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Monday, September 28, 2009

How Do You Know When You Have a Brand?

At an Innovator’s Studio work session for Chief Marketing Officers, someone asked guest catalyst Kent Seltman (recently retired Mayo Clinic CMO) about the difference between a brand and a well-known name.

“You know you have a brand,” said Seltman, “when you can leverage it to gain something.” It’s a great insight, and poses a question that healthcare CMOs should stop to ponder: is your brand an asset that can be leveraged for competitive gain?

Many health systems have invested in brand building. Some have succeeded in creating stronger brand identity. A few have improved market position. Only a handful have fully realized the substantial, measurable advantage of a fully activated brand strategy:
  • Strong brands influence consumer choice
  • Strong brands attract and retain the best talent
  • Strong brands create contracting, partnering leverage
  • Strong brands shape referral patterns
  • Strong brands build customer loyalty
  • Strong brands better weather economic cycles

On his blog, author Seth Godin described a marketing asset as a “tool or platform, something you can use over and over without using it up. In fact, it’s something that gets better the more you invest. Running an ad is an expense. Building a brand people trust is an asset.”

Godin goes on to explain that Amazon’s marketing assets are two: “a brand people trust, and a one-click shopping relationship with 50 million people.” Can you boil down the essential elements of your brand’s competitive strengths in such a distinct fashion?

The charge to CMOs is an unwavering focus on driving growth – a great brand provides powerful leverage to do so.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Regaining Trust is Prime Objective for Big Brands

“In the world of branding, trust is the most perishable of assets.” So begins the lead article in Business Week’s September 28, 2009 special report on 100 Best Global Brands. The story here is that consumers have lost considerable trust in brands – and in business overall – in the economic tailspin of corporate greed, recession, job losses and tanking home values.

Not surprisingly, financial services and automobile brands tanked. And other long-respected brands – Starbucks, Sony, Harley-Davidson and Dell dropped in the rankings. Google and Amazon were the big winners, having gained 25% and 22% respectively in brand value since 2008. Other winners included Zara, Nestle, Apple, H&M and Ikea. Coca-Cola still holds the #1 post, followed by IBM (#2) and Microsoft (#3).

Smart CMOs are going on the offensive to restore reputations – and brand value. “Trust and transparency” are key areas of focus according to McDonald’s global chief marketing officer Mary Dillon (McDonald’s rose from #8 to #6 in the rankings). Companies like Ford, American Express, and others are re-engineering their marketing departments to embrace new media and leverage digital tools to listen, reach and engage consumers in new and open forums. They are rediscovering the strategic value of public relations and pumping up PR budgets. Investments in social media are eclipsing other marketing initiatives.

So what can healthcare CMOs take away from this news?
  • Brand is a critical lever for growth, profitability and competitive performance
  • Consumer values and behaviors toward brands are changing
  • Trust in the brand – in the company – is paramount to success
  • Reach and frequency may not be as effective as listening and engaging
  • Marketing resources are shifting from production and placement to people and places

It’s a great time to watch CMOs that are stepping up as ‘chief brand stewards’ and accepting the charge to lead companies into a new consumer world, restore trust and turn the tide on economic performance. Lots to learn.

Guest Blogger: Chris Bonney

You Talkin to Me?

We know that consumers aren’t all alike, that different consumers have different value to us, and that they have different interests and expectations.

Then why do so many marketers continue to speak to them in the same voice or the wrong voice?

Over the years I’ve reviewed or evaluated hundreds of advertising campaigns. Some have been exceptionally good. But a lot of them—at least half or more—fly completely past the non-verbal consciousness of the target audience, that recess of the brain where you want your name to be planted, because they don’t know enough about the target audience to know how to talk to and connect with them.

In the 1980s most hospitals settled on women as the primary target audience. Hospital ads that had once included a rainbow of faces, ages, genders and races began to be populated instead by scenes featuring clusters of “girlfriends” and hackneyed vignettes of knowing mothers counseling apprehensive daughters. The target audience got it. They recognized and even applauded that hospitals were finally recognizing their role as household healthcare gatekeepers.

For all the sister-girl-friendliness of these campaigns, a lot of these new ads didn’t work much better than the old ones. The basics were all there: pictures of women sharing life experience; lots of information; and recommendations for particular hospitals or programs. You’d have thought they had this problem licked.

But they didn’t. Most missed the mark because they: 1) treated woman as if they are all alike; 2) they just took their old campaigns, repainted them “pink,” and sent them back out again; and 3) they wrote copy for women that assumed that women were just men in dresses.

Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:
  • Everyone resents being pandered to, especially when it comes to age and gender.
  • Women process information differently than men.
  • Women can tell when men are writing the copy. (Vocabulary and logic don’t ring true.)
  • Women’s lives are different today than they were twenty-five years ago.
  • Women’s lives are different at age 25 than they are at 35 or 45 or 55 or 65. If you want to communicate effectively to women, speak to the circumstances and emotions of life stage, not age.

Chris Bonney is president of Bonney & Company, a Virginia-based marketing research firm. He can be reached at 757-481-7030 or by e-mail at:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Peter Drucker on Marketing

Few explain marketing and the purpose of business like Peter Drucker. Here are several distinguishing quotes:

  • …the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself.
  • Knowledge work is not defined by quantity. Neither is knowledge work defined by its costs. Knowledge work is defined by its results.
  • Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.
  • The purpose of business is to create a customer.
  • A company's primary responsibility is to serve its customers, to provide the goods or services which the company exists to produce. Profit is not the primary goal but rather an essential condition for the company's continued existence.

And my all-time favorite:

  • Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two—and only two—basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Building the Case for Brand Alignment

“The New Brand Mastery: Integrated Business, Brand and Marketing Strategies to Drive Growth” is the topic title for a session that Joel English of BVK, Rob Klein of Klein & Partners, and I will be presenting at this year’s annual SHSMD conference (Orlando, Florida; September 30 - October 3, 2009). Our premise is three-fold:

  1. First, the central and foundational asset in competitive strategy is an organization’s brand and the leverage it provides to drive growth, profitability and customer loyalty

  2. Second, organizational misalignment – across operational, clinical, business development and marketing functions – is the primary cause of brand under-performance and wastes marketing dollars

  3. Conversely, brand alignment results in a powerful, relevant and differentiated brand-driven culture by transforming an organization from one that simply ‘promotes a brand’ to one that ‘delivers the brand.’

During the session, we’ll provide a multi-dimensional exploration of brand as an essential business strategy for healthcare organizations, present a framework for developing, activating, growing and protecting the brand as a strategy-critical asset, and illustrate return on investment in terms of volume, revenue and market performance.

Our session is scheduled for Friday, October 2, 2009 from 10:15 to 11:30 am. To learn more about this year’s SHSMD Conference and download a schedule of events, click here: SHSMD 2009 Conference.

I hope to see you there – stop by to say ‘hello’ at The Strategy Group booth in the exhibition hall.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Guest Blogger: Chris Bonney

Does Patient Satisfaction Count?

I had a chance a while back to speak to a group of hospital CEOs from around the country. Most came from large hospitals that are part of integrated regional health systems. Because the role I play for many of my clients is to be the consumer’s voice, I asked the group, among other things, to tell me how much impact they thought hospital food and the way patients saw their rooms being treated by the housekeeping staff had on patient satisfaction.

No one could answer this question or even speculate about any connection between these services and patient satisfaction. Instead, they asked me, “Why should we care about patient satisfaction?”

I suggested that maybe my question was inappropriate because a hospital CEO is concerned with higher-level issues. No, they assured me, that’s not it, and took me to task for ducking their question, “Why should any hospital executive care about patient satisfaction?”

I tell this story not because I believe hospital marketing managers don’t understand the value of customer feedback, but to remind you how important it is to communicate to your internal stakeholders, especially senior management, the value of marketing, the importance of patient feedback and the connection between patient satisfaction and a hospital’s position as a provider of choice.

“Choice” turned out to be the defining element or, more specifically, the missing element in my CEOs’ logic. Not one of the CEOs in my audience professed to believe that patient satisfaction has any meaningful bearing on the success of the hospital or on clinical care or outcomes. Even more surprising, considering that most of these CEOs work in highly competitive markets, not one was willing to accept that patient choice is a meaningful variable.

You might say these perceptions are the reflection of executives old enough to have come along before marketing hit its stride; a few are. But most are young enough to know better. Almost every one of them said their hospitals do patient satisfaction research. But they don’t give the findings any more than cursory attention.

I challenge you to find new ways to demonstrate the value and impact of patient satisfaction.

Chris Bonney is president of Bonney & Company, a Virginia-based marketing research firm. He can be reached at 757-481-7030 or by e-mail at:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Innovators' Studio Welcomes New CMOs

The Chief Marketing Officers’ Innovator’s Studio welcomes two new participants. They are: Karina Jennings, Vice President for Regional Marketing and Communications at Providence Health Services, Washington/Montana (; and Anissa Davenport, Vice President for Marketing and PR at University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina in Greenville, NC (

The Chief Marketing Officers’ Innovators’ Studio will hold its next working session on November 9 and 10, 2009 at the Catalyst Ranch in Chicago, Illinois. The focus of the intensive is The New Brand Mastery, which will address head-on how operational, clinical, business development and marketing alignment can create a powerful, relevant and differentiated brand-driven culture –transforming an organization from one that simply ‘promotes a brand’ to one that ‘delivers the brand.’

Whole Foods marketing executive Maggie Bahler will be a guest catalyst for the brand mastery work session scheduled November 2009. For more information about the Fall intensive call Kathy Gibala at 636.536.9443.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Another Day at the Ranch!

Here's a photo from today's session at the Innovator's Studio Social Media Intensive in Chicago. Many thanks to the health systems and catalysts that made this 'deep dive' a success!
(Our studio sessions are held at the Catalyst Ranch in Chicago, Illinois)

Follow the Innovator's Studio Social Media Intensive on Twitter

Twitter was abuzz (or should I say atweet) with real time conversation, insights and ideas generated by the participants and catalysts at the Innovator's Studio Social Media Intensive in Chicago. The deep-dive continues today. Can't be there? (neither am I) You can follow the conversation on Twitter today at

I picked up lots of good leads and links from yesterday's tweets. Enough to feed my research habit for a while!


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Brand Value Proposition: Real or Scripted?

Yesterday I spoke with a nurse who called to tell me a 'funny story.' She had just left a mandatory staff meeting where the nurses, secretaries, nursing assistants and others on her unit were called together to talk about the hospital's brand.

At the meeting she learned that the health system where she works wasn’t stacking up when it came to patient satisfaction scores. Which is concerning, considering that they are consistently recognized on Top 100 lists and are a Magnet hospital, to boot. So throughout the organization, work teams and units were being called together to learn that the hospital’s brand stood for ‘excellent patient care’ and that a comprehensive initiative was being undertaken to improve HCAHPS ratings.

At first, she told me, everyone nodded their heads. “Great,” a colleague said, “we’ve got a lot of ideas for how we can provide better care.” Recommendations eagerly popped out -- such as better collaboration and communication between the ER and the unit to create seamless hand-offs during the admission process, adjusting staffing to provide more support during the labor-intensive periods when new admits come on the unit, and assuring adequate supplies so that nurse could stay at the patient bedside rather than wander around the building to find basic patient care necessities.

Another nurse brought up concerns about four separate patient safety issues and suggested they discuss how those could be avoided in the future. “But wait,” says the meeting chair, “we’re not here today to talk about patient safety, we here to fix our patient satisfaction scores.”

My friend reported that she then noticed the managers and speakers at the front of the room shaking their heads as each suggestion from the floor was raised. “We can’t do that at this time.” “The ER will never change their practice regarding transfers.” “This isn’t what we’re here to do today.”

So what was the point of the meeting? To be instructed in the art of scripting. “Hello, Mrs. Jones, here at (anonymous) hospital, we’re committed to excellent patient care.” “I hope you found your care excellent.” “Is there anything else I can do for you for your care to be excellent?” And so on.

The whole theory, of course, being that the more they drop the word “excellent” within patient earshot, the more likely patients are to check off the “excellent” box on the satisfaction score sheet.

The rest of the shift, she reported, the nursing staff would jab and make comments to each other such as "I'm sorry to be three hours late giving you your meds tonight because the order was confused - but we give excellent patient care."

Now I have to believe that this was not the intent of the initiative, nor the intended outcome of the meeting, but something seriously got lost in translation. When the nursing team hears that it’s the patient satisfaction score and not the patient care that needs improving – well, I’m not laughing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Service Line Strategies 09 Virtual Workshop

On September 24, 2009, HealthLeaders Media will bring together more than 20 service line experts for a unique, virtual seminar featuring cardiovascular, orthopedics, neurosciences and oncology tracks. The event offers healthcare marketing executives and service line leaders a great learning and networking opportunity without the cost and time commitments of travel. Health systems can register for individual or all four clinical program tracks.

Each track is designed to deliver content on the following topics:
  • service line delivery
  • medical staff development and physician relations
  • service line organization and structure
  • subspecialty program development
  • market share and marketing

Speakers include service line executives from Beth Israel Deaconess, Washington Hospital Center, Barrow Neurological Institute, Yale New Haven Hospital, Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular, among others.

For more details about the sessions, view the conference brochure at the HealthLeaders Media website.

Tess Niehaus Named President-elect for SHSMD

Tess Niehaus, vice president of marketing and communications at St. Anthony’s Medical Center in St. Louis, Missouri, has been named 2010 president-elect of the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD) of the American Hospital Association. In her current position, Tess has responsibility for marketing, physician sales, government relations and volunteer services. Prior to joining St. Anthony’s she worked with BJC HealthCare, also in St. Louis. Tess has been an active participant in and contributor to Society events and publications.


Friday, September 11, 2009

The Chief Marketing Officer's New Agenda

Marketing executives have never had a more opportune time to better establish the discipline of marketing as a strategy-critical business competency for healthcare organizations.

The underlying basis for competition in the industry is shifting -- driven by the converging forces of healthcare reform, physician services restructuring, provider consolidations, consumer expectations, and networked information technologies. Changing economics are front and center, and make a compelling case for the role that marketers must play in an increasingly competitive industry.

What is the new agenda for Chief Marketing Officers? To adopt a market-making P & L mindset. To transform the discipline from promotions-oriented tactics to growth-oriented strategic leadership. To drive value-innovation across the health system. To crusade for customer-centered practices. To prepare and position organizations for long term success while simultaneously enhancing and growing the core business.

The imperative is three-fold.
  • First, to build a marketing organization that is strategic and focused on near-term enterprise growth as well as creation of future customers, products, and channels.
  • Second, to establish the critical relationships and linkages across the value chain (clinical operations, finance, purchasing, IT, physicians, partnerships, etc.) to orchestrate alignment to customer needs and company growth goals.
  • And third, to develop a results-oriented marketing operation that delivers on revenue growth and profit goals.

The next decade may well represent a period of signficant change and transformation in our industry. What great opportunity!


Thursday, September 10, 2009

'Energized Differentiation' Separates Great Brands from the Pack

A recent article published in Strategy + Business (The Trouble with Brands) summarizes findings from a massive study of consumer brand perceptions and the impact on corporate performance. The comprehensive examination revealed that consumers are increasingly focusing their loyalties and purchasing power on an ever-narrowing set of brands that are connecting to the public in more exciting and dynamic ways.

This brand phenomenon – coined ‘energized differentiation’ – is personified in high energy brands such as iPhone, Nike, Walmart, Whole Foods, Zappos and Axe, among others.

According to the authors, three primary factors separate high energy brands from the so-so lot:
  • Vision – how the company’s aspirations, reputation and values are presented to consumers
  • Innovation – how consumers perceive innovative design or function or content
  • Dynamism – how the brand persona evokes emotion and engagement

A critical finding of the study was the link between energized differentiation and financial earnings and stock performance. “The more energy they have, the greater consideration, loyalty, pricing power, and brand value (as a percentage of firm value) they command.” (Gerzema, Lebar)

In other words, the more energized the brand, the greater the preference and usage – and the more predictive of brand-driven growth.

The article is worth the read (click here), and will make a good journal topic for your next marketing team meeting.


Innovator's Studio to Host Social Media Intensive

Next week, the Innovator’s Studio will host a social media strategy intensive for hospitals and health systems seeking to leverage new media tools to support customer acquisition and growth strategies. The two-day studio will be held September 16-17, 2009 at the Catalyst Ranch in Chicago, Illinois.

The deep dive session has a star line-up of expert catalysts on board to work hands on with marketing, IT and strategy executives to accelerate health systems’ understanding, adoption and management of social media innovations. Among them are:
  • Lee Aase, Manager, Syndication and Social Media, Mayo Clinic
  • Ed Bennett, Director, Web Strategy at University of Maryland Medical System
  • Carla Bryant, VP, Brand/Marketing Consulting, The Strategy Group/Navvis & Company
  • Kevin Kriehn, Director, Digital Strategy, BVK
  • Albert Maruggi, President, Provident Partners - New Media/PR Consulting
  • Doug Pollei, VP, Internet Strategy and Corporate Development, IKANO Communications

“The session is structured to move quickly beyond the tools,” says Carla Bryant, “and focus on the employment of the tools in the context of an integrated business, brand and marketing strategy to drive growth and customer engagement.”

The Innovator’s Studio Social Media Intensive is not a seminar, and definitely not a lecture – but a hands-on, working laboratory where clients bring laptops, smart phones, and a burning desire to embrace new media in their quests to build future-ready marketing organizations.

Next week’s studio session is sold out. But if you want to learn more or join the waiting list for the next gathering click here: Innovator’s Studio Social Media Intensive.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Marketing Mix: Fundamental, Yet Still Elusive

One of the first concepts taught in Marketing 101 is the marketing mix, otherwise known as the 4 Ps of marketing. The marketing mix is symbolized by an equation (Price ≤ Product + Place + Promotion) that encompasses all the activities and tools available for developing and managing marketing action plans.

What does this equation represent? In order for a marketing strategy to be successful, the value of services received must be perceived to be greater than the price paid for a product or service. And value is embodied in the sum total of elements – positioning, product design, accessibility, customer service, clinical quality, convenience, brand, etc. – experienced or perceived by the customer. Organizations can manipulate any element of the equation to optimize marketing outcomes (sales growth, market penetration, brand preference, etc.).

The dilemma faced by many healthcare CMOs is that, historically, healthcare organizations have over-invested in the promotions end of the marketing mix at the expense of the other elements of the formula that create true customer value. And they’ll be the first to volunteer that this all too often results in under-performance for marketing investments.

Still, the best of marketing evangelists often find themselves challenged to bring operations, administrative, clinical, financial and marketing people together at the table to define and clarify the value proposition, and to orchestrate activities across the value chain to bring a competitively differentiated offering to the market.

Yet when that kind of alignment happens, the return on promotional investments soars.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Marketing Lessons from Bumrungrad International Hospital

Thailand’s Bumrungrad International Hospital treats more than a million patients a year – 30,000 from North America. International patients from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Americas represent 42% of Bumrungrad’s volume and greater than 50% of revenues. So how did this Bangkok-based medical center become known as the mecca for medical tourism? The answer lies in a pretty straightforward value proposition - quality, value and access - and in a management perspective that understands the marketing power of needs-based segmentation, value innovation and brand experience.

Bumrangrad’s CEO, Mark Banner, and director of marketing, Kenneth Mays, were recently interviewed by Ravi Aron, a senior fellow with the William and Phyllis Mack Center for Technological Innovation at Wharton. You can listen to the interview and download a PDF transcript at Wharton's website. Click here: Bumrungrad Hospital: Expanding the Footprint of Offshore Health Care.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Have We Banned Brand Discussions from the C-Suite?

Recently a colleague asked my opinion on educational topics for healthcare executives focused on physician integration and alignment. We talked over the usual suspects - varied alignment models, integration frameworks, physician governance and leadership, transaction issues. culture - to which she asked, 'these are all important, but what isn't yet being talked about when it comes to the integration of health systems and physicians?"

"Brand," I replied. "No one is talking about the brand impact of large-scale physician integration strategies."

"Oh," she said, "but these are executives, not marketers. They're not really interested in brand."


Just imagine this conversation if we were discussing Apple, Proctor and Gamble, Starbucks. Can you see Steve Jobs dismissing brand as an issue central to a company acquisition? Howard Shultz declaring that brand is the lone responsibility of the marketing department?

The problems lies not in whether the C-suite is interested in brand, but whether it understands and embraces brand as central to creating customer value. When the first brand question raised is "what do we call the new physician enterprise?" rather than "what competitively unique, relevant brand value proposition will this combination bring to market to grow our business in new and exciting ways" then it's clear that brand is still seen as a communications tool rather than an asset to be leveraged for market gains.

Branding is a management perspective -- the totality of activities to define, shape and deliver customer perceived value. Are we to leave this to chance after spending millions to effect physician transactions?

In an earlier post (Keeping Your Brand Healthy After Physician Integration) I stated, "Assuming the average primary care physician sees about 5,000 patients visits a year, back of the napkin math shows us that a health system with 100 employed physicians brings in a half million visits or so annually – with 300 to 400 physicians that number can rise upwards of 2 million. Now assuming that brand impressions are shaped through familiarity and frequency of use, then it’s easy to see how a large employed physician practice can be the catalyst for building – or unraveling – brand reputation."

Brands drive customer perceptions. Customer perceptions drive business outcomes. This isn't a topic of interest for the C-suite?


Friday, September 4, 2009

TEDMED 2009: Wish I Could be There

“Where do Healthcare and Medicine Collide with Brilliant Minds and Uninhibited Imagination?”

This was a headline too intriguing to ignore. A click on the link and I landed at TEDMED 2009, a website promoting the gathering of an eclectic group of scientists, physicians, celebrities, business leaders, inventors and others to explore all things health and medical.

Topics run the gamut from famed neurosurgeon Keith Black on ‘non-invasive brain surgery’ to lifestyle guru Martha Stewart on ‘transforming care for the elderly.’ Speaker bios reveal astronauts, Hollywood producers, rap artists, designers, medical researchers, etc.

Dynamic people. Energizing Topics. This is not your typical healthcare conference. But what if it were? What if our industry trade gatherings did more to spark imagination than sustain imitation?

Unfortunately, I can’t make this conference (which is just as well given the $4,000 enrollment fee!) but enjoyed the brief journey through their website. If you do go – please let me know.

TEDMED 2009; October 27 - 30; San Diego, California