Every year, The Chief Marketing Officer Institute awards their “CMO Of The Year.” Nominees are evaluated in several categories of performance, including market orientation and customer intimacy, accountability for results, commitment to innovation, and overall contribution to the success of their company.

Here (on are interviews with each of the 10 finalists for 2009, who discussed the strategies and tactics employed to achieve their success with the editors of CMO Journal. The interviews are interesting and informative, and certainly relevant to your health brand business.

Finalists include:

From large organizations ($250M+ revenue): Jeffrey Hayzlett (Kodak), Allen Klose (ACE Cash Express), Richard Marnell (Viking River Cruises), David Mitchell (Open Solutions Inc.), David Norton (Harrah’s Entertainment)

From small to midsize organizations (less than $250M revenue): Timothy Gilbert (Campus Mgm’t Corp), Tim Kopp (ExactTarget), Terrie O’Hanlon (Manhattan Associates), Curtiss Porritt (MasterControl Inc.), Thomas VanHorn (Application Security Inc.)

Enjoy the interviews. I hope there are insights and ideas that you can take away to create new value for your health brand customers and your business.

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While “image” used to sell, and ads used to be at the center of the marketing universe, today’s playbook is driven by the idea of actions speaking louder than words. The most important question to ask of your brand is what can be its place in people’s lives?

The challenge ahead for brands is to maintain their relevancy in a world in which marketing is no longer a spectator sport, but rather one that is involving, dynamic, authentic and interactive. Where the brand-customer relationship is one that increasingly resembles two close friends growing together, looking out for each other and helping each other succeed.

Here are six strategies important for growing healthier and more prosperous brands (and customers). The common denominator is that each of these practices add value to the lives of their audiences (as you’ll note from my health brand examples). In turn, audiences add their own value back to the brand. And both grow healthier and more prosperous.

1. From assembling followers to growing participants (PatientsLikeMe)
2. From capturing customers to liberating them (Teavana)
3. From making claims to creating experiences (Walgreens Take Care Clinics)
4. From generating transactions to growing communities (P&G’s
5. From innovation silo to group think (Sermo online physician community)
6. From hiding behind the curtain to transparency (Marty Bonick, CEO Jewish Hospital, Kentucky)

Do you have comments you’d like to share? Other brand examples you can share?

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We had a meeting with a prospective client who wants to explore, and more sharply define, their brand idea. Because they’re not quite sure if the organization’s message is really one that emanates from a well-conceived brand strategy.

So it occurs to me – is your brand reflected in everything your healthcare organization says and does? Surrounding your health system, academic medical center, specialty hospital, center of excellence…is there a big idea that defines you, distinguishes you, drives you, attracts and engages your audiences, compels them to promote it to others and is delivered through your customer experience?

Or are you falling into the trap of only creating an image wrapper (a term I’m borrowing from BrandGym’s David Taylor)? Where the brand is wrapped in communication, but delivery of the brand promise (if there is one), is no where to be found. A brand-led business, in contrast, drives off a strong brand idea, is powerfully delivered, and then reinforced through communication.

Apple’s vision can be seen and experienced in everything they do. Same holds true for Whole Foods, Harley-Davidson, Southwest Airlines, to name just a few. While many companies view “brand” as the domain of marketing (or more narrowly associate it with “image”), these organizations understand that business strategy and the brand are indistinguishable – where brand is conveyed by everything people see, hear, touch, taste or smell about your business.

So, is your healthcare organization a BRAND-LED business – where branding is not a beauty contest, but a strategy to drive volume and growth, build loyalty, attract donors, retain talent – in fact, drives your whole business.

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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 Nick Dawson, Community Engagement leader at Bon Secours Virginia Health System, as this month’s participant.

Here’s what Nick 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…
….take pride in serving people. The web, and technology in general have afforded us an amazing amount of connivence of choice. We can compare the price of flights across multiple carriers, check the best rating on a dishwasher and buy music for pennies, all before getting out of bed. When selection and price make things commodities, service is the one thing that becomes a differentiator. However, if I have a choice between two providers and the quality of care is equal, I am going to pick the one that treats me the best. I often think about The Experience Economy by Pine and Gilmore and the Cluetrain Manifesto by Loc, Searls, Wineberger and Levine as both ahead of their time. They are prophetic works that suggest that when organizations value their relationship with customers and provide excellent service, the reputation of the organization markets itself. At Bon Secours, we have seen a clear path from employee engagement to world-class service to market share.

2. Specific to social media, how has it impacted the way your organization conducts business?
We are becoming better listeners. I do not think we are unique in that regard; savvy companies are moving away from information push and embracing pull. We will continue to do what we do well, and rather than simply tell people about it, we are asking them. What do you think about this facility, this new procedure, this doctor? We also spend a lot of time online just listening. What are people saying about doctors in our service areas or about healthcare in general? What can we learn from those conversations that we may not know, or which may validate our assumptions? An additional note, which is great news, is we are revenue-positive in our efforts.

3. What are the key challenges your organization is grappling with as it considers participation?
There are two distinct challenges. The first is spreading the word. Ironically, the best social media still seams to be a face-to-face conversation. We are working from both ends of the organization to spread the word about what we can do with these tools. For senior leadership it is about building their comfort level with participating as individuals; (a welcome change from where many organizations were a year ago in developing a comfort level about even using social media.) We are doing the same thing with individual employees by encouraging them to think about our social media efforts as having an unlimited bandwidth to tell any story. When we hear about team members or departments doing neat things, we approach them about a blog post, or video.

The second challenge is in fostering the creativity and encouraging participation. Many people have singular exposures to these tools. Facebook is for sharing baby pictures with friends, twitter is about what you had for breakfast and Youtube has cats playing piano. Others perceive a time requirement as a barrier to entry. I try and encourage people to think about the conversation, not the medium. There are online spaces for any way someone feels comfortable telling their story; it is our job to support that.

4. What are your top lessons learned for implementing a social media strategy?
The biggest lesson was one of cohesion. Our organization believed in our work, but was unclear on our direction. Our communications team was together on the vision. Crafting a formal strategy helped us learn how to present our successes and sell our services to our leadership and throughout the rest of the organization. It was a cathartic experience to whittle our plan town to three simple goals: service, advocacy, and market share.

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How social is your social media program? Beyond your current and prospective customers, consider whether you’re creating something of value for:

1. Employees: such that they are more/fully engaged; proud of your/their collective contributions; are more aware of the world around them; and seeing new and different opportunities to help make lives better
2. Shareholders: are you engaging the ones who care not only about financial return, but about the long-term (sustainable) impact of that return; and who increasingly are investing in companies that are balancing purpose with profits and making a difference in the world
3. Society: are you creating value for society at large at the same time that you’re helping customers move forward; hopefully, melding these two (increasingly compatible) concepts together
4. Company: beyond your financial worth to creating value such that the whole of your contribution exceeds the sum of your individual parts

Challenge yourself to think more expansively about your social media program. You have the opportunity to create new value for audiences you might not otherwise be able to engage through traditional channels.

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I wrote a post last month about PatientsLikeMe, a wonderful organization dedicated to making a difference in the lives of patients diagnosed with life-changing diseases after they were recognized by Fast Company as #2 on the list of the top ten most innovative healthcare companies. 

It was co-founded by Ben and Jamie Heywood after their brother Stephen (who has since passed away) was diagnosed with ALS. At it’s core, it is “an ingenious website where people share and track data on their illnesses – and where the collective data has enormous power to comfort, explain and predict.”

Here’s a video of a talk by Jamie last October at TED. It’s about his brother, their company, the community they’re building/have built, and the possibilities for the future. Above all else, it’s a wonderful and inspiring story.

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Beyond the core lies more value for your customers and your organization.

Fueled by a powerful brand idea, you have more opportunities than you think to create new and greater value for your health brand customers beyond your core product and service offerings. To introduce marketing innovations to drive sales as much as new product development.

Here are five pathways (along with some examples) to generate new brand-led growth through marketing-led innovation and to add more value to your customer’s lives – along the way introducing new dimensions for distinguishing your brands.

1. New Experiences: If you’re a high-end spa brand like Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door Spas, and your target audience just happens to be well-to-do females, how about creating the Red Door Spa wedding experience?

2. New Audiences: If you have a strong foothold in the weight-management category like Atkins Nutritional, why not help fight obesity by working along with schools to assist school-age children to eat healthier meals?

3. New Partners: If you’re Octane Fitness, committed to making the best elliptical machines in the world, how about partnering with Apple (another brand committed to “best in the world”) to build readers into your machines?

4. New Channels: If you’re Glo Professional, a beauty company with products that are supposed to be great for post surgery skincare, why not pursue the professional healthcare channel?

5. New Dialogue: If you’re an everything-bicycle retailer like Performance Inc. –  how about creating an online social community among bike enthusiasts and asking them to contribute their favorite bike routes across the United States, thereby creating tremendous value for riders through your brand.

What have you done today to surprise and delight your customers through marketing innovation? Please share.

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Your market is changing all around you.

Traditional competitors are evolving. New ones are forming. Market forces are redefining customer expectations and challenging your traditional definition of “value.”

So how are you responding? What’s the idea that drives your brand and gives you permission to imagine and create new value for your healthcare customers and your organization?  Success, today and in the future, requires you to take this idea and translate it into adding more value to people’s lives beyond your core products and services.

Virgin takes its passengers to and from the airport. Cirque du Soleil gives its audiences theatre with (and redefines) their circus. Mayo Clinic is creating lifestyle products and mobile apps for its patients and expanded customer base. Fairmont gives its guests a BMW with their hotel stay.

How about you. What do you do to surprise, delight, and add more value to your customer’s lives?

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There’s a new book just released called Age Of Conversation 3, and it’s the third book in the Age of Conversation series.

A crowdsourced publication, it brings together 150+ authors from around the world, leading marketers, writers, thinkers and creative innovators contributing individual chapters, investigating the roles that community, conversation, experimentation, engagement, and collaboration play in shaping the 21st century’s economy of ideas. I’m proud to be a contributing chapter author.

The book helps readers use social media. Teaches them how to use it smarter, better, more efficiently.  Shares stories, ideas, strategies and observations. And in the spirit of community, all profits from the sale of the book are donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The book is broken down into these sections:

At the Coalface
There is much to be said for good strategy, but what happens when the strategy is done? This section is about working at the coalface of social media. It’s about the real world lessons that come hard and fast – case studies and the stories and events that are much better in the re-telling than in the moment.

Conversational Branding
What happens when a brand ventures into online conversation. What does it mean to participate in these conversations? Is this earned media? Is it paid for? Or is there an in-between space?  How important is brand in the social media space?  How does the conversation shape or change the brand?

Much is made of influence, but what does “influence” mean in social media? Who has it, and who creates it? Does influence mean different things to different people?  Is it hype or can it make the cash register ring?  Is influence one of the new currencies?

Getting to work
They say that the best approach to social media is dive in. But getting to work can be harder than it first appears. What have you done to quickly get to work?  Or perhaps this section is about how you use social media to get to work — literally.  Is it a viable tool for networking and job hunting?  Or maybe this section is about how social media is changing the face of work.

Corporate Conversations
There’s plenty of coverage of social media when the focus is on marketing or advertising. But what is happening in other parts of your business? Or if you’re a consultant or agency, how do you introduce social media to the C-level at your client’s business?  How do you make social media more relevant to the bottom line?

Can you measure social media? Many claim you can and many claim you can’t. But if you can, should you? And how do you measure it?  In terms of ROI?  Or influence? Or ability to do good?  What are the metrics that matter and how do you get to them?

In the boardroom
Is social media a fad dreamed up by the marketing department to get the attention of executives? What are the hard questions and firm answers that get thrown around the boardroom. And who, if anyone, is best placed to answer?  What role should the C-level executives play in a company’s social media strategy?  

Pitching social media
The work has been done and the late nights are weighing heavily on your shoulders. But it’s time to buck up – to pull it all together and wow your client. What do you do to impress? Is there a new art to pitching social media? Or, if you’re from the PR side of the table, how are you pitching your client’s stories to social media’s influentials?

Innovation and Execution
People make great claims for social media. Is it the long dreamed of silver bullet? Can the tools and techniques be harnessed to drive innovation? How can you take an idea or a strategy and make it work for your brand or your business?  How do you move from idea to actual execution?  

Identities, friends and trusted strangers
Many people are now living much of their lives online.  Who do you call friend?  How do you set boundaries or decide who to let into your circle of influence?  How do you know who to trust when you can’t look them in the eyes? What tools, techniques and sites do you find most useful in creating your online brand?

The book can be purchased from Channel V Books, a company that works with business thought leaders who need to publish books in order to promote themselves and their businesses, enhance their credibility and attract new opportunities.

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Where’s the value through your social media program? What’s in it for your audiences? How do you align your social efforts with your strategic goals, and the goals of your customers?

Here’s a quick presentation that contains ten questions that must be answered (along with some additional thoughts to get you underway), if you’re going to deliver real value for your customers and your organization.

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