I came across this ad from Tiffany’s. This simple, sophisticated piece of communication that says a lot, without saying a single word.

But you still get it, right? It’s the power of that little blue box and the “love” inside.

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What can healthcare marketers learn from Tiffany & Co?

1. Find your little blue box. It’s there, you just might have to dig deep.

2. “Own” your box – which can be a strategic idea or an executional element – and integrate it into everything you do.

3. Remember that emotion trumps reason, even for your prospective healthcare customers who happen to be people just like you.






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“Not pretty” can be beautiful.  Open, sincere and honest works best in healthcare branding.

Hospitals are under intensifying pressure on so many fronts. Regulators are expecting the impossible; better, faster and cheaper, and the public is no longer the voiceless, captive audience, but consumers of healthcare with the ability to broadcast to the world, their dissatisfaction or praise in five seconds.  The implications are too numerous to address or attempt to answer in a simple blog post. But there is one concept healthcare marketers should be mindful of while building a brand for the future.

A hospital brand must be bona fide

The Black’s Law Dictionary defines BONA FIDE as – “In or with good faith; honestly, openly, and sincerely; without deceit or fraud. Truly; actually; without simulation or pretense.”

The “without simulation or pretense” is particularly important. In simple terms, do not attempt to make something that is not the case, appear true. Even more simply put, be yourself.

In an age where social media and consumer opinion sway brand reputation, the elephant has left the living room, but lives larger than life on the web and healthcare brand marketers cannot attempt to fight the tide or ignore its presence. Rather it behooves hospital marketers to define their brand with a combination of good faith, honesty, openness and sincerity. Weaving the good and the bad (and the sometimes ugly) into an authentic and honest brand story that can gain the trust of your audience. In short, making it bona fide.

Making this point from outside healthcare…using a guitar (of all things)

I was recently struck by an online post about the sale of a used acoustic guitar. It was written by “Erin” who, I’m pretty sure doesn’t work on Madison Avenue. None the less, in her simple prose, Erin illustrated that no matter what is being sold, nothing can compare to the power of an honest story and of communicating a unique promise of value that resonates with its intended audience. The post was as follows:

“I have a 1991 Gibson J-100 acoustic guitar that was not cautiously cared for though loved and constantly played, in honkytonks, parking lots, around campfires, on river banks, year round and round the country.., it is not pretty but it is beautiful. The headstock is repaired and it wears the tread of the road well. It plays easy and true. Any ideas, ballpark, of what I might expect to get if I sell it? Thanks.”

Erin had me at “it is not pretty but it is beautiful”. For those who aren’t familiar with quality acoustic guitars like a Gibson, when they’re played consistently, they actually sound better, the older they get. The pretty finish fades, but the tone becomes richer, its beauty grows. Beauty “wears the tread of the road well”. Pretty does not.

Perhaps your organization has had some very public challenges. Arguably your strength and beauty lies in openly communicating how you’ve dealt with these challenges, your striving to better serve your community and who you’ve become as an organization.

So for a hospital brand, like most that are “not pretty,” the ability to communicate “wearing the tread of the road well” authentically makes for a beautiful brand. And at the very least there’s a great country song entitled “She ain’t pretty, but she’s beautiful” just aching to be written on a well-traveled old Gibson acoustic. Thanks, Erin.



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The answer to this question is – a lot. Because this bank has carved out its own space, shaped it based on its vision and executed against it meticulously.

Umpqua Bank doesn’t take its cues from other banks. Certainly there are “antes” that they must deliver, as they are in the banking business (similar to your healthcare organization and the “clinical care” you deliver).

But what makes this community bank brand stand out among its peers is that it thinks differently and bigger. They don’t compete based on being slightly friendlier, slightly easier to do business with or offering slightly higher rates. In fact, they’ve got so many unique and progressive ideas, it’s hard to count them all. At the end of the day, they’re ten times different from other banks.

According to EVP of Creative Strategies Lani Hayward, “if you as a marketer focus all of your attention on products and pricing, you’re never going to get ahead. You’re not going to differentiate yourself from the competition, because the guy next door or down the street is going to do the same thing tomorrow. You’re never going to win that battle.” I think this is very relevant for healthcare.

If you’re looking for ways to stand out among your peers and deliver greater value tomorrow than you are today, here’s why this bank should be on your healthcare system or hospital radar screen.

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Story. Umpqua’s got a great back story which it actively builds upon. From one branch in 1953, to proclaiming a new banking revolution in 1996, to opening next generation “community center” stores with regular events from movie night to yoga to new intimate and cozy neighborhood stores (notice stores versus branches) – they’re a stylish, sophisticated and yes, even hip bank. Other banks have longer histories. Citi, for instance, was founded in 1812. But I don’t think any build upon their past any better than Umpqua.

Purpose. Umpqua customers know exactly what this bank stands for (the real business they’re in beyond what they do). The banks greater sense of purpose is conveyed through their public manifesto and brought to life through its distinguishing community-based retail experience and socially-driven activities.

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Behavior. Everything Umpqua does, every experience they create — with employees, customers, and the public in general — supports and enhances their story and is executed with brilliance. In fact, the key question driving strategy discussions at Umpqua has always been, “How can we get people to drive by three other banks to get to ours?”

Retail Experience
The bank has always looked outside the financial sector for inspiration (as today’s healthcare marketers should always look outside healthcare for inspiration).  For instance, Umpqua’s brand has been heavily influenced by the retail industry. “Retailers know all about impulse buys,” Hayward explains. “But how can we bring that kind of thing (or something similar to it) into the banking world? How can we get people to browse our branches, or at least get them to think beyond errands and transactions?”

Umpqua’s answer has been to make its branches look and feel more like “neighborhood stores”, thanks to elements like “catalyst walls” (interactive touchscreen displays that highlight products and services), “refresh bars” that allow customers to grab a cup of the bank’s proprietary coffee blend or Smith Tea and local products — such as bonsai trees, bikes, pottery and even skateboards — that are on display and available for purchase.

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Benevolence. Many of the bank’s brick-and-mortar locations host community and civic events ranging from speed-dating mixers for singles to wine tastings and yoga classes. It’s also found success in certain cities with its “Catalyst Series” of speakers, presentations and workshops — an exclusive series of seminars the bank hosts in its branches.

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Bonding. Beyond customers interacting with Umpqua during business hours, the brand is a platform for its fans to share with one another – through Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. But it’s also extremely active in its communities.

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Bold. By changing the rules of the game, the brand continues to surprise and delight. This begins with never thinking of themselves as simply a bank, but more like knowledgeable neighbors.

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In summary, if you’re a healthcare marketer looking to stand out from the crowd and to create new value for your communities and patients, learn from Umpqua.



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I love this quote from Tim Cook, CEO, Apple about the company’s new watch.

“Apple Watch gives us the ability to motivate people to be more active and healthy. If you are someone who just wants to be a bit more active or someone who wants to track what you are doing during the day, or perhaps you exercise regularly, or even if you’re a very serious athlete, Apple Watch helps you live a better day.”

Why is it so powerful:

1. it’s simple

2. it’s human

3. it’s purposeful

4. it’s helpful

5. it’s all about the customer

It’s Apple.


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What kept you coming back to the hit series Breaking Bad? Truth be told, I spent two weeks binging on the entire series.

If you think about it, the show exhibits similar characteristics to all great brands. And it actually offers really good lessons to healthcare marketers. With consumers now empowered to choose where they go for their care (and their preventative health and wellness), astute healthcare marketers should learn from what is arguably the best TV series ever.

Why did this show succeed (like some brands do) in the face of great competition on the television landscape? While it’s hard to pin-point the one thing that kept viewers tuning in – it’s definitely a combination of a compelling character (and characters), a gripping storyline and the novelty of concept.

According to Tiffany Vogt, who is a contributing writer to The TV Addict, there are three key ingredients that must be present for any show to succeed:  hero, heart and hook.  There must be a clearly defined hero, or heroes, to root for (in this case, Walter and Jesse), a story that engages its audience (a hero who is on a personal journey and seeking to conquer a foe), and it must be entertaining enough to compel viewers to keep tuning in (the “twist” that not only draws us to the hero and his journey, but will feel the need to take him or her with us).  Without one of these key ingredients, a show will struggle and languish.

Ms. Vogt goes on to say that “television is all about commitment.”  Viewers will only tune regularly to a show that they want to make a part of their lives.  The same holds true for brands. Your customers must feel committed to your brand – as though its intertwined with their lives.

• let your customers find the hero in your brand (e.g. your courage and passion to pursue new ideas and advancements), which expands their sense of possibility about living well and staying well
• let them feel the heart of your brand by engaging them through your healthcare marketing in ways that really matter
• and give them the hook that continues to surprise and delight them and keeps them coming back to your brand of care

It’s all about the magic combination of hero, heart and hook. What do you think?

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Coming to a town near you, it’s a Walmart primary care clinic. You can read the story here at Forbes – Health Care For $4: Are You Ready For Walmart To Be Your Doctor.

With more than a hundred hospital-leased “retail clinics” already across their stores, these new fully owned primary care clinics will number a dozen before January. And similar to the retailer’s hours, they’ll be open 12 hours per day on weekdays and 8-plus hours per day on weekends. Not quite like your current primary care provider. They’ll also be lower cost alternatives to traditional practitioners, with walk-in visits just $40. Great delivery of their Save money. Live better. promise!

So how can traditional providers, facing unparalleled risk of losing volume and even more share of mind, thrive amidst the “retail” disruption. Here are five ideas:

1. When it comes to competing for “business”, think customer, not patient. Thanks to defined contribution plans and private exchanges, “customers” have lots of new healthcare choices as it relates to when and where they go for care. Further, knowing what great customer experiences look and feel like from non-healthcare industries, they’re seeking similar great experiences from their healthcare providers. Only in the hospital are these customers captive patients.

2. Think and act like a “healthy living” CPG brand. Healthy living has become mainstream and intertwined with people’s everyday lives. To continue to be relevant, consider how you can engage people in their daily health and win the battle for an ongoing consumer relationship through traditional and technology-based (mobile, social and digital) channels. According to Oliver Wyman Health & Life Sciences, this “coordinated” health living idea includes Monitoring, Lifestyle/Wellness, Social/Mobile, Convenience Clinics, Home Services, Weight Management, E-health/Web-based Services and Coaching.

3. Emphasis above on “brand.” 90% of what most healthcare providers do tends to be the same. And even if your services are different and better, it’s often hard for customers to discern given the sameness of so much communication. So how do you break the ties? Through brand – your unique promise delivered across the entire customer experience – and ultimately the connection point with your customers. To quote Joy Howard of Patagonia, “the company is no different than the brand. Everything we do at Patagonia builds the brand, because there is no distinction between what we do and the brand experience.

4. What about you is unique and unexpected. If you’re having a hard time answering this question, imagine what it’s like for your prospective customers. Pointing to the saturated automotive market, a Governance Institute healthcare-related article titled Lessons in Customer-Centricity from Outside Industries, asks who knew cup holders could sway a consumer to buy a $30k vehicle? Is the healthcare market any less saturated? No. So it’s important to identify which benefits of your hospital or health system are unique, desired and unexpected in the eyes of your customers.

5. Think about your portfolio like shelf space. P&G is in the midst of pruning its portfolio to concentrate on its strongest businesses. Unilever cut 20% of its SKUs in 2013 and another 10-20% in 2014 to concentrate on its strongest brands with international and local scale with the goal of improving its operating performance. It’s impossible to effectively promote every one of your service lines. Where does your organization excel relative to competitors? What are your most strategic and financially important lines of business? What do you offer that they cannot? Strategically manage your portfolio to help you create competitive space and put already stretched resources to better use.

The bottom line is that you need some fresh thinking in order to envision new possibilities, do things differently and be a better competitor tomorrow (versus the likes of Walmart among the other disruptors) than you are today.




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Interesting article on healthleadersmedia.com – Anatomy of 3 Health System Rebranding Efforts – providing the backstory of three recent initiatives.

For each of these efforts, author Marianne Aiello seeks to answer “why the name change”, “what’s the marketing strategy”(which really just nets down to tactics) and “what does it mean for patients.”

The three examples are:

Port Huron Hospital, which became McLaren Port Huron to better reflect its new partnership with McLaren Health Care. For patients, the new partnership will bring expanded services to Port Huron, so with the name change comes added benefits.

SLC Health (CO) retires ‘Exempla’ name. Three years after Colorado’s Exempla Healthcare merged with Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, the new system—SCL Health—is unifying its brand. According to SCL Health President & CEO Mike Slubowski, “this is a symbol of where we have come and where we are going as one system with a shared sense of purpose.” For patients, the name change “reflects the organization’s effort to streamline internal processes, which will ultimately improve the patient experience.”

Catholic Health Partners becomes Mercy Health, to unify its brand across seven markets in Ohio and Kentucky.  According to Kristen Hall Wevers, Mercy Health’s chief brand, marketing and communications officer,  “simplifying our operating structure improves our ability to maximize our clinical quality and cost effectiveness, and allows us to improve the overall experience for patients and their families.”

After reading the article, however, I find myself wanting more. More insight about…

• the business case for the re-brandings
• how the initiatives are expected to better meet strategic objectives
• how each of the organization’s were building on their brand equity
• how the initiatives will re-energize employees, physicians, and staff to spur growth
• how they’ll create an emotional connection with customers through a more distinguishing and compelling story which starts with each system’s name (SCL is going to have a tough road ahead)

Ms. Aiello did a nice job beginning to examine these efforts, but there are other important things to think about to better understand the internal workings of them.


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In yet another mash-up of categories, designer Tory Burch has partnered with fitness-tracker brand Fitbit to introduce a Tory Burch for Fitbit accessories collection.

James Park, CEO and co-founder of Fitbit stated that “from day one, we’ve known that the form factor is crucial to creating a health and fitness device that will fit into people’s lifestyles and become truly wearable.”  And isn’t this what it’s all about – finding fresh points of relevancy to make a bigger difference in people’s daily lives. 

Here are a four other lessons learned we should takeaway about this partnership:

1. Marketing must work from the outside in – by starting with the customer, their world and their needs. And then building your brand around them.

2. Traditional category definitions make little sense any more – as boundaries continue to blur.

3. There are always new ways to stand out and be profitable – even in crowded markets like fashion and health.

4. Either disrupt or be disrupted.

I wonder who’ll be the first mens fashion designer to partner with Fitbit?


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Good article – The Wisdom of Marketing to Aging Boomers – on thefiscaltimes.com.

More hard evidence on why marketing to boomers makes good business sense:

1. By 2017, Americans 65+ will control 70% of the disposable income in this country.

2. These same millions of people are today responsible for at least $7.1 trillion in annual economic activity, which is expected to grow to over $13.5 trillion in real terms by 2032.

In fact, S&P’s 2010 Global Aging Report states that no other force is likely to shape the future of national public health, public finances and policymaking as the irreversible rate at which the world’s population is aging.”

Particularly in sectors such as travel, technology, health care, consumer goods, telecom and housing, the smart money’s on strategic investments in a boomer market. But to unlock their potential, here are  four things to keep in mind:

1. The Baby Boomers are not one homogeneous group. Some still have kids in the house, while others are empty nesters and grandparents. Some are in their prime earning years, while others are building a second or third career or retired. Make sure you understand the exact nature of your target segment.

2. Boomers are actively fighting the aging process through every means possible. They want to maintain their edge and look and feel as good as they possible can at their given age. As such, they’re drawn to products, stories and experiences that promise and deliver overall wellness and anti-aging (though we prefer “pro-aging”) benefits.

3. The bigger opportunity is beyond just better communication to boomers. While an important tool in your arsenal, the physiological impact of aging on boomers means that you should be thinking holistically about how to shape and deliver your offerings.

4. The orientation boomers have about their current life stage is about living, not aging – about seeing opportunity everywhere, seeking ways to enrich their lives themselves, pursuing a continuing desire to grow, learn and discover. About “what’s next.”

If you have questions about how to align with and grow your fair share of this “booming” market, let’s talk.



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Big insights, ideas and lessons learned can (should) always be found by looking outside our categories.

Case in point for healthcare marketers, here’s a good article from the President and CEO of Heineken on fastcompany.com – How Heineken Discovered Its Niche In An Overcrowded Market.

If you don’t have time to read the article (though you should), here are five very relevant takeaways:

1. To find out what’s happening in the beer (healthcare) market today, you have to look beyond beer (healthcare) to what people are buying and how they make their buying decisions in the market at large. You’ll discover two major forces.

2. One of the forces is the acceleration of innovation and consumers demanding new choices in every part of their lives. The other is that brand overexposure has turned consumers into skeptics and they use technology, including social media, to inform themselves and decide what’s really important to them.

3. To deal with this new reality, find out what really resonates with consumers beyond what you’re selling. In this environment, successful brands stay relevant by building meaningful relationships with their customers. They’ve focused especially on two questions: Who are our consumers and what do they want?

4. Align consumers with the brand by identifying a number of needs a consumer has when he or she is buying an alcoholic beverage (healthcare). For Heineken, consumers fell into two distinct categories. Both were relevant, but one fit perfectly with Heineken USA’s portfolio.

5. In everything we do, says President and CEO Dolf van den Brink, we then strive to carry out our ethos.

Relevant, right?


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