I topped off my Thanksgiving vacation break by doing a series of healthcare branding and marketing guest lectures at Emory Goizueta Business School.

Through highly interactive sessions with Goizueta Marketing classes, each comprised of between 50-60 students, I stepped through a Trajectory case study featuring Reading Health System. We just rebranded and executed the system-wide healthcare marketing relaunch for this PA-based organization, so the timing was perfect. Emory also has a significant healthcare campus, so all students could easily relate to the Reading Health System case study.

Here are my key takeaways from this experience:

• I think I learned just as much from the students as they did from me, based on the great interaction and large number, and high level, of questions. These kids are really smart!

• Kudos to professor Ashish Sood, as these students crave real-world experiences, and he’s constantly satisfying their appetites by bringing in guest lecturers.

• Students are highly interested in the more recent realities, and challenges, of managing organizational transparency, integrating social media into brand-building and managing change based on what even they realize is a fluid and not necessarily favorable business environment.

• There’s a wonderful eagerness to challenge traditional concepts, e.g. the more we limit our view to, and attempt to compete with, traditional competitors, the more we can actually end up sounding and acting the same; consumers don’t care at all about a client’s business definition, but rather about how a brand can fit into their world.

• It’s very apparent that our future is in good hands, indicative of the energy and intelligence of these next-generation branding, marketing and finance professionals.

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Your healthcare brand is only as strong as the customers you create. The customers who you advance through your marketing beyond what they can do on their own, and beyond the reach of competitors.

One important key to unlocking this value is the power of a BETTER QUESTION. Obvious questions yield answers that are more affirming and validating. Better questions lead to new perspectives, new insights, new ideas. They provide answers that lead you to “wow, I never thought about that in this way before”,  “never imagined they felt this way before”, “never imagined they looked at their world this way before”, “never imagined we could provide value along these lines before.”

Better questions help you to see, think, believe and then give you the power to act in new ways.  They’re questions that peel away at the outer layers of an issue to reveal new things about category, company, customer, connections and communication – to yield inspirational new insights and ideas.

Here are three tips to get to more provocative questions, and more inspiring answers:

1. Force new connections. It gets people out of the category and their comfort zone, but provides a frame of reference for them to relate back to.

2. Think short story. Ask a question that must be answered in the form of an elevator-like “short story”.

3. Personal instead of place. People have visions, values and feelings, places (organization’s) don’t. Make your questions personal.

Better questions lead to better brands, better marketing, better customers. Who then create better brands. And so it goes.

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Being able to help steer the future direction of the Arnold Palmer Brand is a dream assignment. Fortunately, that honor is ours.

Icing on the top of a really big cake that we’ve been enjoying since we started our work, was this front-page article in the 12/5 Ad Age – Arnold Palmer takes a swing at positioning his brand for the future.

There are few sports figures that have earned the level of respect and admiration that Arnold Palmer has. Beyond his achievements on the golf course, his brand has played a role in our daily lives for more than half a century.

When you meet Mr. Palmer and spend time with his team, and begin to talk with employees and business partners, you quickly come to understand why. And they relate back to some important principles:

• Timeless values and ideals never grow old. That’s why they’re timeless.

• The importance of an authentic and emotional, simple and repeatable story as a foundation for growth.

• Regardless of how compelling a story, quality products are ultimately critical to success.

• While considering new ways to surprise and delight customers, you must remain true to your original identity.

• Your brand is the cumulation of everything you say and do, no more and no less. Everything matters.

I truthfully can’t say enough about how special this experience has been. For many reasons. But at the end of the day, what really blows us away, is how humble and kind the people are at Arnold Palmer Enterprises. And as usual, this tone emanates from the top. Good life lessons.

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