Christina D. Warner
Leadership Edge with Susan Willig, Healthcare Marketing Executive
I’ve had the great opportunity to interview Susan Willig — Senior Director of Global Brand and Strategic Marketing at Edwards Lifesciences
Tell your story. What were the pivotal moments?
Growing up, my father was an entrepreneur, and I was exposed to traditional business. But I’ve always had a more creative, what is now called ‘behavioral economics’ bend. My first pivotal moment is at 18 when I read the book Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout. To me, it just made sense. The book discussed the capacity in our brains and the importance of organization. How brands need to be consistent in positioning. Marketing is a great blend of traditional business and creative behavioral bend.
My second pivotal moment was when I worked in an agency. I found myself frustrated by handing over projects and not knowing the result, and I realized I wanted to be closer to brand strategy, marketing, and business strategy. A client brought me in-house, which allowed me to get closer to the strategy.
The third pivotal moment was when I pivoted into the healthcare industry. A goal in my career was to get deeper into brand strategy and marketing and increase my impact in the area. I was mostly industry agnostic. Around 15 years ago, I decided I wanted to do what I do for something that leaves a positive footprint, and that was when I decided to move into healthcare. I produced a Pro/Con list of what was meaningful to me and decided to target Edwards Lifesciences for its impact in the community and their impact on patients. Edwards has a great reputation, plus it was in devices and technology. It took two years for me to get into Edwards Lifesciences, but I prevailed.
When did you take a risk in your professional or personal life? How did it turn out?
There are many examples of taking a risk, even on a daily basis such as speaking up in a meeting if it is not a popular answer. One specific example in my career is when I first joined Edwards Lifesciences. I asked and pursued a sizable investment in a brand health study to help define and build Edward’s brand to the critical care audience. I was coming into a very well-established brand, but it did not align with our audience. This was a huge but calculated risk. The result was very successful and provided a clearly defined brand that resonates with the critical care audience.
What did you learn from the above experience?
Looking back, I believe I showed a bit of eager naivete. I went all in–100% in — and I thought that this was the right thing to do. And I thought that everyone would see it also.
What I learned is that it is wiser to pilot. It is better to take a pilot and show proof of concept, and it is often more palatable. Another key piece is developing partnerships in-house and fortunately, I had great colleagues. I had to diagnose the problem, and they helped me do that. My colleagues educated me on the business and helped me navigate blind spots.
I also learned to remove my jargon and use meaningful words for the target audience. In a Research & Development driven company, I learned to present findings that net out what was in it for them, put it in their language and their benefit. I may find that detail really interesting, but not everyone is going to appreciate that.
What principles or philosophy have guided your life?
My core beliefs are that:
We are all in the business endeavor together, and there is enough success to go around. Hopefully, this liberates people to be more honest about mistakes and more honest about ideas.
Being present and working on being present. When I’m not present, my brain and my talents go offline. One way I’ve tried to work on being present is to remind myself that we are all in this together.
My last mantra is that everybody needs to show up and contribute, and everyone has a gift to give, a unique perspective. Diversity is critical to success, and fortunately, there is data to support this.
What steps did you take that you believe emerging leaders could emulate?
Gather a personal board of directors. External or internal colleagues that will be honest with you and give you feedback
Find a mentor. Do not wait for a formal mentor program. When you need guidance and help, be specific with your ask.
Constantly seek to learn. Seek what you desire and not be afraid to ask. If your job description is x, but you want this job to look like y, pursue that. First, you have to earn credibility by delivering on the requirements of the role. Then pursue that.
Think for yourself and come to your own conclusions and rationale. Even if it was wrong, I had thought it through, I owned it, and I had a rationale. I can be coached on the rationale and where it was flawed. But sometimes, it’s also time to fall in line. If you’ve said your piece, you need to support the greater cause and move forward.
When you faced adversity, how did you move forward? How do you decide to continue or to move to a new direction?
First and foremost, pause rather than react. Try to understand why the setback happened to get to the root cause and seek to address that. I always find a nugget or gift in there, but it doesn’t mean I immediately accept what happened.
Then decide how much of a priority. If it is a big priority, then I change the situation. If it’s not, then I accept it and move on.
And a good amount of forgiveness for the self and others.
What are you most excited about in your industry?
I am very excited by the rise in behavioral economics and decision sciences, machine learning, big data, and AI. I’m taking a class through Insead on strategy in the age of digital disruption. I’m most excited about using machine learning for intelligent decision support, helping clinicians make more informed decisions earlier, even some predictive in nature. So that we can prevent bad things from happening before it happens, such as hypertension.
More tools aren’t always better, so I believe interconnectivity and big data will be able to help physicians make sense of and provide intelligent decision-support tools that will augment their clinical acumen. And in our space, the earlier, the better.
Takeaway #1: Always think for yourself and come to your own conclusion. But also learn when and how to fall in line for the greater good.
Takeaway #2: We are all in it together. Be honest about your mistakes and ideas. Be present and contribute.
Takeaway #3: Keep learning. Learn new things, take classes, look into Master’s programs, read what interests you, and network.
Susan Willig has 25 years of combined business insights, marketing experience, and attention to technology trends. She has pioneered and led Edwards Lifesciences in the development and execution of digital strategies and social media.
As a Senior Director of Global Brand and Strategic Marketing for Edward Lifesciences’ Critical Care Division, Susan has launched email marketing, apps, and the use of iPads, social campaigns, and YouTube channels with over 24 thousand views. Susan’s passion and leadership has ensured that Edwards remains at the forefront of innovative communication.