a million ads. We are appropriately wary and skeptical about any and all information sent our way. We also understand there is unspoken quid pro quo. If someone respectfully provides valuable information, we usually extend to them the right to implicitly and discreetly ask for our consideration of their product. This is the essential principle behind the “White Paper.”

Back to that EncounterPRO logo:

First, a blog reader can easily hit the back button, whereas formal presentations to (relatively) captive audiences necessarily have different and stricter rules of speaker etiquette.

Second, health information technology conferences often stipulate that a company or product logo can appear no more than N times, which I interpret as permission to use a logo up to N times. So logos do indeed appear once in a while in education materials.

Finally, this is a blog. Blogs are (or are at least expected to be) more informal and authentic than stand-up trade industry presentations. I initially intended to display just the apples and the orange, but there was this inviting empty white space above the orange. Acting on impulse (an informal and authentic act) I inserted the EncounterPRO logo, with its randomly placed dots on the left representing chaotic workflow and its inline dots on the right representing orderly workflow.

To answer the question I asked at the beginning of this post. If I provide interesting and useful information about EHR workflow management systems, respect you and your intelligence, and disclose my self-interest; I suspect you can answer the question yourself.

2 thoughts on “Walking the Fine Line between Marketing and Education”

  1. An excellent response to the concerns raised by some of your readers and seems to be an honest and straightforward representation of the reality in which the blogging is taking place.

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