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Friday, November 28, 2008

From Brand Promises to Brand Action

Healthcare is one of the most competitive of US industries; and one of the more complex in which marketing and brand strategies are developed and executed. The growing demand and influence of aging, informed consumers, increasingly tighter integration and alignment between health systems and physicians, complicated reimbursement mechanisms and higher deductibles, widespread shortages of physicians, nurses and other staff, and challenging economics are creating an environment in which brand is growing in importance as a strategic asset.

So how do you turn your brand into the secret weapon of the health system’s competitive arsenal? By embracing the concept that brands are built more powerfully through the customer experience than through promotions alone; that great brands are created by integrated business, brand and marketing strategies.

For too long, health systems have driven brand building solely from the marketing department and primarily through a communications perspective where brand promises are created from positioning themes and communicated through a wide variety of promotions vehicles. Not because marketers covet sole control of brand management – I know plenty that worry daily about their company’s ability to live up to advertised promises – but because the broader organization has not realized the importance of the customer experience in creating powerful, relevant and defensible brands. And consequently, have not aligned services, products, processes, systems, employees and communications to deliver the brand experience consistently – every day, every time. Creating expectations you can’t meet is the fastest path to brand irrelevancy.

I propose that we set aside the idea of a ‘brand promise’ and think of brand as the health system’s value proposition towards its patients, customers and constituencies. Thus, the brand value proposition becomes the sum total of benefits – emotional, practical – which gives meaning to the customer experience and builds stronger, more loyal relationships. As Kent Seltman, now retired CMO for the Mayo Clinic, puts it – ‘our brand is built everyday on the fly by every employee that interacts with our patients.’

In the enduring lyrics of Elvis Presley, what brands need now is a ‘little less conversation, a little more action.’

Monday, November 24, 2008

In Pursuit of Competitive Advantage

The most important decisions faced by healthcare executives and governing boards are, more often than not, posed by the marketplace. The expectations and actions of consumers, doctors, government agencies, philanthropists, stockholders, suppliers, the labor market and industry at large continually reset both requirements for success and the rules of competition. The development and implementation of strategy is the principal means to create and sustain competitive advantage over the long term. It requires continuous leadership attention and engagement in ever-higher levels of strategic thinking, discussion and decision-making.

Successful organizations approach strategy as a compilation of processes to discern the boundaries of the business, redefine the basis of competition, and create an organization capable of success in ever-changing and unpredictable markets. Strategy cannot be delegated; it is the core duty of executives and boards to define the future and to lead the company, its people, its customers, and even its competitors, in that direction.

Strategic leaders – those at the forefront of markets and industries – approach strategy formulation and execution in myriad ways. Of more interest are the commonalities that characterize great strategists and great organizations, and form the foundation for great plans – among them an artful mix of analytical processes and intuitive leaps of faith; strategic thinking skills that engage discussion at all levels about the future and its potential opportunities and threats; a willingness to recognize weaknesses and challenge prior successes; a laser focus on what’s important; and a long view that is little obscured by short term and lesser significant issues.

This blog exists to explore matters of strategy -- especially as it is practiced by market-driving companies. I invite you to join the discussion.