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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Foster the development of new propositions, conversations and questions that will shape concepts about health for years to come.

I’ve written before about other insurance companies (Humana’s CrumbleItUp, Aetna On-The-Go) creating new value beyond the healthcare insurance transaction. Now comes Kaiser Permanente’s Center For Total Health.

Located near Union Station in Washington DC, it’s a place to talk about health. With interactive touchscreen exhibits, state-of-the-art health technology displays, and a conference center, it provides a memorable experience for visitors interested in their health, their families’ health, and the health of the community.

Part of Kaiser Permanente’s mission is to “contribute to the well-being of our communities.” This initiative certainly brings this to life, as they reach out to play more of an important, proactive role in people’s lives.

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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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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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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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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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