Dennis Urbaniak – the future of health brands and social media

As part of our “Insider Insights” series, I feature the personal perspective of a health brand marketing, digital, social or innovation leader. I’m pleased to have Dennis Urbaniak, Vice President of Innovation and New Customer Channels at Sanofi Aventis, as this month’s participant.

Here’s what Dennis has to say about the future of health brands and social media:

1. The organizations and brands that will thrive in the future are those that…
….will embrace dialogue from key stakeholders as a critical source of customer insight, as well as a critical source for new ideas to drive innovation. Those organizations that develop true competencies in active listening and relevant dialogue will establish a credible presence among their key stakeholders. This presence will drive differentiated, sustainable business value.

Put simply, those companies that have the courage and vision to execute a real customer centric approach across their entire organization will run circles around their competitors.

2. Specific to social media, how has it impacted the way your organization conducts business?
Social media has forced our organization to realize that we have been too narrow in our communication focus. We know a lot about how our customers use our products but we need to learn a great deal more about what their priorities are, how they make decisions, and what they truly value. It reinforces the need to be relevant to our customers in our communications vs. pushing out a high volume of brand specific messaging.

Social media is also forcing us to consider the difference between short term campaign like bursts of communication compared to actively engaging and contributing to a community over time. It is helping to demonstrate the value of community and the need to earn a trusted place in the community to better inform our business strategy.

3. What are the key challenges your organization is grappling with as it considers participation?
One of the greatest opportunities we face as we consider participation is the need to develop a common understanding of why we are participating, what we hope to contribute and learn by being there, and how to develop the competencies to be effective in our approach over time.

As we realize the risks of not participating greatly outweigh the common objections around control and the open nature of the dialogue, we are challenged with building a broad base of skilled individuals who can engage in the most effective manner.

4. What are your top lessons learned for implementing a social media strategy?
The first is that you really need a strategy. You have to have a clear rationale for participation, a defined target audience you wish to engage, and clear expectations on the outcomes you hope to drive before you initiate one tactic. Chasing shiny objects wastes time and diminishes your credibility within the community.

The second is that your social media strategy cannot stand alone. You have to integrate the benefits of listening and dialogue that social provides with a broader communication strategy across multiple channels. By carving out social media as a separate initiative, you lower your chances of realizing the benefits and greatly improve your chances of offending the community.

And last is the need to think through the commitment you are making to the approach. It is very easy to get excited and jump in with a high degree of energy, but if you cannot sustain that effort, you will fail. Teams do not anticipate the long term requirements needed to earn a place as a valued, contributing member of a community. You need to be able to execute a sustainable approach to provide value over time or you will quickly be left out as the community builds around sincere, engaged contributors.