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You’re a hospital marketer faced with two, mutually exclusive, choices. You can either:

1. Focus your energies on creating a loyal following of passionate customers who support your hospital and evangelize everyone who will listen; or

2. Run a mass media advertising campaign to acquire a new customer (which just happens to be five times more expensive than keeping a current customer happy).

Okay, so maybe I stacked the deck with these two questions. But every day, we’re bombarded with one-way messages. How many really stick? Even for a brief moment? How many compel you to talk about them, and share your views about them, with others? Certainly there are exceptions, but you have to admit that they’re few and far between.

At Trajectory, we know first-hand the power of a sustained word-of-mouth program to align employees, patients and communities around shared goals. If it’s a program that genuinely bridges what your healthcare brand stands for and what your most engaged customers are passionate about, it can create advocates who passionately recommend your brand to friends, neighbors and colleagues – at a far greater rate than a momentary advertising campaign.

A word-of-mouth program creates advocates for your healthcare organization who:

• share unsolicited praise or suggestions for improvement
• forgive the occasional blip in customer service
• feel part of something bigger than themselves
• efficiently help to grow share, loyalty and profitability

When all the pieces are in place, word-of-mouth works. Wonderfully. Because it’s tenets are baked in to all of us. We all want to share and we all want to be part of a larger community. And ultimately, “we” make up marketing’s most powerful media – recommendation media.

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Good article in Business Journal, What Too Many Hospitals Are Overlooking, written by Craig Kamins, Senior Practice Consultant at Gallup.

His main point is that engaged physicians, much like fully engaged employees, are vital to a hospital brand, or health system’s brand success. In one health system researched by Gallup, for example, engaged physicians:

• gave the hospital an average of 3% more outpatient referrals and 51% more inpatient referrals than physicians who were not engaged or who were actively disengaged
• were 26% more productive than less engaged counterparts, which amounts to an additional $460,000 on average in patient revenue per physician per year

The full article goes on to talk about the challenges of getting physicians engaged, measuring their engagement and how to improve physician engagement.

To Craig’s first point, internal engagement (regardless of whether physicians or employees) is crucial to unlocking brand and business potential. Here are five points that we’d contribute to his argument, based on what we know to be true – brands are built from the inside out:

1. Branding that’s true to the organization (that aligns and supports business strategy and should build trust and credibility for the brand inside and outside) needs to first be informed by and serve internal audiences, who must live out the brand’s promises and who live each day within the brand’s organization.

2. Internal branding is not just a Marketing, or HR, function. It needs to start with the CEO and the leadership team, and then be driven in tandem between the two functions – articulating how every employee will contribute to delivering on the business vision, strategy and objectives. It also should not be viewed as just another one-time marketing or recruitment campaign.

3. Internal branding is more akin to a marathon, not a sprint. People don’t suddenly snap into action once they’ve watched a brand video, attended a workshop or a fancy lunch in the cafeteria. Engaging employees to deliver on the brand is a process that requires planning, ongoing dialogue (e.g. regularly scheduled town halls), checks and balances and cross-functional collaboration.

4. Speaking of collaboration. Employees, as the front line of your brand, need mechanisms in place to provide feedback, contribute suggestions and help improve upon delivery of an integrated brand experience based on their specific role. It’s important that this is done with the recognition that internal audiences need to be segmented just like external audiences, which will better enable them to take ownership of their role in brand delivery.

5. What you are inside is what you are outside. Walk around. Observe. Be a fly on the wall. Do you get a sense that colleagues (whether employees or physicians) buy into your purpose, beliefs and values. This is particularly important given that your healthcare organization relies heavily on employee engagement to shape customer experience. Beyond this, does your organization align policy and practices around the brand, and clearly define the criteria and behavioral expectations that reflect employee commitment to the brand?

In the end, you need to determine how to express your distinct culture in an authentic and appropriate manner, and harness it to empower your people. If for no other reason, do it for those tangible proof points cited by Gallup.

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We came across this special little piece from JuE Wong, CEO of StriVectin skin care, in the February issue of More Magazine.

Beyond JuE’s intimate glimpse into her life – it indirectly puts a genuine, human and honest face on a skin care brand that is vying for attention, share and loyalty amidst hundreds of others. While we know that this is not its intent, it does go a long way for consumers desiring real, authentic stories that intersect with their lives and who share similar values and beliefs.

It’s also another touch point in someone’s customer journey that indirectly distinguishes StriVectin in this very crowded category. At the same time, we think it’s a wonderful signal to company employees and associates that they work for a company surrounded by a culture – starting from the top – filled with empathy and relevance.

Thank you for sharing a piece of yourself JuE.

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The good old days of healthcare system and hospital branding and marketing are over. How will you survive and thrive in the new paradigm?

Competition is no longer just down the street, nor limited to the traditional confines of healthcare. Boundary lines have been redrawn, and national retail pharmacy brands, big-box retailers and both established and new technology companies all want a piece of the action.

At the same time, proactive consumers have replaced passive patients. No longer tied to the hip of their physician, they have choices, information, resources and technology tools – an entire ecosystem of health and wellness resources to take more control over their health. And, complements of the Affordable Care Act, there are more than 30 million new consumers who’ve entered the market for healthcare services.

Healthcare is in the midst of disruption. It’s being pushed, pulled and morphing into a health market that crosses multiple verticals and demographics, intersects consumers looking to get well, stay well and play well and moving to a model of value-based care.

Where it stops nobody really knows. But everyone knows that the traditional model is on borrowed time. Oliver Wyman, in their report titled the Patient-To-Consumer Revolution, refer to “Health Market 2.0 as a space where new kinds of companies offer combinations of services never seen before, redrawing industry lines and engaging consumers in new ways.”

But even within this fluid environment, there’s one thing that no competitor, no matter how well resourced they are, can take from you. That is, they can’t stake a claim to your brand ideas – who you are, what you believe and why people should care.

It’s our belief that healthcare systems and hospitals must seize the opportunity to take their place at the new “health and wellness” table by taking control of their brands. It’s the one asset that is sustainable into the future – regardless of business model – and the one asset that in the midst of the rise of consumerism and more empowered consumers, is at the heart of your relationships.

Five implications for healthcare system and hospital leaders are as follows:

1. Who you are is beyond what you deliver. What you deliver looks much the same to the outside world and doesn’t distinguish you from others. Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, Nike and Converse, Virgin and United – all similar in their offerings, but your mind and heart quickly gravitate to one brand promise or the other. Same for your hospital vs. the one on the other side of town? Or how about vs. the retail pharmacy and its health partner down the street (a la Rite-Aid’s Health Alliance Program)? What you deliver can be ripped off tomorrow. Bravely declaring who you are is sustainable, distinguishable and pulls people towards you.

2. Demonstrate brand beliefs . How you behave in the world – and in your new consumer-oriented health vs. healthcare market – is becoming increasingly important. Create easy linkages to your brand by becoming more relevant to people’s everyday lives – engaging them in their own health and empowering them by making health and wellness easy and personalized anywhere and all the time. While some traditional healthcare services might be shrinking, the demands of “health 2.0” communities will still be as great as they’ve been in the past. Use your muscle to find your organization’s soul, its authentic purpose, and creatively express that in actions as well as communications.

3. Bring mobile/social front and center. Your customers increasingly rely on a mobile device (be it smartphone or tablet) as their first screen, their doorway into your healthcare system or hospital and as means to manage their own health. As a result, they’re expecting better, more personalized, real-time experiences. Their journey with your healthcare brand must take into account mobile (which is really digital, social and search all wrapped up in one) as an integral part of their lifestyle. More about mobile here.

4. Create a seamless brand experience. Customers shouldn’t be burdened by the artificial barriers that exist between your services, departments and channels. How can your brand truly live up to its potential (and how can it help people live up to their potential) when its interactions are artificially siloed. The more you can get over your own infrastructures, the more value you can provide, and the more loyalty, engagement and advocacy you’ll gain as a result.

5. Look outside your immediate industry. No longer can you meaningfully benchmark your organization against other healthcare systems and hospitals. Because your competitive set has drastically expanded. And customer expectations have followed suit. Just because you’re in “healthcare”, doesn’t mean customers compartmentalize their healthcare experience from outside industry experiences. What they get from Open Table, Amazon, Southwest, et al, they expect from you. “Brand experience” is “brand experience”, irrespective of category.

Regardless of how “healthcare” shakes out, one thing is certain. It will. It’s up to you whether your brand has a seat at the table.

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It’s not hard to imagine that at some point in the future, customers (formerly known as patients) might have a mobile-only relationship with your healthcare system or hospital brand.

The numbers bear out this possibility. Consider that between 2010 and 2013, time spent on smartphones more than tripled, while time spent on tablets increased tenfold. By 2020, 80% of adults in the world will own a smartphone.

But even today, your healthcare system or hospital customers increasingly rely on a mobile device (be it smartphone or tablet) as their first screen. This is happening at the same time as the traditional b2b nature of the industry is quickly moving to a b2c model and customers are expecting better, more personalized experiences. As a result, their journey with your healthcare brand must take into account mobile as an integral part of their lifestyle.

If your healthcare system or hospital isn’t leveraging mobile as an integral part of your brand experience strategy, you’re out of sync with customers and prospects. Consider too that mobile is not just another channel, it’s digital, search and social, all wrapped into one.

Here are five ways your healthcare system or hospital can begin to optimize value for consumers through mobile:

1. Responsive website design. At a bare minimum, customers, who have a mobile device within reach 24 hours a day, expect your website to be responsive and work on their phones. If you’re not providing a mobile-friendly experience, they’ll bounce off your site and visit a competitor who is just a click away. More about responsive web design on this previous post.

2. Holistic strategy. Because mobile really is digital, search and social all rolled into one, approach mobile strategy as a fully integrated experience. Not just as a “bolt-on” to current digital initiatives or campaigns, but a mobile-optimized end-to-end customer engagement strategy that recognizes the channel as integral to how customers live their lives.

3. Map the customer journey. Consider how customers want information, when they want it and where they want it. Without understanding their mobile behaviors, it’s impossible to develop a meaningful strategy that aligns with their expectations for relevant, connected and personalized experiences in real time. Remember also, that competitive alternatives are just a click away.

4. Coordinate internally. Customers don’t see departments, they see a borderless brand and want a consistent brand experience. The walls between Cardiac, Oncology and Orthopedics, for example, are of no concern to them. There must be a centralized team internally that coordinates across departments to deliver a seamless and optimized mobile experience.

5. Look at other categories. There’s a lot to be learned from outside industries, based on thinking about how you can differentiate yourself by creating an optimal customer experience. Case in point, Intuit’s Director of Development Mitch Bayersdorfer talks about Intuit’s approach to finding their mobile “sweet spot.” It’s a Venn diagram of three elements around the art of what’s possible based on customer needs, business priorities and device capabilities. “We keep a laser focus on that intersection.”

In the midst of so much disruption, healthcare system and hospital leaders and marketers must be asking “how can we provide the best customer experience and how can we differentiate ourselves from competition”? Mobile is an imperative, as customers’ increasingly expect relevant, connected and personalized experiences in real time – which leads to greater engagement, satisfaction and advocacy.

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Andy Council
It’s our belief that to thrive in the future, healthcare system and hospital brands need to think, act and compete like consumer brands. While in the past, providers were able to be driven by what was best for them, future success calls for rising to the challenge of delivering what’s best for a more empowered, demanding and proactive customer (more appropriate language than patient).

Along these lines, here’s a provocative article by Wendy Leebov on Hospitals & Health Networks Daily website – How Choosing Our Words Carefully Can Drive Change in Health Care.

Her thesis is that vocabulary affects our mindset, and that the words we choose to use influence our aspirations, our imaginations, our strategies and our results. She asks us to consider words like…

customer, client, patient, person…
care for, help, serve, engage, partner, advise…
patient-centered, relationship-centered, person-focused, patient-driven

Along with these pet peeves, among others (which reinforce the perception of a power differential between provider and customer)…

compliance, discharge plan, difficult patient…

She ends her article by saying that we need to heighten our self-consciousness about the words we use and intentionally choose words that move us in the direction we want. It’s a matter of aligning our language with our health care system of the future, not the past.

It’s an important idea given that the successful health care system (or hospital, or physician group) of the future must traverse around a consumer whose got the power to choose whether they want to be a customer, or not.

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For most people, the extent of the time they think about names doesn’t go much beyond life’s special occasions, e.g. when you looked at your newborn son or daughter for the first time, or when you brought a new kitten or puppy home for the kids.

But if you’re even “loosely” in the branding or marketing business, life is full of special occasions. You’re launching, or evolving the name of, your organization. You’re introducing a new product or service. You’re merging your organization or product or service lines into another one. Regardless of the reason, your name is probably the most important intangible element of a successful brand.

Here’s why:

• similar to your kids (and kittens and puppies) a name is the one element you never hope to change
• it begins every conversation and captures every single penny of your marketing investment
• the more distinctive it is, the more powerful your intellectual property rights
• a powerful name is the springboard to other new launches
• it serves to create competitive space and distinctive associations between you and others
• it shortcuts the decision-making process for customers

There’s always a lot riding on new brand name success. At the same time, the process continues to become more difficult, given the vast number of names that are submitted for trademark application each and every day.

Here are five tips for getting it right:

1. Think about it early in your development process. You’d never approach product development or even a marketing campaign without a detailed plan of timing and events. Naming is no different. It requires discovery, creativity and analysis, typically multiple rounds of work, check points, buy-in from different audiences and time on the back-end for trademark search and opinion.

2. Begin with an approved brief. In the best of times, naming can become a very subjective process. So objectify it as much as possible by developing a naming brief for client approval that includes target audience profiles, naming considerations (short-term, longer-term), criteria (distinctiveness, brevity, appropriateness, extendability, etc.), strategic approaches (i.e. descriptive, suggestive, coined, arbitrary), linguistic considerations, competitive set, mandatories (e.g. URL availability), etc.

3. Speaking of URL availability, consider it early-on. Chances are, your favorite name might not be available as a URL. Which means you need a derivation of the name (which complicates search), or another name entirely.

4. Brainstorm far and wide. This is the time to imaginatively stretch. You typically need to brainstorm a very long list, using different starting points as concept springboards, to generate just a few potential “first-pass” candidates. As starting points, think about attributes, functional and emotional benefits, outcomes and target audience characteristics, to name just a few.

5. There’s more than one way to present names. It would be nirvana to present a shortlist of names (in 18 point black helvetica type) to a senior leadership team and have them agree that “strategically this is the right name for our…”. But nirvana is not reality. Think about your audience. Where are they coming from in regard to the name? What’s their expectation? What’s the most impactful way to share names with them? Maybe it’s an ad, the cover of an annual report or a mock-up of a package. As in all presentations, it’s all about engaging your audience on their terms.

Certainly, there’s more to a successful process and naming program beyond these five steps. But these will provide you with a good start to developing stand-out names that your audiences relate to, believe in, take pride in and become loyal to.

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There’s a lot of talk these days about “agile brands.” These are brands that are quick on their feet and able to meet consumers on their terms – wherever, whenever and however they want.

But agile brands only get that way with agile and brave brand marketers at the helm. These are marketers who share three characteristics:

1. perpetually seeking new ways to deliver value and ensure relevance, while guided by an enduring promise

2. know that the customer experience needs to be at the center of their universe and that the idea of brand experience is bigger than marketing, spans functions and divisions and before and after actual purchase and usage

3. are able to let go of long-held habits and practices of controlling the creation, growth and management of a brand from the inside-out; and who realize that brand-building is now a two-way street

Ultimately, agile brands get that way as a result of agile and brave brand marketers who take a truly integrated, shared and open approach to building brands.

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