healtcareImagine how you’d feel if your healthcare provider treated you like Apple or USAA?

I thought of this idea on a recent post-op visit to a top healthcare provider. While the surgery was a clinical success, I wondered why my ‘brand experience’ was not. Was it my failed attempts at setting-up the initial consultation (stuck in an unending web of automated voice prompts), my inability to pre-register online (hand-written forms still required), the sharp (and I don’t mean in a good way) insurance liaison I had to engage with, or maybe my inability to connect with a caring professional post-op (online communication not allowed).

Waiting for my appointment, I pondered what they could learn from both Apple and USAA – two amazing organizations that I value and respect. Who truly put the customer at the center of everything they do and consider their perspective in every decision they make. Who design everything around their customers’ journey – processes, technology, policies, partners, rewards – so they all work together to support and reinforce delivering a superior brand experience. Not just meeting needs, but delighting customers!

So how is the customer experience for Apple or USAA relevant to the healthcare brand experience?

Because critical to your business success is understanding that your brand reputation is based on how your customers perceive their interactions with your organization – across every touch-point. It does (and will) determine whether they stay with you, what they say about you, and whether they advocate for you. It’s either you or your dreaded competition (and subsequent loss of revenue, referrals and brand reputation).

The customer experience is even more important in today’s competitive and complex healthcare arena, as healthcare consumers are finally empowered, have choices, and most importantly, have voices (social media and word-of-mouth speak volumes). Done correctly, it can be the true differentiator, lead to real profits and foster loyalty.

Now what if that healthcare provider I went to had thought about me as the center of their universe (which I should be), creating one team who understood and managed my customer journey – versus entrusting it to a series of internally driven silos that were not interdependent or supportive of one another? I probably wouldn’t be writing this post.

Below are 8 ways (adapting from companies like Apple and USAA) that healthcare providers can create change and begin to build a better “branded” customer experience:

1. Filter through a customer lens – map the customer journey, as it’s the only way to identify areas for improvement, opportunity and innovation

2. Commit to the details – make it easy to do business with you (KISS) as patients are just like us, and want to deal with providers who have a can-do attitude and will make their life better (literally and figuratively)

3. Create a feedback loop – invite and listen to what your patients have to say (across all channels) to identify the challenges they encounter and how to solve (targeted surveys, calls, social media, etc.)

4. Build trusted relationships – with ‘care coordinators’ trained to be go-to resources, assisting patients through the process, alleviating barriers, and delighting whenever possible

5. Focus on appreciation– shift from an operational focus to one that aligns around your purpose, value proposition and dedication to customer appreciation

6. Personalize the experience – behavioral data collection and analysis should be king, as insights gained will allow you to deliver more personalized care

7. Empower employees – engage them as they rule and have a huge impact on the customer experience, so make sure their ideas are heard

8. Embrace digital – allow patients to interact with you where and how they like, including information exchange using smart phones and tablets, as the lines are blurring

What do you think? How would you characterize your more recent experiences with your healthcare providers?

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Here’s an example of leisure marketers creating new customer value – as hospitality brands roll out new and more varied options for health and fitness on-the-go. For both guest and hotel, it’s a win-win proposition. For business travelers, it fills a need to re-energize in the midst of high-pressure road trips. For hoteliers, it’s a way to create more value and boost guest satisfaction at what can be low incremental cost.

Multiple hotel brands (e.g. Kimpton, Affinia, Peninsula, etc.) are centering their “healthier” offering around the increasing popularity of yoga, as noted earlier this month in the NYTimes.com article A Moment of Zen, on the Go. Acccording to a recent study released by Yoga Journal, Americans practicing yoga jumped 29%, to 20.4 million — or 8.7% of American adults — since the previous study in 2008, when 15.8 million practiced.

The newest “healthy travel” hotel is International Hotels Group Even, which is scheduled to open its first hotel this year, with a target of 100 hotels in five years. Designed to make wellness a natural part of travel, amenities will include fitness that extends beyond the best-in-class gym to in-room workout spaces with exercise equipment available for checkout, spa-like showers, hypoallergenic linens, healthier food options, signature flavored and filtered drinking water, among others.

We see this same health trend in two of the verticals in which we specialize. For our healthcare marketing clients, consumer interest in pursuing healthier lifestyles and a higher quality of wellbeing is leading them toward “well care vs. sick care” strategies. And in the seemingly very different world of beauty marketing, health benefits are even finding their way into nails and nail care.

There’s a common thread here of consumers increasingly seeking health and wellness (quality of life) through the way they live, shop and use brands. As such, we see a strong opportunity for marketers to integrate a health and wellness idea and to drive growth by executing programs and tailoring messages that relate to the type of health and wellness-seeking consumer their brand speaks to.

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It’s an exciting, fulfilling and proud day here at Trajectory, and for one of our clients – as The Reading Hospital is now Reading Health System.

We rebranded and relaunched them today, after more than a year’s worth of branding and marketing discussion, debate, planning and creating.

By unveiling a new system name, logo and tagline, a simplified brand hierarchy and naming structure, and a more compelling set of promises and market positioning that better reflect the organization’s collective vision, they’re building on their strengths to more effectively advance in the changing world of healthcare.

The new tagline – Advancing Health. Transforming Lives. – conveys the essence of the Reading Health System brand. It’s genuine to their desire to advance the health of their communities beyond “sick” care, and conveys their desire to transform lives by being a source of energy, optimism, knowledge and support.

Congratulations to our client, Reading Health System – and to its wonderful physicians, nurses and staff. Not only for the previous 144 years of service to your communities and your region, but for the many years of Advancing Health and Transforming Lives to come.

You can see our internal brand vision video, along with some of the new external marketing campaign television, on our YouTube channel.

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It’s five years from now. Your healthcare system, hospital or physician group competitive set has grown to resemble that of most other categories. The power has shifted to consumers. They have multiple options and are heavily influencing each others choices through their feedback and communities. Brand actually drives a disproportionate share of the purchase decision.

Ask yourself – HONESTLY – if this was the case, how effectively could you compete? Beyond the table stakes technology, infrastructure, skilled physicians?

Do you stand out? Stand for something? Have you pinpointed what’s more compelling about your brand that will sway selection in your favor?

Here are five ways to know. Five ways to know if you’re on the road to thriving or disappearing:

1. Is your organization collectively driven by a clear view of the future, by shared purpose and goals?

2. Do you have a clear picture of your communities, and how you (can more importantly and uniquely) help them live better lives?

3. If they walked into your front door, or the door of your website, could they distinguish you (based on this experience) from your competitors?

4. Does your brand permeate everything that you are and do – values, culture, people, promises, experiences and communications? Or are you still fractured across departments.

5. If we took your name off of your marketing, is it still yours (because you’ve figured out how to tap into aspirations in ways that have come to be identified as yours)

So…how bullish are you about your future?

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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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