This is the first of many “Insider Insights” posts. Once a month, I’ll be featuring the personal perspective of a health brand CEO, senior marketer, digital or social media expert. I’m pleased to have Ed Bennett as our first participant. Ed is Director, Web Strategy at University of Maryland Medical System.

Each of these guests will address the same four questions, so that we’ll build a wealth of perspectives and knowledge around these four issues. Here’s what Ed has to say about the future of health brands and social media:

1. The organizations and brands that will thrive in the future are those that
quickly adapt to new customer expectations. An entire generation is comfortable with Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Their expectation is to have direct, honest and rapid interactions with the brands they use. PR speak, and legalese will marginalize organizations, but authentic conversations will build customer loyalty and positive Word of Mouth.

2. Specific to social media, how has it impacted the way your organization conducts business? Healthcare, and hospitals in particular are very conservative. So far, most of these tools are seen as an extension of current practices, not as a new way to do business. We are seeing these services used to post news and events information, educational resources, and to re-purpose content like video. There is also some brand monitoring and service recovery going on, but it is not yet integrated into the basic business process.

3. What are the key challenges your organization is grappling with as it considers participation?

There are two major challenges:

A. Fear of HIPAA hold many healthcare organizations back. With no clear guidelines on what is allowed, hospitals in general are waiting on the sidelines. Out of the 5,000 US hospitals, only 360 are doing anything.

B. The other challenge is that IT departments in many hospitals block social media sites. Many times, work on them has to be done from home in the evening and weekends.

4. What are your top lessons learned for implementing a social media strategy?

You should start small, and only begin what you can maintain. Look to your internal experts, the people who use these tools in their personal life. They can see the benefits, and can be a great resource for your organization.

Consult with your legal team & create policies. There are two areas that need to be addressed: External comments / participation and Employee guidelines.

Be able to respond quickly – this is no place for a four-day multi-person review process.

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How do we align the customer experience with social media?

This was the main topic of discussion in our client meeting the other day. With so much emphasis being placed on integrating social media into the marketing mix, this was a conversation about its impact on the total customer experience.

Given this perspective, many conversations about social media start too far downstream. First, even those that begin with objectives, audiences and strategies often bypass the fact that effective brand management is an organization-wide endeavor.

What this means is that all internal stakeholders across business functions need to play together on the same team, as audiences who are tweeting, posting, updating and uploading don’t care much about individual silo practices. And this means that an effective social media program must be “socialized” across the organization, as all disciplines must work together to deliver the brand promise. And delivering this promise depends on having the processes and systems in place to enable this to happen.

So how will your organization align the real-world customer experience with social media:

• how should you/will you respond to customer’s real-time questions, comments or concerns?
• which conversations are more important to business and relationships, and how do you know?
• how will you empower your customers so that they become an extension of your marketing and your sales force, and add value back to your brand?

These are a few of the questions we discussed in our meeting the other day. If you have any thoughts about this subject, please share.

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Mayo’s reputation for being a forerunner when it comes to all things “social media” isn’t news to those in and around the healthcare space. But even I was surprised at this finding.

As part of some secondary research for another client, we visited a lot of healthcare organization’s Facebook pages. Mayo has 8,811 fans. That’s a big number (at least in healthcare). Far greater than many other well-known institutions.

This means that 8,811 people are listening, discussing, messaging, updating, receiving Mayo’s feeds (which in turn gives these fans some viral power), interacting with Mayo and connecting with other people just like them (which we know in healthcare is very powerful in terms of improving health outcomes for people with a range of conditions).

Most importantly, this means that 8,811 people are telling (and participating in) personal and honest, living and breathing, powerful and overwhelmingly positive stories about Mayo in ways that traditional communications just can’t convey. Though I still believe that social media is not a single solution in itself, but one element of an integrated marketing communications plan.

It’s always been that people’s stories are important, not those of the organization. What an incredible, equity-enhancing benefit it is to have 8,000 plus people socially and passionately involved with your brand, while letting you (the marketer) actually spread your message more effectively.

Kudos (once again) to Mayo.

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What companies are doing on the social web and how well they’re doing it.

This July 2009 study called Engagement db, prepared by Wetpaint and Altimeter reviewed and charted the top 100 brands based on their social media presence and level of engagement they have with their customers. And though there are no healthcare brands included, I think the findings are still relevant (supported by these few examples).

A few of the key insights include:

1. Having a presence on social networks and micro-blogging outlets is a must, as “social media reach alone may have a positive impact as the more touch-points used can cause a ripple effect, by increasing or boosting brand recognition and driving sales volume.” I have a feeling that Lee Aase, Manager, Syndication and Social Media at Mayo Clinic would agree.

2. Doing nothing is not an option, but doing it all may not be appropriate. Building a social media strategy depends on many factors including who your target is, your industry, etc. However, being where your customers are and a part of their online experience is critical. Humana made the decision to step-lightly-into social media, as the benefits (to deepen connections with consumers; collaborate better with doctors and hospitals) became apparent to the organization.

3. Find your sweet spot. Understand what resonates with your customers and engage with them using the channels they frequent and prefer. If resources are an issue – start small, lobby for more assets and engage fully. Hello Health is a new organization that mixes office and online visits to give patients personal attention when and how they want it.

The future of health + healthy lifestyle brand marketing is not about saying things to audiences. It is about saying and doing this with them.

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As an addendum to my previous post, here are twelve principles for becoming a connecting versus campaigning organization. I refer to these principles as an Attraction Manifesto because of what “manifesto” implies – passion, game-changing, an appropriately public (social) declaration of your intentions and how you’ll set out to achieve them.

And because it’s a manifesto, it asks others to join together to make it a reality. Clearly, you’ll need to put your own spin on this doctrine to make it actionable for your organization and your audiences (which I hope you’ll do).

1. Coherence – our brand idea will serve as the nucleus for all of our actions, interactions and conversations.
2. Authenticity – our social media conversations should be similar to our daily interactions with friends, colleagues and family, i.e. open and honest, informal and in a personal voice.
3. Transparency – we’ll represent ourselves as people rather than an organization, because people connect with people, not organizations. We’ll also be honest about who we are, as trust is a huge barometer of engagement.
4. Collaborative – we’ll embrace the fact that true conversations are two-way, give and take exchanges; so that all participants ultimately grow stronger together.
5. Customized – we’ll create specific interest content and communities (thereby enhancing relevance to audiences) by collecting, categorizing, listening and responding.
6. Facilitating – we’ll allow conversations to go on around us without trying to control them, empowering people to connect through our brand, with content as the enabler.
7. Contagious – we’ll create “life-impacting” content and conversations that generate word-of-mouth and that people want to share with others.
8. Co-Creation – by working together, we all learn, grow and become stronger.
9. Evangelists – as feasible, we’ll create passionate and active advocates who will want to spread our message (for little expense).
10. Paced – we’ll start small, do what we can, when we can.
11. Context – we’ll recognize that social media is not a single solution in itself, but one element of an integrated marketing communications plan.
12. Bottom Line – there are lots of ways to measure social media success; so we’ll determine our success metrics (based on our objectives) before we begin our efforts.

As I’ve said previously, you have the opportunity now to benefit your organization by involving and empowering your audiences in conversations by being where they are and making it easier for them to connect, get informed and take action. It’s not a matter of “if”, but “when.” So what are you waiting for?

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For healthcare marketers, there’s a new set of rules for connecting your brand to your employees, caregivers, communities and patients. And it requires you to let go of what you think you know.

Continuing to try to persuade audiences through traditional campaigning about why you’re better (in the absence of other efforts), with the use of rational information and comparative data, is just not that important to those you’re trying to connect with.

There are two reasons for this. First, because the harsh reality is that people really don’t care about your organization, per se. What they do care about is how you make them feel about themselves and their decisions, and how much value you add to their lives. It’s their stories that are important, not yours. Second, because those who used to be your “passive audiences” are now “engaged participants” and content creators through social media.

The future of healthcare marketing is not about saying things to caregivers, communities and patients. It is about saying and doing things with them. It is about ATTRACTION MARKETING , compelling them to become more deeply engaged with your brand, while letting you (the healthcare marketer) actually spread your commercial message more effectively.

Today, brands are products of two-way (social) conversations. These conversations are personal and honest, living and breathing. With each conversation made stronger by other conversations, and building value for all parties involved. They result in competitive advantage for your organization, and significant advances in knowledge for your audiences. Each helps the other to reach their full potential.

Yet many in healthcare haven’t embraced this new reality. The reality that it pays from a relationship and financial standpoint to engage in two-way dialogue (i.e. social media). So what’s holding you back? Maybe you’re afraid of the unknown, or that your world is changing. Maybe you’re not comfortable with these new Social tools, or you don’t think you have the time. But to borrow a phrase from Cher in her movie Moonstruck when she slaps Nicholas Cage – “snap out of it”.

Because while you or your organization is hesitant to use social media, consumers actually become more invested in brands that welcome their participation. Simply put, conversations between people do more to build connections beyond your one-way campaigns. And what’s great about Social, and why it’s such a wonderful adjunct to traditional media, is that people can engage in these conversations whenever it’s convenient for them.

Integral to the future of healthcare brand building will be shared, “real-time” interactions and conversations between providers, caregivers, patients and communities. You have the opportunity now to benefit your healthcare organization by involving and empowering these audiences in conversations by being where they are and making it easier for them to connect, get informed and take action.

It’s not a matter of “if”, but “when.” So what are you waiting for?

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I read an article “Four Lifestyle Rules To Keep You Healthy” on Time. com and thought to myself what would the four rules be to keep brands healthy.

Tough to narrow to four, but here are mine.

1. An important and differentiating idea – the starting point for all great brands.
2. Relevance to audiences – based on understanding their hopes, desires and real life practices.
2. Tapping emotion – because the majority of our decisions are made with our “guts”.
3. Brilliant execution – which is so uncommonly excellent across the board that it reflects a clear leadership position.

Would you substitute any others? Please share your thoughts.

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The goal of any organization is to create sustainable competitive differentiation, by providing to customers what they value and want in ways that others can’t. One way to beat the competition, according to Kim and Mauborgne in their book Blue Ocean Strategy, is to stop trying to beat the competition. Instead, create uncontested market space to create and capture new demand. Thereby making the competition irrelevant.

The classic example of creating a blue ocean (referenced in their book) is Cirque du Soleil. From a group of 20 street performers in 1984, Cirque is now a major artistic entertainment company delighting almost 90 million spectators a year. The company looked at traditional circus acts like Ringling Brothers and transformed them into “Broadway meets artistic music and dance” experiences. While increasing customer value and ticket prices, they simultaneously eliminated the largest cost items of the circus, including the star performers and animal shows.

The driving forces for creating blue oceans should be apparent. Across categories, we’re presented with more supply than we could possibly demand. Global competition. More information at our fingertips. Too many brands that look, sound and function in similar ways.

This is the situation in healthcare. Many systems and hospitals are indistinguishable. And organizational-wide initiatives that focus on the safety, service and care of patients (functional benefits) do little to distinguish one hospital from another, as these are table stake improvements that all organizations focus on. Healthcare marketing practices don’t help distinguish either – as communications and outreach also tend to look and sound a lot alike.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. Every healthcare organization can create its own blue ocean. Because here’s the thing. It’s not carved in stone that blue ocean must equate to creating uncontested market space. Creating a stronger competitive position can be, and in many instances is, a more realistic agenda. Particularly in a down economy where companies need to do more with less. The size of the ocean doesn’t matter as much as the re-energizing and differentiating value it provides to customers.

The Blue Ocean book offers powerful tools for building a blue ocean strategy. One of them is the Four Action Framework, which guides companies in evaluating what factors they can possibly eliminate, reduce, raise and create:

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In the case of healthcare systems and hospitals, consider these factors in the context of how the players in your market tend to compete and how customers choose their providers. Think broadly about all of the elements that make up your value proposition (e.g. product, service and delivery). Look across:
• strategic segments that exist within your market
• different customer groups, e.g. influencers, users, purchasers (including employees)
• the scope, and delivery, of your product and service offerings (across the buyer experience)
• the rational-emotional appeals to buyers
• the trends that affect customers and business over time, etc.
• alternative industries (great stimulus for seeing and thinking differently)

Looking at these factors with a fresh and unbiased perspective, cross-functionally across the entire organization can unlock innovation that creates stronger market space for your healthcare system or hospital and new value for communities, patients, families, providers and partners. In healthcare, these innovations tend to come down to either clinical care (product) or providing care (service). Most likely, given that product is easily replicated over time (e.g. new machines, treatments), these innovations will likely reflect better ways to serve, and enhance the experience of being, a patient.

The starting point, however, must be your brand promise. You need this focus in order to create innovations true to who you are and how you’re perceived, and that employees and providers are aligned around and equipped to deliver.

Here are a few examples of healthcare organizations that have created their blue oceans. The key point to remember is that the size of the ocean doesn’t matter as much as the re-energizing and differentiating value you provide to customers.

Mayo Clinic Health Manager; a free tool that creates the ability for people to easily manage their families health online.
HelloHealth; a new company mixing office and online visits to give people personal attention from their neighborhood doctor when and how they want it.
• Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, FL., who chose to compete to improve their culture and the engagement of its employees (who worked together to eliminate over $7 million in hospital costs).
• Highmark, a Pennsylvania insurer who rolled out the nation’s first prepaid gift card designed specifically for healthcare expenses.
InstyMeds™, the health care industry’s first fully automated ATM-style dispenser of prescription medications.

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There are many different brand models.

But there are common characteristics that distinguish ALL great (different) health and healthy lifestyle brands from others. They see their world, and that of their customers, differently. Which lets them think and do different things – to challenge conventions, hypothesize alternatives and explore new possibilities.

Based on principles of Blue Ocean Strategy, a proven framework for guiding companies to create new and uncontested market space, these include:

looking across alternative industries, knowing that their products and services compete with companies outside their traditional market
looking across strategic groups within industries, based on customers’ decision-making practices
looking across different buyer (customer) groups, knowing there are those directly and indirectly involved in purchase decisions
looking across complementary products and services, to break free from accepted boundaries of competitive offerings
looking across the spectrum of functional or emotional appeals to buyers, to create new bases of appeal
look across time, to shape (rather than adapt to) external trends over time

Are you one of these great brands?

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To learn new things and to get information needed to improve their lives

This was, in my mind, the most important finding of a recently conducted MarketingProfs survey among 432 highly involved Twitter users (average of 2.7 hours per day on Twitter). Not exactly reflective of the typical Twitter user, but interesting findings nonetheless.

The survey set out to find- why do they use Twitter?  How do they feel about common practices on Twitter? How do they view their experiences? Highlights of the survey appeared on Mashable.

This one finding has to do with the most important motivations for using Twitter. So what are the implications for health and healthy lifestyle brands:

• people crave interaction
• because the tools exist to provide it, they expect it
• brands are ideally suited to help people learn these new things and get the information they need to improve their lives

The brands that succeed in doing this will thrive (consider the social media efforts of Mayo Clinic) – as both consumer and brand energize one another.

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