“Culture,” as Peter Drucker once said, “eats strategy for breakfast.”

Featured in July/August Harvard Business Review is the article Cultural Change That Sticks, written by Booz & Co. execs Jon Katzenback, Ilona Steffen, and Caroline Kronley.

Leading with a story of Aetna’s (not so unique) struggles in the early 2000′s, they point to the fact that “it takes years to alter how people think, feel, and behave, and even then the differences may not be meaningful. When that’s the case, an organization with an old, powerful culture can devolve into disaster.”

Through their research, they found that almost every organization that attained peak performance – including Four Seasons, Apple, Micrpsoft and Southwest Airlines – got there by applying these five principles. And they all viewed culture as a competitive advantage and an accelerator of change.

These principles are:

1. Match strategy and culture…as culture trumps strategy every time
2. Focus on a few critical shifts in behavior…change is hard, so you need to choose your battles
3. Honor the strengths of your existing culture…so major change feels more like a shared evolution vs. a top-down imposition
4. Integrate formal and informal interventions…reaching people at an emotional level and tapping rational self-interest
5. Measure and monitor cultural evolution…to identify backsliding, correct course where needed, and demonstrate tangible evidence of improvement

Helping clients to create new energy from the inside-out is important and fulfilling work. But for real change to take hold, not only inside but for customers and partners, it must be genuine to the organization. Starting with its culture.

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We have the wonderful opportunity through our brand work to assist healthcare organizations and their healthcare marketing teams to energize and mobilize internal teams around common purpose and beliefs. It’s important, exciting and fulfilling work.

But as we all know, leadership demonstration is one important barometer of success. Will they walk the talk?

So we were thrilled when we recently presented to a board of a healthcare system whose brand we’ll soon be relaunching. Prior to our presentation, they were discussing a number of community-related topics. And much to our surprise and delight, the context for their decision-making and actions were the promises underlying the new tagline we developed.

Actions always speak louder than words. In this case, our four words are genuinely leading to greater actions. And it’s wonderful to witness.

Pretty cool!

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All healthcare organizations offer basically the same services. But the REAL difference (the only sustainable one) is how well you define, stake out and deliver on your purpose – which drives the employees who drive your company and deliver (or not) the care and feeding of your customers through their experiences.

Your purpose (the highest aspiration of your brand) powers and guides your organization. Regardless of the size of your healthcare system or hospital, there is nothing as motivating to those who deliver your brand than this purpose. It should be the guidepost against which every consumer-facing move your healthcare organization makes is evaluated.

For IBM, purpose is about building a smarter planet. For Zappos, it’s delivering happiness through “wow” experiences. For Disney, it’s magical family fun entertainment. And for FedEx, it’s peace of mind. And for your organization? If you’re answering along the lines of “making our communities healthier”, you’re missing an opportunity for your organization, your people, your communities, patients and their families to all be more fulfilled than they are today.

Everyone wants to be connected to greatness. To feel deep inside that connection of why their organization brand is great, and that they’re part of making that greatness manifest. If you really do believe that people are your greatest asset, you can’t put too great a price tag on inspiration.

But you need to unearth your purpose, your “greatness” first. And when you do, you’ll reap the reward of more motivation and alignment, more momentum and energy and more emotional connection both inside and outside.

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Consider every single way your healthcare organization communicates its ideas.

We’re in the midst of rebranding a healthcare system. Fundamental to the success of this effort are a few ideas that first must be conveyed and demonstrated to internal audiences. While many months away from launch, we’re already starting to capture all of the different ways the organization communicates its ideas – both top down and across all departments, e.g. medical, finance, nursing, operations, human resources, quality, IT, marketing, service lines, strategic planning, etc.

We’re way out in front with our launch planning because we have so many more healthcare communications avenues available beyond what many organizations typically consider. Of course, there are the usual tried and true mass channels. And the ones we pay for. But think more broadly.

Consider each of your departments within the organization and how they get your story, and theirs, out to the world. Begin by highjacking a room. And then start covering the walls. Capture on stickies all of the different ways you communicate, both formal and informal – in meetings, speeches, committees, task forces, retreats, phone calls, texts, reception areas, break rooms, etc. Invite people across every single department to participate.

Branding is ultimately about delivering on the promise of your vision in everything you do. This organization-wide exercise is a valuable way to help you create the alignment you need to get there.

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Healthcare Brands

Everything starts with the desire to be more than you are today. Holds true for your healthcare organization. And your customer’s.

– You want to be a stronger brand. They want to be stronger individuals.

– You want to be more skilled in what you deliver. They want to be able to achieve more than they can on their own.

– You want to deliver a better experience. They want to feel like they’re really cared for.

– You want to be a better employer. They want to be a better parent, sister, brother, individual.

– You want your voice to be heard beyond others. So do they.

Think more deeply about your opportunity. And theirs. The intersection is where magic can happen.

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Your brand is the platform through which your communities and patients, and in turn, your healthcare system or hospital brand, grow stronger. 

We presented to the Board of a healthcare system client last week. We’re rebranding the organization and were reporting on our Discovery and initial Strategy direction.

To provide context for our presentation we opened with a few slides titled “Great Brands.” This cross-functional senior team, comprised of employees and community members, don’t spend much time thinking about the “b” word, so we wanted to make sure we were all on the same page from the outset of our session.

They found the slides extremely revealing as they challenged their beliefs about brands. As a result, it widened their lens and provided a much richer (and rewarding) picture of their opportunity. Expanding on the few opening slides…

Great Brands bridge brand strategy and business strategy. Using brand to differentiate organizations, products and services to maximize their value and potential – by managing all of the tangibles and intangibles that surround these offerings – successfully achieved when championed by the CEO, embraced by leadership and lived by every stakeholder.

Great Brands create relationship and financial value inside and outside the organization. They create relationship value internally by impacting recruitment and retention, staff connection and commitment, pride in the organization and confidence in the future. Externally, they enhance community health status, influence consumer choice and build loyalty, create leverage by attracting partners, enhancing relationships and allowing the organization to seize new opportunities.

They create financial value internally by optimizing marketing/spend resources, enhancing future cash flows and bond rating and promoting coherent and efficient brand management. Externally, brands influence service volumes, donor attraction and contribution, capital fundraising and higher revenue procedures.

Great Brands are built on a foundation wider and deeper than brand positioning. They are nurtured with connecting Stories, shaped by shared Values, guided by Promises, expressed by way of their Positioning and Personality, and succintly captured through their Tagline.

Great Brands know that actions speak louder than words.  To talk only of their “campaigns” diminishes their opportunity to help communities, patients and ultimately the organization itself grow stronger.  An easy example is Nike + iPod which gives you feedback while you record your run or workout and then lets you track your progress.

In short, great brands provide the energy that drive your communities, patients and organizations forward.

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Are brand and marketing at the center of your healthcare organization’s attention? In this extraordinarily competitive and challenging healthcare environment, I’d suggest they should be.

This really came to light for me while meeting with a prospective client. Regardless of which way you looked out from the tenth floor of their offices, you’re in view of a competing healthcare provider. But beyond competition, there are a few other forces at play that lead to re-thinking the traditional siloed approach to marketing:

• Unlike other industries and organizations where employees are tightly aligned around their corporate brands, e.g. Whole Foods, Google, Zappos, to name just a few, healthcare brand and marketing delivery are often subject to the performance of dispersed, individual (often unemployed) care providers.

• Patient service revenues continue on the path of being generated outside the inpatient side of the business, calling for stronger operational integration and communication.

• The customer experience, so important to fostering longer-term relationships and enhancing overall brand value, is rarely informed and shaped by “marketing.”

• Customers are now co-steering your fate. They’ve evolved from passive receiver to active investigator and empowered influencer. They can access and interface with the organization through numerous channels. And they have new alternatives to traditional providers in terms of new upstarts, intermediaries, resources – changing the rules and redefining consumer value.

Given these forces, I’d suggest that brand and marketing management need to become a team sport. An organization-wide effort where brand and consumer are at the heart of business strategy. Where all are enabled and compelled to foster relationships (internally and between organization and community) and grow total enterprise value. And the marketing department just happens to be the hub of this collective effort. So…

• Tear down the walls (to paraphrase one of our President’s) to move brand and marketing to the center of the organization, and the CMO to the proverbial “table” alongside the other “O”s (Chief Operating, Financial, Nursing, Medical, HR, Quality…).

• Lead with brand as an organizing principle for the organization and as a basis for guiding business forward, beyond simply a brand-building communications function detached from strategy.

• Consider a broader definition of marketing to include the relationship-making or breaking patient experience. So regardless of what door someone enters your healthcare system, there are points of consistency in brand delivery.

• Work as a cross-functional team, with marketing as the linchpin, to create continuous value for the consumer. Value that is beyond marketing communication to marketing that involves, enables, and unifies.

• Align internal audiences around a common purpose (through the lens of your brand), so they make your mission their own.

Just some ideas to think about as you peer out your own “tenth floor” window. Wherever that might be.

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How to make a brand stand out from the crowd? Make people’s lives better and more meaningful.

This is the global demand from consumers, in fact, 50,000 of them across 14 countries. Their views were measured by media consultancy Havas Media in their Meaningful Brands survey.

Quite surprisingly (at least for me), the study found that 70% of brands could disappear entirely without consumers noticing and that only 20% of the brands they interact with have a positive impact on their lives.

What’s the trick to making a brand meaningful and playing a larger role in our lives? Focus on outcomes, not outputs. The criteria, according to Havas Media Labs director, are simple: “Did this brand actually impact your life in a tangible, lasting, and positive way? Did it improve your personal outcomes? Did it improve your community outcomes? Did it pollute the environment?

Nike+ is a good example. “Instead of putting up another campaign of billboards with celebrities saying ‘Buy our shoes, they’ll turn you into a master runner,’ Nike+ actually helps makes you a better runner. That’s a constructive way to build a meaningful brand.”

Healthcare and well-being brands are perfectly suited to deliver on this expectation. The ability to help people become fitter, wiser, smarter, achieve what they can’t on their own is right up your alley.

Anything less is really inexcusable.

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Our communities can count on us to provide inferior levels of clinical care and quality of care. Clearly, not a positioning you’d want to stake out among your communities.

But neither are the usual suspects of providing a higher level of care to our communities. Providing world class care close to home. Putting patients first. Because instead of staking out meaningful points of difference versus area competitors, all you’re really doing is getting lost in the noise. Truth be told, what healthcare organization doesn’t exist to provide higher levels of care? To put patients first?

It’s curious that when we talk to healthcare executives and their teams and ask them how they stand apart from others, we rarely get clear answers. And consensus is rarer still. But if you can’t be clear about what makes you different, how can your employees, communities and prospective customers. And how do you align product, people, processes, place and promotion when you don’t have the destination in mind.

Differentiation actually requires being different. Understanding your points of parity (category benefits), but also being able to identify meaningful points of differentiation (where you can excel and deliver) and based on understanding your target customer needs and behaviors.

Once you’ve landed on your unique energy, it’s critical to inject it with emotion and edge to inspire both inside and outside. Take for example, the repurposed statement “providing a higher level of care.” But add some color, and you can quickly get to, for example, “setting the bar higher” or “the passion to lead.”

Who would you be more inspired to work for?

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High-energy brands deliver uniquely branded experiences that distinguish the organization and surprise and delight customers.

From Accenture’s online journal Outlook is this article From Patient To Customer: Improving The Patient Experience. It’s written by Anil Swami, Accenture’s global lead for Consumer Experience Management/Service Strategy domains.

His premise is that the customer service bar keeps being raised due to the improving service quality offered by other kinds of companies with whom patients interact. Companies that readily come to mind, for me, include online retailers Zappos and Amazon, physical retailers Apple and Best Buy, service providers Geek Squad and American Express. Given these experiences, our expectations are raised as we make cross-sector comparisons.

Within this context, hospitals will have to move beyond their traditional sphere of merely providing medical care. They must put in place the operations and processes to satisfy patients through differentiated experiences that engender greater loyalty. The key, according to Anil, is to “approach patients as customers and to design the end-to-end patient experience accordingly. This fosters longer-term relationships and enhances the provider’s overall brand value.”

The benefits of this approach are evident in a recent pilot by a prominent US academic medical center. Initiatives focused only on improving clinical procedures weren’t enough to keep patients satisfied, or to lure them away from other regional hospitals. But innovations designed to improve the patient experience showed positive results (abbreviated here):

• making information more consistent (through self-service portals)
• providing access options (to different demographic groups for receiving communications and accessing information)
• creating effective communications and education (through web-based multimedia education programs)
• offering personalized service (through different kinds of hospitality services)

Many hospitals (given the economic and political climate) have been focused on improving efficiency and reducing costs. But the author’s conclusion is that to be effective and successful in the future, hospitals need to deliver memorable service experiences in addition to offering world-class clinical care.

Makes sense. Are these healthcare brands really any different from the myriad providers across other industries who use customer service as a way to distinguish their organizations and create wow experiences for their customers.

Your thoughts?

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