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For healthcare marketers, there’s a new set of rules for connecting your brand to your employees, caregivers, communities and patients. And it requires you to let go of what you think you know.

Continuing to try to persuade audiences through traditional campaigning about why you’re better (in the absence of other efforts), with the use of rational information and comparative data, is just not that important to those you’re trying to connect with.

There are two reasons for this. First, because the harsh reality is that people really don’t care about your organization, per se. What they do care about is how you make them feel about themselves and their decisions, and how much value you add to their lives. It’s their stories that are important, not yours. Second, because those who used to be your “passive audiences” are now “engaged participants” and content creators through social media.

The future of healthcare marketing is not about saying things to caregivers, communities and patients. It is about saying and doing things with them. It is about ATTRACTION MARKETING , compelling them to become more deeply engaged with your brand, while letting you (the healthcare marketer) actually spread your commercial message more effectively.

Today, brands are products of two-way (social) conversations. These conversations are personal and honest, living and breathing. With each conversation made stronger by other conversations, and building value for all parties involved. They result in competitive advantage for your organization, and significant advances in knowledge for your audiences. Each helps the other to reach their full potential.

Yet many in healthcare haven’t embraced this new reality. The reality that it pays from a relationship and financial standpoint to engage in two-way dialogue (i.e. social media). So what’s holding you back? Maybe you’re afraid of the unknown, or that your world is changing. Maybe you’re not comfortable with these new Social tools, or you don’t think you have the time. But to borrow a phrase from Cher in her movie Moonstruck when she slaps Nicholas Cage – “snap out of it”.

Because while you or your organization is hesitant to use social media, consumers actually become more invested in brands that welcome their participation. Simply put, conversations between people do more to build connections beyond your one-way campaigns. And what’s great about Social, and why it’s such a wonderful adjunct to traditional media, is that people can engage in these conversations whenever it’s convenient for them.

Integral to the future of healthcare brand building will be shared, “real-time” interactions and conversations between providers, caregivers, patients and communities. You have the opportunity now to benefit your healthcare organization by involving and empowering these audiences in conversations by being where they are and making it easier for them to connect, get informed and take action.

It’s not a matter of “if”, but “when.” So what are you waiting for?

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Following a recent post of mine about a company named Afterheels, which created a new market space and new value for customers by walking in their shoes (to the extreme delight of its female audience), I’m sharing this article written by Matthew E. May called Customer-Centric Design: Got Empathy.

He points out that there are at least three ways to gain real insight into a customer problem:

1. Observe – watch the customer
2. Infiltrate – become the customer
3. Collaborate – involve the customer

Read on.

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I read an article “Four Lifestyle Rules To Keep You Healthy” on Time. com and thought to myself what would the four rules be to keep brands healthy.

Tough to narrow to four, but here are mine.

1. An important and differentiating idea – the starting point for all great brands.
2. Relevance to audiences – based on understanding their hopes, desires and real life practices.
2. Tapping emotion – because the majority of our decisions are made with our “guts”.
3. Brilliant execution – which is so uncommonly excellent across the board that it reflects a clear leadership position.

Would you substitute any others? Please share your thoughts.

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Moral of the story I’m about to tell is that crappy experiences (on top of poor communication) don’t engender loyalty, particularly when people are on vacation and trying to relax. But they will promote word-of-mouth (though not the good kind). Lesson learned – the simple act of communicating and putting yourself in your customers shoes can often diffuse and turn a bad situation around.

We took a ferry ride yesterday from the mainland to an island (which will remain unnamed). The company that runs the ferry asks people to arrive at least 45 minutes beforehand, as tickets can only be purchased at the window. They don’t take reservations online or over the phone. Okay you say to yourself, a bit behind the times, but not that big a deal. We’re on vacation.

As anticipated, the window’s pretty crowded when we get there, because everyone’s thinking that they need to be beat the crowds. Okay you say to yourself, not that big a deal. We’re on vacation.

We buy our tickets and now it’s about an hour before the boat is supposed to leave at twelve. It’s already kind of crowded in the “holding area” but tolerable. And, we’re on vacation. By 11:30, the dock’s pretty full. Like waiting for the doors to open before a concert. An announcement over the loud speaker asks people to move as far down on the deck as they can, to make it easier for all people to enter the ferry in a timely manner.

By 11:45, people are looking for a boat that’s supposed to be leaving in fifteen minutes. It’s shoulder to shoulder on the dock, and if you’ve ever run the marathon,
you’d know the feeling. By the way, the sun’s shining and it’s also pretty hot. Not so okay anymore, because we’re on vacation.

At about twelve o’ clock, the time the boat is supposed to leave, another announcement asking people to move down the dock. Hundreds of people in unison shout back “no.” And now, the crowd’s not happy. We’re supposed to be on vacation. Babies are crying, kids are fidgety, adults are running out of patience, and a lot of older folks (who’ve been standing around for more than an hour) need a bathroom.

At 12:25, someone who has decided to anoint himself watchmen yells “I see the boat.” A collective round of applause, though it’s still fifteen minutes away. Finally, at about 12:40, we board the boat that is supposed to leave at 12.

To save you time, I’ll tell you that it was the same situation coming home. But to top it all off, they decide to collect passengers tickets as they’re getting off the boat at the destination.

So, back to the moral of the story. Some simple communication on the part of the ferry company could have saved the day. And prevented a whole lot of people from getting really pissed off and swearing that they’ll never do this again. Seems that only one boat was running that day, as the other one was experiencing mechanical difficulties.

Here’s where the bit about communication kicks in. Why not let passengers know about the delays as we were purchasing our tickets. Even better, why not leave a message about the delays on the ferry information line. Or, why not tell us when we’re parking our cars about a quarter mile away from the ferry, passing a number of local food and drink options along the way.

My list of “why nots” could go on. Because there were ten different things the company could have done when the hundreds of passengers were shuffled into the “holding area” waiting for the boat. Regardless of what business you’re in, your goal is to create happy customers. And so often (as in life), it’s the little things that make the difference. In this case, both brand and (hundreds of) customers lost.

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I’m away on vacation this week, but there are a number of things that I’ve been noticing along the way. All are reminders that everything health brands do, or don’t do, enhances or rips apart at that brand’s reputation and image. And often, as in life, it’s the little things that count.

For instance:

• when you walk into a store (a well-known, high-end regional apparel brand) and there’s a big autographed picture of the two founders promising that “our unequaled apparel will be matched by our unequaled customer service” – the people behind the counter (who never left their posts) should at least be smiling, not on their computers, and might want to say “hello” to shoppers.
• when you sit down to a meal, at a fairly pricey shore-front restaurant, the “wait” staff should probably not be pissed-off about working that night. Doesn’t make for one of those lovely and relaxing sunset meals. Nor will this restaurant make our pass-along list to friends.
• we will, however, pass along that anyone taking the trip from Hyannis to Nantucket take the slow Hi-Line ferry because “Mike” makes the trip worthwhile.

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The Future Is Now For Virtual House Calls, is the title of this Wired article from Ryan Singel.

Cisco and UnitedHealth Group are spending millions on an initiative that they hope will make virtual house calls a big part of our medical care. Here’s the idea – reduce the number of “get in our car” office visits, extend specialist care to remote areas and make routine follow-ups simpler than ever. Singel likens it to a web chat in 1080HD with an assistant next to you wielding the digital otoscope that is instantly uploading high quality video of your ear canal to your doctor.

The numbers underscore the opportunity. According to UnitedHealth, the market for telemedicine will grow from $900 million this year to more than $6 billion in 2012. UH and Cisco are betting that remote health care technology will no longer be limited to treating astronauts, African villagers and oil rig workers.

For more on this story, our future and how UH and Cisco are trying to broker the concept to large medical groups, click here.

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For the first time ever, one marketing campaign took home a Grand Prix award in three categories simultaneously (direct, cyber and PR) at the International Cannes Advertising Festival. The campaign was called the Best Job In The World and, as written about on Influential Marketing Blog, was “essentially a big online job search conducted through social media for a new caretaker for Hamilton Island in Queensland, Australia.”
The campaign was a huge success, logging 34,000 video entries from applicants in 200 countries, and more than 7 million visitors to the site who generated nearly 500,000 votes. This was achieved with a relatively limited budget of $1.7 million dollars.
A big part of the success of this campaign, states R. Bhargava, Blog author, was not what they were marketing, but how they used social media to do it. Here are the lessons he offers, along with some from our own firm’s playbook for energizing brands and customers, that anyone trying to promote a product or service (whether b2c or b2b) could use.

1. Make it believable. While you might not be able to support a quantifiable claim, can you dovetail what people’s definition of a dream (product, service, vacation, experience, etc.) might be.

2. It’s not about how much you spend. If you have something to say, and its compelling enough that other people are willing to/can’t help but talk about, social media and public relations can scale the message beyond traditional advertising.

3. Content trumps traffic. Many programs set out with a goal of generating traffic. But this is like ordering dessert before your entree. You need great content first. More people talking about your brand is a prelude to building traffic.

4. Compel content creation. While only a small percentage of social network participants are creating the conversation (between 1-10%), their influence spans way beyond – to passive consumers, those who forward and share, critics who comment on content and those who edit content created by others.

5. Be contagious. Build in a sharable component that motivates/incentivizes people to share with others. While traditional media is all about telling a great big one-way story to as many people as possible, social media enables lots of different conversations among lots of people at the same time.

6. Make it multi-dimensional. Social media is both philosophy and practice. About speaking with, not “to” or “at” people. While the philosophy spans and informs an integrated strategy, the actual tools are but one component of an integrated communications mix.

7. Build trust . You need to let go, as you’ve already lost your grip. Trust it to customers (and employees) to carry messages forward. Realize that we trust each other’s recommendations and opinions (proven across a number of different studies) more than we do television, magazines, radio and sponsorships.

8. Transparency. Your customers don’t spend time thinking about your company. You’re just not a priority. What is important, however, is how you make them feel, how you can help them succeed in their business or simply how you can improve their lives.

9. Keep it simple. Our most personal, important and enduring communications are the simplest – I Love You, I Do, We’re Through, He’s Gone. Powerful stories are simply told. If you can’t crystallize your story, how can consumers possibly get it.

10. Co-create value. Feed your customers by being interesting and being useful. They’ll return the favor. In the end, you both become stronger.

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Many organizations lack the time, budget or experience to start “social media” activities from scratch. Alexandra Samuel, who writes for Harvard Business Publishing, offers these three great options for robust social media presences that let you manage cost and risk by building on existing tools and established best practices.

Read her excellent blog post in which you’ll find the “what, how and where”, along with examples of companies putting these tools to good use – Three Instantly Effective Social Media Strategies.

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Coca-Cola’s testing a new “fountain of the future” – the Freestyle – which dispenses more than 100 flavor options. You can read the full Fast Company newsletter story here (though the video seems to be private). While the machines are currently being tested in Georgia, California and Utah, the company plans to place 60 test dispensers around the country by the end of the summer.

Coke’s changed the game, for itself and its customers (both current and new), by:

• Raising selection well above others
• Creating the ability for customers to create their own new flavor combinations, thereby adding fun & adventure to the heretofore mundane process of ordering a “ginger ale.”

No doubt, this concept has great “social” legs. People will be tweeting about the flavors they were able to order, the new flavor combinations they’ve come up with and even the new names they give to these flavors. In turn, Coke is provided with tremendous content and promotional opportunity.

But enough about Coke. What are you doing to change the game for your customers? How are you delighting them in new and unexpected ways? What’s your version of the 100-flavor combination? Take one hour today alone or with your team to brainstorm your own “Freestyle.” Guarantee the ideas will flow (pardon the pun).

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At the end of the day today, ask yourself this simple question – what have I/we done today to make our customers lives better (and thereby add more value to our brand)?

What have we done to…

• solve their problems
• save them time or money
• ease their fears
• make them smarter
• help them achieve what they couldn’t on their own
• make them laugh
• help them connect with others
• reflect their individuality
• show them respect
• create advocates to spread our message

How did you do today? More importantly, how did your customers do today?

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