Inspiration should come from many different places. Case in point being: Nestle’s New Weight Loss Program Pairs Pets With Their Owners.

Nestle’ launched this unique initiative in the US to help pet owners and their furry friends shed excess pounds together. The company’s pet and people weight management experts have teamed up to give owners of overweight pets an online program to help both them and their animals lose weight.

Is this initiative relevant to your healthcare marketing efforts? Absolutely. You just need to be open to looking at everything fresh.

Consider the power of friends (though not the furry kind) to…

– motivate each other and pursue progress together, which might lead to a “2 together” program
– influence each other, which could lead to a “BFF assist network
– impact each other’s health and well-being, which could lead to a “power of two” program

Inspired by Nestle’s new program, we’re reminded of the powerful link between friendship and health, and therefore, a powerful marketing opportunity to be leveraged.

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Can we evolve healthcare marketing? Yes we can.

This was the topic of a recent talk of mine, which included five reinforcing themes.  As a foundation for these themes, it was agreed that whatever form of marketing you undertake, it needs to be:

Grounded in truth: genuine to an organization’s story, values and ambition
Relevant to audiences: in ways that are real and genuine
Deliverable based on promises: able to be reinforced through the patient experience (which means deliverable across the organization)

The five themes included:

1. Wider Angle Lens: seeking out new inspiration and insight by looking in new places and making new connections. Understanding what truly drives and moves your audiences, and those who influence them. Identifying the customer strengths you enable, customer weaknesses you lessen, customer opportunities you can create and customer threats you can remove (yes…this is a SWOT analysis, but from your customer’s pov).

2. Creating New Brand Energy: thinking more holistically about how your brand can serve as the platform to move customers, and therefore your brand, forward. Thinking beyond transactions to creating relationships. Creating win-wins such that your organization and customers both grow stronger.

3. New Marketing Energy: creating marketing that has utility. Beyond communications to marketing that enables, involves and unifies. Consider the metaphor of a gear, where your organization’s teeth engage those of the customer and move them to a better place. Helping them do what they can’t on their own, beyond the reach of your competitors.

4.  Mass Customization: Leverage the unique strengths of some channels and mitigate the weaknesses of others. Use traditional to reach the masses (though can also target to discrete target segments), and digital/social to heighten relevance and utility to specific target populations. If Burger King let’s you have it your way, shouldn’t healthcare?

5. Synchronous Actions: Can the brand promises you make truly be delivered across the organization? Are all internal audiences (docs, nurses, staff, volunteers) aligned around a brand-led culture and able to deliver your uniquely branded experience? Be aware that every action sparks an equal reaction which either enhances or detracts from your desired perception. There’s a great native American saying – “it takes a thousand voices to tell a single story.”

Thoughts about this list? Others you’d add?

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The 2011 ANA Masters of Marketing conference brought together more than 1,700 marketers and marketing service firms to share in the year’s official theme — growth. Forrester Blogs has provided a good “cliff notes” version of the conference, which you can find here.

Despite the somewhat cautious tone of many speakers, the CMOs delivering growth are doing so by demonstrating enterprisewide leadership. Three strong examples, very relevant for healthcare marketers, were from:

• Stephen Quinn, VP and CMO at Walmart, who talked about leading like your customer is your boss.

• Esther Lee, senior VP of brand marketing and advertising at AT&T who talked about leadership beyond the marketing department.

• And Jon Iwata, senior VP of marketing and communications at IBM who talked about leading by building corporate character.

Easy to relate these three examples back to the need for an expanded enterprisewide leadership role for the healthcare CMO…

Customer as boss. Disruptive technologies (access to information, influencers, communities, grades, reviews, wait times…), new business models, alternative care options, etc, translate to an empowered customer, not a captive patient.

• Leadership beyond marketing. Consider how much brand value is enhanced or destroyed based on the customer experience, pre-during-post care, across the organization’s many access points. This evolves the role of marketing to impact brand-led culture, experience design and operationalization.

Leading by building corporate character. What’s your bigger envisioned place in the world, beyond that of (obvious) community health provider. The “core energizing idea” that resonates with, inspires and aligns employees and customers. As CMO, help to create the platform that continuously works to move both customer and organization forward in more meaningful ways.

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The doctor knows best. No, your consumer actually knows best. And what they want is a mutually dependent, beneficial relationship.

So begins a good article in Bloomberg Businessweek called Shift Happens from G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Viton of Maddock Douglas innovation consultancy.

Their premise is that at critical times in history, business sectors go through radical shifts driven by economic, political, and consumer forces. And these shifts create opportunities for new entrants into markets. Entrants who often bring with them revolutionary ideas that change things for the better. And for many in health care, shift is about to hit the fan.

This shift relates to skepticism about the health-care-reform proposal to create Accountable Care Organizations (ACO’s) – a network of doctors and hospitals that share responsibility for providing care to patients. The potential savings come from keeping people healthy, and ACOs will receive bonuses if they keep costs below a specific number while still maintaining quality.

While the authors love the idea of health-care reform, they think we’re looking in the wrong place for solutions. It should come from entrepreneurs, not the government. Because entrepreneurs are good at listening to their customers – and then reinventing the experience.

If you’re building an ACO, they ask leaders to consider the consumer-based questions mentioned in the article, which you can find here.

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There must be a better way.

While these words are in the context of GE’s desire to help improve approaches to mammography and breast cancer, the majority of us would probably agree they apply to the healthcare experience in general.

GE invited women to share their mammography and/or breast cancer experience in an open forum called For Women By Women, at a relaxing space in New York’s Soho district. They encouraged women to stop by and share their experiences on the topic with people from the medical, design, non-profit and corporate worlds. Women outside New York could chime in via the company’s Facebook page.

The outreach is part of GE’s larger, $1B commitment to cancer that includes a $100 million innovation challenge to find and fund ideas to accelerate both the detection of breast cancer and enable more personalized treatment. Ultimately, the company hopes to use the information gathered to improve every woman’s experience with mammography and breast cancer.

There are a lot of good things about these forums:

- participants are emotionally invested in the subject matter
- truly care about creating a better outcome
- are able to participate on their own time
- in conversational-condusive settings
- via conversations that are fluid, open-ended and real

They’re also replicable by any healthcare provider. And beyond the insights they provide, I think they leave a positive impression that builds real respect and relationship value back to the organization.

I’d venture to say that in 30 minutes in a similar forum discussion – whether you’re a healthcare administrator, department chair, service line head, marketer, etc. – you’d come up with at least ten different ideas to improve your healthcare experience. So…what are you waiting for?

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Dave deBronkart (e-Patient Dave) was not “statistically-speaking” supposed to win his battle with cancer. But he beat his disease by turning to fellow patients online, and found the medical treatment that saved his life. Since that time, he’s advocated tirelessly for all patients to talk with one another, know their own health data, and make health care better one e-Patient at a time.

This is one of Dave’s talks from TED. It’s inspiring, empowering and important. Please watch it, share a comment and pass it along.

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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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