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Joe Pulizzi, head of Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as: the strategic marketing approach of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

But how do healthcare system or hospital marketers do this when they compete with every person, every company and every cause fighting for attention and has something interesting to say? By not competing (with many), but creating value (for few). Realizing that while you can’t be compelling to everybody, you can be invaluable to those who need you most.

You can do this by hitting the sweet spot of:

1. content that solves a specific problem for a specific population,
2. while reflecting your organization’s unique passion and expertise,
3. in line with brand vision and business goals. 

More specifically:

Solving a specific problem. You need to hear what a “specific population” in your served communities cares about and shares about as it relates to their specific healthcare journey. Then, think like the producer of a niche TV series with an ongoing multi-year commitment who needs to keep a storyline fresh and exciting to capture attention week in and week out. Personally, I think about Breaking Bad, but that’s not quite appropriate here.

Reflecting your unique passion and expertise. What is your leadership particularly (not generally) passionate about, and where does your healthcare system or hospital truly excel? Here-in lies your biggest opportunity. Because general health information is ubiquitous and be found anywhere. It also doesn’t set you apart, position you as the expert and an indispensable provider.

In line with brand vision and business goals. This should be the easiest of the three. If in fact, there’s a driving brand idea in place for the organization and a strategic plan guiding your areas of future focus.

Particularly for healthcare systems and hospitals, who are already woven into the fabric of their communities, compelling “sweet spot” content provides a wonderful and genuine opportunity to deepen relationship by appealing to people’s minds and hearts in ways that truly matter to them. It’s also a very smart and efficient way to help attract new patients and grow patient referrals.

But remember, don’t compete (with many), create value (for few).














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Screen shot 2014-03-20 at 10.57.52 AMAs the healthcare marketplace evolves to more of a consumer orientation – with consumers voting with their wallets for the care that provides them the most value – here’s some good insight for healthcare marketers from noted marketoonist Tom Fishburne. You can read this quick article – Time for brands to look outside the box – and watch his interview here at

While his comments were in the context of talking about cosmetic brands, I think they’re very relevant for healthcare marketers –– when it comes to marketing and advertising, brands need to abandon the pre-existing rules that their categories have, and focus on engaging with the consumer and their needs. 

Translated, this means that healthcare marketing must focus less on competing (traditionally on features, technology, awards, etc.) and more on creating value – engaging with the consumer in ways that are important to them and that demonstrate how you’re making a difference in their lives.

What’s your point-of-view?



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Enough about you (mr. or ms. prospect), let’s talk about me (my organization). Enough about me (my organization), let’s talk about you (mr. or ms. prospect).

Which sentence better describes the nature of your healthcare system or hospital social media outreach? It’s okay, only you know the answer.

To ensure that your social media efforts deliver real value to, and engage, your audience in ways that are authentic to your organization, here are seven questions that you need to consider:

1. What role will social media play in helping you to achieve your goals, e.g. growing awareness, education, thought-leadership, investor relations, recruitment, corporate social responsibility…

2. What type of community are you trying to engage, e.g. who are these stakeholders, what problems are they trying to solve, how can you best be a resource for them…

3. What is your niche or singular message, e.g. where’s your expertise, what will keep fans coming back, how obtain search traffic through your specific niche keywords…

4. What is your big-picture strategy, e.g. thought-leader, education, entertainment, empowerment…

5. How will you approach your content and conversations, e.g. type (articles, video, etc.), style (interactive, descriptive, etc.), sources (e.g. inside company, 3rd party, etc.), guardrails (e.g. frequency, quality, authenticity, etc.)…

6. What policies are in place, e.g. for employee participation, brand consistency, crisis situations, etc.…

7. How will you monitor performance, e.g. internally and externally…

The world – your patients’ and communities’ world – is full of noise. Everyone’s overwhelmed. But be the one who actually helps better people’s lives in ways that are genuine to your organization and you’ll create advocates that will spread your ideas beyond what you ever could through your marketing outreach alone.




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There are some web design trends that come and go year after year. But there are some that are here to stay, and for good reason. Here are few current trends in healthcare web design that are sure to stick around.

More Microsites and Landing Pages

Many healthcare sites present so many searchable options that it is difficult to target individual audiences. Here is where your healthcare marketing can benefit from a microsite or landing page. It does not make a lot of sense to launch, for example, a large cardiovascular campaign and then send interested parties to your home page or a sub-page deep within the navigational structure of your website.

Promoting a specific landing page or microsite allows you to create an experience that specifically compliments the campaign and allows you to tailor your message and calls to action. New York Presbyterian created an entire microsite focused on it’s “Amazing Things Are Happening Here” campaign. It is completely dedicated to viewing the inspiring patient stories that pay off their campaign line.

Responsive Design

Though responsive design has been around for a few years now, it’s surprising how many healthcare websites are still not delivering a mobile optimized experience to their users. While healthcare systems and hospitals do face more challenges in this area due to the fact that there are usually many navigation items and a deep level of pages, with careful planning and some creative thinking, you can have your site available to all devices. Florida Hospital was up to the challenge and created a fully responsive website that is still easy to navigate and absorb on small screens.

Check out this previous post about the many opportunities healthcare organizations are missing out on by not targeting mobile users.

Advanced Search

Healthcare organizations should be taking full advantage of a simple site feature that has been around for ages – search functionality. Some websites have not only begun to put their search boxes front and center in order to encourage more users to utilize it, they have also begun to enhance the basic search box with features like auto-fill and categorical searching. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt does a nice job of breaking their search up into services, doctors, health library or their entire website.

Better Story Telling

While on the surface story telling may not seem like a design challenge, nothing could be further from the truth. Many health organizations are utilizing some of the top trends in web design to bring their stories to life. With the use of one page scrolling websites, large images, video and compelling copy, they are allowing their stories to unfold in front of the visitor, giving them a true sense of who they are and what they offer.

Rather than bombarding users with an unwieldy number of ways to navigate through information, these sites are controlling the flow of information in order to tell their story in a unique and interesting way. Children’s National Health System’s landing page uses all of these techniques to bring their story to life while still providing many entry points into their main site and associated content.

For those healthcare systems and hospitals who are still lagging behind with their website design practices, your relevancy will quickly be waning.  Now’s the time to take the steps necessary to ensure your website is as sophisticated as, and pays off, the clinical care you provide.

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New insights and ideas can always be found by looking outside our immediate categories. In this case the category is healthcare and the outside role model is Google.

Here’s a really interesting article on Becker’s Hospital Review – The Google Approach: How Hospitals Can Create Cultures That Drive Employee Engagement.  And Google is definitely a company to pay attention to as it relates to engagement – as since 2012, they’ve topped Fortune’s annual list of 100 Best Companies to Work For.

According to their website, it’s a research-based, deliberate approach to every aspect of their workplace – evidenced in the fact that “data is central to everything we do, even when we choose a paint color for a conference room wall or plan a lunch menu.”

Experts on employee engagement and satisfaction say health system and hospital brands can benefit from adapting a similar research-based approach, as data helps you understand the pulse of the organization, which in turn helps to create action plans.

As cited in the article, three steps to fostering engagement are:

1. Gathering data: Engagement improvement starts with surveying employees
2. Forums, huddles and celebrations: The importance of communication and recognition
3. Creating a vision: How to establish an intentional culture

It’s no secret that brand engagement pays off in numerous ways. Engaged employees are more connected, work harder, stay longer and perform better. They also represent the company brand better – which creates happier customers, provides competitive advantage and builds a healthier bottom line (which makes for happier CFO’s and shareholders).

Here again is a link to the article.




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Would people care if your healthcare brand went away? Beyond the business of the clinical care you provide everyday, would your brand’s disappearance make a dent in people’s lives?

Havas’ Meaningful Brands Study is the first global analytical framework to connect human well-being with brands at a business level. It measures the benefits brands bring to our lives – both on a personal level and for the community.

It’s overall findings are sobering – most people around the world would not care if 73% of all brands disappeared. In the U.S., this jumps to 92%.  Beyond these numbers are a couple more statistics that should set you back:

• Only 36% think that brands work hard at improving our quality of life and well-being
• Just 40% of people in the US generally trust brands

The marketplace is so crowded. Noise is coming at people (your patients and your communities) from all directions. They’re overwhelmed, dazed, confused, mistrusting – and tired. They’re yearning for your healthcare organization to do more to improve their life. In fact, 71% think companies and brands should play a role in improving our quality of life and

It’s clear that expectations are failing to be met. But what an incredible opportunity this represents for healthcare organizations. Whose sole purpose is to help people live their healthiest lives. To live better, feel better, play better.

Today’s marketing isn’t about touting features and functional benefits through your words. It’s about actions that demonstrate the difference you’re making in people’s lives through the power of your brand. Understanding that purpose, business goals, social change and social technology are now intertwined.

Recognizing and celebrating these differences is the only possible way to make an emotional connection and to distinguish your healthcare organization from the growing list of others. Because at the end of the day, your brand’s story is the only thing that can truly connect you to theirs.

How do you see it?

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patagonia1 The brands that will thrive in the future are the ones whose essence would remain even if the company ceased to exist – the ones of which the leaders and team members, you imagine, would continue to live and breathe that passion, purpose, raison d’être long after they’ve stopped selling – finding other means to bring their cause to life.

According to this Forbes article, purpose-driven, social brands are the future. “CSR, cause-marketing, sustainability” are must-have departments, which, along with marketing teams, can no longer operate in silos, but must “align to bring a cohesive brand story to life.”  But lest you think this is only about doing good, these purpose-driven organizations outperform the general market 15-1.

Three brands for which I have a personal affinity come to mind as examples.

Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods has become such a prominent crusader of all things health and wellness that to distinguish it as purpose-driven rides on the border of cliché. Nevertheless, it’s a brand I trust and feel confident putting my stamp on.

As a health enthusiast, I rely on brands like Whole Foods to curate and provide produce that align with my health philosophy (organic, non-GMO, allergen-free, etc.). Most recently, Whole Foods dropped Chobani from store shelves, due in part by Chobani’s refusal to meet Whole Foods’ non-GMO standard.

Whole Foods represents a community of people that care deeply about health (and the environment), and as someone who is part of that community, I can feel confident that despite how expansive Whole Foods has gotten, it hasn’t lost sight of its purpose and can be trusted to act in the community’s (my) best interest.

Moleskine. Though Moleskine doesn’t aim to solve “real world” problems – tangible causes such as concern for health or the environment – it transcends the blank pages of its iconic black notebook to the abstract ideas of “culture, travel, memory, imagination and personal identity.”

It brings these ideas, this philosophy to life by not only showcasing user art with myMoleskine (an online community where brand fans can post artwork they’ve created using a Moleskine notebook), but also with its clever use of social media (see #HandwritingDay and Creativity Challenge contest) and collaboration with Evernote – combining digital and analog, and keeping the handwritten spirit alive even when everything is floating onto the cloud.

The Moleskine notebook itself is simple, containing no branding whatsoever – perhaps suggesting that it is not as interested in spreading the word about its products as it is about celebrating the art and ideas that reside within its pages, created by its customers.

Patagonia. Patagonia is the ultimate purpose-driven brand – an outdoor apparel company committed to sustainability and the preservation of nature. How does Patagonia support its cause? The better question is how does it not? Almost as much of the brand’s website is dedicated to its Environment and Social Responsibility initiatives as is dedicated to actual retail and product sales.

Not only is Patagonia completely transparent about the type of materials used in its products, the company chronicles its entire thought/production process, revealing all the considerations on environmental impact it makes in all aspects of its business – from safe working conditions for textile workers, to producing fleece jackets from recycled bottles and recycled fleece jackets.

Patagonia doesn’t stop there – it has even gone as far as telling customers NOT to buy its products. With its Common Threads Partnership program, Patagonia asks customers to take a pledge that they will reduce (the amount of products they buy/consume as Patagonia builds products to last a long time), repair (the company repairs worn clothing and even shows different ways customers can repair on their own), reuse, recycle, reimagine (a more sustainable world).

The paradigm is shifting. Customers want to invest in brands that have a social purpose, that care about the environment, that are transparent and act responsibly. Brands with a purpose are the ones that will last because their customers share their interests and vision, actively support them and are the most loyal. Like Patagonia, which painstakingly ensures that it’s delivering on its promise (protecting the environment) every step of the way, brands should evaluate their raison d’être and work to create a cohesive story – making sure they are delivering on their promise and their passion at every customer touchpoint, in every aspect of their business.

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As you read this, your healthcare brand is being put to the test. Maybe not knowingly, but it is.

Consumers are judging for themselves whether your brands actions are speaking louder than its words.  Beyond their transaction with your healthcare system, hospital, or insurance company, they’re looking underneath the proverbial rock (your messaging) – for “actions” that add real value to their lives. Things that are genuine to your brand’s purpose (because they’ll see through them if they’re not) and reinforce why they need your brand in their lives. Like the experiences and fostering of community that Citibikes provides.

The CITI Bike program – just featured in an article in HUB Magazine – was part of former Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to improve city life by providing new and simpler forms of transportation. Six years since its inception, it’s not only greatly exceeded expectations, but has had a positive effect on the reputation of its sponsor Citi.

According to Edward Skyler, EVP Global Public Affairs, “it has little to do with advertising or promotions. It’s about finding a fresh point of relevance that makes a difference for everyday people – whether they are Citi customers or not.” He goes on to say that “Citibikes is a powerful opportunity for Citi to connect with New Yorkers and help move the city, and the company, forward.”

As a healthcare provider, isn’t this what it’s all about – a fresh point of relevance (in an increasingly crowded competitive set), making a difference for people, connecting with your communities, and moving them, and your organization forward, together.

Here’s the CITI Bikes article.



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Screen shot 2014-02-17 at 8.29.21 AM Apple, Amazon, USAA – and patient centered medical homes? Yes, you can get there from here.  

We recently met with one of our healthcare clients to talk about their forming a patient-centered medical home. But our conversation took a twist when we started talking about the importance of patient experience.

It led us to talking about superb brand experience companies like Apple, Amazon and USAA. Because these companies leapfrog competition by managing their business from the outside in, putting “the customer” at the center of every decision they make. Similar to what’s required for brilliant execution of PCMH.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, in February 2007 the Joint Principles of the Patient-Centered Medical Home were developed by the four largest primary care physician organizations (AAFP, AAP, ACP, and AOA). They include:

1. Personal physician – each patient has an ongoing relationship with a personal physician.

2. Physician directed medical practice – personal physician leads a team responsible for collective ongoing care of the patient.

3. Whole-person oriented care – personal physician is responsible for providing (or appropriately arranging) all of the patient’s care throughout all stages of life and care management.

4. Care is coordinated and/or integrated – across all elements of the health care system and the patient’s community where and when they need and want it, e.g.  through health IT, hospitals, specialists, home health, family, etc., in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner.

5. Quality and safety – is focused on through patient advocacy, evidence-based practice of medicine, clinical decision support tools, continuous process improvement, use of health IT to measure and benchmark, appropriate and authoritative recognition by a non-governmental entity, and patient and family engagement.

6. Enhanced access – care includes enhanced access through open scheduling, expanded hours, and new patient-care team communication tools.

7. Payment – appropriately recognizes the added value delivered to patients who have a patient centered medical home.

There are always great insights, ideas and lessons to be learned from outside category role models. In this case, it’s because patients (who happen to be consumers) don’t compartmentalize their experiences on a category by category basis. The kind of experience they get from Amazon and Apple and USAA they expect from their healthcare providers. And in the case of the patient-centered medical home, it’s about…

  • a simplified and coordinated health care experience that provides the right care at the right time and place
  • creating a strong partnership between patient and primary care physician (similar to the partnerships between these great companies and their loyal customers)
  • improving health outcomes through care coordination
  • communication that’s central to advising and educating to keep patients healthy
  • giving patients better access to their information, and more contact with their medical team

Delivering the same kind of customer-centric experience that distances companies like Apple, Amazon and USAA from their competitors.

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In my mind, what’s most impressive about CVS’s decision to no longer carry tobacco products in any of their 7,600 stores as of October 1 (beyond the obvious benefit of helping to save lives) is the bold demonstration of a brand actually living its purpose. 

Short-Term Financial Hit, Long-Term Brand Building
Removing these products from store shelves will cost CVS about $2 billion a year or about 3% of overall sales. It’s also possible that competitors like Walgreens and Rite-Aid could gain market share by attracting CVS’s tobacco-purchasing customers.

Regardless, the company is making the right decision given its long-term strategic focus. According to President and CEO Larry Merlo: “Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products is simply the right thing to do, as it’s inconsistent with our purpose – helping people on their path to better health.  As the delivery of health care evolves with an emphasis on better health outcomes, reducing chronic disease and controlling costs, CVS Caremark is playing an expanded role through our 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners. By removing tobacco from our shelves, we will better serve our patients, clients and health care providers while positioning CVS Caremark for future growth as a health care company.”

Why Purpose Wins 
The most successful brands and businesses are aligned around a higher purpose that makes clear the organization’s inspirational reason for being – think Zappos, Whole Foods, Chipotle and Nordstrom. CVS’s purpose, once again, is to help people on their path to better health.

Consider these three study findings that reinforce the power of purpose:
1. 92% of millennials believe business success should be measured by something other than profits (Deloitte)
2. “Ideals-driven” businesses are more profitable than those that just think about the bottom line (Jim Stengel & Millward Brown Optimor)
3. Purpose is a definitive purchase trigger as consumers will praise and punish companies based on their active support of a good cause (Edelman GOODPURPOSE Study)

Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Articulating a purpose is one thing. Consistently delivering on it is another. Which is what’s so impressive about CVS’s decision. But it’s the right thing to do for an organization helping people on their path to better health. A path that more Americans are engaged around than ever before, as we’re asking that all health-related brands, be they products or services (or retailers), help us on the road to promote overall well-being.

It will be interesting to see how many others follow CVS’s lead. And how soon. Will Walgreens, which positions itself as being At The Corner of Happy and Healthy, be next. Though it has taken its own proactive step to reduce smoking addiction through its free, Internet-based smoking cessation program in partnership with GlaxoSmithkline Consumer Healthcare called Sponsorship to Quit.  Or will it be Walmart, who promises us that we can Save money. Live better.

The Opportunity For Healthcare Providers
CVS is transforming itself from a simple drugstore to an integrated health-care provider – positioning itself, and its customers, for healthy growth. But they’re just one of the many brands and retailers taking advantage of the enormous opportunity to help Americans close the gap between their healthy intentions and behaviors.

Who better than healthcare systems and hospitals to assist consumers on their journey to better health? To helping their communities to not only feel better, but to live better. Beyond push marketing approaches to tapping into the power of their healthcare system or hospital brands to meaningfully engage, motivate and actively support their healthy living. Creating uniquely branded experiences, resources and tools guided by purpose. 

What do you think about CVS’s decision?




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