healtcareImagine how you’d feel if your healthcare provider treated you like Apple or USAA?

I thought of this idea on a recent post-op visit to a top healthcare provider. While the surgery was a clinical success, I wondered why my ‘brand experience’ was not. Was it my failed attempts at setting-up the initial consultation (stuck in an unending web of automated voice prompts), my inability to pre-register online (hand-written forms still required), the sharp (and I don’t mean in a good way) insurance liaison I had to engage with, or maybe my inability to connect with a caring professional post-op (online communication not allowed).

Waiting for my appointment, I pondered what they could learn from both Apple and USAA – two amazing organizations that I value and respect. Who truly put the customer at the center of everything they do and consider their perspective in every decision they make. Who design everything around their customers’ journey – processes, technology, policies, partners, rewards – so they all work together to support and reinforce delivering a superior brand experience. Not just meeting needs, but delighting customers!

So how is the customer experience for Apple or USAA relevant to the healthcare brand experience?

Because critical to your business success is understanding that your brand reputation is based on how your customers perceive their interactions with your organization – across every touch-point. It does (and will) determine whether they stay with you, what they say about you, and whether they advocate for you. It’s either you or your dreaded competition (and subsequent loss of revenue, referrals and brand reputation).

The customer experience is even more important in today’s competitive and complex healthcare arena, as healthcare consumers are finally empowered, have choices, and most importantly, have voices (social media and word-of-mouth speak volumes). Done correctly, it can be the true differentiator, lead to real profits and foster loyalty.

Now what if that healthcare provider I went to had thought about me as the center of their universe (which I should be), creating one team who understood and managed my customer journey – versus entrusting it to a series of internally driven silos that were not interdependent or supportive of one another? I probably wouldn’t be writing this post.

Below are 8 ways (adapting from companies like Apple and USAA) that healthcare providers can create change and begin to build a better “branded” customer experience:

1. Filter through a customer lens – map the customer journey, as it’s the only way to identify areas for improvement, opportunity and innovation

2. Commit to the details – make it easy to do business with you (KISS) as patients are just like us, and want to deal with providers who have a can-do attitude and will make their life better (literally and figuratively)

3. Create a feedback loop – invite and listen to what your patients have to say (across all channels) to identify the challenges they encounter and how to solve (targeted surveys, calls, social media, etc.)

4. Build trusted relationships – with ‘care coordinators’ trained to be go-to resources, assisting patients through the process, alleviating barriers, and delighting whenever possible

5. Focus on appreciation– shift from an operational focus to one that aligns around your purpose, value proposition and dedication to customer appreciation

6. Personalize the experience – behavioral data collection and analysis should be king, as insights gained will allow you to deliver more personalized care

7. Empower employees – engage them as they rule and have a huge impact on the customer experience, so make sure their ideas are heard

8. Embrace digital – allow patients to interact with you where and how they like, including information exchange using smart phones and tablets, as the lines are blurring

What do you think? How would you characterize your more recent experiences with your healthcare providers?

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Here’s further proof of the importance of opening up your eyes to the outside world and not thinking of competitors as only those selling similar services.

The convergence of healthcare and mobile technology is shaping the future of how healthcare (and healthcare marketing) is delivered to the patient wherever they are. As reported on mobilehealthnews.com, Fitbit shipped the most activity trackers in 2013 according to NPD Group (now estimated to be a $330 million market). But it’s also even a convergence with fashion, as Fitbit announced a partnership with designer Tory Burch to create new accessories.

According to NPD:

• one in three consumers say they have heard of wearable fitness trackers
• about 28% said they’re likely to buy a device (with 50% saying calorie-counting is the most sought after feature; and 32% saying tracking steps was most desirable feature)
• surprising, only 6% had interest in sharing their fitness data via social media
• and slightly more women were interested in buying trackers than men

For me, the implication for healthcare marketers is twofold:

First. No one ever said you need to play by an accepted set of category rules. While there are certain points of parity (i.e. clinical services and quality) important to deliver, points of difference are as well (as brands must be perceived as different, better and special in order to retain and grow customers).

Second. It’s critical to at least periodically step back to understand and observe your customers and their journey (beyond a quantitative study), in order to tap into what really matters most to them, deliver new value to them and sustain and grow your relationship with them.

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In the changing and challenging healthcare marketplace where patients have now become more empowered and more scrutinizing customers – and organizations are facing reimbursement (and therefore marketing budget) cuts – clearly defining and differentiating your brand is a must.

Healthcare marketers, whether system, hospital, specialty physician-based, or other, can take a cue from these two outside category sport and leisure brands – Nike and Brooks Running (who repositioned and differentiated itself in order to hit its stride again).

Nike vs. Brooks Running

They’re both in the same market, competing for the same customer, both successful – but with different positioning and different approaches to marketing.  Nike is the undisputed champ of all things athletic, as validated by its number one position on Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2013 list, known for its technological ingenuity.

With its latest invention, NikeFuel, the parent brand has taken sportswear to a whole new level – not only does the new bracelet satisfy consumers’ need to feel engaged and social (via NikeFuel’s online community), it allows Nike to track customer behavior AND serves as a permanent, walking advertisement.  Nike has transcended through sportswear into “tech, data, and services,” so its only natural that its marketing should wear a digital track suit.

However, Brooks Running is a completely different story – at one point, tried to compete with Nike on the “full-on athletic” front, but realizing it could not, has since repositioned itself as a premium performance running-only athletic-wear company.  In stark contrast with Nike’s bold and sometimes controversial advertising, Brooks runs towards the light with “Run Happy” and prefers more grassroots avenues of marketing – focusing on social media and word of mouth. In recent years, Brooks has seen a surge of success, growing sales from $180 million in 2009 to $409 million in 2012.

So, what can healthcare marketers glean from the success of these two sport and leisure heavyweights?

1. Don’t rest on laurels (or languish from complacency). This year marks Brooks’ centennial – if CEO, Jim Weber hadn’t taken the risk 12 years ago to launch a rebrand of the company, we may all be wearing Nike shoes today. Take a cue from companies that tried to innovate/reinvent too late (RIP Blockbuster, Borders, Tribune Publishing…sorta).

“Business models are not meant to be static…In the world we live in today, you have to adapt and change. One of my fears is being this big, slow, constipated, bureaucratic company that’s happy with its success. That will wind up being your death in the end.” – Mark Parker, Nike CEO

2. Know who you are. Nike and Brooks’ goal is to build a captive audience of repeat customers, as well as new ones (similar to healthcare providers), which starts with putting a stake in the ground regarding who you are, who you’re for, what you do and why you matter.

3. Total commitment. Both Nike and Brooks have stayed true to their respective positionings’ and remain focused on delivering on them through their actions (similar to healthcare providers demonstrating their focus of why they’re the smart and best choice for an individual’s healthcare and well-care).

“Focus, focus, focus. Strong brands are built over decades, not years. If you keep changing what you stand for, no one will really know and trust your values, philosophies, spirit and point of view.” – Jim Weber, Brooks CEO

Ultimately, the only sustainable difference you have is your brand. Which starts with getting your idea right, promises right, voice right, delivery right.

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Given the squeeze on hospital finances, healthcare systems and hospitals must find efficiencies wherever they can – including their marketing budgets. One area of review that might yield big savings (at the same time building CFO affection) is for healthcare marketers to evaluate the health and wellbeing of their brand portfolios.

How do you determine if you’re spending as efficiently and strategically as possible behind your brands? And if your portfolio has the right mix of brands to support your business strategy?

We’ve created a tool that we call “The 7 Portfolio P’s.” Presented in summary fashion here, it provides a good starting point for evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of your brand portfolio.

Purpose. Do each of your brands reflect your organization’s vision, business goals and strategies?

Perspective. What story is the brand portfolio telling from a customer perspective?

Place. Do each of the brands in the portfolio have a clearly defined role; are relationships clear; is there sufficient separation/synergy between them?

Potential. How do your different brands contribute in building strategic advantage, and current/future growth and profitability?

Performance. Do you sufficiently cover the market given the needs of your priority services and key audiences?

Potency. Does market attractiveness (size and potential growth) merit investment?

Pink Slips. For those brands that don’t meet these criteria, what is your plan for phasing them out?

Today, your reality as a healthcare marketer is likely having to do more with less. Which means that you can’t afford to waste your precious marketing resources against a brand portfolio that’s not yielding a fair return. Similar to periodically evaluating your financial portfolio to ensure that you’re protecting your wealth now and into the future, do the same with your brand portfolio.

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In what other ways can you surprise and delight your customers?

If you want some inspiration about how you can strengthen the emotional connection and attachment to your brand, watch this video from WestJet airlines.

It’s a wonderful example of a brand’s actions speaking louder than words and of adding real value to customer’s lives (in very unexpected ways).

Importantly, it’s also an effort genuine to WestJet’s culture – built around caring for you, our guests, by providing a great guest experience.

In this case, it’s a brand experience that far exceeded guest expectations.

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The doctor will see you now. From the convenience of your cellphone.

Doctor on Demand is a new app that lets you arrange video-based doctor visits on the fly. The iOS and Android app – designed for short-term medical problems like the flu or a migraine – connects patients within minutes to a doctor for a 15-minutes-or-less visit. Doctors (currently about 1,000) can also prescribe medicine, though not narcotics or other potentially addictive drugs.

DOD is a win-win for both physicians and patients. Physicians can make about $120 an hour for four visits (DOD takes a $10-per-visit cut). For patients, Doctor on Demand fills the gap between what’s much desired and sorely lacking in our current healthcare system: immediate gratification.

To put the opportunity into context (or put another way, to dimension the potential revenue risk) for traditional healthcare providers, consider these CDC FastStats from 2010:

• Number of physician office visits: 1.0 billion
• Number of physician office visits per 100 persons: 332.2
• Percent of visits made to primary care physicians: 55.5%
• Most frequent principal illness-related reason for visit: cough

The implication for healthcare providers is that for more routine patient needs, they are no longer the center of their patient’s (rather their customer’s) universe. Routine care is increasingly everywhere – urgent care centers, drug stores, super stores, cell phones.

The only defense, ultimately, is a brand that is different, better, special and constantly evolving. Hammering away each day to create the emotional attachment to your organization that drives the majority of purchase decisions. The challenge for healthcare marketers is finding (and operationally delivering on) that emotional link that makes your brand your customer’s first, and only, choice.

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eyeDraws us in. Makes us feel. Stops us in our tracks. Takes advantage of what we’ve always known – that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Yesterday was a day full of looking at new designs. New logos, new visual identity systems, new website designs, new social channel pages. For existing brands and new brands that we’re helping to create. A day full of visual eye candy. As a designer, it was my kind of day.

It occurred to me that while we’ve always known that the most compelling communication is visual, social channels and apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, and YouTube are taking this to a whole new level. And they’re changing our expectations of how brands communicate and connect.

Here are some interesting related statistics to keep in mind:

– According to Neomobile, two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2017 and will also account for 66% of all mobile data traffic.

– A branded Vine is four times more likely to be seen than a branded video on other networks and five tweets every second contain a vine link. (the 7th chamber)

– Mobile makes up almost 40% of YouTube’s global watch time. (YouTube)

– Honda launched an advertising campaign, (#WantNewCar), on Vine by replying to twitter posts with Vine videos. As a result, the Average Tweet Engagement Rate almost tripled during the first two days. (SocialBakers)

– Instagram shares on twitter increased by 37% after the launch of Instagram video(Buzzfork), and videos are two-times more engaging than photos posted to Instagram(SimplyMeasured).

These statistics – along with the fact that people process visual information 60,000 times faster than they do written words – underscore the need for brands to utilize to the fullest extent possible their arsenal of video and visual assets to tell their stories. Their visual stories. Because these will be the brands that we’ll be interacting with, that help create unique experiences and that marketers will use to build connections and relationships with their customers.

I think the trend of telling “visual stories” just might be one of the major trends for brands in 2014. What do you think?

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Screen shot 2013-12-10 at 10.18.07 PMThis article on mainstreet.com – What Pre-Retirees Fear Most and Talk About Least – sheds some light on what’s weighing on the minds of pre-retirees. Three-quarters of them, according to a survey from Harris Interactive, say their top fear in retirement is the cost of health care. And nearly two out of three pre-retirees want to understand Medicare coverage better.

These concerns translate into meaningful opportunities for healthcare marketers to step up and do something that their customers really care about. To help them navigate a future that is filled with anxiety.

We know that emotion drives attachment to brands. And as it relates to healthcare, boomer’s emotions are running high. So healthcare marketers – be there for them when they need you most, beyond the expected transaction.

In turn, you have the opportunity to earn the trust and loyalty of the millions of boomers who will require more healthcare services than any other generation of Americans.

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Over 81% of Ameimagesricans over the age of 50 have become more conscious of what they eat.                              

Overall consumer interest in selecting food and activities geared toward wellness is increasing.  Consumers are realizing the effects that their eating habits and on-the-go lifestyles are having on their ability to maintain a healthy, sustainable life. They are becoming more selective in their product and lifestyle choices and increasingly understand the connection between their diet and health. Health and wellness is not a fad — it is becoming a way of life.

While most people pursue some form of health and wellness, the extent of their interest and engagement varies considerably – meeting consumers on their terms will motivate change and influence partnership with brands. Let’s face it, it’s not surprising that consumers vary in their commitment to exercise, dieting habits, and product choices, and that underlying demographic characteristics influence these decisions – a Gen X’er is far more interested in a stress reliever than a Boomer who may be looking for a memory supplement.

So what are the triggers that continue to motivate consumers to partner with health and wellness brands, and drive this industry forward?

  • Increase in consumer acceptance to a broader set of health and wellness solutions, including non-traditional treatments (herbal remedies, supplements, etc.).
  • Accessibility to more health information than ever; 96% of American adults who use the Internet look-up health information and they are not just looking, they are buying.
  • Growth of high opportunity segments like Boomers, a population expected to grow 41% by 2020, who will seek out solutions to maintain their vigor. And, on the other end of the spectrum the new generation (infants and their families) who will seek products for healthier development.
  • Government, health association, and employer advocacy of healthy eating and wellness initiatives are on the rise – an effort to temper increasing healthcare costs.
  • Broadening of health & wellness offerings at retailers in multiple channels, across various markets – everything from nutrition assessments, to testing services and preventative screenings, to spas and in-store clinics.
    • Take a look the next time you visit a Target, or even ShopRite store, you’ll be surprised at what you see.
  • Emergence of new players and partnerships are creating innovative solutions and expanding definition of the health and wellness space. Brands as diverse as Nestle, DuPont, and even Google are entering the sector.
    • Nestle is investing in gastro-intestinal health; Google in organization of personal health information; and DuPont, through purchase of DSM, in dietary supplements.
  • Accessibility to healthier products is optimal. Manufacturers are continually developing new, healthier products… just look at the supermarket shelves where new products appear everyday.
    • Supermarkets are becoming one of the leading channels for distribution; other channels, such as mass merchants, warehouse clubs, natural food stores, convenience and drug stores, continue to play a formidable role.

And, technology is helping to lead the way with digital, social, and mobile applications providing a more efficient and effective experience between consumers, healthcare providers, insurers, and health and wellness brands  – propelling consumers to connect, learn, and engage in more interactive experiences. 

The Proof Is in The Numbers

The trends all point in a single direction – more and more consumer spending on health and wellness. In fact, if the pace continues wellness could be the next trillion-dollar industry (Euromonitor International). Let me leave you with these stats:

  • Today the average household spends $148.48 per month on categories that have a wellness halo.
  • Over half of all consumers (54%) say they have recently changed their views on health & wellness.
  • 85% of consumers believe that certain foods have health benefits that go beyond basic nutrition and may reduce the risk of disease or other health concerns.

Health and wellness is the new way of life… for consumers and brands, those who adapt will ultimately succeed.



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The growth potential for marketing to boomers – for brands that move quickly, empathise and engage with this audience is great.

“Liberated for the first time from their obligations, turning their attention to new hobbies and interests is why we refer to them as ‘The Unstoppables’. And it’s why companies should sit up and take notice of their needs. It’s a win-win. And not one to be ignored.”

This is the takeaway from two recent studies by Added Value. They confirm what we already know about the big opportunity companies have to grow business by taking the time to specifically market to boomers – by understanding, embracing and responding to the functional and emotional needs of the wealthiest and most influential generation in the United States.

In my opinion, the most important finding from this study (again, because it reinforces an extremely important yet overlooked fact about this audience) is that “this sector of the population is a multi-faceted audience with many different needs, motivations and desires, which drive how they engage with brands and, consequently, how brands need to engage with them.”

Other key takeaways from the study include:

Connecting early can reap longer-term rewards. Older people are just as willing as other generations to try new products (contrary to what many marketers believe). But they’ll also reward brands that meet their needs with their loyalty. So purposefully connecting earlier should reap rewards.

Older doesn’t mean different. In the UK, only 8% of people regard 50-60 as being old, while only 5% of those 65+ feel their age. Turning 50 doesn’t automatically mean a whole new wardrobe of brands. But there is a clear (and financially significant) opportunity for brands to think about how they extend their relevance across age bands.

This is a time of positivity. Added Value’s recent UK research shows by far the most admired people are those who make older age look fun and stimulating, e.g. Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Sean Connery. Communications strategies should reflect this same vibrancy and optimism (as long as they’re genuine to the “brief”).

But it’s not without stress. Aging is accompanied by a change in physical, emotional and often financial, condition. There is a clear role that brands can play in offering reassurance by reviewing all areas of marketing, e.g. tailored products, services and in particular, customer experiences which are seen as useful but don’t patronise.

You can read the original article about this study that appeared in Marketing Magazine here.

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