If you want an exceptional retail brand experience, visit Teavana. I discovered this “part tea bar, part tea emporium” through the aroma of the freshly-brewed Chai tea being released into the Short Hills Mall.

The Teavana website says that they want to introduce people to the aromas, textures, and beneficial qualities of loose leaf teas while enlightening them with the history and variety of teas available –– creating a unique tea experience in each store by encouraging a positive, healthy outlook for all who enter. Goal accomplished.

Here’s what makes the brand so special:

A great story. One that’s built around the rituals and rich history of tea.

Focused on doing one thing better than anyone else. Teavana equals tea. Everything about tea. And this is their focus moving forward. With tremendous growth opportunities available into the future.

Great staff make for an exceptional brand experience. I had no intention of buying any tea that day I visited the mall. I left with a lot of tea. A beautiful canister to house the tea. And a great tea maker. All because of a tremendous staff member knowledgeable about tea and passionate about Teavana.

Engaging website that extends the experience. You can learn about, and shop their teas, and participate in the conversation through their “Heaven of Tea” blog.

Ability to generate word-of-mouth. I’ve told friends about this brand since first visiting the store. And they’ve told others.

Have you heard of, or visited, Teavana. Please share your thoughts.

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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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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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How social is your social media program? Beyond your current and prospective customers, consider whether you’re creating something of value for:

1. Employees: such that they are more/fully engaged; proud of your/their collective contributions; are more aware of the world around them; and seeing new and different opportunities to help make lives better
2. Shareholders: are you engaging the ones who care not only about financial return, but about the long-term (sustainable) impact of that return; and who increasingly are investing in companies that are balancing purpose with profits and making a difference in the world
3. Society: are you creating value for society at large at the same time that you’re helping customers move forward; hopefully, melding these two (increasingly compatible) concepts together
4. Company: beyond your financial worth to creating value such that the whole of your contribution exceeds the sum of your individual parts

Challenge yourself to think more expansively about your social media program. You have the opportunity to create new value for audiences you might not otherwise be able to engage through traditional channels.

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Your market is changing all around you.

Traditional competitors are evolving. New ones are forming. Market forces are redefining customer expectations and challenging your traditional definition of “value.”

So how are you responding? What’s the idea that drives your brand and gives you permission to imagine and create new value for your healthcare customers and your organization?  Success, today and in the future, requires you to take this idea and translate it into adding more value to people’s lives beyond your core products and services.

Virgin takes its passengers to and from the airport. Cirque du Soleil gives its audiences theatre with (and redefines) their circus. Mayo Clinic is creating lifestyle products and mobile apps for its patients and expanded customer base. Fairmont gives its guests a BMW with their hotel stay.

How about you. What do you do to surprise, delight, and add more value to your customer’s lives?

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Where’s the value through your social media program? What’s in it for your audiences? How do you align your social efforts with your strategic goals, and the goals of your customers?

Here’s a quick presentation that contains ten questions that must be answered (along with some additional thoughts to get you underway), if you’re going to deliver real value for your customers and your organization.

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Aetna recently announced that it will be reaching out to its members on the-Go through a mobile-friendly website that’s easier to browse from a handheld device, smartphone “apps,” and text messaging. These mobile solutions will be made available to the majority of Aetna members – regardless of whether they have a basic cell phone or a smartphone with full Internet access.

Just a few examples of the benefits, as stated in the company press release, include “being able to look up the status of a claim while standing in the doctor’s office. Finding a cardiologist and making an appointment during a train ride to work. Researching the price of a prescription from the grocery aisle.”

According to Meg McCabe, vice president of consumer marketing and product for Aetna – “It’s imperative that we meet our members where they are with resources that engage them in making well-informed health care decisions, improve their interactions with their physicians, and even help them save a little money along the way.”

Through On-the-Go, Aetna accomplishes an important, yet somewhat elusive, objective for an insurance company – actually building relationships with a broad spectrum of their customer base. By allowing them to access important information, wherever and whenever they want it, the company is extending and enhancing its interactions with members – in ways they actually value and want.

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