About the Brand Enabled Podcast & all episodes

Sometimes, having the best product doesn’t guarantee success. It can be beaten by a superior brand. This episode’s guest has a fascinating story about this. Gabriel Cohen interviews Justin Steinman, whose career that took him from GE Healthcare Digital to Novell taught him great lessons he was able to apply to the rebranding at Definitive Healthcare as its Chief Marketing Officer. From leadership to marketing lessons, Justin takes us from the inside out of their rebrand process and how they have repositioned themselves as the industry leader in healthcare commercial intelligence. He then highlights what makes good change management and lays out some core guiding principles for leading and managing people. If you are at the point of transforming your brand, today’s conversation is one you won’t want to miss. Tune in!

About Justin Steinman

As Chief Marketing Officer of Definitive Healthcare, Justin is responsible for the strategy, development, and execution of all aspects of marketing for the company, including product marketing, demand generation, corporate marketing, public relations, and corporate communications.

Prior to joining Definitive Healthcare, Justin served as the vice president of commercial product management at Aetna, a CVS Health company. Previously, he served as Chief Marketing Officer at GE Healthcare Digital, and in a variety of sales & marketing roles at Novell.

Justin holds undergraduate degrees in English and History from Dartmouth College, and an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

When Justin is not debating the finer points of product positioning or lead generation campaigns, you can find him on a Little League baseball field in Natick—where he has coached for nearly a decade—or sitting on the beach in Maine with a good book and a newspaper.


Read the episode transcript

I’m excited to have Justin Steinman. He got such an interesting background experience for many years. We’re going to be going through some interesting stories from that career that relate to the brand, starting from the early days at Novell. It’s a fascinating story about how a superior product can beat and buy a superior brand. Sometimes, having the best product doesn’t guarantee success.

Through his experience at GE, where he was responsible for repositioning and some great lessons, especially when it comes to socialization and learnings from leadership, he was able to apply in going through a rebrand at Definitive Healthcare. Welcome, Justin. It’s great to have you on. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Where do we find you now?

 You will find me in lovely Framingham, Massachusetts, in the podcast studio for our own podcast, Definitively Speaking.

As a quick introduction, tell us a little bit about your trajectory and career getting to where you are now.

I’m a Chief Marketing Officer at Definitive Healthcare. I’ve been here for several years. I joined here at the height of the pandemic in October 2020 with the idea of getting the company ready for an IPO, which we successfully had on September 15th, 2021. We can talk a little bit about that later. Previous to that, I spent four years at Aetna/CVS. I say Aetna/CVS because my first two years were Aetna, and CVS bought us.

During that time, I ran product management for Aetna’s commercial business. I’m designing all the insurance plans and wellness products that Aetna sold to employers, everything from two employees up to the Home Depot and everything in between. After CVS bought it, I spent my few years there building products that took the combined value of Aetna and CVS in broad to market, which is cool. There is no cost to the member, minute clinic-type stuff, a COVID rapid testing product, and virtual primary care.

Previous to that, I spent several years at GE Healthcare Digital, where I was a Chief Marketing Officer. We can talk a little bit about the rebranding of my career after business school at Novell. First, I was in a sales engineer role, and I moved into product marketing. We can talk a little bit about my time at Novell and our relationship vis-a-vis Microsoft, which was both a competitor and a partner and is quite a unique story.

Let’s go back before that because you started your career at Accenture. You started in consulting. As you think back through your trajectory, starting in consulting, what were some of those aspects that you were able to carry forward into your career client side as you grew?

I went to Dartmouth College with a double degree in English and History. I thought I was going to be a journalist. I was the Editor in Chief of the Daily Dartmouth. All the way up until August of my senior year, I was preparing for a career in journalism. I woke up at the end of August before I went back to my senior year and said, “I don’t think I want to be a journalist because the world is all about building people up to rip them down.” Fundamentally, I’m a construction guy. I like to build things.

I went through corporate recruiting because my father said, “I spent $100,000 plus for you to go to college. You better get a job.” I went through corporate recruiting, not knowing what it was, and was fortunate enough to get a job with Accenture and Anderson Consulting as an SAP Consultant. The only thing to know about SAP is those three letters to the alphabet.

I went with my English degree and went to data conversion programs for four years to pull data out of old legacy systems and move it into SAP, which is a great learning experience. It taught me a couple of things. It taught me how to live in a client environment and how to be a business professional. It taught me the value of listening to your client, understanding what their needs are, and translating them. It gave me a great global perspective because the job sent me all around the world, like Japan, Singapore, Australia, Europe, and Indiana. I got a good perspective globally on that. It was a great experience working there for four years.

What’s interesting is that if you’d gone down that journalism trajectory, you probably would’ve come back into marketing because that’s what many journalists have done over the last decade.

I’ve always loved to write. One of the joys of my job is I still do a ton of writing.

Let’s jump into the Novell story because there are a lot of people who’d be reading who’ve never heard of Novell, but I remember back in the day, Novell was the bright, shiny star. We talk about how much media and attention tech gets. For those that don’t even know what Novell was, talk about what Novell was, the leading position they had, and how you ended up getting a role there.

Novell is one of the great interesting stories of technology. They invented workplace computing. They had email, GroupWise, before anybody had it. They had a product called NetWare, which was inter-office networking. They had the WordPerfect Office Suite. If these things sound like things Microsoft had, it’s because they did.

Novell had fantastic engineering. NetWare is still running around the world several years later, but nobody knew about it because it did not excel in marketing. Microsoft had the idea of building both a better brand, an easier-to-understand brand, and most importantly, to leverage partnerships. If you look at where Novell lost, they also lost the operating system war because they got out-marketed.

You joke about the blue screen of death for those people reading of a certain age. Imagine if your car worked like the blue screen of death, where it suddenly stopped working, and you had to reboot it in the middle of the highway. That’s what the blue screen death was. It went blue, and you had to restart. For some reason, Novell was never able to take advantage of that.

I joined Novell in 2004 out of business school. I had done my summer internship there because the Chief Operating Officer of Novell at the time had been the CEO of the startup I worked at before the business school. The lesson here is it’s all about who you know, networking, who you work for, and where they go. I joined Novell at the same time as they got into the Linux business, but in classic Novell form, they didn’t buy the market leader in Linux, which would be Red Hat. They bought the number two company, SUSE. All of a sudden, you’ve had Novell, which is the number two company in all the office suites, losing at Microsoft. We had the number two brand, Linux.

When I took over product marketing, I decided to reposition the SUSE Linux brand overtly as a challenger brand. What I told people was, “Either you’re an attacker or you’re a defender.” I got to give a shout-out to one of my business school professors, Howard Anderson, who taught me that attacker and defender. The idea was that if you’re a Microsoft, you’re a market leader. You have almost nothing to gain and everything to lose versus if you’re an attacker, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

At this point, I also should point out that I had an offer to join Microsoft after business school. I would’ve been the Assistant Product Manager for Exchange in the small and medium-sized business market. It’s a niche with everything to lose and nothing to gain. Whereas at Novell, I was the Marketing Leader and Marketing Strategist for SUSE Linux, the whole distro.

We made a decision to position it as a challenger brand. We had this great advertising campaign called Your Linux is Ready. We positioned it as, “We want to work with you as a community. We’re going to package up your Linux and make it better.” Red Hat is this big corporate monster, the Microsoft of Linux. That worked well in terms of it.

Ironically, halfway through my time there, we wound up doing a partnership with Microsoft in the old only-Nixon-can-go-to-China type thing. I won’t get into all the vagaries of all the legal stuff, but let’s say that Novell had some patents that Microsoft wanted to clear up. Microsoft realized they needed to get into Linux because Linux was going into their data center.

In one of the most surreal moments of my life, I found myself briefing Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft, on how to talk about Linux in front of an open-source crowd in San Francisco, which are things you never thought you’d do with your life. This was back in 2007 and 2008. Remember, Steve Ballmer was like, “Linux is the enemy.” We took Novell on this journey where we positioned it as a challenger brand to where Microsoft, the enemy, became our partner, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend. We wound up competing against Red Hat together, which is quite a crazy experience.

What did Novell do wrong overall that prevented them from being a Microsoft and a leadership position overall as a brand?

It’s a great business school case study. I don’t think you could point out one thing. It was the death of a thousand cuts. Novell never went bigger and broad enough in their marketing strategy. Novell got hurt by not having a desktop operating system and not building the hardware partnerships that Microsoft realized the value of IBM, Dell, and HP could make them a winner, whereas Novell made a decision to go at it by itself.

At some point, sales and marketing beat product quality. Novell did not have the blue screen of death. GroupWise worked better uptime and more features, but it lacked all the different sales, marketing, and channels that Microsoft effectively built. That was the downfall of Novell. We sold Novell in 2010 to a private equity firm, which rolled it into MicroStrategy. There are aspects of Novell software still running around the world, but Novell, as a company, is no more.

After that, you spent the bulk of your career at GE. Talk about that transition and how that all came up.

I’ve always kept pride in myself as a builder. I like to build things. During the time between when we had a deal signed with private equity to sell Novell and the deal was close, I got a call from a headhunter. We’re back in the 2010 and 2011 timeframe. It was for an executive role at GE. Back in those days, when GE came calling with an executive role, you answered the phone. You’re at full stop.

The offer was to come and be the VP of Marketing and the Chief Marketing Officer for the EMR, Electronic Medical Records, and Revenue Cycle Business that GE had bought from a company called IDX. I was talking to the CMO of all of GE Healthcare at that point and he said, “You don’t need to know anything about healthcare. We don’t know a lot about software. We are swimming in healthcare knowledge. We’ll make you a deal. You come here and teach us about software marketing. We’ll teach you everything you need to know about healthcare.

I did that job for a couple of years. Sean went off to run GE Healthcare Japan. I became the Chief Marketing Officer of GE Healthcare Digital, which is a $2.3 billion business that had electronic medical records, revenue cycle management, and a cool digital imaging business that supported all of the MRI and CT machines that GE made. It was over $1 billion in revenue in the digital imaging business. The whole thing was branded centricity. We can talk about the brand evolution there if you’d like.

Why don’t you go into that? 

When I took over the Centricity brand, we didn’t have a unified story. GE had gotten into healthcare IT through a series of acquisitions. It had left all of the marketing teams intact. We had an EMR business and a rev cycle business, which also had its own positioning and messaging, a cardiology imaging business, and an MRI imaging business. You’re starting to see we had PACS and RIS, radiology information, picture archiving, and communication systems. We are a portfolio of brands. Everyone thought that their message should be the leading message.

You can imagine how it showed up when we showed up at the CIO, brought six different sales reps with six different messages, and put, “We’re all GE. Buy from GE.” A customer was like, “Does A work with B? What’s the overall value proposition?” There was a point solution in every single one of these individual markets. Our value proposition was like, “You don’t need to buy a point solution. We can be your one-stop shop. We’ve also got the hardware, which is important. We’ve got consulting services and hospital operations. We’re GE Healthcare.”

GE Healthcare had enough problems trying to get the CT brand, MRI brand, X-ray brand, and IT brand to work together. I had a mess inside the IT organization with this different type of stuff. When I took over as CMO, our CEO said, “Justin, you got to clean this up.” I said, “Absolutely.” This is the lesson learned. He and I decided to reposition all the brands around value-based care. Value-based care is around the whole idea of your doctor treats you as a patient and doesn’t get paid for service but rather gets paid for keeping you healthy. It’s where healthcare is going as an overall industry. In 2014, during this, I was still fairly cutting-edge-type stuff.

It’s massively cutting-edge. There are still a lot of people that you talk to, and they’ll look at you blankly when you talk about value-based care. We thought we’d be further along, but that’s a different show.

That’s my podcast, Definitively Speaking. We talk about that all the time. At that point, we were talking about value-based care. We were excited about it. He and I came up with this whole positioning around how each of our different portfolios is going to do this. Centricity is going to put the patient at the center.

He and I cooked all this up. We are fully aligned. He’s like, “January staff meeting, we’re going to get in, we’re going to roll this all out, and everybody’s going to love this.” I walked into the January staff meeting with all of my peers, the Head of Sales, the CFO, and the Heads of the different GMs of the different product lines. I’m feeling like I’m the man. I got a shirt press and a sports coat on. I was like, “This is great. They’re going to love it.” Every last one of them hated it.

We’d only put 30 minutes on the agenda for me to introduce this concept because the CEO and I thought it was blindingly obvious. Everyone is going to love this and rubber stamp it. Justin, go to town. They hated it because they weren’t involved. I had been on this several-month journey with the CEO. We’d done market research, talked to customers, and done it in a corner. We hadn’t brought everybody with us.

One of my great mentors at Novell, a guy named John Dragoon, had given me a great piece of advice that somehow I completely forgot in this process, which is, “Justin, it’s better to get 80% of the way to your destination with 100% of the people on board than 100% of the way to your destination by yourself.” At GE, I’d gone 100% of the way to my destination by myself.

We had to blow up the rest of the staff meeting. The entire agenda got crumpled up and thrown out the window. I spent the next two days bringing the leadership team on the journey that I had gone on for several months around the brand evolution, market research, repositioning, look and feel, and everything we wanted to do.

We got that 80% of where I needed to get to. I had 100% of the people on board. When I tell you it was emotionally painful, it was like dragging my fingers across a chalkboard for two consecutive days because I had been a bad team player and I had not brought my teammates with me. That’s a lesson I’ll keep for the rest of my life.

I imagine it’s an aspect of that which is felt for them. You’ve thrown a grenade. They have to deal with it, and they’re going to be impacted by a lot of these changes, whether from salespeople on how they’re going to sell. They’re probably thinking about how they’re going to be compensated. CFOs are thinking about how that changes how we measure and report on things.

It’s a grenade, and it taught me an important lesson about marketing. That was one of those pivotal moments in my entire career because it changed my whole philosophy of marketing. It taught me so much. One of the things I realized is that everybody has a stake in marketing. I don’t get to tell the CTO whether we should use Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, or Microsoft Azure. I have exactly zero qualifications to offer an opinion on that. I took one Computer Science class in college. That doesn’t qualify me several years ago.

When I go and speak to the market on behalf of that CTO and all those engineers, I am speaking on his behalf. He needs to feel what I’m saying about GE, Definitive Healthcare, or whatever company I’m working at in the future, even though I never want to leave DH, you’ve got to realize that you’re speaking on behalf of these people. You’ve got to include them and make them feel like they’re there because they’re emotionally invested.

It’s the same thing with the CFO and everybody in finance. The sales team needs to be because they’ve got to carry your message to customers. If people don’t believe and don’t feel like they’ve been heard in their input, they’re going to reject the organ. We’re all marketers. We joke about it in marketing. Everybody is in marketing. The reality is we’re all marketers. Everybody watches TV. Everybody reads the internet. How many ads do you see on a given day? You’ve been taught what effective marketing is. We all watch a Super Bowl and say, “That ad was great. That ad was terrible.” We all have an opinion on that. We all know when people screw up marketing.

As a CMO or any marketing leader as it is, you’ve got to bring people in, consider, and leave your ego not even out the door. You have to leave your ego outside the building to get that input. The best marketing leaders can synthesize all of that input and emotion from everybody in the company and turn it into something transformational. That was my big lesson there.

You talk about one aspect of this, which is everyone has to live with the decisions that marketing makes. When you come home, or you’re at a dinner party, you talk about who you work for. People might have a perception of that brand. There’s that even bigger emotional resonance. There’s this other aspect that can get in the way when you talk about a brand where everyone feels they have an opinion. You’re not going to go and question the CTO’s decision on what cloud hosting platform to use, but everyone is going to have an opinion on the logo, identity, positioning, or words we’re using.

I don’t know if there’s another role in an organization where change management has become a more important aspect of the skillset if you are a brand leader or a CMO. Can you maybe talk a bit about that? Could you expand on what you might have learned about how you became a good change manager and what change management lessons you’ve learned?

I can tell you a story about how we did it here at Definitive Healthcare. I like to tell my team all the time, “You have to hear everybody out. You don’t necessarily have to listen to them.” That’s a big lesson. I will hear anybody’s opinion. I’ll listen to you talk for hours if I have to, and you got to have a lot of patience. At the end of the day, the board is paying me to be the expert. They’ve hired me to trust my judgment.

I can synthesize everybody and help you understand why we made the choices that we made. After I’ve heard you out, we’re going to go in a certain direction. I’m going to try to get everybody a little piece of where they are so where they can see. If your idea is powerful enough and special enough, everybody will start to feel how it is there. There are all sorts of tips and tricks.

I’ll tell you the story about what we did here at Definitive Healthcare. I joined Definitive Healthcare in October of 2020. The CEO and the board brought me in with the express instruction that said, “We’re going to go public in 2023. You got a couple of years. We never invested in marketing.” I took a look around. They had one product marketing person. They had never spent a dime on brand. Our business was healthcare data and analytics to help you grow. That isn’t wrong. It is not aspirational, exciting, or category.

I turned to the CEO and said, “This is a two-year construction.” He goes, “You got plenty of time. Relax, Justin. Two years. We’re on this path.” I remember going to our first board meeting. I present to the board my diagnosis, “We’re going to build product marketing from the ground up. We’re going to build demand gen. I want to overhaul marketing operations. We’re going to start building a brand. I need to hire a branding agency to think through this strategically.”

At the board meeting, some guy comes in. It’s one of our investors. He says, “We’ve done all of this analysis. We think the IPO window is going to close around the end of 2021. You guys are going to go public next summer.” I’m like, “What?” They’re like, “We’re going to go public maybe next fall.” I’m like, “I got to rebrand the company.” He’s like, “You can do that while we do an IPO.” Anybody reading, do not rebrand a company during an IPO if you want to. It is a ton of work and moving parts.

The whole year was a blur. We got it done. That was a crazy time to go from repositioning the company. When I say we repositioned the company, we did vision, mission, tagline, look and feel, logo, product naming, and hierarchy. Included in that is a complete and total website overhaul, About Us, a website upgrade to a new technology platform, and all the associated pieces of an IPO analyst, adex, and the whole kit and caboodle.

In that rebranding process, did you have people inside your team who had gone through something like this before?

I did. I’d stayed in touch with my account manager on the EuroLinux Reddit campaign throughout the years. When I came here, she was still working at that same ad agency. I called her up. I’m like, “I joined Definitive Healthcare. We’re going to do a massive rebrand. I need a VP of Corporate Marketing. Do you want to leave the agency side and come join me?” She had specialized for many years in an ad agency focused on healthcare and technology brands. She seems like a good fit for a healthcare technology SaaS company.

I convinced her to come work here for me. She and I did this together. We hired a third-party agency. I’ll give a shout-out to my friends at Superhuman, a fantastic branding agency. What do we do?

Superhuman had this interesting process. It was called the Archetype Process. They helped us figure out who they were.

For those people who are reading who don’t know what an archetype is, you can think about an archetype as certain types of personalities that people think about. It works everything from Friends where Joey is the funny guy, Rachel is the beauty, and Monica is the control person to Star Wars. Han Solo is the rogue. Skywalker is the hero. Obi-Wan Kenobi is a genius. Leia is the emotional leader.

We did a series of archetype research to figure out what archetype we think Definitive Healthcare is. We surveyed all 500 employees at Definitive Healthcare. We explained to them what an archetype was, gave them a little video, showed them clips of Star Wars and Friends to make it relatable, and said, “What do you think of Definitive Healthcare? Here’s a survey. You’re involved in step one of the rebranding process.”

As opposed to the world at GE, when the CEO and I had not gone into a corner and done all this work, I involved all 500 people at step one. As a result of the survey, we also surveyed a bunch of customers. The value of Definitive Healthcare is that we’re a navigator. We can help you navigate the healthcare ecosystem, almost like a way for healthcare. We said, “Now that we know our archetype, that we’re the navigator, and you can show it to everybody.”

We rolled this out. We brought the bridge in. We did a webinar for everybody. Because we were remote, everyone was doing a webinar from their bedrooms. They saw the research and understood what the archetype was. We said, “We’re going to go and explore how we can bring a brand to life around navigation. Does everybody agree that we help you navigate the healthcare ecosystem?” I was like, “Yeah, that makes sense.”

All of a sudden, everybody emotionally is on board. We went off and did more research. We came up with a bunch of different looks and feels. How do you control some of this? Jan, who is our VP of Corporate Marketing. Jan and I know what good creativity is. We saw dozens of treatments for creativity, the look and feel, and what we wanted to look at.

We picked our three favorites and brought them to the entire executive leadership team. They had a choice, but it was Jan and Justin’s choice. We had 1, 2, or 3, but we could live with 1, 2, or 3. Even though we are 3, the whole ELT wanted 3. We would’ve lived with it. We gave them a choice, but it was a controlled choice of how they felt like it.

We came to them with a revised vision and mission. We said, “How do you feel about this? Does this represent who you are?” Our vision is to transform data analytics and expertise into healthcare commercial intelligence. We’ll come back and talk about healthcare commercial intelligence in a second. Suddenly, we said, “We are transforming. Who here wants to be aspirational? Do you want to deliver healthcare data analytics? Do you want to do transforming?” Everybody was like, “I want to transform.” Put your leadership position. You give them that.

The big a-ha moment that we had was that we needed a category. Nobody does what we do. I like to joke that if a couple of our competitors got together and had a baby, that would be Definitive Healthcare. We were unique in a category. We mapped out this entire healthcare ecosystem and gave everybody a Definitive ID, which is the equivalent of a DUNS and Bradstreet number. We mapped the relationships as to how they all fit together. We could help you navigate it.

What does that mean? That’s wordy. We said, “We don’t give you healthcare intelligence because healthcare intelligence is what your doctor has.” We do commercial intelligence. We started looking at our customers. We saw many of our customers have a Chief Commercial Officer, someone responsible for sales and marketing and product development. We’re healthcare.

What if we create this new category of healthcare commercial intelligence, and suddenly, we’re the industry leader in healthcare commercial intelligence, and we start repositioning ourselves as the industry leader in healthcare commercial intelligence? I go back to the team. I’m like, “Who wants to be an industry leader?” They were like, “I do.” I’m like, “Here’s our category, healthcare commercial intelligence. Here’s why it works.”

We can transform data and analytics thinking all the way back to who the description was, healthcare data and analytics to help you grow. We can transform data analytics and expertise because we’re all experts in healthcare commercial intelligence so that you, our customer, can accelerate your path to commercial success. We’ve taken it and made it all about our customers. Everyone there said, “We’ve got a tagline for you, discover opportunity.” Sales is all about the opportunity. Navigation discovers opportunity. Everybody likes that.

We put together this whole package that explained not only the what but the why and grounded it in the research. We brought not only the ELT on the whole journey but also put the whole company on the journey. We took a lot of feedback and listened to a lot of people. We rolled out training and stories. We gave everybody a new PowerPoint deck. We celebrated it. We repositioned the whole company. I can tell you without a doubt in my mind that had I not put my foot in my mouth badly at GE Healthcare Digital on that Centricity rollout, I would not have been able to do what we did successfully here at Definitive Healthcare.

When you do that big heavy lift and you give people the training, what happens next? It used to be that you think, “That’s the brand work done. I can go back to other things, demand gen, and the day-by-day marketing.” If you don’t sustain it and keep on top of it, it can revert back, atrophy, and become the Wild West quickly. What have you done since then to continue to reinforce it and sustain it? If you can talk about how you can start to translate it to how that might start to impact experience, culture, and other things that might not even be under your domain.

First off, Jan is still here. She’s helping me build the brand. She has a great team working for her. We think a lot about building the brand. It’s a number of things. From a cultural perspective, I love that you brought it up because I like to joke that marketing is oftentimes the chief cheerleader inside the company. If we’re not the most positive people inside the company rooting us on, who should be? We are, in marketing here at DH, responsible for internal communications. We have the opportunity to constantly reinforce the brand and everything.

Something as pedantic as our internal weekly newsletter, our Monday mention is Definitive branding. What’s going on in the world of healthcare commercial intelligence this week? Subtle, but it’s there. We have done together a great PR campaign. We hired an agency. Shout out to my friends at Highwire. Our PR strategy is according to Definitive Healthcare. We have the largest database of healthcare information.

If you want to know how many babies were born in Houston, I can tell you. If you want to know the percentage of cancer patients who are inside the Mayo Clinic and where they’re going, which doctors are seeing, I can tell you. I have all this. It’s all de-identified data. I can’t give you names and identifying stuff, but I can give you pictures of that.

Every time someone in the newspaper wants to write for the online journal, the Online Times, the online Washington Post, or online Axios writes about healthcare, we’ve positioned ourselves as the go-to source. We’ll give you the stats you need. How many retail clinics are in the United States? All the different types of the business of healthcare, which everybody writes about. We’ve been part of that.

We’ve put together this podcast that you’ve been familiar with several times, Definitively Speaking. We do that as a brand build, a data-driven look at healthcare. We never ever pitched our product in the podcast. That’s sacrosanct. We bring a lot of cool guests on and talk about what’s going on in healthcare. If you walk away going, “Definitive Healthcare taught me something about healthcare, and it was data-driven,” that’s a huge win for me. I’ll take that all day long.

We don’t have the money for an advertising campaign. We don’t do anything for that. We do talk a lot about a data-driven culture here at Definitive, and data permeates everything that we do. I could sit here and tell you, from a marketing perspective, how each of our 4 different sales and marketing channels are doing by each of our 6 vertical segments, how many MQLs we generate, how many demos, how many opportunities, how many wins, what’s our conversion percentage? We look at that data every day.

Data-driven and analytics are endemic to who we are as a company. We’re selling data and analytics healthcare commercial intelligence to all of our customers. You can see we are what we eat. Giving people the aspirational idea of being the industry leader in a category is interesting. Everybody wants to be the leader in something. You ask yourselves, “Is this how an industry leader would behave?” Granted, it’s a small category that we’re in. We are in a healthcare commercial. It’s not a giant market. It’s roughly $10 billion to $11 billion. It’s a big enough market for us.

When you’re a customer service rep on the phone, and you know that we’re the industry leader in space, have I delivered industry-leading customer service to my customers? What does that look like? Are we designing the next generation of great analytics that are out there? Our data scientists are generating new intelligence. We’d never talk about insight because my least favorite word in marketing is actionable insight. If you have some five minutes, google actionable insight. Everybody and their mother is marketing actionable insights regardless of every industry they’re in.

We talk about healthcare commercial intelligence. Intelligence is that next-level thing that sits at the top of data analytics and expertise. As our data science team, are they generating new forms of intelligence? Ironically, we’ve been talking about intelligence for years before. We’re in this beautiful AI boom. We glammed onto that. We launched Atlas AI. We’ve been doing healthcare commercial intelligence for years. That aspirational and intelligence language or customer service is how a lot of the brand work infiltrates the company culture every day.

You find that the internal comms piece becomes an important determinant in being able to control and influence internal messages and weave things in a subtle way. It’s an interesting journey and story. We’re going to jump to the wisdom round. I’m going to throw a few curve balls at you, but we’ll understand some of your perspectives as a leader. When you think about leading and managing people, what are some of your core guiding principles?

I hire for both aptitude and attitude. Aptitude is, do you have the skills to do the job? That’s a hard quality. Attitude is, if I tell you I want a square box colored in by Friday, I want you to come to me by Wednesday and be like, “No, Justin. What you asked for was a triangle, and it’s already colored in the foyer. Here’s why what you wanted was a triangle.” That’s attitude.

I hire smart people. I set big, hairy, audacious goals, and I get out of their way. I let them do their work. I ask them to tell me what resources they need. My job is to get resources and remove roadblocks. It’s not to do your job and micromanage you. My job is to trust and empower you. One of my great mentors years ago, and I’ve been fortunate to have many mentors in my career, was a guy named Ron Hovsepian, who was the CEO of Novell and is now the CEO of a company called Indigo Ag.

Ron told me, “Justin, there are two types of people in this world.” This is the advice I keep and tell everybody. I use this advice to this day. He was like, “Are you a grant trust person or are you an earned trust person?” A grant trust person says, “I’m going to empower you to do the right thing until you prove to me that you can’t.” An earned trust person says, “I’m not going to trust you to do the job until you prove to me that you can.” I operate every day in a grant trust environment. I find it freeing and liberating. I have worked for earned trust managers, and it’s miserable. I won’t mention those people by name. I hire the best people, grant them trust, get them resources, and get out of their way.

It’s the same as playing offense versus defense. It is a mindset principle. I want to touch on your point about attitude. Through your experience, how do you test for that in the interview process or initial conversations? What are your secret tactics or strategies to get to that in a confined time because sometimes you’re doing that in an interview? If you’ve worked with someone in the past, that’s easier because you know that.  

I’m going to give you my secret, and this is a question that I ask every single person I interview since I’ve been hiring people for many years. I have not gone through an interview where I haven’t asked this question. If you’ve read this far into the blog post and you’re coming in for an interview with me, you can prepare your question. This is your big reward here. The question I ask is, I want you to pick a product that is marketed well from any industry that you want. It cannot be an Apple product. I want you to tell me why.

What that does is it requires you to take an unstructured question, create a structure, answer it, show me that you understand marketing, create logical answers, and justify your reasoning. I also learn a little bit about you by the product that you picked. How you answer that question, I can figure out if you have the right attitude.

We didn’t talk about this before because we have exactly the same question. We said, “What brand do you admire most and why? You can’t say Apple.”

It’s more than brand. I never ask about the brand as I want it marketed. The brand is one component. I want people to talk about channels, messaging, distribution, and pricing. You got your 4 Ps and 7 Ps.

You’ve referenced your agency partners a bit in this conversation. What makes a good agency partner for you? Through your experience, what advice do you give to others to get the most out of agency partners?

There are a couple of things. I’m careful with the agency I work with. I always work with small agencies because I want to work with the top senior talent. If I’m at a bigger agency, I’m going to be a smaller customer, and I’m not going to get the big talent. I always work with small agencies. The second thing is I don’t let them PowerPoint me. I don’t let anybody PowerPoint me. If you come into my office with a PowerPoint, I’m going to rip you apart and send you out of my office. I don’t like to rip anybody apart.

If you come into my office with a spreadsheet, let’s dive in and work on it together. If you are PowerPoint, you’re pitching me. I don’t want to be pitched. I want to discuss and have a give-and-take. I want you to question me. I don’t know everything. If I’m hiring you, it’s because I know that you’re an expert. Let’s have a give-and-take and try to problem-solve together. In that initial interview with an agency, I can get a feel for how you problem solve and how we’re going to work together. I can figure out if we can work together.

I don’t want someone who’s going to tell me how smart and good-looking I am because I’m neither of those. I want somebody who’s going to push me, give me advice, and say, “I did this customer over here. Here’s why it worked.” The reason I hired Superhuman for the brand repositioning was one of my best friends from B-School had used them to reposition his company in advance of an IPO. I knew Matt and how well he thought. I know how similar we thought and where we thought differently.

He introduced me to the owner of the agency. She and I sat down and had a conversation from the start. I knew because she had worked well with Matt where I should push and where I shouldn’t push because I knew him well. She didn’t PowerPoint me. To this day, she’s never PowerPointed me. We don’t use them anymore because we are a brand repositioning agency. I’ve referred her to four different different pieces of business based on our work here.

With our PR agency, I worked with the founding partner at GE Healthcare because she worked in the PR department. She was much earlier on in her career. I always thought she was smart and was going to do great things. She’s smart and went on to do great things. When I hired her, she knew, “I’m not going to PowerPoint Justin. That’s the worst thing I can do.”

She came in, she’s like, “Justin, I know you. I know what you like and don’t like. Here’s my assessment of what DH is doing. Here’s what you guys are doing wrong.” I love an agency coming and telling me what I’m doing wrong. That’s why I want to hire you. Fix what I’m doing wrong. I got about 10% of the answers, which means there’s another 90% out there for you.

It sounds like once you have someone you know you’re going to enjoy working with, you pull the trigger. You don’t necessarily even need to make it into a competitive process.

I always have a competitive process. I always talk to people. Even for the brand redesign, we put in an RFP. We spoke to seven different agencies about that. Our first PR agency that I hired here was another one that didn’t work out. We part ways mutually. On the second time, when we hired Highwire, we took to three different agencies, but Highwire was far and above. They leveraged the fact that I had worked with Sage before. She knew how to work with me and my team. That was great. Sage works with the PR team. I surfed in and out because I got a million things I’m doing. I trust her to be an extension of our team.

The key thing is this notion that if you can see your agency as an extension of the team on your side of the table and challenge them to behave in that way. 

I want them on my side of the table, but I want them to challenge us. That’s important to me. I don’t want them to be an order taker. If you’re an order taker, you’re not going to fit with the culture of the marketing team. I’ve got 35 people here on this team. There’s not a single order taker among them. I got 35 independent thinkers and 35 experts. I want them to hear the general direction that I want the team to go in, and they figure out the right way. They come back and tell me, “You need to do it this way, Justin, not that way.” I love that. That’s what I dream about. That’s what I want my agencies to do.

One question that I’m asking everyone at the moment is, what are your thoughts on the Twitter rebrand to X, genius, worst decision ever, or something else?

I’m going to go with the worst decision ever.

What brand decision?

It’s one of the worst brand decisions I’ve ever think I’ve ever seen somebody make. First off, X is not distinctive. X has many different things that are out there. Third, people are still talking about it as Twitter. Twitter has such brand equity built in over the years. It’s the little bluebird. Everybody was tweeting. Why do you do that? It’s a tribute to your ego. You threw a bunch of brand equity out the window for no good reason, and I don’t like it.

If you were to give someone $10 billion and say, “Go, try and build a brand with as much aided unaided awareness, equity, and distinctiveness that Twitter has,” Most marketers would struggle. We will see over the next few years how this plays out. Justin, thanks so much for joining us. It’s been a great conversation.

I’m glad to be here. Thanks for having me.