Apr
06


Your healthcare brand does not have to be relegated to a life of mediocrity and sameness.

High-energy brands create a constant sense of interest and excitement. Consumers sense that these brands see farther and move faster, are more responsive to their needs and more central to their lives.

But things like quality of care, outstanding care, best clinical care, latest technology and awards don’t count. They don’t distinguish you or suggest what customers can uniquely expect from your healthcare brand.

Stand for something. Or stand against something. But you must take a stand. Because comfortable and middle of the road is not a viable strategy for building a high-energy brand.

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Mar
27

How do we distinguish ourselves from the sameness that defines most healthcare advertising ?

This is the question a health system CEO posed to us in a recent meeting. We were talking about the big patient-changing initiatives taking place in the organization. And the CEO was concerned about being able to promote these efforts in ways that would actually garner attention given that so much healthcare marketing and advertising looks and sounds the same.

We volunteered a couple important ideas as a starting point, and not typical of the way healthcare advertisers tend to think. Because they’re more about brand ideas than communications ideas. But they’ll ultimately improve your ability to deliver communications that are more relevant to audiences and distinguishing versus competitors.

1. Think beyond your offerings to a larger brand philosophy. This is more an approach to shaping your brand idea than your communications. Healthcare advertisers tend to spend a lot of energy and resources talking about themselves – their technologies, their physicians, their statistics, their awards. As a result, everyone ends up looking and sounding the same. Which makes it difficult for customers to distinguish one healthcare organization from another.

Instead, consider your brand from the standpoint of a larger overarching philosophy. What is your source of inspiration, and the inspiration and contribution you provide to customers, beyond your offerings. This is much tougher work – thinking about your broader and deeper meaning, your real source of energy, your long term journey. But in turn, your rewards (and that of your customers) are much greater.

Here are a few examples:
• Dove: beyond moisturizer to defining real beauty
• Harley Davidson: offering its passionate customers a lifestyle of freedom
• Philips: its Sense & Sensibility brand positioning
• Gillette: beyond toiletries to men’s grooming
• Disney: fun family entertainment

2. Confront and resolve cultural tensions. Great brands resolve cultural tensions. They speak to an issue that people are passionate about. And they’re therefore more relevant, compelling, respected and important beyond others. They represent a kind of story and important idea that customers use to address anxieties and desires, and a means of self-expression.

Some examples include:
• Apple: people don’t need to be subserviant to machine
• Virgin: air travel doesn’t have to be as miserable as it tends to be
• Nike: if you have a body, you’re an athlete
• Dove: beauty is beyond skin deep

Think about these couple ideas. Granted, it’s harder work than trying something new. But they could greatly benefit your healthcare organization’s ability to rise above the noise, and build more emotionally relevant relationships with customers beyond the tired practices of your inward looking competitors.

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Mar
07

Never doubt the power of a great healthcare brand experience to create marketing evangelists.

I have a close friend who unexpectedly needed surgery. The doctor who performed the surgery didn’t take the time to explain things, seemed relatively disinterested and definitely did not place himself in the shoes of his customer.

A friend of hers recommended another doctor at another healthcare system, as our friend was scared to go back to the initial doctor. Her experience was like night and day. This doctor was warm, caring, took a tremendous amount of personal and professional time to explain the situation and what she could expect post another surgery. Which she performed.

Our friend will now fully recover. And the doctor, and the health system she’s affiliated with, now have a “shout from the rooftops” marketing evangelist. Our friend has already (one week after surgery):
• sang the praises of this doctor and her hospital via email
• shared the same via Twitter and Facebook
• has volunteered to do a patient story through whatever media the hospital would like (and it is a great comparative story!).

And no doubt, passionate recommendations to friends, family and colleagues are only a request away.

We know that customer-driven referrals have taken on more importance as motivators to purchase. And you can put this person at the top of the A-recommenders list. She’s voluntarily singing the praises of this organization, acting as a key influencer on future customers and “at dramatically less cost” than advertising – helping contribute to this organization’s revenue growth.

I happen to know for a fact that senior executives at this health system spend a good amount of time mobilizing their organization to deliver brand experiences consistent with their brand promise. And the payoff, as you can see by way of this example, is tremendous.

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Mar
01

Good example of a health brand creating new value for its patients.

Understanding that it’s not always possible for patients to leave home or work, Seattle-based medical services provider Carena has expanded its offerings to include virtual visits via webcam or phone.

The introduction of the service follows that of its 24/7 in-person house calls – offered as a convenience for those whose primary care physician wasn’t currently available. But 35,000 house calls later, the company created this new system that supports virtual house calls as well.

Patients have the option of a medical evaluation by phone, webcam or in person, depending on their specific requirements. Carena, meanwhile, can extend the geographic reach of its services while reducing costs for clients and patients.

If your health care organization doesn’t offer remote services, you might want to move that up the priorities ladder – as the two most obvious benefits of added convenience and immediacy are pretty compelling to patients.

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Feb
18


Here’s a strong example of a healthcare brand living in its consumer’s world and adding value to their lives on their terms.

The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center provides confidential comprehensive medical, mental health, family planning, and health education services to young people mainly from the South Bronx and East Harlem.

Text in the City is the text messaging service for these teens attending the Center (MSAHC) in New York. The six month pilot was launched in January 2010, and is hoped to be made more widely available in 2011. The service allows teens to ask confidential questions, sign up for birth control reminders, and offers weekly ‘healthbytes’ of useful and interesting health-based advice, via text.

The program’s founder (katherine.malbon@mountsinai.org) is eager to learn from others involved in similar projects and trials. So reach out if you can be of any assistance.

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Feb
14

Healthcare clinics and retailers combining their services to create added convenience for their customers has been happening for some time (e.g. Take Care Clinics in Walgreens).

Now, reversing this trend, Best Buy has entered into a test partnership with Memorial Hospital of South Bend, IN to (begin to) take their hospital gift shop into the technology age.

The store will carry a limited selection of Best Buy products (digital cameras, chargers, data cards, etc.) to help patients and guests stay connected during their treatment or visit, while the hospital will keep a percentage of the revenue. If test results are favorable, Best Buy may roll out the concept to other U.S. hospitals.

What do you think, are Best Buy and Memorial Hospital really creating new and greater value for families and patients? Interested to hear your point-of-view.

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Jan
25


What does the future hold for healthcare brands as they begin to engage/extend their engagement with patients and communities through social media?

In this interview, part of our “Insider Insights” series, Melissa Tizon, Communications Director at Swedish Health Services, Seattle, shares her point of view.

1. How has social media impacted the way your organization does business?
Social media has added a whole new dimension to the way we engage our community. It’s been a wonderful way to stay connected with Greater Seattle and be part of the conversation. It’s also given us a new tool for telling our own story. Whereas we used to rely on traditional means, we can now broadcast our own stories via social media and engage the community in the process.

For example, last summer, we hosted a “sleep up” in the middle of the night via Ustream, Cover It Live and Twitter. Our sleep experts were on air the entire night talking about sleep issues and answering questions. More than 10,000 people tuned in (many more than we could have reached through lectures), so we feel we struck a chord and provided value for people struggling with health issues.

2. What are the key challenges Swedish is grappling with as it considers social media?
One of the main reasons we became active on social media was to see what people we’re saying about us online. Once we tuned in, it was amazing what we found. We discovered we had lots of brand ambassadors saying great stuff about us. It’s wonderful to discover compliments online, and it’s been a great opportunity to share them with our staff, say thank you to the folks who posted the comments and stay connected to them.

But from time to time, we also come across not-so-glowing comments, including service issues that need to be addressed. They can range from “I can’t get an appointment for two weeks” to the cable TV in my hospital room is out. Personally, I think it’s great to get these comments because my team and I can easily notify the nurse manager on duty and get the issues taken care of real time. We monitor social media channels on a daily basis, and we’ll escalate issues immediately if appropriate.

But I think one challenge for us and every health organization will be who owns customer service via social media? Is it the marketing communications department or patient relations? There’s a gray area between informal patient feedback sent via social media and formal complaints typically submitted in writing. This is an issue that I’d love to discuss more with my peers nationally to see how they’re addressing it. There’s been a lot of focus on HIPAA and social media. In the same vein, I’d love to see more conversation on how to handle patient feedback via social media.

3. What are your top lessons learned for implementing a social media strategy?
If you’re still getting resistance to social media from the likes of Legal, IS and HR, don’t give up. For departments responsible for managing risk, it’s natural to be cautious and not want to open up what seems like a can of worms. But my experience has been that these groups realize that social media isn’t just a fad, and that they’d rather be prepared for what may come than be caught off guard. Also, I think they want to have a hand in shaping an enlightened social media policy for your organization.

My second lesson learned is that it pays to be personally proficient in social media. If you’re on a marketing communications team and have not engaged on Twitter personally or are not staying current on the newest tools, I encourage you to do so. You can’t think of social media as someone else’s job. Just like writing and editing are valued skills in our work, so is having a good grasp of social media. Because we’ve played in the space, we have a better understanding of the role it can play in our integrated marketing communications campaign, and how it can compliment our PR, advertising and internal-communications efforts.

We are very fortunate that we had a new member join our team last summer. It takes a village to gain momentum and build buzz around your brand via social media, and she’s been great about getting our physicians on board, and training our managers and staff. She helps people in our organization understand what they need to be thinking about when they use social media both personally and professionally, what they can do to support the organization’s brand and she brings a keen understanding of authenticity and building trust online.

4. In closing, the organizations and brands that will thrive in the future are those that ….
ultimately, differentiate on patient experience (and social media can play a role here as well). The more you can streamline the process for patients and make the experience as positive as possible, the more successful you’ll be in the long run. For a long time, the public has accepted/put up with flaws in healthcare – long wait times, lack of communication from staff, confusing bills, difficult to navigate way finding, etc. But in the future, patients will have less tolerance for a sub-par experience, and they’ll be much more discerning about where they go for care.

They’ll vote with their feet and choose the provider that makes the experience as seamless as possible. Good service and comfortable, clean facilities are a proxy for quality in the mind of the consumer. The average patients are probably not following your organization’s key metrics for clinical quality, but they will notice if it seems like their doctor or nurse isn’t listening to them, if their food arrives cold or if the facility isn’t spotless and well-kept.

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Jan
20

Notice to healthcare organizations (who tend to lag in incorporating social tools into their networked practices) – “Companies using the Web intensively gain greater market share and higher margins.”

This is a major finding from new McKinsey research, the results of which can be found here in McKinsey Quarterly. It shows that a new class of company is emerging – one that uses collaborative Web 2.0 technologies intensively to connect the internal efforts of employees and to extend the organization’s reach to customers, partners, and suppliers.

Results from their analysis (among 3,249 executives across regions, industries and functional areas) show that the Web 2.0 use of these companies is significantly improving their reported performance.

In fact, the data show that fully networked enterprises are not only more likely to be market leaders or to be gaining market share but also use management practices that lead to margins higher than those of companies using the Web in more limited ways.

The chart below shows that among respondents at companies using Web 2.0, a large majority report that they are receiving measurable business benefits. Nearly nine out of ten report at least one – ranging from more effective marketing to faster access to knowledge.

Once again, you can view the complete summary findings here.

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Dec
08

How can your customers love you if you don’t love them?  Hint: Experience matters.

I went for my annual physical the other day (everything’s good), followed by a stop at Trader Joe’s on the way home.

Walking into the doctor’s office, I was acknowledged (can’t really say greeted) by someone who barely looked up from her computer screen. She then asked in rapid fire succession my name, if my insurance had changed and if I filled out my pre-exam paperwork. She then instructed me to have a seat (didn’t say please) in the waiting room.

Twenty minutes later, I was shown into the examining room, asked to put on my gown (don’t forget to tie from the back), and told a nurse would be with me shortly to take some information prior to my exam. Because it’s cold (maybe 60 degrees) and the magazines are out-of-date, I actually weigh myself and set the height bar (to keep moving).

Flash forward about an hour. I walk into Trader Joe’s and am greeted by an employee who says “how are you, thanks for shopping at Trader Joe’s.” He then offers me a cookie (funny timing, right after my physical). With cookie in hand, I grab a sample cup of coffee. After walking around for a couple minutes, all five senses fully engaged, I ask an employee where a certain item is in the store. Instead of telling me where it is, he walks me over. You get the idea.

It’s amazing that if Trader Joe’s, roughly an $8 billion company with 340+ stores can treat me like a neighbor — that the physician practice that I’ve been going to for years, can’t do the same.

My advice to healthcare providers, start thinking and acting like Trader Joe’s. Because they realize that customer service and customer support are marketing. And they love their customers.



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Nov
12

You can’t excel across all service lines. You certainly can’t support them all. But despite this (forgetting all the politics and compromising), internal teams keep churning out new branded services.

Here are eight questions that will start your organization on its way to building a stronger portfolio that builds maximum relationship value for your audiences and maximum financial value for your organization:

1. Strategic Fit. Does the portfolio help achieve and support your longer-term strategic priorities?
2. Support Priority Businesses. Does it support the businesses that contribute to driving volume and reputation?
3. Brand Value. Does the portfolio reinforce and help build brand equity?
4. Brand Synergy. Is there a clear relationship between the brands?
5. Customer Value. Does the portfolio meet the needs of your customers?
6. Customer Opportunity. Do your brands invite the customer relationships you want?
7. Other Stakeholders. Does the portfolio meet their needs; and not sacrifice business and brand priorities?
8. The Organization. Do the brands work together to build value back to the organization?

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