What is your vision for Integrated Customer Relationship Marketing?

This post from Clive MacLean Recent Fortune 100 RFP’s Search For A New Breed of People2People Agency, provides good insight into the future of true brand engagement (through People2People marketing) and why customer relationships are becoming more and more important.

As we move deeper into this new “conversation economy,” true brand engagement and customer relationships are becoming more and more important. Marketers must strive to create ongoing and relevant dialogs with consumers, if they are to have any hope whatsoever of remaining part of the consideration set going forward.

This dialog – often times between customers themselves – creates new value for both customers and companies alike. Read on about what Clive has to say.

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The more you know about your customers as real people – looking beyond their obvious needs to their hopes, dreams, fears and challenges – the more you can help them achieve.

In turn, the more value you give, the more you’ll receive in return. Ideally, this “return” will come in the form of customers who become enthusiastic fans of your organization. The ones who are more than happy to sing your praises.

Here are eight ways to make this happen through social media:

1. Internal Engagement. Give employees, the ones who power your brand, the chance to shine, e.g. Best Buy Connect
2. Collaboration. Create mechanisms for customers to influence your products and services, e.g. Dell’s IdeaStorm
3. Authenticity. Feature happy customers on video, e.g. Mayo Clinic’s atrium piano
4. Feedback. Create real-time feedback channels, e.g. ComcastCares
5. Participation. Create suggestion boxes and reward customers for their participation, e.g. My Starbucks Idea
6. Experiences. Create new ways of delivering experiences that fit with their lifestyles, e.g. healthierme
7. Conduit. Allowing customers to share with each other through you rather than driven by you, e.g.
8. Sharing. Allow customers to share their ratings, e.g. revolutionhealth

Are there other good examples that come to mind?

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Is someone, or some team in your organization, acting on this question? I hope so, because right now, as you’re reading this, your competitors are. Those you know about, and those who aren’t yet on your radar screen. Those you directly compete with today, and those you soon will.

• Are you looking past customers’ obvious needs – beyond the pills, the community outreach, the procedures, etc.?

• Are you imagining beyond your current “industry ” offerings to satisfy their desires in unconventional ways – looking to make new combinations and connections, and to outside industry role models and influencers for inspiration?

• Are you committed to reinventing your customers and your company – beyond new products to new business models, markets, ventures, experiences, services, partners, channels, conversations?

Who’se doing the dreaming, exploring, imagining, creating, prototyping? Do these words describe you, someone else, or some team in your organization? Hopefully, the answer is yes. Because if they don’t, irrelevancy is closer than it appears.

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Here are ten reasons I’ve heard and read over the past couple of weeks about why healthcare marketers aren’t engaging their audiences through social media:

1. our new hospital project is weighing us down
2. it’s the end of the year and we’ve put off any decision about social media until 1st quarter
3. we (actually being the marketing department) don’t have resources to dedicate to social right now
4. this is a senior leadership decision, and they’re not yet comfortable with the tools
5. social media doesn’t have much strategic significance for us right now
6. social media doesn’t fit with our marketing priorities
7. we’ve already allocated our budgets across media vehicles for next year
8. social media isn’t in line with our key service line goals and strategies
9. it’s more important, next year, for us to focus on our strongest potential business development opportunities across key service lines
10. we’re not yet equipped to handle direct interaction with patients and our communities

What’s fascinating about this list is that all of these reasons are about “we.” As if patients, families, communities, care providers, employees, etc. are waiting for 1) “you” to decide you’re ready to engage “them” in ways they want; and 2) you to give them the green light to be broadcasting and talking to each other about your organization.

Are any of these reasons holding your organization back from participating in social media? Do your goals and strategies really do justify participation (at least monitoring the conversation), but there are artificial internal force fields holding you back? Want to talk about it?

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Are patients and consumers synonymous? Are they two sides of the same coin?

Your organization views your audiences as patients. Your key competitor views this same audience as consumers. Or maybe they refer to them as health consumers, clients, or maybe even e-patients. Does this distinction make a difference? I think the answer is yes.

Let me clarify that I’m not talking about patients from the standpoint of being ill, living with a chronic disease, or the relationship that a physician has with his or her patients.

Rather, I’m referring to “patients versus consumers” from the standpoint of a marketer. And from a marketing perspective, I’m not a big fan of labeling people as “patients.” Because patients denotes a captive audience. It puts guardrails around who they are, the choices they have available to them and the fact that they have lives beyond that of being a “patient.”

Yet patients are far from captive. They’re armed with the knowledge, tools, and ability to reach out to their trusted social circle advisors to make informed and independent consumer choices. And more often (though clearly not all the time), they are in charge. They can choose to involve themselves (to engage) with you or not.

Changing your lens lets you see your healthcare audiences in a different light. While patients perpetuates sameness, consumers open your eyes to imagine and create new and greater value beyond “patient” solutions.

So how can you integrate into the lives of your patients healthcare consumers more meaningfully and completely. How can you gain their participation through content, dialogue, experiences, and solutions beyond that of what you’re doing today. How can you more broadly affect the world in which they and their families live, and the things they want to do?

What do you think about this topic? Please let us know.

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As part of our “Insider Insights” series, I feature the personal perspective of a health brand senior marketer, digital, social or innovation expert. I’m pleased to have Greg Matthews, Director of Innovation at Humana, as this month’s participant.

Here’s what Greg has to say about the future of health brands and social media:

The organizations and brands that will thrive in the future are those that

can fundamentally change the way they work, ceding control to their customers, suppliers and employees. The old “we make it, you buy it” way of thinking is fast disappearing, even in the health system. It’s our belief that customers, suppliers, employees and other stakeholders are going to have to be a lot more involved in making, selling and servicing products. That means that organizations are going to have to shift from a command-and-control culture to a much more open and trusting environment.

Specific to social media, how has it impacted the way that your organization conducts business?

I think that we’re just beginning to see the impact of the changes in our company. Unlike some other companies, we have elected NOT to do a top-down implementation of a social media strategy. Instead, we’ve created a framework whereby every department has the ability to use social media to improve their own business processes – whatever those might be.

We’ve formed a volunteer “un-committee” made up of social evangelists from 14 different departments around the company. We don’t have a leader, a charter, or an executive sponsor. But here’s why I think it’s working:

First, this group wrote Humana’s social media policy and the associated communication plan, and had it ratified directly by our Executive Committee.

Second, when we formed the group less than a year ago, there were only two departments (marketing and the innovation center) who have an active presence in the social space. Now there are seven.

I think this way may be slower, but in the end is going to be a lot more effective because each department actually owns their initiatives, and are dependent on their own results.

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

I think every corporation has to deal with two big issues: Control and speed.

Social media by its very nature is a grassroots phenomenon … the opposite of the top-down, control-oriented hierarchy of the corporation. Having enough trust to cede control is easy to talk about, but a lot harder to do. Corporate structures and processes are set up specifically to eliminate groundswells. Groundswells can reduce efficiency by producing outcomes that are different than those intended and create risk. So making this shift is more than just an attitudinal change; it’s a change in work structures and processes, too.

I think that speed is an issue because social media and community happen in real time … they don’t have time to wait for a decision to pass through multiple committees for a course of action to be agreed. This is a big switch, too.

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

For me, there are four principles that have worked for us at Humana. They’re overly simplistic, but the best lessons always are, right? Here’s how I describe them (and you can see my visual presentation of these principles on slideshare):

• Be a vacuum. Always be learning. Always be reading. Always be looking for the next connection and the next smart idea. In social media, there is no such thing as “status quo.”

• Be a padawan. Talk to the best. You don’t need to get advice from Frank’s Social Media and Screen Door Company. The best thinkers in the world are giving it away for free every day on their blogs and on Twitter. And if you’re a company, there’s a good chance you can have a direct conversation with these Jedi; they want to work for you.

• Try stuff. No matter how much you read or how many Jedi you talk to, you can only really understand the power of social in your business by getting out there and trying it. That starts with building your own, personal social graph. Start a Twitter account, and follow 10 new people every day. Start a LinkedIn profile and join an interest group or two. Start a Facebook page and start playing games with your high school friends. Once you’ve gotten your personal social graph in order, find some low-risk ways to experiment on behalf of your company. There are plenty of experiments you can run that won’t create undue risk for your business.

• Be 2.0. Let the form follow the function. The form of social media is grassroots … groundswell … interactive. Let your work reflect that. It’s why our social media “uncommittee” is so unconventional. It HAS to be grassroots or it won’t work. It’s why our Web site ( has so little content … our content lives on the social web … on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr. The Web site is just a hub with spokes leading out to all of that content. Before you try something in typical fashion, double-check yourself and ask, “what’s the social way to do this?” In our first uncommittee meeting, we decided to live-Tweet the meeting instead of taking minutes … which set a great tone.

Always remember that we’re still in the middle of this transition from an “information economy” to a “collaboration economy.” There’s not a single company that has defined the business of the future. And there’s nothing to prevent your business from being the one that does … so there’s no need to be afraid of a few little “failures.”

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How to get more people using the stairs by making it fun to do? Watch this great video called Piano stairs –

But more important, this is a great example of imagining and creating new value for your customers, and your brand.

You can tell people all day long through your advertising that “taking the stairs is healthier than taking the escalator.” But bring the idea to life through your marketing in a way that people want to (can’t help but) engage with, and you’ll change behavior, and change lives.

As always, actions speak louder than words.

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Here are ten consumer trends from to help you kick-start 2010.

Within the briefing are also a couple strong macro trends resources like McKinsey’s Global Institute and IMD’s global challenges site.

Note that these consumer trends are not “healthcare-specific”, which I think is a good thing (there are many healthcare reports like this to be found; and if you don’t have, please let me know).

But make no mistake, these trends apply to your customers, your brands and your company. So think, and imagine, about how to creatively connect them, twist them, shape them and adapt them to make things better for your customers and to enhance the relevancy of your brands.

To this point, the report suggests four questions that will help you determine if they have the potential to help you create new and greater value for your customers and company. Do they:

1. influence or shape your company’s vision
2. inspire you to come up with a new business concept, an entirely new venture, a new brand
3. add a new product, service or experience for a certain customer segment
4. speak the language of those consumers already “living” a trend

In many cases, you’ll find (at least you should) the answers to be “YES”.

Enjoy, and good innovating! Once again, the link is also here.

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Beyond your products and services, does your marketing itself serve a purpose?

It’s an important question that actually harkens back to a phrase first expressed in the 1700’s – actions speak louder than words.

If your answer is NO, you’re ignoring what consumers really want. You’re also in jeopardy of your “status quo” marketing (and your brand) becoming increasingly irrelevant.

So, beyond your offer and your campaigns, does your marketing itself add value to people’s lives. Does it:

• help them do things that they couldn’t do on their own?
• engage them in ways they value and want?
• enable them to connect, share with, and learn from others?
• create participants by opening up avenues for meaning and involvement (beyond passive bystanders and followers)?

In order to escape the “status quo” and energize your customers and your brand, challenge yourself to create marketing that delivers beyond the essentials (the must-do’s which address people’s functional needs). Ask yourself these three simple questions:

• is this what our customers really want?
• are we offering them this prize today? (reminds me of Seth Godin’s analogy of the prize inside the Cracker Jack’s box)
• what else can we do, through our marketing, to provide more value to them, and for ourselves?

Your long-term health is riding on these answers, and your actions.

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People really don’t care about your products and services. This might be tough to accept, but it’s true.

What people do care a lot about, however, is how you make them feel about their decisions. How you help them improve their lives. How you help them achieve what they can’t on their own. And for healthcare marketers, these benefits translate into pretty important outcomes, from preserving life, to being able to live healthier and happier lives.

This is the incredible connecting power of your brand. By being about them, but having a strong vision about your place (what it is and what it can be) in their lives. This is the stuff that cements relationships, builds advocates, drives loyalty, gets people talking about you, creates communities and attracts others to you. This is the enormous power of your brand to help you achieve what your business alone can not.

So why do we keep talking about us? How caring we are. How celebrated we are. How trustworthy we are. How smart we are. How about turning the dial 180 degrees to the care they want. The recognition they deserve. The trust they desire. How smart they are. And how about paying this off with actions versus words (but more about this tomorrow).

Be more about your customers, and they’ll be all about you.

Any comments to share?

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