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The future of brand building (of marketing) doesn’t merely promise better things, but gives people the things they need to better their lives.

But how about today? Does your healthcare marketing still largely consist of communication that lets prospective customers know that your service line uses the latest technology, that your hospital has won another award, or that you have new physicians on board with the hope of increasing procedures to your hospital. All wrapped up in the big five of Outstanding, Excellent, Compassionate, Convenient and Caring.

Numerous studies including Havas Media’s Meaningful Brands Index – reveal that people are choosing to do business with brands that make life better.  Brands that help improve our lives in tangible and significant ways. And here’s the thing. People (your prospective healthcare customers) don’t compartmentalize their expectations by category. They’re the same across healthcare, financial services, hospitality, retail, etc.

Trying to manufacture awareness, trust and loyalty through communications alone just doesn’t cut it anymore. Because of this, what your brand does is more important than what it says. This is how you’ll have a place in people’s lives, or not.

The upshot of this is what we refer to as Customer Engagement Trajectory – a path of mutual co-involvement. On the one hand, your brand is doing things to help people better their lives. In turn, they’re doing things – participating, sharing, advocating – to help better your brand and business.

It’s a win-win relationship that keeps on giving!

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The Hub Magazine just announced their 2014 Excellence in the Brand Experience awards.

The Hub Prize honors excellence in the brand experience, which they define as each and every opportunity to make or break the brand promise to a customer (shopper, consumer or business). A key consideration is whether the entry’s objective was to improve the daily life of the customer in some way, be it big or small, fanciful or profound.

Given the increasing importance of customer experience in healthcare systems and hospitals…

• as one of the only real differentiators for many organizations vs. local competitors
• due to impending changes brought on by the Affordable Care Act (e.g. financial benefits of better HCAHPS scores)
• and based on the fact that customers base their “brand experience” expectations on the best players in hospitality, financial services and other areas

…I thought it might be inspirational, and hopefully helpful, to see how some of the best outside category service brands deliver on their brand promises through customer experience.

Top “Hub Cup” award: Umpqua Bank (who I’ve written about before and who bring a fresh and exciting twist to the banking experience)

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GOLD awards: CitiBike Bike Sharing System (Citi)

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Life Safety Customer Experience Center (Honeywell)

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SILVER awards:  Time Warner Cable Flagship Store (Time Warner Cable)

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BRONZE awards: Life’s Better When You’re Connected (Bank of America)

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I hope there’s something here that inspires you in regard to delivering your healthcare system’s or hospital’s brand promises in ways that might make your customer’s lives better…in ways big or small.








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The Cleveland Clinic might not formally make the cut as one of the Top 100 Best Global Brands. But within the world of healthcare, it’s certainly one of the chart toppers as it’s a brand that has the power to change the world.

Interbrand’s Best Global Brands Study is the definitive list of the world’s top 100 most valuable brands. To be included, a brand must be truly global, having successfully transcended geographic and cultural boundaries. Based on this criteria, there were no healthcare brands – no healthcare systems or hospitals – in 2014’s top 100 list.

So I was pleasantly surprised as part of this study to see an interview with Paul Matsen, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Cleveland Clinic. While you can read his entire interview here, here are some important “cut-down” snippets relevant to any healthcare marketer. For example, while you might not be recognized and trusted around the world, there is no excuse not to be among your local communities.

Q. Role of brand in Cleveland Clinic’s enduring success?

A. The brand plays a critical role in the success of Cleveland Clinic – as we’re recognized and trusted around the world as an organization that provides clinical excellence, an outstanding patient experience, and valuable medical information for patients and physicians. Many patients’ first encounter with us is when they or a loved one are diagnosed with a medical condition and are searching for helpful information online. Patients and families know they can trust our brand to provide helpful information and patient care.

Q. On Cleveland Clinic’s website, patients can set up and access “MyAccount,” “MyChart,” and so forth. How has making your online services so personal created closer relationships with patients? How do you think this is enhancing wellness-and improving the way consumers perceive Cleveland Clinic?  

A. Nothing is more personal than healthcare. Providing state-of-the-art tools to help patients manage their health is a vital part of Cleveland Clinic care and the patient experience. At the same time, our CEO has stated that our goal is to move from “sick care to wellness.” We’ve been an innovator and leader in wellness from promoting healthy eating and exercise to being one of the first healthcare systems to not hire smokers. Wellness is a key part of our mission and it has become a key part of our brand.

Q. Consumers now use digital and social media to access healthcare advice and information. How do you use social media to engage and educate? How are mobile apps making life easier and healthier for the people Cleveland Clinic serves?

A. We’ve created a highly innovative social media strategy focused around our Health Hub blog. It reaches more than 2.5 million people a month and plays a key role in providing daily information on a broad range of wellness topics, as well as building awareness and positive perceptions of the Cleveland Clinic brand.

Today, more than 63% of traffic to our website comes from mobile devices, and adapting rapidly to mobile has been critical to our success. Our comprehensive consumer app “Today” provides virtually all of the tools that consumers need to access Cleveland Clinic. At the same time, we have a broad range of specialty apps ranging from a referring physician app to one that helps manage concussions. 

Q. How is Cleveland Clinic leveraging the value of big data to personalize medicine, promote efficiency, and customize patient care?

A. As one of the first to adopt the electronic patient record, we’ve gathered millions of data points on diagnosis, treatment and demographics. We’ve developed proprietary software and spun off a company that enables us to access healthcare data from across any number of hospitals and health systems–lightning fast and at no risk to patients’ privacy. Researchers around the world are using it to discover patterns of disease and what treatments really work best.

Our Genomic Medicine Institute and Center for Personalized Healthcare have launched ambitious initiatives to harness the power of genetics and family history to mount aggressive early interventions against deadly diseases. Genetic counselors work as a team with specialists in cancer and other areas to customize drug treatments to the patient’s genetic profile wherever possible. We’re tailoring care to each patient’s physical, emotional, and social needs. 

Q. What major investments is Cleveland Clinic making in light of the changing face of healthcare? How is Cleveland Clinic innovating to meet changing needs, pressures, and preferences in healthcare?

A. We’ve invested heavily in regional healthcare delivery sites and sophisticated patient transport to make sure that every patient gets the right care, at the right place, at the right time. Any patient who calls before noon is offered a same-day appointment. We booked more than one million same-day appointments last year.

We’ve also completely overhauled our culture and facilities to reflect an intense commitment to patient experience. Our brand includes the fact that every employee is called a caregiver, as everyone who works here in any capacity plays a role in patient care. We have trained all 43,000 of our caregivers in courtesy, compassion, and listening skills. We redesigned the patient gown to preserve patient dignity, and designed facilities with abundant space, light, and artwork.

The Cleveland Clinic brand is inseparable from its lifesaving mission. Our name and symbol represent medical care at the highest level, a continual drive for innovation, ease of access, efficiency of operations, and a culture of empathy. Our goal is to give every patient the best outcome and experience.


As I said, while Cleveland Clinic didn’t formally make the cut as one of the Top 100 Best Global Brands, it’s certainly one of the chart toppers in healthcare as it’s a brand that has the power to change the world.




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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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