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Are patients and consumers synonymous? Are they two sides of the same coin?

Your organization views your audiences as patients. Your key competitor views this same audience as consumers. Or maybe they refer to them as health consumers, clients, or maybe even e-patients. Does this distinction make a difference? I think the answer is yes.

Let me clarify that I’m not talking about patients from the standpoint of being ill, living with a chronic disease, or the relationship that a physician has with his or her patients.

Rather, I’m referring to “patients versus consumers” from the standpoint of a marketer. And from a marketing perspective, I’m not a big fan of labeling people as “patients.” Because patients denotes a captive audience. It puts guardrails around who they are, the choices they have available to them and the fact that they have lives beyond that of being a “patient.”

Yet patients are far from captive. They’re armed with the knowledge, tools, and ability to reach out to their trusted social circle advisors to make informed and independent consumer choices. And more often (though clearly not all the time), they are in charge. They can choose to involve themselves (to engage) with you or not.

Changing your lens lets you see your healthcare audiences in a different light. While patients perpetuates sameness, consumers open your eyes to imagine and create new and greater value beyond “patient” solutions.

So how can you integrate into the lives of your patients healthcare consumers more meaningfully and completely. How can you gain their participation through content, dialogue, experiences, and solutions beyond that of what you’re doing today. How can you more broadly affect the world in which they and their families live, and the things they want to do?

What do you think about this topic? Please let us know.

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As part of our “Insider Insights” series, I feature the personal perspective of a health brand senior marketer, digital, social or innovation expert. I’m pleased to have Greg Matthews, Director of Innovation at Humana, as this month’s participant.

Here’s what Greg has to say about the future of health brands and social media:

The organizations and brands that will thrive in the future are those that

can fundamentally change the way they work, ceding control to their customers, suppliers and employees. The old “we make it, you buy it” way of thinking is fast disappearing, even in the health system. It’s our belief that customers, suppliers, employees and other stakeholders are going to have to be a lot more involved in making, selling and servicing products. That means that organizations are going to have to shift from a command-and-control culture to a much more open and trusting environment.

Specific to social media, how has it impacted the way that your organization conducts business?

I think that we’re just beginning to see the impact of the changes in our company. Unlike some other companies, we have elected NOT to do a top-down implementation of a social media strategy. Instead, we’ve created a framework whereby every department has the ability to use social media to improve their own business processes – whatever those might be.

We’ve formed a volunteer “un-committee” made up of social evangelists from 14 different departments around the company. We don’t have a leader, a charter, or an executive sponsor. But here’s why I think it’s working:

First, this group wrote Humana’s social media policy and the associated communication plan, and had it ratified directly by our Executive Committee.

Second, when we formed the group less than a year ago, there were only two departments (marketing and the innovation center) who have an active presence in the social space. Now there are seven.

I think this way may be slower, but in the end is going to be a lot more effective because each department actually owns their initiatives, and are dependent on their own results.

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

I think every corporation has to deal with two big issues: Control and speed.

Social media by its very nature is a grassroots phenomenon … the opposite of the top-down, control-oriented hierarchy of the corporation. Having enough trust to cede control is easy to talk about, but a lot harder to do. Corporate structures and processes are set up specifically to eliminate groundswells. Groundswells can reduce efficiency by producing outcomes that are different than those intended and create risk. So making this shift is more than just an attitudinal change; it’s a change in work structures and processes, too.

I think that speed is an issue because social media and community happen in real time … they don’t have time to wait for a decision to pass through multiple committees for a course of action to be agreed. This is a big switch, too.

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

For me, there are four principles that have worked for us at Humana. They’re overly simplistic, but the best lessons always are, right? Here’s how I describe them (and you can see my visual presentation of these principles on slideshare):

• Be a vacuum. Always be learning. Always be reading. Always be looking for the next connection and the next smart idea. In social media, there is no such thing as “status quo.”

• Be a padawan. Talk to the best. You don’t need to get advice from Frank’s Social Media and Screen Door Company. The best thinkers in the world are giving it away for free every day on their blogs and on Twitter. And if you’re a company, there’s a good chance you can have a direct conversation with these Jedi; they want to work for you.

• Try stuff. No matter how much you read or how many Jedi you talk to, you can only really understand the power of social in your business by getting out there and trying it. That starts with building your own, personal social graph. Start a Twitter account, and follow 10 new people every day. Start a LinkedIn profile and join an interest group or two. Start a Facebook page and start playing games with your high school friends. Once you’ve gotten your personal social graph in order, find some low-risk ways to experiment on behalf of your company. There are plenty of experiments you can run that won’t create undue risk for your business.

• Be 2.0. Let the form follow the function. The form of social media is grassroots … groundswell … interactive. Let your work reflect that. It’s why our social media “uncommittee” is so unconventional. It HAS to be grassroots or it won’t work. It’s why our Web site ( has so little content … our content lives on the social web … on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr. The Web site is just a hub with spokes leading out to all of that content. Before you try something in typical fashion, double-check yourself and ask, “what’s the social way to do this?” In our first uncommittee meeting, we decided to live-Tweet the meeting instead of taking minutes … which set a great tone.

Always remember that we’re still in the middle of this transition from an “information economy” to a “collaboration economy.” There’s not a single company that has defined the business of the future. And there’s nothing to prevent your business from being the one that does … so there’s no need to be afraid of a few little “failures.”

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How to get more people using the stairs by making it fun to do? Watch this great video called Piano stairs –

But more important, this is a great example of imagining and creating new value for your customers, and your brand.

You can tell people all day long through your advertising that “taking the stairs is healthier than taking the escalator.” But bring the idea to life through your marketing in a way that people want to (can’t help but) engage with, and you’ll change behavior, and change lives.

As always, actions speak louder than words.

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Here are ten consumer trends from to help you kick-start 2010.

Within the briefing are also a couple strong macro trends resources like McKinsey’s Global Institute and IMD’s global challenges site.

Note that these consumer trends are not “healthcare-specific”, which I think is a good thing (there are many healthcare reports like this to be found; and if you don’t have, please let me know).

But make no mistake, these trends apply to your customers, your brands and your company. So think, and imagine, about how to creatively connect them, twist them, shape them and adapt them to make things better for your customers and to enhance the relevancy of your brands.

To this point, the report suggests four questions that will help you determine if they have the potential to help you create new and greater value for your customers and company. Do they:

1. influence or shape your company’s vision
2. inspire you to come up with a new business concept, an entirely new venture, a new brand
3. add a new product, service or experience for a certain customer segment
4. speak the language of those consumers already “living” a trend

In many cases, you’ll find (at least you should) the answers to be “YES”.

Enjoy, and good innovating! Once again, the link is also here.

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Beyond your products and services, does your marketing itself serve a purpose?

It’s an important question that actually harkens back to a phrase first expressed in the 1700’s – actions speak louder than words.

If your answer is NO, you’re ignoring what consumers really want. You’re also in jeopardy of your “status quo” marketing (and your brand) becoming increasingly irrelevant.

So, beyond your offer and your campaigns, does your marketing itself add value to people’s lives. Does it:

• help them do things that they couldn’t do on their own?
• engage them in ways they value and want?
• enable them to connect, share with, and learn from others?
• create participants by opening up avenues for meaning and involvement (beyond passive bystanders and followers)?

In order to escape the “status quo” and energize your customers and your brand, challenge yourself to create marketing that delivers beyond the essentials (the must-do’s which address people’s functional needs). Ask yourself these three simple questions:

• is this what our customers really want?
• are we offering them this prize today? (reminds me of Seth Godin’s analogy of the prize inside the Cracker Jack’s box)
• what else can we do, through our marketing, to provide more value to them, and for ourselves?

Your long-term health is riding on these answers, and your actions.

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People really don’t care about your products and services. This might be tough to accept, but it’s true.

What people do care a lot about, however, is how you make them feel about their decisions. How you help them improve their lives. How you help them achieve what they can’t on their own. And for healthcare marketers, these benefits translate into pretty important outcomes, from preserving life, to being able to live healthier and happier lives.

This is the incredible connecting power of your brand. By being about them, but having a strong vision about your place (what it is and what it can be) in their lives. This is the stuff that cements relationships, builds advocates, drives loyalty, gets people talking about you, creates communities and attracts others to you. This is the enormous power of your brand to help you achieve what your business alone can not.

So why do we keep talking about us? How caring we are. How celebrated we are. How trustworthy we are. How smart we are. How about turning the dial 180 degrees to the care they want. The recognition they deserve. The trust they desire. How smart they are. And how about paying this off with actions versus words (but more about this tomorrow).

Be more about your customers, and they’ll be all about you.

Any comments to share?

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What’s the story here? Are there no healthcare brand upstarts or stalwarts setting the pace for innovation and getting results – right now? To that, I say….

The 11/16 Ad Age includes a feature on America’s Hottest Brands – “meet the upstarts and the stalwarts who have found the upside of the downturn; setting the pace for innovation – and getting results – right now.”

These brands run the gamet – from Jameson, to Jetblue, Digiorno, Panera, Subaru, Bing, Barnes & Noble,, Five Guys, Ped Egg and 30 others.

I went through each one of the stories and synthesized the magic behind the results (of course, the key criteria for inclusion on the list). Just some of these include:

• Managing to get consumers psyched about their category/their brand again
• Creating partnerships to help change the nature of conversations
• Using social media and customer service as marketing tools
• Recognizing that it’s not about your product, but about their lifestyle
• Knowing who we are and speaking of things relevant to customers
• Engaging the people within our community
• Creating mobile apps to generate new revenue streams and sales channels
• Engaging folks during a period of time where it can be mayhem; and building a whole mission around providing help during these times
• Having a connection and a closeness with customers that no one else can rival
• Not talking at our consumers, but rather challenging them and supporting them

I know healthcare brands (pharmaceuticals, healthcare systems, hospitals, home care, medical devices, etc.) are typically not included in Ad Age’s list. But I don’t care. I say it’s time to look beyond traditional consumer products boundaries.

Because in healthcare – from blogs to online communities to business models – there are many upstarts and stalwarts setting the pace for innovation and getting results. In fact, these results often translate to saving lives. And it doesn’t get much hotter than that!

So to Ad Age, I say, we’ll make our own list of America’s Hottest [Healthcare] Brands. The brands that save lives. The brands that contribute to healthier, stronger and happier lives. The brands that actually allow each of America’s hottest brands to have audiences healthy enough to participate in theirs.

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To strive for perfection is admirable. But when it comes to social media, it’s a waste of time.

While your efforts need to be grounded in goals, strategy and the social media practices of your health brand audiences, it’s pointless to strive for perfection. Because unlike developing an ad, putting it through focus group testing, and then tweaking to get your “sell and tell” story just right, truly open dialogue is hard to control. Nor do you want to try. Because this means you’re probably lecturing rather than having a conversation.

With social media, take the attitude that you’re always going to be learning, always growing, always adjusting. Follow the lead of your customers. They’ll let you know which content is relevant, and how best to engage them. And how best to facilitate conversations between them.

So, while you consider whether you have a firm enough grasp of the territory, are comfortable with your transparency, wonder whether you’re compelling enough for customers to care about your offerings, don’t contemplate too long. Because the advantages of participating in social media far outweigh the negatives of waiting for “perfection” or not participating at all.

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Women (your primary healthcare influencers and decision-makers) tend to be far more active in social media than men. This was the finding from BIGresearch’s 2009 survey of 22,000 consumers asked about their usage of text, blogs, twitter and social networks.

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With the exception of business-focused LinkedIn, women are heavier users of the six other social media vehicles measured through this survey. Text leads the way at 61.7%, followed by Facebook 59.8%, blog readers 56.2%, blog posters 52.5%, MySpace 51.6%, and Twitter users 50.8%.

Given that this survey was conducted in June, the rankings might well have shifted a bit. But the more important news for health brand marketers is that these social media vehicles are effective in engaging your primary female audiences in more meaningful and trusted dialogue.

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As part of our “Insider Insights” series, I feature the personal perspective of a health brand CEO, senior marketer, digital or social media expert. I’m pleased to have Lee Aase, manager of Syndication and Social Media for Mayo Clinic, as this month’s participant.

Here’s what Lee 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…

Are trustworthy and transparent with key stakeholders, whether they be employees or customers or patients. In this regard, social media will be a force for good because it enables open communication. When organizations don’t treat people well, word will get around even faster than in the past. In the broadcast era, companies could buy gross tonnage of advertising to try to buy a consumer perception, and if they managed media relations skillfully they could pitch positive stories about their organizations to journalists.

There’s still some place for that in the conversational era, but it will be decreasingly effective.

On the positive side, if organizations provide a fantastic, remarkable experience to most customers, social media will enable that word to spread more quickly, too.

2. Specific to social media, how has it impacted the way your organization conducts business?

Social media enable Mayo Clinic to provide in-depth information to patients and consumers, with little production cost and virtually no distribution cost. We can talk in depth about relatively obscure medical conditions, for example, without worrying about turning off the mass audience. The new market has now been called “a mass of niches” and through social media tools we can provide the specialized information people crave, particularly when they’re facing a major medical issue.

We also are much more able to listen, both internally to employees and externally to patients and consumers, and to have discussions with them. This gives us great opportunities to learn and improve.

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

We’re pretty well along the road to participation, so now we’re into the phase of seeing how we can incorporate social media into everything we do, and making all of our communications more conversational. It’s really an exciting time now. Early on, we had some understandable organizational trepidation about these tools, but as we understood that social media are just the way word of mouth happens in the 21st century, and that word of mouth has been the most important factor in building Mayo Clinic’s reputation for more than 100 years, we knew we needed to engage. And as we have had positive feedback we’ve been able to extend our social media presence even further.

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

Don’t let strategy become an excuse for inaction. Often organizations wait to become involved in social media until they have thought through every imaginable scenario, and that’s fine, to a point. But too frequently they go way beyond due diligence to a social media form of hypochondria or paranoia.

Realize that if your organization is worth talking about, people are already discussing you online, so it would behoove you to join the conversation. And if you’re not being discussed online, that’s actually worse: it means you’re irrelevant, not worth talking about. That’s all the more reason to get engaged.

Social media are just another way of communicating, and are cheaper and more cost-effective than traditional means. In a twist on the defense department supercomputer’s line in the Matthew Broderick movie, “War Games,” I would say the only way to lose is not to play. It’s great to think about strategy in using social media, just as it’s appropriate to have a strategy for use of the telephone. For example, you may ask whether you will have a voice mail system or whether every call will be answered by a real person, or whether you will have a toll-free number for incoming calls. But it would be extremely odd for a company to decide it wasn’t going to install phones until it had its complete strategy decided.

So by all means, give a little thought to creating a potential growth path for social media in your organization, but don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The sales trainer Zig Ziglar used to say that if you wait until all the lights are on green before you leave the house, you’ll never get out of the driveway. If you spend any money to communicate with employees or customers, why wouldn’t you take advantage of free tools that help you do it better?

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