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Good article by Jessie Scanlon, senior writer for Innovation & Design at BusinessWeek, titled How 3M Forged a Culture of Innovation.

Key to 3M’s success in launching and bringing Filtek Supreme Plus, the cosmetic dental industry’s leading composite for restorative work, and the one new product example cited in the article, was recognizing collaboration as an essential element of innovation and then creating the systems to support it.

What can executives learn from 3M’s approach to collaboration?

• Create support networks to spread knowledge across the company
• Build collaboration into employees evaluation system
• Encourage curiosity
• Create innovation funds
• Don’t underestimate the value of physical proximity

Beyond these, I think there are a few more important takeaways:

First, 3M’s approach integrates innovation into everyday company operations. It doesn’t limit it to lightning bolt moments, particularly important in difficult (lean) times like these.

Second, this culture of collaboration provides more opportunity to create new and greater value across all aspects of the business and the brand experience, as different perspectives are brought to the table.

Third, it energizes and aligns employees around the notion of a healthy disrespect for the present reality. And who among us doesn’t like to escape reality every once in a while?

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A lesson to be learned for all health + healthy lifestyle brand marketers…

It’s back-to-school time. Travel a highway and you see parents taking their kids to school, and kids with cars filled to the brim with everything that could possibly fit in them. You also see a lot of Thule cargo racks.

So I went to Thule’s website today. And was saddened when I was there. Because, for starters, this is a brand with a great story, started by a gentleman who sold direct to end users at windsurf competitions on the New England shoreline out of his “station wagon” office. It’s the kind of story that many brands only wish they could tell. But it’s not really being told here.

It’s also a brand that consumers engage with in really important ways, at some really important times of their lives. Memorable times that will be with them, and their kids, forever. This brand makes people’s lives a lot sweeter, in ways that competitors (at least perceptually) just can’t match. Which is the making for great stories to be told!

The site is rich with functional details about the different kinds of Thule racks available for Bike, Snow, Water, etc. But we don’t buy features, we buy benefits. We buy with our guts, based on decisions charged with emotion. And I imagine that there’s some incredibly powerful associations wrapped around Thule that can be leveraged and brought to the foreground. Yes, Thule is functionally a means to help you safely get your things from here to there. But much more importantly, Thule is freedom, enabler, partner, protector, trusted friend…

This is a brand that could be engaging audiences much more meaningfully around their brand. It is a brand that should be inviting (probably very willing) customers to become allies in adding value back to Thule. It is a brand ripe for rich conversations and shared stories, which actually lets Thule spread their commercial messages more effectively.

But Thule is just one example of brands under leveraging relationships, fans and evangelists. What’s important to remember is that you need to let the conversations take place, and let the stories be told and shared around you. In the end, both customers and company will grow stronger.

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I’m using this blog post to recognize the significant accomplishments of a Trajectory client, and to share how this organization has radically challenged convention and expectation to re-energize both its audiences and the organization itself.

Alpha Chi Omega is a national women’s organization represented in 40 states, with more than 200,000 members who join during their undergraduate college years and hopefully, remain members for the rest of their lives.

This past week, following our rebranding of the organization, ACO launched its new website. This was the final step in bringing its Real. Strong. Women. brand promise to life. In so doing, it changed the game for its members. And for the organization itself.

The new site changes the paradigm of the online experience for this forward thinking sorority to strengthen interactions, connections and conversations among its members. Its design, content and functionality offers both an information portal and community hub, further delivering on its promise to change the conversation for all Alpha Chi Omega women.

Among its many features, the site can be personalized to each Alpha Chi Omega member’s needs and interests by implementing a customizable platform within a sub site, My Alpha Chi. This is a major step forward for the organization, as the site is now relevant to all members regardless of lifestage or lifestyle. Other features of My Alpha Chi include:

• Starting Conversations – Alpha Chi Omega’s Blog
• Real Strong Woman of the Month – Stories of Alpha Chi Omegas who are making a difference.
• AX! Message Boards – Discuss issues whether Alpha Chi Omega or not.
• The Lyre Online – Top stories from The Lyre magazine.
• Connect with Alpha Chi –Twitter, Facebook, Delicious, Flickr, LinkedIn and YouTube.

From the time that we had our first conversation with Alpha Chi Omega, they talked about two things. First, changing how women think and act about the idea of sorority. Second, changing the expectation of how a sorority will thrive, and be defined in the future. Their last major step in this journey is now complete. And for that, we congratulate this game-changing organization.

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Mayo’s reputation for being a forerunner when it comes to all things “social media” isn’t news to those in and around the healthcare space. But even I was surprised at this finding.

As part of some secondary research for another client, we visited a lot of healthcare organization’s Facebook pages. Mayo has 8,811 fans. That’s a big number (at least in healthcare). Far greater than many other well-known institutions.

This means that 8,811 people are listening, discussing, messaging, updating, receiving Mayo’s feeds (which in turn gives these fans some viral power), interacting with Mayo and connecting with other people just like them (which we know in healthcare is very powerful in terms of improving health outcomes for people with a range of conditions).

Most importantly, this means that 8,811 people are telling (and participating in) personal and honest, living and breathing, powerful and overwhelmingly positive stories about Mayo in ways that traditional communications just can’t convey. Though I still believe that social media is not a single solution in itself, but one element of an integrated marketing communications plan.

It’s always been that people’s stories are important, not those of the organization. What an incredible, equity-enhancing benefit it is to have 8,000 plus people socially and passionately involved with your brand, while letting you (the marketer) actually spread your message more effectively.

Kudos (once again) to Mayo.

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What companies are doing on the social web and how well they’re doing it.

This July 2009 study called Engagement db, prepared by Wetpaint and Altimeter reviewed and charted the top 100 brands based on their social media presence and level of engagement they have with their customers. And though there are no healthcare brands included, I think the findings are still relevant (supported by these few examples).

A few of the key insights include:

1. Having a presence on social networks and micro-blogging outlets is a must, as “social media reach alone may have a positive impact as the more touch-points used can cause a ripple effect, by increasing or boosting brand recognition and driving sales volume.” I have a feeling that Lee Aase, Manager, Syndication and Social Media at Mayo Clinic would agree.

2. Doing nothing is not an option, but doing it all may not be appropriate. Building a social media strategy depends on many factors including who your target is, your industry, etc. However, being where your customers are and a part of their online experience is critical. Humana made the decision to step-lightly-into social media, as the benefits (to deepen connections with consumers; collaborate better with doctors and hospitals) became apparent to the organization.

3. Find your sweet spot. Understand what resonates with your customers and engage with them using the channels they frequent and prefer. If resources are an issue – start small, lobby for more assets and engage fully. Hello Health is a new organization that mixes office and online visits to give patients personal attention when and how they want it.

The future of health + healthy lifestyle brand marketing is not about saying things to audiences. It is about saying and doing this with them.

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As an addendum to my previous post, here are twelve principles for becoming a connecting versus campaigning organization. I refer to these principles as an Attraction Manifesto because of what “manifesto” implies – passion, game-changing, an appropriately public (social) declaration of your intentions and how you’ll set out to achieve them.

And because it’s a manifesto, it asks others to join together to make it a reality. Clearly, you’ll need to put your own spin on this doctrine to make it actionable for your organization and your audiences (which I hope you’ll do).

1. Coherence – our brand idea will serve as the nucleus for all of our actions, interactions and conversations.
2. Authenticity – our social media conversations should be similar to our daily interactions with friends, colleagues and family, i.e. open and honest, informal and in a personal voice.
3. Transparency – we’ll represent ourselves as people rather than an organization, because people connect with people, not organizations. We’ll also be honest about who we are, as trust is a huge barometer of engagement.
4. Collaborative – we’ll embrace the fact that true conversations are two-way, give and take exchanges; so that all participants ultimately grow stronger together.
5. Customized – we’ll create specific interest content and communities (thereby enhancing relevance to audiences) by collecting, categorizing, listening and responding.
6. Facilitating – we’ll allow conversations to go on around us without trying to control them, empowering people to connect through our brand, with content as the enabler.
7. Contagious – we’ll create “life-impacting” content and conversations that generate word-of-mouth and that people want to share with others.
8. Co-Creation – by working together, we all learn, grow and become stronger.
9. Evangelists – as feasible, we’ll create passionate and active advocates who will want to spread our message (for little expense).
10. Paced – we’ll start small, do what we can, when we can.
11. Context – we’ll recognize that social media is not a single solution in itself, but one element of an integrated marketing communications plan.
12. Bottom Line – there are lots of ways to measure social media success; so we’ll determine our success metrics (based on our objectives) before we begin our efforts.

As I’ve said previously, you have the opportunity now to benefit your organization by involving and empowering your 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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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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