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Your traditional industry boundaries have dissolved.

Sure you’re competing with other service area healthcare systems and hospitals.  And new “health” care providers – both real and virtual – like Walgreens (Healthcare Clinic), Nike (Fuelband), Apple (HealthKit)  and the many other technologies that put your health at your fingertips.

But from your customer’s perspective, your traditional health care playing field has become leveled. Everyone’s got the awards, the technology, the best docs. Separate from the “best’s-in-class” (e.g. the Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s of their specialties), quality has been commoditized and stripped away traditional sources of differentiation.

So how to stand out and stand apart?

1. Think like your customer. Who doesn’t compartmentalize their experiences by industry. They want the same time saving advantages of Amazon’s one-click.  The same “happiness” they get from Zappos and Southwest Airlines. The same personalized experience they get when they visit the Mac genius bar.

2. Map your customer experience journey. Which begins before a prospective patient ever picks up the phone or steps into your facilities.  Then, take the necessary steps to create more customer value across all your channels – by enhancing, doing away with or creating new interactions.

3. Change your competitive lens. Realize that you’re no longer competing with fellow traditional providers. Because customers are comparing you to companies like Amazon, USAA, Southwest Airlines and Nordstrom – who are known for their customer centricity.

How does your customer experience stack up?





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Recently, I attended a fantastic webinar on healthcare innovation featuring speaker Dr. Sam Basta, Sentara Healthcare, who gave an overview/analysis of the new technologies and innovative healthcare systems that are changing the way healthcare is being delivered. As Dr. Basta points out, technology is moving at an unprecedented pace, drastically changing the healthcare landscape. Some notable insights from his presentation include:

  • Sensors and Consumer Technology (like Nike+ Fuelbands and Apple HealthKit): Consumers are now able to track health data such as blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol, measurements traditionally taken by physicians as basis for diagnosis or treatment. Now, consumers are able to to generate data daily and very easily, empowering them to make their own health decisions.
  • AliveCor Heart Monitor: In the past, care for heart conditions meant inconvenient and frequent trips to the doctor’s office in an effort to capture abnormal activity, sometimes with fruitless results. However, with AliveCor over the counter heart monitoring device, anyone can easily collect health data on a daily basis and with the touch of a button, send abnormal activity directly to their physician for analysis – saving a visit to the office, not to mention precious moments that could mean saving a life.
  • Google Glass: Surgeons have the ability to see a patient’s x-rays or CT scans as they’re operating – no need for interaction with computers which can lead to infections.
  • Mayo Clinic: In the near future, this forward thinking healthcare organization will roll-out with a mobile app and monthly service subscription. For $49 a month, consumers can have access to Mayo Clinic nurses – ask them about symptoms they’re experiencing or ask any health questions/concerns.
  • Walgreens Clinic and Theranos Blood Testing: As it stands, getting blood work done requires a trip to the doctor’s office, followed by another trip to the lab where a technician then pokes around for a viable vein to draw blood, the results of which may take another 3-7 days to reach the doctor’s office, requiring yet another trip to review results. Whew! Enter Theranos blood test technology, now available at select Walgreens. With the prick of a finger, blood tests can be conducted and results received within the same day for a fraction of the cost of typical blood tests.

Advanced healthcare technology provides great opportunity for consumers/patients and providers alike. The ability for consumers to capture their own health data and consult online health resources, empowers them to manage their own health and gives them the knowledge they need to make better informed decisions (regarding health services or treatments).

This also means that providers will need to differentiate themselves, so that they may appeal to the educated consumer who is better able to manage their own health and stay well. The opportunity for providers here is to stay abreast of and utilize new instruments that may help patients save time/money (i.e. such as the AliveCor Heart Monitor; by saving the patient time from having to make an appointment/visit, the physician also saves time and can utilize it to see other patients or “see” multiple patients virtually) and to find new ways of providing service (i.e. the way Mayo Clinic will now be able to reach consumers in far away places). As providers head down the path to Population Health Management, technological advancements along with some creative thinking will serve to benefit everyone.

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At the recent annual Business Marketing Association meeting, GE CMO Beth Comstock spoke about the importance of telling the story of their brand to create more long-term value and to drive sales.

Three key points from her talk about b-to-b marketing (very relevant to healthcare marketing):

1. It’s important to have a strong brand and communicate who you are to connect with people first.

2. You can’t sell anything if you can’t tell anything.

3. Marketing executives also need to build understanding and forge bonds with other parts of their companies to create value from the inside-out.

You can read the story here on Ad Age.com.

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Imagine a world where consumers (not patients) can purchase their healthcare the way they do their consumer products – across a variety of “retail” channels.  And similar to consumer products, many (usually way too many) brands are fighting for attention across more devices and networks.

So in the context of this environment, what’s the big idea that defines, and distinguishes, your brand? Or, similar to the fate of many consumer products, will your healthcare brand descend into comparative advertising and everyday low prices with consumers therefore looking for the best deal (e.g. Cleanse your body, not your wallet. Get 15% off every Thursday at The Colonscopy Center *). This “commoditization” signals the beginning of the end for a brand.

Creativity is the only way to break through the clutter. And real creativity is not guided by rational prompts. It’s not about more da Vinci’s, more five star awards or even better doctors or nurses – because unfortunately, everyone is promoting the same things. Rather, breaking through the noise is about thinking and acting differently.

At the end of the day, regardless of all the different models that exist of a “brand”, what they all have in common is that they address these four questions:

1. why do you exist (a compelling purpose that really matters to people)
2. what do you do for people (how does your product or service solve a particular challenge)
3. how do you make them feel (beyond obvious product or sector-related benefits in ways that reflect their aspirations)
4. how do you do it differently (to cut through the competitive noise; or at least in your “traditional’ service areas)

Across every category, even “supposed commodity types” like cement and water (remember when water was just a commodity), there are brands that create real differentiation by declaring and demonstrating a higher purpose and by being more essential to people’s lives. Healthcare is no different.

* for the record, my (thankfully) fictional line

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A Tribute to Women During Women’s Health Awareness Week


As healthcare marketers we know that women age 35-64 make 80% of the healthcare decisions in their household, and that they utilize health services more frequently than their male counterparts. Source:  US Department of Labor. Women are more likely to choose healthcare providers, schedule doctor’s appointments, and make medical decisions for their entire family.

For years this segment of female consumers has been a coveted source in the healthcare arena and their continued influence has grown beyond what one would consider “traditional” healthcare – extending to an overall, proactive approach to healthy living and wellbeing. Despite shifts in lifestyle and household composition, e.g. single parent households, mixed marriages, etc., these female influencers still have strong footing and continue to build traction. So why has their influence remained so powerful and how can brands continue to connect with them?

Women A Growing Population. A recent Mintel report demonstrated that women make up slightly more than half (50.8%) of the US population, and with the general population aging, it’s expected that women age 65-74 (Boomer+) will grow by 21.2% from 2013-2018.  Moreover, the World Health Organization has reported that the life expectancy for women over the age of 50 is growing and, on average, women live longer than men. The result, an increase in demand for healthy aging solutions and care that addresses midlife and geriatric health needs including, comprehensive ambulatory services with preventive health, routine health screenings, and specialty care.

Engaging in Healthy Habits. Women realize that with a longer life expectancy, they will be faced with a variety of health concerns ranging from reproductive health, to bone health, to weight management, most likely prompting their decision to be more proactive about their healthy living choices and to support their interest in healthy aging. In fact, a recent Mintel report showed that women engage in more healthy habits than men, including exercise and healthy eating. Furthermore, women are more likely to use vitamins, minerals and supplements, with 54% of US women taking them regularly and demonstrating increased usage with age. Our government even plays a role in encouraging a proactive approach to health – with the Affordable Care Act, an annual well-woman visit is now considered a preventive service and covered by most health plans at no cost.

Building Brand Connection For Generations to Come. It is clear that women will continue to demonstrate their commitment to preventive health and their influence will extend beyond their own healthcare needs. Women instinctively have a need to be healthy and well for themselves and for the people in their lives – 82% of women believe there will be negative consequences if they don’t.

And, brands should take notice, with over two-thirds of women citing that brand preferences are influenced by those brands that motivate them to be healthy.  So… the brands that genuinely speak to a woman’s internal motivations, inspiring them through the functional and emotional benefits of the brand vs. external expectations, the “shoulds” and societal standards, will build lasting connections. Today’s woman has a different attitude about health and wellness – women are seeking brands that motivate them to be healthy and well, those that not only impact them but generations to follow. Brands should dig deeper, beyond base level definitions and understandings, to decipher the nuances that will motivate women to believe in their brands.

Remember, National Women’s Health Awareness Week is May 11-17. Pledge to be well, show your support and don’t forget (or, remind a loved one) to schedule a well-women visit today.

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In today’s sound byte world, where attention and time are both very limited, infographics are the go to way for a brand to cut through the noise, capture the eye and get a message or perspective delivered.

But are your infographics all they can be? View this infographic for 6 quick keys to success.




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How can healthcare providers play a more meaningful role in, and add more value to, people’s everyday lives?

As the lines between healthcare, wellness and active lifestyle continue to blur, healthcare brands can look to Nike and its Fuel Band for inspiration.

Nike Fuel Band

  • underscores the authenticity of the Nike brand, whose heritage and values are summed up in those three words that begin with “Just…”
  • demonstrates the brand’s relevance in the lives of its customers, who happen to span all demographics
  • improves the brand’s ability to deliver performance for “all” athletes, regardless of athletic ability
  • adds momentum to the brand, not only in terms of growth, but about what’s “hot” and what might be next
  • demonstrates responsiveness to people’s changing attitudes and behaviors about health and healthy lifestyle

While “health” used to be compartmentalized, consumers are now more health-engaged than ever before. So beyond your transactional clinical care, consider how your healthcare brand (whether healthcare system, hospital, physician group or service line) can help consumers incorporate health into their everyday lives and close the gap between their intentions and behaviors.



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Momentum not only relates to the state of your brand or business today, but about where they’re headed.  The fate of which rests with consumers.  They’re either attracted to you – because you’re hot, new and growing – or they’re not.

As it relates to healthcare systems and hospitals, its doubtful that these organizations are towards the top of consumers’ lists of brands they want to engage with through social media. Today. But tomorrow might be a whole different story.

And while ads are fleeting, social media’s got staying power. There for whenever someone decides to dive in, start exploring, conversing and sharing. And they are. As evidenced in the infographic below.

Be there, or be left behind.



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This is not the question.

It’s been a couple years since I gave a conference presentation about why healthcare system and hospital marketers should “enter the blogosphere” as the nucleus of their healthcare social media strategy. But the numbers still reveal only a small percentage of healthcare systems and hospitals blogging.

There are two changes in healthcare suggesting that providers should “rather quickly” begin to engage consumers in their own health:

First, consumers being able to take control of their healthcare decisions by voting with their wallets for the care that will give them the best value.

Second, patient-centered population health redefining the care delivery model (and the traditional competitive playing field) to include everyday aspects of health like nutrition, lifestyle and wellness.

A blog is a simple and effective way to engage with, and make a meaningful difference in the daily lives of, your communities and patients who are integrating health into their daily routines.  Also, while print ads or tv spots are fleeting, a blog has a long shelf life. It is also a great mechanism for:

  • building attraction
  • creating more value
  • fostering trust
  • enhancing relationships
  • energizing from the inside-out
  • promoting transparency
  • creating separation


A blog doesn’t take a lot of investment.  And it’s ROI (in terms of building affinity, reputation, social influence and business) can be substantial. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, or even your healthcare system or hospital website – your blog is where real conversations can take place and where someone can spend some quality time with your organization. It’s a place where you’re pursuing relationships and fostering communities of consumers.

I’ll follow-up in another post about the six strategic questions you need to consider to build your blog. In the meantime, if you have any questions, let’s talk.





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A great brand purpose is a strong anchoring tool that can change and improve marketing.

While these are the words of Mark Addicks, CMO of General Mills, which appear in this article – General Mills CMO: The Key To Good Marketing Is Having A Purpose, they’re very relevant to healthcare marketers.

As the company moves into digital and engaging consumers around great content and online experiences, he says that “brand fundamentals matter more now than ever before. Once you have a clear purpose, it really makes a brand think differently about content and how to distribute it.”

One of a few different examples he cites is Wheaties. The old-school General Mills brand, which was starting to lose some of its vigor, always aimed to be the “breakfast of champions,” focusing on the sports hero featured on the box, Addicks said. It decided last year that its purpose would shift to fuel the champion on the outside of the box—the consumer. Wheaties re-engineered everything about the brand based on this new purpose, and the brand is doing better.

Relating this back to healthcare, most healthcare systems and hospitals offer basically the same services. The only real sustainable difference is how well you define, stake out and deliver on your brand purpose – which inspires and aligns the internal teams who drive your organization, informs your messaging and marketing and shapes your patient and community experiences.

Today, your brand is expected to do more than paint and convey a picture of your organization. Patients (consumers) are looking for you to play an even more substantial role in their lives and to put purpose front and center (no different from General Mills).  To answer how your healthcare system or hospital brand not only improves their lives through your care, but what role your brand plays in the world.

Crack the code and you set the stage for building very healthy relationships.






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