Quebec-based Technowait gets that our time is valuable. So they’ve developed a new service that creates new value for patients – freeing them from having to wait for long periods of time in hospital and clinic waiting rooms.

Their service allows patients (after checking-in and taking a number) to leave the waiting room and go somewhere else until they’re ready to be seen. Calling in to an interactive system, they can find out via an automated message how how much waiting time still remains. As their turn approaches, they can then return in just-in-time fashion. Eventually, TechnowaiT aims to add phone alerts so that patients can get notified half an hour before it’s their turn.

Here are a few things we should appreciate about (and learn from) Technowait:

1. They’re advocates for us patients. More so than the hospitals or clinics we’re often captive to, they understand that nothing about a “waiting room” (beginning with the name) is a pleasant experience. Their service is helpful and acts on our behalf.

2. Their demonstrating respect. Someone from Technowait initially walked in our shoes. They’ve been the customer. Or they listened, acknowledged and responded to others. Either way, it’s nice to be treated like a person beyond a patient.

3. They’re also building value for their hospital and clinic clients . Beyond the time and identity value they create for patients, they’re creating relationship value for the hospitals and clinics that use their service. Everyone benefits. Everyone wins.

4. When ready, they might possibly play a bigger role in our lives. By thinking more expansively about what they ultimately provide (similar to Zappos whose real mission is customer happiness), Technowait has a lot of room to expand beyond the waiting room to other venues.

Any thoughts or ideas to share?

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I’ve posted before about Humana – specifically, its CrumpleItup initiative, a dedicated group inside the company focused on coming up with creative ways to help people be healthy while having fun.

Now comes Humana Games For Health. Part of the Innovation Center within Humana, this team is driven by the belief that playing video games keeps your mind and body fit. So they’re helping people of all ages play their way to better health by getting them off their seat and on their feet.

Here’s some brand-building learning from Humana Games:

1. Actions speak louder than words: You can tell people all day long (as most benefits providers do) that they should live healthier lives. But provide them with an enjoyable and sharable experience, one that fits nicely into their daily lives, and their practices will start to change.

2. Experience alongside image: Advertising will always play a role in the marketing mix. But these messages are increasingly being rejected. So seek out the bigger role that your brand can play in customers lives. Be their advocate, and bring your marketing to life (as Humana Games has) with involving, interactive experiences that actually add value to their lives.

3. Build a community beyond the transaction: These games give participants the ability to become a member of the Humana Games universe. They also build valued interactions among game participants. Participants of different ages and stages of life (from kids to seniors).

4. From innovation silo to group think: Humana Games’ concepts (first developed by an inside/outside multidisciplinary team that includes a target audience and intended health outcome) are then taken to the prototype phase, where a working model of the idea is created and tested by consumers to get valuable feedback and determine efficacy.

5. Use of social media to build engagement: Participants can invite their friends to visit Humana Games. Get updates and meet other players on Facebook.

Any comments you’d like to share?

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According to a new survey of 1,500 chief executives conducted by IBM’s Institute for Business Value, CEOs value “creativity” as the most important leadership competency for the successful enterprise of the future.

That’s creativity—not operational effectiveness, influence, or even dedication. Coming out of the worst economic downturn in their professional lifetimes, when managerial discipline and rigor ruled the day, this indicates a remarkable shift in attitude. Until now, creativity has generally been viewed as fuel for the engines of research or product development, not the essential leadership asset that must permeate an enterprise.

As they step back and reassess, CEOs have seized upon creativity as the necessary element for enterprises that must reinvent their customer relationships and achieve greater operational dexterity. In face-to-face interviews with IBM consultants, they said creative leaders do the following:

Disrupt the status quo. Every company has legacy products that are both cash—and sacred—cows. Often the need to perpetuate the success of these products restricts innovation within the enterprise, creating a window for competitors to advance competing innovations. As CEOs tell us that fully one-fifth of revenues will have to come from new sources, they are recognizing the requirement to break with existing assumptions, methods, and best practices.

Disrupt existing business models. CEOs who select creativity as a leading competency are far more likely to pursue innovation through business model change. In keeping with their view of accelerating complexity, they are breaking with traditional strategy-planning cycles in favor of continuous, rapid-fire shifts and adjustments to their business models.

Disrupt organizational paralysis. Creative leaders fight the institutional urge to wait for completeness, clarity, and stability before making decisions. To do this takes a combination of deeply held values, vision, and conviction—combined with the application of such tools as analytics to the historic explosion of information. These drive decisionmaking that is faster, more precise, and even more predictable.

Taken together, these recommendations describe a shift toward corporate cultures that are far more transparent and entrepreneurial. They are cultures imbued with the belief that complexity poses an opportunity, rather than a threat. They hold that risk is to be managed, not avoided, and that leaders will be rewarded for their ability to build creative enterprises with fluid business models, not absolute ones.

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The real title of this Fast Company article written by Ben Paynter is Five Steps for Consumer Brands to Earn Social Currency. It is based on a Vivaldi Partners/Lightspeed study of social media efforts that create true value for organizations and their customers. But there are good insights here for health brand marketers to consider as you develop, execute and refine your social media efforts.

1. Advocates Trump Followers. Strength isn’t always in numbers. While Dunkin’ Donuts has 80% fewer Facebook and Twitter followers than Starbucks, Dunkin’ fans are 35% more likely to recommend the brand given its social media practices. Dunkin has shown that interesting initiatives that help fans engage, with your brand and with each other through your brand, build brand advocates. I think P&G’s BeingGirl.com is a good example of this.

2. Context Matters. Using the example of beer drinkers, the study found that “product and packaging innovations do not help create relevance in this consumer’s daily life.” What’s important is the bonding or “social context” during consumption. I relate this back to blasting out one-way messages touting latest technologies or chest-pounding statistics versus posting (for instance) a video on YouTube featuring an elderly couple playing the piano in the atrium of Mayo Clinic. Real people. Real story. Real relevant.

3. Not Every Brand Should Be Social. Mass-market brands positioned based on functional superiority, such as Gillette (with 96% of study respondents touting good quality and reliability), aren’t likely to see much upside in social currency. I don’t agree with this statement for the reason they cite, as social media programs should always be built around achieving specific objectives – whether building awareness, cultivating relationships, promoting new products, or targeting new markets.

4. Social Tools Are A Means, Not An End. In reviewing Axe and Clinique, the study concludes that Axe’s social-media efforts don’t translate as strongly into meaningful talk or an ardent defense when compared with a brand such as Clinique, because the Axe audience knows that it’s all a goof. By contrast, Clinique’s more instructive approach –- for example, YouTube how-to tutorials — has earned it stronger social currency. Certainly, the inherent benefits that your health brands provide give you a leg up in creating this social currency.

5. Gimmicks Marginalize Trust. Last year, Wendy’s “You Know When It’s Real” campaign featured commercial spots, online games, and contests highlighting how its never-frozen patties are cooked to order. Burger King created the Whopper Sacrifice, asking fans to drop 10 friends on Facebook to get a free hamburger, the latest in a string of Internet-sensation stunts. Today, BK’s fickle fans have moved on, but customers trust Wendy’s products much more, according to the Vivaldi-Lightspeed study. The ability of your health brands to help improve lives –– and the different ways to demonstrate this through social tools — lend themselves to building this trust.

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Every year, The Chief Marketing Officer Institute awards their “CMO Of The Year.” Nominees are evaluated in several categories of performance, including market orientation and customer intimacy, accountability for results, commitment to innovation, and overall contribution to the success of their company.

Here (on COM.com) are interviews with each of the 10 finalists for 2009, who discussed the strategies and tactics employed to achieve their success with the editors of CMO Journal. The interviews are interesting and informative, and certainly relevant to your health brand business.

Finalists include:

From large organizations ($250M+ revenue): Jeffrey Hayzlett (Kodak), Allen Klose (ACE Cash Express), Richard Marnell (Viking River Cruises), David Mitchell (Open Solutions Inc.), David Norton (Harrah’s Entertainment)

From small to midsize organizations (less than $250M revenue): Timothy Gilbert (Campus Mgm’t Corp), Tim Kopp (ExactTarget), Terrie O’Hanlon (Manhattan Associates), Curtiss Porritt (MasterControl Inc.), Thomas VanHorn (Application Security Inc.)

Enjoy the interviews. I hope there are insights and ideas that you can take away to create new value for your health brand customers and your business.

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While “image” used to sell, and ads used to be at the center of the marketing universe, today’s playbook is driven by the idea of actions speaking louder than words. The most important question to ask of your brand is what can be its place in people’s lives?

The challenge ahead for brands is to maintain their relevancy in a world in which marketing is no longer a spectator sport, but rather one that is involving, dynamic, authentic and interactive. Where the brand-customer relationship is one that increasingly resembles two close friends growing together, looking out for each other and helping each other succeed.

Here are six strategies important for growing healthier and more prosperous brands (and customers). The common denominator is that each of these practices add value to the lives of their audiences (as you’ll note from my health brand examples). In turn, audiences add their own value back to the brand. And both grow healthier and more prosperous.

1. From assembling followers to growing participants (PatientsLikeMe)
2. From capturing customers to liberating them (Teavana)
3. From making claims to creating experiences (Walgreens Take Care Clinics)
4. From generating transactions to growing communities (P&G’s BeingGirl.com)
5. From innovation silo to group think (Sermo online physician community)
6. From hiding behind the curtain to transparency (Marty Bonick, CEO Jewish Hospital, Kentucky)

Do you have comments you’d like to share? Other brand examples you can share?

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We had a meeting with a prospective client who wants to explore, and more sharply define, their brand idea. Because they’re not quite sure if the organization’s message is really one that emanates from a well-conceived brand strategy.

So it occurs to me – is your brand reflected in everything your healthcare organization says and does? Surrounding your health system, academic medical center, specialty hospital, center of excellence…is there a big idea that defines you, distinguishes you, drives you, attracts and engages your audiences, compels them to promote it to others and is delivered through your customer experience?

Or are you falling into the trap of only creating an image wrapper (a term I’m borrowing from BrandGym’s David Taylor)? Where the brand is wrapped in communication, but delivery of the brand promise (if there is one), is no where to be found. A brand-led business, in contrast, drives off a strong brand idea, is powerfully delivered, and then reinforced through communication.

Apple’s vision can be seen and experienced in everything they do. Same holds true for Whole Foods, Harley-Davidson, Southwest Airlines, to name just a few. While many companies view “brand” as the domain of marketing (or more narrowly associate it with “image”), these organizations understand that business strategy and the brand are indistinguishable – where brand is conveyed by everything people see, hear, touch, taste or smell about your business.

So, is your healthcare organization a BRAND-LED business – where branding is not a beauty contest, but a strategy to drive volume and growth, build loyalty, attract donors, retain talent – in fact, drives your whole business.

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As part of our “Insider Insights” series, I feature the personal perspective of a health brand marketing, digital, social or innovation leader. I’m pleased to have Nick Dawson, Community Engagement leader at Bon Secours Virginia Health System, as this month’s participant.

Here’s what Nick 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…
….take pride in serving people. The web, and technology in general have afforded us an amazing amount of connivence of choice. We can compare the price of flights across multiple carriers, check the best rating on a dishwasher and buy music for pennies, all before getting out of bed. When selection and price make things commodities, service is the one thing that becomes a differentiator. However, if I have a choice between two providers and the quality of care is equal, I am going to pick the one that treats me the best. I often think about The Experience Economy by Pine and Gilmore and the Cluetrain Manifesto by Loc, Searls, Wineberger and Levine as both ahead of their time. They are prophetic works that suggest that when organizations value their relationship with customers and provide excellent service, the reputation of the organization markets itself. At Bon Secours, we have seen a clear path from employee engagement to world-class service to market share.

2. Specific to social media, how has it impacted the way your organization conducts business?
We are becoming better listeners. I do not think we are unique in that regard; savvy companies are moving away from information push and embracing pull. We will continue to do what we do well, and rather than simply tell people about it, we are asking them. What do you think about this facility, this new procedure, this doctor? We also spend a lot of time online just listening. What are people saying about doctors in our service areas or about healthcare in general? What can we learn from those conversations that we may not know, or which may validate our assumptions? An additional note, which is great news, is we are revenue-positive in our efforts.

3. What are the key challenges your organization is grappling with as it considers participation?
There are two distinct challenges. The first is spreading the word. Ironically, the best social media still seams to be a face-to-face conversation. We are working from both ends of the organization to spread the word about what we can do with these tools. For senior leadership it is about building their comfort level with participating as individuals; (a welcome change from where many organizations were a year ago in developing a comfort level about even using social media.) We are doing the same thing with individual employees by encouraging them to think about our social media efforts as having an unlimited bandwidth to tell any story. When we hear about team members or departments doing neat things, we approach them about a blog post, or video.

The second challenge is in fostering the creativity and encouraging participation. Many people have singular exposures to these tools. Facebook is for sharing baby pictures with friends, twitter is about what you had for breakfast and Youtube has cats playing piano. Others perceive a time requirement as a barrier to entry. I try and encourage people to think about the conversation, not the medium. There are online spaces for any way someone feels comfortable telling their story; it is our job to support that.

4. What are your top lessons learned for implementing a social media strategy?
The biggest lesson was one of cohesion. Our organization believed in our work, but was unclear on our direction. Our communications team was together on the vision. Crafting a formal strategy helped us learn how to present our successes and sell our services to our leadership and throughout the rest of the organization. It was a cathartic experience to whittle our plan town to three simple goals: service, advocacy, and market share.

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