Aetna recently announced that it will be reaching out to its members on the-Go through a mobile-friendly website that’s easier to browse from a handheld device, smartphone “apps,” and text messaging. These mobile solutions will be made available to the majority of Aetna members – regardless of whether they have a basic cell phone or a smartphone with full Internet access.

Just a few examples of the benefits, as stated in the company press release, include “being able to look up the status of a claim while standing in the doctor’s office. Finding a cardiologist and making an appointment during a train ride to work. Researching the price of a prescription from the grocery aisle.”

According to Meg McCabe, vice president of consumer marketing and product for Aetna – “It’s imperative that we meet our members where they are with resources that engage them in making well-informed health care decisions, improve their interactions with their physicians, and even help them save a little money along the way.”

Through On-the-Go, Aetna accomplishes an important, yet somewhat elusive, objective for an insurance company – actually building relationships with a broad spectrum of their customer base. By allowing them to access important information, wherever and whenever they want it, the company is extending and enhancing its interactions with members – in ways they actually value and want.

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PatientsLikeMe is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of patients diagnosed with life-changing diseases. It was co-founded by Ben and Jamie Heywood after their brother Stephen (who has since passed away) was diagnosed with ALS. And make a difference they have, as they were recently recognized by Fast Company as #2 on the list of the top ten most innovative healthcare companies.

They state that their goal is to enable people to share information that can improve the lives of patients diagnosed with life-changing diseases. To make this happen, we’ve created a platform for collecting and sharing real world, outcome-based patient data and are establishing data-sharing partnerships with doctors, pharmaceutical and medical device companies, research organizations, and non-profits. Their collective data has shown enormous power to comfort, inspire, explain, predict and empower.

PatientsLikeMe is a wonderful role model for how modern brands will succeed by helping customers (in this case, patients) achieve more than they ever could on their own. Here are some reasons why:

1. Committing versus campaigning. Going forward, brands will be defined not by what they say to people, but by what they say and do with people (in this case, 45,000 patients).

2. Value through content. We go to the web because there’s something we need to do; a problem we need to solve. So we’re looking for information, insights and advice that we can use.  In this case, it’s content that’s literally saving and enhancing lives.

3. Collaboration. PatientsLikeMe brings together company, customers (patients) and partners (doctors, pharma, medical device companies) collaborating together to help each grow stronger.

4.  Becoming integral to people’s lives. PatientsLikeMe members don’t just share their experiences and stories; they turn their symptoms and treatments into hard data. By telling and sharing so much, members are creating a rich database of disease treatment and patient experience.

5. Transparency. While many companies, and healthcare websites, have a Privacy Policy, PatientsLikeMe has an Openness Policy. They believe that data belongs to you the patient to share with other patients, caregivers, physicians, researchers, pharmaceutical and medical device companies, and anyone else that can help make patients’ lives better.

6. Understanding How Your Audiences Integrate Technology Into Their Lives. PatientsLikeMe patients are heavily involved in what Forrester Research refers to as the groundswell. So this site is the perfect medium for them to contribute, comment, write, upload and publish.

7. Creating brand advocates. People who feel a sense of ownership in the brand, and are motivated to help it succeed will take an active role helping friends or family members make  a decision about a product. In this case, the motivation is literally a matter of life and death.

8. The product is the marketing. And PatientsLikeMe has created a better product.

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On, there’s a handy guide created by SEO and social media firm 97th Floor which analyzes which tools (across the social channels) are best for Customer Communication (add engagement here), Brand Exposure, Traffic To Your Site and SEO.  Here’s the link, where a downloadable pdf is also available.

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Here are ten planning questions that you need to answer to deliver real value for your customers and your organization through your social media program. Note that by real value, I’m referring to important measures of influence, attitude and action (based on engaging on a deeper level and truly understanding what drives your customers) and not the less meaningful ones like page views, followers or fans.

1. What are your business goals; e.g. awareness, thought-leadership, support, prospecting/leads, public relations, corporate social responsibility
2. What are the practices of your audiences and competitors; e.g. who are they, where are they, why are they participating
3.  How well do your audiences know you; e.g. familiarity, frequency of interactions, your reputation among them
4. What is your one thing; e.g. your niche or singular message
5. What’s your big-picture strategy; e.g. thought-leader (influencer), education (knowledge), entertainment (experience), empowerment (involvement)
6. How will you approach your content and conversations; e.g. what type, style, sources; guardrails (frequency, quality, legal implications, authenticity)
7. Type of outreach channels; e.g. what are the vehicles you’ll use to gain maximum participation; and how will you use traditional media to compliment and pull to social
8. How will you/can you marshall your internal resources; e.g. how much internal time and resource do you require; who will be your social face and voice; how will you get employees on-board
9. What policies are in place; e.g. for employee participation, brand consistency, handling of confidential and proprietary information, crisis situations
10. How will you monitor progress and performance; e.g. ongoing internal monitoring, performance criteria, qualitative and quantitative metrics

Are there any questions you’d add to this list?

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Does your marketing in and of itself add value to your customer’s lives? Does it help them in some way do more than they can on their own?

If not, why not? Why aren’t you moving beyond traditional one-way tell and sell advertising to actually connect and interact with your audiences (whose expectations are greater every day) in ways they actually value and want?  Why still simply send a fleeting message when you can interact in more meaningful and personal ways, gain valuable insight, spur innovation that helps you and your customers grow stronger, turn customers into brand advocates.

Here are seven ways, along with examples, of how to create greater value for customers (and your organization) through your marketing:

1. Be Considerate. Demonstrate that you understand what they’re going through. J&J’S
2. Motivate Them. Be an inspiration. Nike Plus (Nike + ipod) running.
3. Give Something of Value. Beyond what you’re selling. sanofi-aventis GoMeals.
4. Show You Care. Listen, respond and repeat. M•A•C Cosmetics Viva Glam.
5. Surprise Them. Keep your relationship fresh. P&G’s
6. Keep Communication Going. Stay in touch. Perricone MD’s DailyPerricone.
7. Spend Time. Create an experience that brings you closer. Olay For You.

What did I miss? I welcome your comments and suggestions.

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Your health brand customers can buy reliability, efficiency and convenience just about anywhere.

But what they’re increasingly looking for is the ability to buy from brands that have a healthy heart. Brands that provide other reasons to buy – and create greater value for themselves and others – beyond price and quality.

Signs of a healthy brand heart include appealing to higher values of community, causes and advocacy. Helping people reinforce their own meaning and purpose and helping them achieve what they can’t on their own. When customers align with these brands, they become a statement for what they themselves believe.

Here are four key characteristics of heart brands, along with some examples:

1. Be true to who you are. Your actions must resonate as sincere with your customers. Which means they must already be reflected in your brands’ story and ambition and backed up by your organization’s actions. Luxottica Group’s OneSight Foundation, is a family of charitable vision care programs dedicated to improving vision through outreach, research and education – which grows out of the company’s values of “protecting the eyes of men and women all over the world…to maximize their well-being and satisfaction.”

2. Help customers themselves do more. Help them be proactive, through their purchases, in ways they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do so. Purchasing from The Body Shop allows customers to affirm their commitment and support to the values that guide the company and their everyday lives – Activate Self-Esteem, Against Animal Testing, Support Community Trade, Protect Our Planet, Defend Human Rights.

3. Be selective in your stand. The legitimacy of your brand territory can only extend so far. So better to go deep and make a significant difference through your efforts than try to be everything to everybody. Humana’s CrumpleItUp innovation initiative, exists to come up with creative ways to help people be healthy while having fun.

4. Don’t fake it.  Today’s info-empowered consumers will not tolerate lip service. At some point, too, you always get caught. Unless you’re willing to demonstrate real commitment, transparency and accountability – take a pass. Rather than out one of these brands, I’ll focus on a positive role model. Since 1997, L’Oreal has raised more than $18M to fight ovarian cancer, the deadliest of all gynecologic cancers – thanks in part to sales of charitable products such as those in its Color of Hope cosmetics collection.

Give your customers something to believe in. Everyone wins.

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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 John Marzano, Vice President, External Affairs at Orlando Health, as this month’s participant.

Here’s what John 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
…. engage with their customers.  This means listening, responding and tailoring products, services or processes to align with consumer wants, needs and desires – how does your brand integrate with your customers experiences?  In addition, brands that can develop genuine relationships with their customers and consistently deliver on their brand promise will be able to attain long-term loyalty.

We’ve started listening and developing relationships with our customers through our Facebook page and have had a great experience. Our customers have insight into our organization and listening to them through social media is already changing the way we do business.

2. Specific to social media, how has it impacted the way your organization conducts business?
Social media has made us rethink the way we communicate with our customers. Traditional marketing practices were about sending messages, controlling messages. The new thought is more about engaging people in messaging and participating in ongoing conversation. That new mentality involves being willing to lose some control, being open to criticism, and doing a lot of internal education to get the right stakeholders at the table. Participating in social media means it’s not business as usual, yet it’s important to remember it is still only one tactic/tool in the overall marketing mix.

3. What are the key challenges your organization is grappling with as it considers participation?
In the healthcare industry we have both a commitment and a legal obligation (in HIPPA) to patient privacy. We’ve been very intentional about the policies and procedures we use to protect our patients personal information in every piece of our business – including social media. We took the time to conduct research, evaluate risk with our legal team and develop a strategy before launching into a social environment. That was the key to a successful launch and working within patient privacy challenges.

4. What are your top lessons learned for implementing a social media strategy?
That taking the time to develop a strategy was worth every minute. That strategy has given our team focus and purpose to the work of implementing social media, as well as the ability to set and achieve goals. A key piece of the strategy development was getting Human Resources and Information Services at the table with the Marketing Team. We each have a vested interest in social media tools and because we came together early we were able to launch into a social media environment in a thoroughly measured manner that had vast support from leadership in all areas of the organization.

Additionally we’ve learned that we have to stay the course. There are so many things that can happen in social media – some not so positive – that can easily become distracting and destructive to our efforts. It’s critical that we accept the things that come our way and respond appropriately – but it’s equally critical that we stay true to the strategy and direction of the effort.

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You can tell people all day long that they need to lose weight. That they need to be more active because it’s good for their health. And they’d expect these “one-way” messages from a healthcare provider like Mayo Clinic.

What you might not expect from Mayo is a fitness device that coaxes people into action. That adds real value to people’s lives – beyond Mayo’s core business of saving lives – and helps them do more than they could on their own.  And giving them the ability to do it alongside others.

Gruve (the first of other activity-based weight management products developed in cooperation with Mayo Clinic) keeps track of a user’s metabolic progress against his or her pre-measured metabolism. The information collected is then synced to the Gruve Online website, giving users the ability to view their daily calorie burn and weight loss progress.

Here are a few important things for marketers to take away about Mayo’s Gruve:

• identifying new products and services through a filter of real customer needs (rather than through what and how you do it today), will free you to see and think in new ways about your possibilities and extending your appeal to new audiences
• these ideas are win-win’s for both customer and organization, as both grow stronger as a result of these new products
• helping people do things alongside others (people can join the Gruve “muvement”) creates an even more powerful proposition

So how can you get your “gruve” on to be more important to more people than you are today?

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Imaging and creating new value for your audiences starts with your brand positioning.

Sramana Mitra, strategy consultant and Forbes columnist, just ran an interesting series – Blogosphere on Positioning – that captures some interesting and complimentary thoughts on positioning from some pretty smart people: Steve McKee, Tom Asacker, Susan Gunelius, Rober Bly and David Meerman Scott.

Here are a few highlights:

• grow your appeal by targeting fewer people
• evaluate whether your positioning passes six key tests
• instead of trying to occupy a unique “position”, develop a unique attitude
• make internal changes to meet customers’ needs, which will lead to the brand experience and perception you want your brand to convey

Have a read. There are good insights here that you can start to incorporate into your efforts right away.

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View more presentations from Taly Weiss.

This is TrendsSpotting’s third annual prediction report following major trends in six categories. What I found really interesting was that for 2010, as part of their “Influencer Series” they adopted this “tweet style” format.

Across many of the predictions, they identified these trends they suggest will influence consumer behavior:

• Healthy, Value, Stability, Disclosure, DIY

Enjoy. The report is a quick read.

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