willie sutton

Willie Sutton: “Where the money is…”

Doctors learn Sutton’s Law in medical school, although they may not recall that it was named after bank robber Willie Sutton. Willie’s namesake axiom can teach us something about healthcare marketing and advertising.

If you’re not up on your historical “most wanted” trivia, here’s a bit of background. Willie “The Actor” Sutton (1901-1980) was an accomplished bank robber, stealing an estimated $2 million in his career. (This “accomplishment,” however, led Sutton to spend more than half his adult life behind bars.)

With a tip of the hat to Wikipedia, “Sutton is famously known for answering a reporter asked why he robbed banks by saying, ‘because that’s where the money is.’ Although Sutton later said it was the reporter’s invention, the quote formed the basis of Sutton’s law, often taught to medical students.”

“Sutton’s Law states that when diagnosing, one should first consider the obvious. It suggests that one should first conduct those tests that could confirm (or rule out) the most likely diagnosis.

There’s similar wisdom in the physician’s adage, “When you hear hoof beats behind you, think horses, not zebras.” And to be a successful at fishing, you need to “fish where the fish are.”

In medicine, bank robbery, fishing, and zebra watching, the big idea is about doing what should be obvious. The trouble is, sometimes the obvious is easily overlooked. Here are a few lessons in medical and healthcare marketing and advertising that should be obvious:

  • Sell benefits, not features. What the audience (patients/prospective patients) needs or wants counts the most.
  • Know your target audience precisely; who they are, where they are, and what they need. (Hint: It isn’t everyone, everywhere.)
  • A sustained (client, patient, customer) relationship is more valuable than a one-time purchase.
  • Call on experienced marketing talent when you need it.

We could continue this list, but the medical marketing lesson for success is that you need to understand who buys and why. Know what works and to do more of it. (And, just as obviously, don’t continue doing what isn’t working.)

If you’d like to talk with one of our experienced marketing executives about growing revenues, patient volume, reputation and patient satisfaction, connect with us here. We can provide more than a few good ideas that you can take to the bank.

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Stewart Gandolf

Stewart Gandolf

Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder at Healthcare Success Strategies
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is CEO of Healthcare Success, a medical marketing and health care advertising agency. He is also a frequent writer and speaker. Most importantly, he is happily married and a "rock-n-roll daddy" to two wonderful girls.
Stewart Gandolf
Stewart Gandolf


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