American Well: The DTC Decision
In late 2013, telehealth company American Well, which developed a digital platform that allowed patients to conduct online medical consultations with physicians, is considering pursuing a direct-to-consumer (DTC) strategy. Founded in 2006, American Well had, to date, primarily sold its solution to health plans, which then provided online care services to their members using their own brand name. But while American Well attracted some of the largest U.S. health insurers as clients, a surprisingly small number of individual members had actually used the online care service. American Well management believed low consumer awareness-the result of insufficient marketing by health plans, among other factors-was hampering uptake of what should be a highly valuable offering for all stakeholders involved. They wondered if a DTC approach, in which American Well would become a consumer brand and market a telehealth service directly to the public, for example through a mobile app, could drive utilization and catapult the business to the next level. If a DTC offering were given the green light, the company had to come up with a coherent marketing plan to launch it and figure out how to manage potential conflicts with existing clients, who might view the move as competing with their own telehealth efforts. Moreover, the move had to be considered in light of other initiatives the company had recently embarked on, such as marketing its platform to pharmacy chains, targeting large employers, and selling kiosks that provided a physical space to conduct online consultations. The case forces students to grapple with the challenges and barriers involved in disrupting an established industry, examine alternative go-to-market strategies and the timing of implementing them, and consider different business models to manage supply and generate revenues. The case also offers a rich analysis of digital marketing issues.