June 12, 2017

Dare To Fail: Rapid Prototyping For Better ROI

As human beings, we all have one thing in common: we don’t want to fail. We instinctively pursue opportunities believed to set us up to succeed and have trained ourselves over time to avoid risk for fear of failure.

But as health care marketers, we need to embrace failure. 

Because without it, we’ll never be successful in the one thing that inspires us every day—which is making an impact.

From discovering new ways to encourage people to attend a screening that could save lifes, to personalizing messages of support to encourage someone throughout their weight-loss journey, it’s critical for health systems to constantly evolve the tools they use to communicate—along with their message—to bring that patient an experience that is both meaningful and authentic.

At Franklin Street, we use a fail-safe technique with our clients called rapid prototyping to unlock answers to these problems. 

Through this process, we’re able to fail quickly, in a controlled way, which minimizes risk down the road when failure can’t be afforded. From brand campaigns and service line initiatives to simple efforts like newsletters and social media, we’re able to find the most effective ways to communicate, while constantly learning and improving along the way.

Rapid Prototyping: Basic Training

Used by leading tech companies and product design firms like IDEO, rapid prototyping allows you to solve a problem faster—smarter. And in this ever-changing landscape that is health care, marketers can no longer afford to play it safe. Your audience is everywhere. And they expect you to be, too.

So, how do you get started? Let’s pretend you’ve got a new online check-in tool for your emergency department, and your team is tasked with developing a plan to market it. Following the rapid prototyping methodology below, watch your next marketing initiative result in better, more measurable ROI and keep your patients at the heart of every decision you make.

The Method

Inspire Participation 

Before you begin, invite everyone to contribute an idea. Start by providing a few prompts to help your team focus and arrive at solutions that directly tackle the problem you’re trying to solve. For example, begin with questions like: What is the problem we’re trying to solve? Who are we solving it for? Why will the patient value this solution? What needs of the patient is this solution satisfying? Asking and answering the right questions early allows you to quickly generate ideas that are more likely to solve your problem directly.

Child’s Mind

We all had a golden age growing up where our ideas made us feel invincible. When no idea was too wild or crazy and every possibility was within reach. For me, it was in 3rd grade English class. We had a new teacher at our elementary school who believed strongly in what I would now consider ‘rapid prototyping.’

At the beginning of the semester, she asked us “What would bring you most value in this class that you could use beyond the third grade?” As we posted all of our answers on the board, we decided as a class, we would each contribute our own unique short story and have it published. To this day, that book sits on a shelf in my office, and I’m reminded of what brilliant ideas came from 22 third-graders and the impact Mrs. Allen made by allowing us to explore a new and innovative way to learn.

I tell you this story because this is the mindset we all need to re-learn, especially if we want to get the most value out of rapid prototyping. Put simply—dare to fail.

Rapid Prototyping 

Creativity is about finding new connections. And the more ideas you generate to solve a problem, the smarter you become. We usually start with a blank whiteboard or wall and an embarrassing number of multi-colored Post-It notes. You never know what idea(s) will stick, so allow your team the opportunity to share, explore, push and poke holes in every idea. What does work will always show up, so it’s about finding the ideas that don’t work and going from there. That’s why volume is so critical to rapid prototyping instead of focusing on every little detail before you start.


Remind yourself as you’re developing ways to solve a problem, like marketing that new online check-in tool—every idea is just a philosophy until you test it. While this is notably the most nerve-wracking part of the process, resist the urge to wait weeks for a big reveal. Instead, bring stakeholders in early to test its value proposition and improve relationships with those individuals you know are especially critical. By sharing, maybe even before you feel ready and while the concept is still malleable, you’ll create buy in earlier and more consistently along the way. That way, by the time the project is ready to launch, everyone will be singing in unison with the mission and vision—and in full support of the work.

Measurable Success

Rapid prototyping allows an idea to become tangible and increase everyone’s ability to understand it, evaluate it and make it better. Whatever data set you’re looking at, capitalize on every point where you can try something new and innovate. Even if it’s just adjusting demographics, like tweaking ZIP codes and age ranges on a campaign, testing a range of variables allows the results to speak for themselves—making you smarter—faster about what resonates with your audience.

A/B testing digital campaigns by testing call-to-actions, photography and messaging that resonates are perfect examples of how this works and results in better ROI.

Rapid prototyping can be messy and might feel difficult at first. If your team wants to try rapid prototyping on an upcoming project but is hesitant, we recommend finding a self-contained project within your department. That could look like a monthly newsletter, social media posts, planning an event or raising awareness for a seminar—anything that your team can test in a fail-safe way without requiring external stakeholders to weigh in.

Does your team have an upcoming project you’re interested in testing this process on? Leave a comment below—we’d love to hear about it!