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Instead of focusing on beating the competition, make the competition irrelevant by creating a leap in value for customers and your company. This is a fundamental premise of blue ocean innovation strategy.

Odacite competes in the very crowded skin-care category. But they distinguish themselves from all others in the industry by “delivering directly to your door, the freshest skin care on the market.” Their products are:

• Freshly Made, in small batches, from certified organic ingredients
• Dated with a Freshiency™ date, a window of time during which ingredients maintain their full freshness and efficiency
• Directly shipped from their lab

The end-product is, in their words, the most active Skin Care Line.

Indicative of a good strategy, the company doesn’t diffuse it’s efforts across all areas of competition. It focuses on Freshness, and its value curve diverges from others along a few key dimensions. Its tagline also reflects their distinguishing and truthful brand promise – Redefining Skin Care. The First & Only Organic Skin Care Made Freshly For You.

Relating this back to your business, ask yourself these few questions…
• how are you creating a leap in value for your customers and your company?
• how are you breaking free from competitors?
• what’s your version of the Freshiency™ date?

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We’ve been tracking the social media practices of brands across the health and healthy lifestyles continuum – what they’re trying to achieve, the tools they’re using, the messaging and conversations taking place and how well we think they’re delivering.

Johnson & Johnson’s JNJ BTW is a blog authored by six J&J employees. The blog is about J&J, what they’re doing, how they’re doing it and why, along with news about the industry The authors state that while they may not always be able to talk about issues that fall under regulatory or legal constraints, we’re going to do what we can to talk openly, directly and to the best of our knowledge.

Here’s what I like about JNJ BTW:

It’s written by individuals. Companies don’t blog, people do. And they do here.
It’s not a marketing campaign. Beyond promoting the company and its products, the blog is a sincere attempt to make a real connection with, and engage, external audiences.
Reflects J&J’s values. It’s (human) voice is consistent with what you’d expect from this company.
Let’s you see underneath the hood. Content gives readers an idea of what’s going on inside the company, along with the issues they’re thinking and acting upon.
Open for comments. There aren’t a lot, but they do encourage two-way communication.
Open to flaws. This was the initial promise from the authors, and they’ve delivered on this.

What they can be doing better:
Posting on a more regular schedule. While the blog is updated often, the authors should be posting more regularly. It’s hard to gain traction, and possible that readers will stop visiting altogether, when they aren’t sure when new content is being posted.
Compelling more J&J employee involvement. There are more than 120,000 people around the globe who work for J&J and their operating companies. At a minimum, employees should be contributing their comments to these posts.
• More eye candy. There’s not much here to visually capture the reader’s attention, as most posts are simply text treatments.

Visit JNJBTW, and let me know what you think. I’m interested in hearing and sharing your comments.

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Health brands are ideally suited to social media.

Across this broad category (from disease management; health care systems and hospitals; home health services and products; medical devices and equipment; nutritional and wellness products; pharma and OTC) there’s the common denominator of people really needing and wanting what these tools allow health brand marketers to provide:

- informative, even life-changing content
- talking back and forth, sharing stories and even emotionally supporting people who share common interests, ailments or illnesses
- learning from friends and providers (locally and from around the world)
- saving precious time and expense

Ultimately, social media allows you to help create healthier communities. Which leads to healthier co-creators. Which leads to a win-win for your customers, your company and society at-large.

For those brands interested in maintaining their relevancy and their value to their customers (meaning everyone), social media must be integrated into your mix. The extent of your social efforts is based on many organizational factors. But at a minimum, you need to get in the game.

Here are seven big opportunities (reasons why) for health brands to use social media:

1. Demonstrate that you practice what you preach. Social media allows you to demonstrate that you live up to the promises you make to audiences. As the traction around “engagement” continues to grow, actions will continue to speak much louder than words.

2. What benefits your audiences benefits your brand. The future of marketing is about doing things for and with audiences – on their terms. There’s simply too much opportunity for conversations, comments and collaboration for traditional one-way, tell and sell communications to work the way they did years ago.

3. Build loyalty through your brand. This is not the same as trying to build loyalty to your brand. Key is to help people achieve more than they can on their own. Helping them do this is how you gain their attention, loyalty and trust (as well as forgiveness if you ever find yourself needing it).

4. Help people live longer. Research has shown that greater social engagement helps people live longer, healthier lives. Pretty important benefit for a brand to be able to contribute to.

5. Your participation invitation is already extended. Whether you sent a formal invitation or not, participants are already gathering around the conversation (and your company).

6. Listen for rich category and brand insights. Social makes it easy to find out what people really want and need – from the category and from your brand. Which makes it easier to listen for ways to make your offering better. Covet the opportunity to collect and act on this information.

7. It’s all about establishing and earning trust. Which is one of the most important and sustainable advantages a company can build in this environment. The companies who understand this, and pay it off with the right “social” etiquette (doing for others), will see the most benefit.

Are there other reasons that should be added to this list? Please contribute your ideas.

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Crowdsourcing is consumer research on steroids for health brands.

The health brand Vitaminwater, through its vitaminwater flavorcreator Facebook page, is inviting friends and fans to pick a name, write the package blurb and design the label for a new product release.

They’re also awarding $5,000 to the creator of the winning package design. In fact, today is the announcement of the winning flavor and vitamin package, that will then mark the start of the label design content.

What are six lessons that health brand marketers can take away from this combined social media/crowdsourcing effort:

1. Opening your brand up to customer participation allows you to create win-wins for your customers and your company. Customers get a product (or service, or enhancement) of their own creation, and your company gets a pre-approved stamp of approval.

2. Follow the “conversational” practices of your customers . Vitaminwater’s fans are heavy users of social media, particularly Facebook. With 963,000+ of them, participation in, and word-of-mouth about this contest will be strong. Where do your fans tend to congregate?

3. Brand actions speak louder than words. Vitaminwater could simply have introduced a new flavor through a traditional new product process. Instead, they let their fans develop the idea, creating much richer interaction with the brand through an engaging experience.

4. Crowdsourcing is consumer research on steroids. Rather than trying to understand what your customers want through traditional research, your customers are bringing their tastes and preferences to bear by actually creating more relevant brands.

5. Ideas not used today, can be stored for the future. If your brand, and your crowdsourcing idea, is big enough to motivate participation, the hundreds or thousands of ideas that you capture today can be stored away for future consideration.

6. We live in a new world of open innovation and collaborative production. Isn’t it better that you leverage the knowledge, creativity and passion of your crowd to your advantage rather than your competitors reaping the rewards?

How can you put the strength of the masses to work for you? How can you harness the insight and passion of your customers to create new and greater value for themselves and your company?

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Mymuesli provides an example of breaking free from competition by challenging prevailing industry assumptions. They didn’t require any special vision or foresight about the future. They simply looked at customers from a new perspective — that of the customer.

The ready-to-eat breakfast company was started in Germany in 2007 with a simple and unique idea. They let customers make their own customized muesli, which is then delivered by the company to your home or office. Customers can choose from 70 ingredients, and to quote the company “566 quadrillion different muesli variations.”

What’s the difference between Mymuesli and other companies? Most businesses are focused on market segmentation, to differentiate customers and deliver what they want. But mymuesli sought out the commonalities and desires of “muesli-loving” customers, thereby creating a platform for mass appeal and mass customization. And with 566 quadrillion different muesli variations, there’s more than enough combinations to delight mymuesli customers for years to come.

What’s your variation on my muesli? What are you doing to give your health brand customers exactly what they want (by looking at their world through their eyes)? Here are what a few health brands are doing:

Hellohealth – a healthcare startup trying to create a better (simpler) healthcare experience for both patients and doctors.

YouBar – an LA-based company that lets you create nutrition bars tailored to your own tastes and dietary dreams.

Google Health – which allows users to build their own personal health record.

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This post refers back to Are You Really Satisfying Your Customers, written by Scott Monty, at his Social Media Marketing Blog. Scott is the head of social media for Ford Motor Company.

Scott’s point is that as it becomes harder for consumers to distinguish one company’s offerings from another, customer service is one (remaining) way to create greater value and gain competitive advantage. And social media channels, particularly Twitter, are well suited to help companies do this. He cites these three examples from Comcast, Best Buy and Zappos.

What do you think? Is the situation among health brands any different? What organizations are providing superior customer service experiences? And which are doing the best job of integrating social media into their efforts?

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This is the first of many “Insider Insights” posts. Once a month, I’ll be featuring the personal perspective of a health brand CEO, senior marketer, digital or social media expert. I’m pleased to have Ed Bennett as our first participant. Ed is Director, Web Strategy at University of Maryland Medical System.

Each of these guests will address the same four questions, so that we’ll build a wealth of perspectives and knowledge around these four issues. Here’s what Ed 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
quickly adapt to new customer expectations. An entire generation is comfortable with Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Their expectation is to have direct, honest and rapid interactions with the brands they use. PR speak, and legalese will marginalize organizations, but authentic conversations will build customer loyalty and positive Word of Mouth.

2. Specific to social media, how has it impacted the way your organization conducts business? Healthcare, and hospitals in particular are very conservative. So far, most of these tools are seen as an extension of current practices, not as a new way to do business. We are seeing these services used to post news and events information, educational resources, and to re-purpose content like video. There is also some brand monitoring and service recovery going on, but it is not yet integrated into the basic business process.

3. What are the key challenges your organization is grappling with as it considers participation?

There are two major challenges:

A. Fear of HIPAA hold many healthcare organizations back. With no clear guidelines on what is allowed, hospitals in general are waiting on the sidelines. Out of the 5,000 US hospitals, only 360 are doing anything.

B. The other challenge is that IT departments in many hospitals block social media sites. Many times, work on them has to be done from home in the evening and weekends.

4. What are your top lessons learned for implementing a social media strategy?

You should start small, and only begin what you can maintain. Look to your internal experts, the people who use these tools in their personal life. They can see the benefits, and can be a great resource for your organization.

Consult with your legal team & create policies. There are two areas that need to be addressed: External comments / participation and Employee guidelines.

Be able to respond quickly – this is no place for a four-day multi-person review process.

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In the midst of a normal day of emails, phone calls, meetings, reports, and water cooler, Twitter and Facebook conversations, there’s not much time left for seeing things differently.

But the most successful companies do just that. They see what others don’t. They see a bigger picture, and thereby are able to think and do different things. They challenge conventions, connect the unconnected, see more opportunities to exploit, more ways to be different and more sources of future profit.

Here’s a chart we call our playbook for seeing what others don’t. We created it to help us deliver more innovative ideas to our clients. Everyone in our company has it taped on their walls, and some even have them in handy travel (business card) size.

Use this chart to help you see what others don’t. But please note that these are simply starting points for changing how you see your world differently. For each of these “transformational vision” sparks, there are supportive tools and inspiration sources for creating new and greater value.

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Best Buy is leveraging the power of social media by reaching out to both customers and employees to co-create greater and new value for themselves and the organization.

They’re asking customers to help change the company. Through their bestbuyideax.com site, customers are asked to share ideas, vote for the ones they like and discuss them with the rest of the community.

They’re also asking employees to contribute their “unedited” perspectives through Connected – a new way for people to engage with the actual folks who power Best Buy. Kudos to the company for having the courage and confidence to publish these unedited comments.

What can health companies learn from Best Buy’s social media practices:

• customers are eager to share their opinions, you just need to ask and give them a forum to do so
• these crowdsourcing opinions represent a great pipeline to innovative new products, services and experiences
• business success starts with happy, energized and engaged employees, who believe they are important to the success of their organization (asking them to contribute their “unedited” stories certainly supports this)
• for leadership to encourage employees to share their views for all to see, means more enthusiasm, commitment and passion to contribute to the greater good (and increased profits)
• continuing to drive one-way conversations puts your relevancy at risk, as your competitors are actively and openly engaging their customers and employees in a continuous cycle of co-creating greater and new value

Hellohealth, Humana (through crumpleitup) and Vitaminwater (through its Facebook flavorcreator) are a few companies openly engaging audiences to co-create greater and new value. What others can you think of?

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Four Mistakes You Could Make In Social Media is a pretty timely post from Edward Boches of Mullen, on his creativity_unbound blog. I read this post yesterday following a meeting with one of our health clients who is introducing a new anti-aging skincare brand.

The post is particularly relevant as we’re launching this new brand exclusively through a combination of digital and social media. This is the first time this client has embarked on a social media effort, and we were talking about the do’s and don’ts of being social.

According to Edward, the four kinds of mistakes brands make are:
• not responding fast enough
• promoting yourself before you have engaged
• neglecting to be transparent
• choosing not to be in social media at all

I’d add the following to this list:
• not appreciating the time investment required
• not recognizing that social media is an organization-wide effort
• beginning without goals or strategies in mind
• and beginning without any measures of success in mind
• not knowing your audiences interests and motivations
• not understanding that social is just one element of the communications mix

What do you think? Are there other points that should be on this list?

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