Behind every brand delivering simpler experiences for customers is a leader who recognizes the inherent value in keeping things simple. In Simplifiers, Margaret Molloy interviews business leaders who put simplicity to work. Here, she speaks with James Humphreys, VP & Chief Marketing Officer, Quest Diagnostics.

Margaret Molloy: What is Quest Diagnostics?     

James Humphreys: We are the world’s leading provider of diagnostic information services. That includes providing clinical laboratory testing to half of the physicians and hospitals in the United States. We touch the lives of 1 in 3 adult Americans every year.

MM: What does Quest Diagnostics stand for?

JH: Quest Diagnostics stands for empowering better health through diagnostic insights. We have around 45,000 employees, and our team works every day to help people take action to improve their health or the health of their patients through the insights that we provide.

MM: How do you deliver on that promise every day?

JH: We deliver on that promise in a variety of ways—it could be a physician who is waiting for the result of a biopsy or a patient looking to hear back about genetic testing; it could be a large health system looking to improve their overall population health through the diagnostics data that we provide, or it could be an individual consumer who is interested in knowing more about their wellness to help them improve their health.

MM: What role does simplicity play on that promise?

JH: We all live in this increasingly complex world, and healthcare can be complicated. At Quest, we keep it simple by centering everything on the customer and what they need. As a service business, we design our solutions around what our customers need, and for us, it’s that simple—listening to the individual customers.

MM: What benefits has Quest Diagnostics experienced from simplifying? 

JH: Quest serves a variety of customers in a tailored and local way, and that has the potential for complexity. But there are a lot of commonalities across our customers’ needs. Most want the same things—ease and convenience.

Over the last three years, we’ve redesigned our digital interfaces to make it easy for our customers to order testing from us, and to get their results back how and when they want them. We try to find ways to make the experience easy and transparent. Another example is something as simple as displaying our patient service center wait times online. Ultimately, if your brand isn’t simple or if you make it difficult for your customers to engage with you, they’ll choose someone else. So, we work hard to keep it simple for our customers.

MM: As a marketing leader, how do you keep things “simple” for your team?

JH: Simplicity is so important in marketing. I had already put it in my goals at the beginning of the year—How do I simplify things for the team and make things easier? We are all working in these matrix models, and that creates a lot of complexity. As a marketer, you don’t only work within a matrix model; you have to keep up with the different ways of reaching your customer.

Simplicity isn’t limited to streamlining workflows; it’s about creating a simple, common culture across the team that focuses on collaboration and communication. I achieve that by instilling a spirit of partnership. Therefore, opportunities for communication and structured ways of interfacing with each other are crucial.

MM: Personally speaking, what’s the most recent simple customer experience that inspired or impressed you?

JH: Recently we dined at a great new restaurant in Hudson Yards called Kāwi. In between courses, my friend requested to keep a ramekin of sauce for his entrée. However, the entire table was accidentally cleared. I could see the disappointment on my friend’s face, but it’s one of those things a customer wouldn’t mention.

Our server spotted the error from across the restaurant, and she immediately returned with a replacement ramekin. It’s those small, simple things that create a lasting impression. My friend’s perception of the server and the restaurant changed instantly.

MM: What are some of the biggest mistakes that brands make with regards to simplifying?

JH: One of the biggest mistakes is that they simplify the wrong things. Simplifying doesn’t mean not being detail-oriented or not being granular in growth strategies.

The other mistake I notice is that some organizations are so focused on tailoring themselves for their customers that they lose a common brand idea—they’re all over the map. When you are trying to flex your brand across complex markets, it can lose its meaning. It’s important to understand your customer, and then determine how your brand idea is best expressed at the point of contact with the customer.

Ultimately, it’s about finding the balance of creating something meaningful to your customer while ensuring it ladders up to your brand vision.

MM: Any recent examples of a difficult decision that you made at Quest Diagnostics, that you had to make for the sake of simplicity? 

JH: We went from more than a dozen creative executions to focusing my team on a common campaign and vision for the brand and holding true to that. That caused a lot of consternation because every group believes they can best serve their customer segment through something unique and differentiated. Even getting marketers on the same page with your brand can be challenging.

Let’s say we’re launching a test for cardiologists. We might create an entirely cardio-focused way of communicating the value of that offering to that community. For a women’s health offering, we might create an entirely different look and feel and value story for an OBGYN. Once you start hanging all that together, you don’t even have a common scheme anymore—you have a mosaic.

We shifted the approach to move to a common visual identity system that is built from our brand and conveys the same brand identity in every execution. The messaging still resonates, but it’s wrapped up in a common brand. We are using a campaign right now called Knowing. For us, the heart of our brand idea, which is Action from Insight, is that moment of knowing what you need to take your next step, and that is common across every single execution.

MM: What does “simplicity” mean to you?

JH: Simplicity means making it easy for your customers to engage with you and making sure your team members understand your brand’s purpose so that they can deliver on it every day.

MM: What advice would you give other brands trying to simplify?

JH: Start with the customer. Understand them first and then simplify your brand around that. Especially in marketing, make sure everything you do ties back to that single essence. I would also say, be courageous. It will pay dividends over time. Your CEO’s buy-in is paramount in driving simplicity of your brand across the organization. As the marketing leader, it’s your role to ensure that the buy-in happens. Once you have that buy-in, you know you’re supported.

MM: Anything else?

JH: Focus on the customer because it always leads you to the right decision in the end. It’s as simple as that.

MM: Thank you, James.


This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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