Friday, December 30, 2011

Hospital Branding - A Top 10 for 2012

At the beginning of each new year, there's a Top 10 list for just about everything - from dieting to garage storage tips. So, while we're still in January, here's our list of Top 10 "Keep In Minds" for hospital marketers to improve their organization's marketing performance based on what we've read, discussed, heard, and pondered about. We hope 2012 brings you great success in the market.

1. Start with strategy. There are still too many organizations jumping right into execution and not enough focusing on "big ideas" when it comes to establishing a unique and strategic brand position. Building a successful brand is more than promotional - it includes five key steps; developmental, inspirational, promotional, operational, and cultural. These steps ensure that your brand delivers on a meaningful promise that you're making to the market.

2. Be consistent. Once your strategy is determined, stay the course! Why are so many organizations eager to change or vary their strategic direction after a brand launch? The old advertising adage still applies, "just when you're getting tired of it, the public is only beginning to see it."

3. Internal audiences first. Make sure your internal stakeholders understand what the strategy means for your organization and how they fit in. There is nothing worse than a friend or neighbor asking an employee what your new tagline means and their reply is, "oh that - just some expensive television commercial." Boom!

4. Social media is your voice, just on a different channel. This one is half pet peeve and half "keep in mind." Social media channels should be supporting your brand message, personality, and strategy. If your brand platform centers around 'scientific medicine," then you shouldn't be promoting physicals and flu shots on your Facebook page. Enough said.

5. Social media is the voice of your organization, not a staffer. Okay, not enough said. One more point to keep in mind. The personality of your social media channels should be that of the organization, not a staffer assigned to tweet and post. Have them keep their personal posts and thoughts on their own pages while keeping your channels focused and in support of the brand strategy.

6. Your website is still a viable "central source." While there's so much attention being paid to social media, don't lose sight of that "dinosaur" known as your website. Facebook posts and Twitter tweets are excellent sources to draw friends and followers back into your website for more information beyond 140 characters. Micro-sites and landing pages are terrific ways to bridge social media channels and support a specific promotional effort.

7. And, traditional media is still viable. Targeted communications on television, print, radio, outdoor, and other traditional vehicles are still pulling their (media) weight for most brand promotions. Think of these media as your "air strikes" while social and digital media make up the ground attacks. These media options still provide an environment whereby emotional and tangible connections can be made to your brand.

8. Brand engagement is a dialogue, not a monologue. Creating a unique community for your brand, and positioning your brand in your community requires a transparent dialogue with your customers. The days of just talking to customers and hoping they'll listen and buy are over (and have been for some time). Look how calls-to-action have moved from "for more information" to "like us," - now that's engagement!

9. " Veja Du" - look at your market differently. This is a wonderful concept we heard at BrandManage Camp last year. Today's organization's succeed by looking at a familiar marketplace and seeing how things can be done or positioned differently. Mix it up this year!

10. What happened to market research? On-line surveys, studies, focus groups, and analytics save time and money. But do they provide the same robust insights that customized research typically generates? We have found that the combination of the two sources usually provide the most effective data. When testing new messaging or creative concepts, there's nothing like sitting across from consumers, or behind the mirror, and hearing them talk firsthand about your brand and react to different ideas. That's insight you just can't buy on-line.

So, there you have it. Our 10 "Keep In Minds" for 2012. We got these in just under the wire, as we're ready to head into February. We look forward to sticking to these resolutions all year and hope your organization does the same.

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand development and communications firm with offices in the Chicago and D.C. areas. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or at

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Insurance Branding Pays Big Dividends and Offers Premium Learning

2011 has been a very good year for brand-building. "Backbone" companies such as Ford and McDonald's have recovered and performed well during the economic crunch. We've seen many brands effectively use and blend social media into their marketing strategies and their success is being measured not only in new buyers but in new "friends," "fans," and "followers" as well. And, many brands seem to have re-discovered the power of the "big idea" and not just the "big execution." The most memorable ad campaigns, according to Ad Age and Adweek, seem to be grounded in strategy and not just above the clouds in terms of production value.

With all this in mind, I've picked the industry that I believe deserves the "Big Dividend Award" in 2011. Drum roll, please...and the winner is, The Insurance Industry. Yes, that boring, stodgy, and price-driven category that we support every month in several categories including life, death, health, home, disability, casualty, and motor vehicles.

Why the insurance industry? Here's a closer look at some of the key players and why they have earned "Big Dividends" this year.

Across the board, the brand work in this category has been brilliant. Think about it. We have more famous spokespersons in the shape of ducks, geckos, Flo, and Mayhem than just about any other category. The advertising has remained interesting, memorable, and oftentimes entertaining. These brands have remained consistent and trend-setting in traditional, social, and digital media applications.

Year-End Report Card:

Allstate A+
  • Enjoy the television commercials and apparently I'm not alone. While the company has 42,000 Facebook "likes," the Mayhem page has over a million. Good work by iconic Chicago agency Leo Burnett.
  • The "viral" nature of Mayhem is spreading; over 17 million views of his commercials on YouTube.
Geico B+

  • Even though advertising is all over the place, from geckos to cavemen, from the "little pig" to a "guy under a rock," it's all fun and creative. The consistent use of "15 minutes can save you 15%" is classic brand work.
  • YouTube subscribers exceed 16,000 and over 36 million combined views.
  • Twitter and Facebook pages have unique personalities for each of their, well, personalities.
State Farm B
  • Nice competitive position of "rolling it all together," from home and health to auto and other." Like a big burrito! Catchy jingles and consistent use of "A better state, State Farm."
  • Strong positioning of the Agent (long a State Farm key attribute) as an expert who can help you navigate through the industry and is there for you - versus saving 15 minutes.
Progressive A+
  • "Flo" had Halloween costumes in her likeness and her own Facebook page has a fan base of over 3 million.
  • I like the use of the fictitious insurance "superstore" to position the company as comprehensive and consumer friendly.
  • Great use of new tehnology and mobile applications - its VIN Capture lets car shoppers take a photo of up to three vehicle ID numbers and compare quotes. Snapshot is a device that records customers' driving habits and rewards them with a 30 percent discount if they make the grade.
  • Results - for first 6 months of 2011, revenue is up by $400 million, according to Adweek.
Not only have these become iconic and integrated branding efforts, but add to the mix Blue Cross Blue Shield (emotional advertising and interesting on-line applications), Farmer's (strong ads), and Travelers still showcasing its red umbrella (not to mention the great dog-burying-bone spot accompanied by Ray LaMontagne's "Trouble") and you have a sleepy industry that has created a lot of noise in 2011! Aflac!

What can hospitals learn from this year's "Big Dividend" award winners:
  • Differentiation - Branding still has to help your organization stake a claim and own a unique position. Geico and State Farm are excellent examples of this approach.
  • Consistency - Whether in digital or traditional media, the name of the game is consistency. Look at how Allstate has integrated social media into their branding mix and how effective it has been. Reminder: Social media should support your brand promise and not be a distinct voice.
  • Creativity - Thankfully, it's not dead. Push yourselves and agency partners to differentiate with meaningful and relevant messages that engage consumers, not just sell products.
  • New technology and mobile applications - Look at Progressive and how the company has leveraged new technology to increase revenue by $400 million. Your hospital should be evaluating iPad (and other tablet applications) as well as new media technologies to showcase your new technologies in clinical care.
These are just a few of the lessons learned from an industry that has really stepped it up this year and put many new faces on their products and services. Even the Jolly Green Giant would turn a darker shade of green.

Make 2012 a great branding year for your organization. Best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year.

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand development and communications firm with offices in the Chicago and D.C. areas. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or at

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Rooney-Inspired Post on Patient-Centered Care

Andy Rooney died last week. An amazing journalist and beloved host of 60 Minutes, he will be sorely missed. He would start each section with a satirical question to which the answer was so obvious, just asking it would make you laugh. Many times his opening would be "what's all this talk about (insert subject here with ironic twist)" or, "why in the world would people (insert action here with absurd twist)."

A few months ago, Laura Harner - Marketing Manager at Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown, Pennsylvania - wrote this blog post for Hospital Branding in Rooney-style on the subject of patient-centered care. In Andy speak, it might have started with this: "What's all this talk about hospitals and patient-centered care? Is this a new concept? Have they been focused in the past on not providing patient-centered care? And if the not on the patient, who is the care centered around?

You can almost hear him ask these questions and, in addition to the smile on your face, put a few thoughts in your head. As the marketing manager with responsibility for the organization's brand, Laura provides some terrific insights on the growing importance and significance of customer satisfaction and loyalty in today's healthcare environment.

So, in Rooney speak, here's her post (and thanks, Laura for taking the time to write it):

The phrase "patient-centered care" seems redundant. Of course hospitals care for patients. But patient-centered care has taken on greater meaning and importance in the wake of HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) scores and their tie to Medicare reimbursements. The data are publicly reported and can be accessed on-line ( for consumers to evaluate hospitals. And these scores are causing many organizations, from the top-down, to think about the brand promise and service delivery, now that it's tied to the bottom-line. And isn't it about time!

The task facing healthcare marketers is not only delivering on the brand promise, but determining who in the organization is responsible for it. Some of the most important satisifers are overseen and delivered daily by operational and clinical support staff; from convenient parking, how the phone is answered, to how the patient discharge process is handled. The best brands will succeed when patient experience leads to high satisfaction and the classic loyalty bond, or loop, can begin. This can be a great differentiator in a crowded hospital marketplace.

It's never been more important for hospital marketers to be reminded that true branding is just as much about building loyalty as it is creating that initial patient visit. In a world where consumers have increasing choices and access to information, any brand strategy that does not include consideration of the patient experience and patient loyalty will be missing a major piece of where this market is going.

So what can marketers do to influence customer service, satisfaction, and long-term loyalty? Here are a few thoughts:
  • Don't wait for monthly or quarterly satisfaction scores. Every day, find opportunities to visit with family members to ask about the care and attention their loved one is receiving. Spend a couple minutes in a waiting area, or listen to what's being said in the cafeteria. These minutes, several times a month, can add up to be a significant investment in understanding your hospital's brand of customer service.
  • Be a "mystery shopper." Call your own telemarketing center and find out how long you're on hold or how many transfers are made. Park in the visitor lot during peak hours to learn where you end up and how long it takes to walk to the entrance.
  • Take in the environment - Put on your "visitor hat" and drive the campus and walk the hallways to see how easy signage makes it to navigate around your hospital. Take pictures, make notes and compare these findings to the comments you receive from visitors. Be prepared to respond to feedback and make changes.
  • Go to where people are today - These days, having mobile applications to pre-register and provide information is just as important as an "Information Desk." There are more portals than ever leading into the hospital aside from the front door.
  • Visit your own website - Determine what customer service strategies you can build into the site. From ER wait times to real-time consultations, websites are more interactive than ever and often cited in patient satisfaction scores. In fact, some say your website is really your true front door and the first encounter with your brand.
Andy Rooney would probably have been surprised to hear hospitals talk about patient-centered care. But rest assured, Andy, it's good news for patients that the concept is changing and formal processes are being put in place to improve the overall hospital experience. The healthcare industry is advancing the concept of customer satisfaction and making it an influential metric in hospital performance and reimbursements. And that's where hospital marketers, in collaboration with clinical and operational staff, can have a big impact. In today's hospital environment, the clock is definitely ticking. (SFX UP: 60 Minutes "Ticking" sound)

Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy is a brand development and communications firm with offices in the Chicago and D.C. areas. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob Rosenberg at 847.398.4920 or at

Friday, October 14, 2011

From I to Them to We: The Revolution of Brand Engagement

There is a real revolution going on right now among serious branding organizations. It's popping up everywhere, from many of the presentations at Brand Manage Camp (which I attended a couple weeks ago in Vegas) to yesterday's Harvard Business Review blog by Howard Schultz, President and CEO of Starbucks.

It goes like this, to borrow a key quote from the Schultz blog: "It is no longer enough to serve customers, employees, and shareholders. As corporate citizens of the world, it is our responsibility - our duty - to serve the communities where we do business by helping to improve, for example, the quality of citizens' education, employment, health care, safety, and overall daily life, plus future prospects."

From BP to Walmart, Starbucks to Southwest, the most well known branding companies have implemented Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives to either support reputation management or improve on their reputation capital. And it's not only good for our world - it's good for business. Studies show that these types of initiatives increase employee satisfaction and retention, enhance customer loyalty, and build market share. Why? Because people want to be associated with brands that have a soul.

Brand communications programs used to be about "I." The product, service, or company - with the absolute goal of differentiation and market share. Some of the most memorable brands and slogans have come out of this period. Marketers then began to conduct more research and account planners voiced their ideas that brands need to be about "them" - the customer; their needs, ambitions, and emotions. After all, isn't this where a brand lives in the first place - the hearts and minds of your customers.

Now, it's about "we" - as a world, a society, a community. At Brand Manage Camp, I heard Simon Mainwaring speak about "We First," his new best-selling book about how brands use social media to build a better world. Guy Kawasaki spoke about "Enchantment," his new book about the art of changing hearts, minds, and actions through engagement. My friend, Steve Yastrow, author and consultant is out there working with companies on the concept of "We - The Ideal Customer Relationship" from his most recent book.

Is it really a revolution? While it seems like this concept is occurring overnight, it's actually been an astute strategy from leading brands for years. The trick, however, is to implement CSR with brand differentiation in mind. A friend and client, Paul Szablowski - V.P., Marketing at Catholic Healthcare West in Arizona said recently of a current project we're working on, "I don't want to just categorically raise consciousness (about the subject). Yes, I want people's minds and hearts to act, but let's get them to act on behalf of our brand." Well said! It's one thing to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, it's another to get them to rally together around Coca-Cola.

Hospitals and healthcare organizations are perfectly positioned to take on community-based initiatives beyond the usual walks, runs, and education events. As integral members of the community, your brand - in addition to helping people fight for their lives - should be helping fight for a better lifestyle.

It is about we. And countless case studies and research reports reinforce the theory of "win-win." Not only can corporate responsibility strategies help improve the world, they can improve your brand performance. Now go teach the world to sing!

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand development and communications firm with offices in the Chicago and D.C. areas. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or at

Monday, September 12, 2011

Hospital Branding: Putting Character In Your Brand

From the Marlboro Man to Mr. Whipple, Tony the Tiger or Charlie Tuna, companies have always had a knack for "putting character" in their brands. These characters rank among the icons in the ad business and brought great success to their respective products. What made these characters successful was more than their memorable names and faces. They had unique traits that brought the product's point-of-difference to life. The Marlboro Man was masculine and cool, just like the men who smoked them (or so they thought). Tony the Tiger was "greeeaaattt," just like the taste of Frosted Flakes, and Mr. Whipple was tough on the outside but an ol' softy on the inside (just like the kind of toilet paper we like). The use of characters today, from reptiles to ducks, is alive and well - just ask the brand managers of Geico and Aflac.

So what does this mean for healthcare brands? Should hospitals, for example, create a credible spokesdoctor or a talking thermometer? Maybe...however, the need to express your unique traits and values - and differentiate your brand is absolutely essential. The character of your brand is what makes it special, it's what your organization stands for in all it does and says. The character of your brand are the ideals that permeate every aspect of your organization, its products and services. The part of your business that you would never compromise!

According to screenwriting experts, the ideal amount of traits a character should have is four. Less than three traits, and the character seems flat. More than five and the character is too inconsistent.

The same thinking applies to a brand. What are those four traits that make your brand character stand out from your competition? Oftentimes the answer lies within the history of your organization and goes back to the very essence of its beginning mission and principles...its "DNA." Once identified, the real trick is to determine that one character that people will remember most about your organizational story and act upon. As you know, it's about what your customer feels, not what they know.

When it comes to putting character in your brand, there's another idea that is gaining popularity, that of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Studies show that brands and organizations that have character in the form of a cause or charity will actually benefit from gains in market share, increased customer loyalty, and improved employee retention. Simply, people want to be associated with brands that have character.

As you evaluate your brand and determine its character:
  • Identify the three or four traits that you stand for in the minds of internal and external stakeholders. These should be unique and relevant. And not generic to the category. For example, "caring," "expertise," and "technology," are merely the costs of market entry in the hospital marketing arena.
  • Build your brand platform around a single-minded characteristic that tested most positive and motivating in your customer research.
  • Demonstrate your character, don't just say it. Bring it to life throughout your entire organization in the manner of your workforce and the matter of your environment.
  • Enhance your character. Find a social cause that epitomizes your brand strategy and demonstrates corporate responsibility.
Brand character comes in many shapes and sizes like the Jolly Green Giant to the little green gekko. But what matters is on the inside - the characteristics, values, and traits that these icons stand for and make your brand distinct. And what counts most is on the outside - the emotions and perceptions that your character creates in the minds and hearts of your customers.

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand development and communications firm with offices in the Chicago and D.C. areas. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or at

Monday, August 15, 2011

Customer Experience: More On-Line than In-Store?

At past BrandSmart conferences, sponsored annually by the Chicago chapter of the American Marketing Association, the talk around "customer experience" centered on the Nordstrom Model; a highly interactive, personal shopping journey. From handheld selections to handshakes at the sales counter, this model truly defined every brand manager's concept of customer service.

Something was very different at BrandSmart 2011. Of the eight sessions that focused on brand promise fulfillment, only one talked about meeting customer expectations the "old fashioned way" - through personalized, in-store interactions that support the brand strategy.

BrandSmart 2011 speakers - featuring, by the way, marketers from some of the top brand companies in the U.S., focused on the on-line customer experience versus the "in store" experience as the new model and metric for customer satisfaction and loyalty.

For hospitals and other health-related organizations, this kind of insight from "outside the industry" sheds all kinds of interesting ideas on how to create a positive on-line customer experience in support of your brand strategy.

Think through your brand's on-line customer experience and how it meets or exceeds their expectations and creates differentiation in the marketplace.

  • As always, start with strategy. Determining your on-line customer experience needs a context. From ascertaining in which on-line channels your brand will appear, to content and "voice," your brand strategy - as always - acts as the guiding light. Inherent to your brand strategy is the promise you're making to your marketplace - make sure your on-line tactical execution both defines and reinforces this idea.
  • Review from an on-line customer's POV. Just as you walk through the halls or sit in waiting rooms to get a firsthand feel for how your customers experience your "in store" brand, it's a good idea to audit the same with your on-line brand. Is your brand easy to access and navigate? Are icons large enough to see on Facebook and Twitter pages? Is there a consistent "voice" and personality as you move from one social media channel to the next?
  • Sync on-line content with your brand promise. Seems obvious, but still amazing how many brands lose their differentiation and appeal on-line. What a great opportunity to build into each and every on-line interaction that unique selling proposition that separates your organization from the rest.
  • Build your on-line platforms from your strategy. Marketers have an abundance of tactics and tools to use to create an on-line experience. While this can be quite liberating, it's often very intimidating. There are many new "apps" out there every day which may or may not make sense for your organization. Once again, go back to your brand strategy - assess what it is you're promising - and make tactical decisions accordingly. In reality, that's liberating!
  • Speaking of "apps," are you mobile yet? In addition to the majority of BrandSmart speakers talking about the on-line customer experience, all referenced the mobile world and how, increasingly, this will define the on-line world of the future. Look at Google's recent acquisition of Motorola! Is your brand easy to download and read on mobile applications or is it just a smaller version of your web site?
  • Not an IT issue. As interactive and social media channels continue to define the future of brand marketers, the predictable "taffy pull" is occurring throughout various organizations. Who's in charge? More marketing departments are emerging victorious as leadership recognizes that - from a customer experience perspective - it's not just bells and whistles. It's about the sounds they make and that's for a brand manager to orchestrate.
So, that's the skinny on BrandSmart 2011. Glad a few of our clients could make it this year as we all walked away with a bit of a "d'oh." The new customer experience really does start on-line and the same attention spent on in-store brand support needs to be paid there as well, if not more.

Remember that the front door to your "store," (hospitals included) is a portal. And it's not the only one where customers access and experience your brand. In the future, as in-store is replaced by on-line (RIP Borders), your brand needs to greet customers in new, exciting, and very different ways.

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand development and communications firm located in Arlington Heights, Illinois. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or at

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Target Marketing or Personal Invasion?

Implications for Healthcare and the "Loyalty Loop"
It seemed funny at first: An energetic, youthful friend in her early 60s posted on Facebook that she had just earned coupons from a well-known drugstore for products “she may need” – Dulcolax and Depends.

We all had a sarcastic “group laugh” on Facebook. I guess we’ve become almost numb to these highly personal promotions now, and the company probably thought they had hit their target.

I think they actually missed the mark, stepping over a line that we women don’t want crossed, particularly when it comes to our health.

The coupons remind us all that companies know a little too much about our personal lives. As a matter of fact, they think they know us so well that they have earned the right to make intimate suggestions.

Sure, we use the “loyalty cards” to generate discounts in exchange for sharing purchase information. But did this company earn my friend’s loyalty by making presumptions based on her age and trends? Or did they plant a seed of doubt about the wisdom of loyalty cards? Did they annoy rather than delight? Did they invade rather than target?

I’ve benefited – and so have several of my favorite retailers – from this kind of “track and promote” approach. But there’s a difference between a company recommending a pink sweater based on my preferences and telling me it may be time to ask my doctor about a hormone patch. It’s the difference between a targeted message and an invasion of privacy, and in healthcare in particular, we must be vigilant not to step over that all-important boundary.

Especially as we strive to move customers into the “loyalty loop,” we must carefully assess what our customers need and want from us as trusted healthcare providers. We are not selling Capri pants and ruffled blouses. We provide healthcare to people when they are most vulnerable. We must set a high level of customer sensitivity as our guide, seeking feedback from patients and families continually.

It could be the difference between creating a loyal advocate for our own organization and sending a new customer to the competition.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Today's Brand Strategy Requires More Lattice, Less Ladder Thinking

When media was mass, but predictable, and messaging was broad-based, not entirely personal, brand strategists could use the more structured way of developing a launch plan. One step at a time, each leading to the next, working to the top platform. The "ladder" approach.

Today, media is highly segmented, personal, and available in forms and channels only imaginable to screenwriters. And messaging almost has your name on it. Add event marketing, social media, mobile applications, tablets, community-based networking, internal communications, and customer delivery/satisfaction - to name a few - and today's brand strategist has to step off the ladder and begin thinking in the "lattice" approach. The comparison between the ladder and lattice was first explored by Deloitte as they examined the changing workplace, but certainly works in the context of brand development and implementation.

Organic, green, simultaneous, 3-dimensional, transformational, bottom-up, widespread, and containing several branches, brand strategy is more than integrated - it's interlaced and requires the appropriate structure to make it work.

What's common to both the "ladder" and "lattice" approach to brand development and implementation is "strategy." Regardless of how many outreach channels, messaging options, and networking opportunities you have to launch, there has to be a consistent platform to insure that the key differentiator, promise, and personality of your brand shines through. That's where strategy grows and comes to life. And while the translation of the strategy might vary by audience or channel, the core promise should remain the same.

How to "lattice think." Start with your key brand strategy; promise, differentiator(s), and personality. Once that's determined - and that's the tough part - the implementation begins - and that's the fun part.

Think about all the relevant and meaningful ways your brand can "reach out and touch someone." Explore all, from on-line communities to off-line communications. Map it out using "lattice think." Simply, draw it. If you write it out, you're thinking in "ladder" terms, one step at a time. Draw it out - of yourself and others - and illustrate how the brand platform can move into the marketplace, and your internal workplace.

So, how is "lattice think" different than integrated marketing communications? There are similarities, indeed. "Lattice think" evaluates many of the organic, growth (aka "viral") oriented ways in which the brand strategy can flourish. How messages are intertwined but consistently different. Media outlets are also intertwined and intersect at different points. The latter approach, not to be confused with "ladder think," of integrated marketing communications often features the same message delivered in multiple channels and disciplines. A fine line, yes, but so is the difference between doodling and drawing.

Today's branding environment supports "lattice think." Brands today are:

  • Organic - developed from the inside with promise and relevance to your customer groups, including internal stakeholders.
  • Spontaneous - the launch plan just takes off! Things happen that are planned, and not planned. You need a structure to support - not counter - the effects of unplanned activities (they are typically good). You've heard the expression, "a life of its own."
  • Simultaneous - Unlike "ladder think," brands today require an ongoing barrage of tactics and energy, not spoonful at a time consumption.
  • Outside the boundaries - what an opportunity today to think "what if!" If you can imagine an idea for communicating your brand promise, there's a pretty good chance you can find a way to make it happen.
New media, channels, social networking, traditional advertising, on-line applications, internet marketing, and all the integrated tactics such as public relations, community events, and customer relationship marketing requires more than integrated thinking. It demands interlaced thinking. And what better visual to have in mind than a lattice to make your brand strategy grow and blossom.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Going Gaga Over Your Brand

Lady Gaga came through Chicago last week. I was there. I'll let the music enthusiasts and concert goers blog about the show itself (okay, it was fantastic) while I focus on another important aspect of her performance. The Gaga brand.

We often talk about a brand in the context of an expectation, experience, and effect. Against this criteria, this brand is a huge success. The expectation is clearly visible while walking around the United Center "monster" watching...people dressed in Gaga gear from all walks of life. See, the Gaga brand isn't targeting a certain demographic - it's about a way of life that touches monsters of all ages, genders, orientations, body size, etc. Her fans are branded "monsters" to unify and engage their inspiration and aspiration for the brand. Why monsters? The brand promise is being empowered to live life the way you want no matter who you are, how you look, or what you believe in.

Every brand has a destination. In Gaga terms, it's the Monster Ball. Again, a great way to reinforce the brand promise and create an expectation among your stakeholders of the experience. And here, too, she did not disappoint. The show itself is a true branded experience. From the song titles to the stage design to the way she interacts with her audience (inclusive, personal, empathetic, understanding, and evangelical) it delivers on the promise. At one point a couple women who fit the monster bill broke down in tears as Gaga's comments touched them so deeply. She encourages you to be yourself long after the show ends and her tour bus pulls out of town. That's why, during all the Grammy interviews, she kept saying "this is who I am. This is how I dress. This is what I believe." She is true to herself and her brand lives and breathes the promise.

The result of a strong brand is loyalty and advocacy. Recently, a favorite client monster proclaimed that brand success should be gauged on whether or not customers would "protest" on behalf of your brand. Sort of putting your mouth where your money is. When Border's recently announced the closing of many of its stores, for example, there were actual protests and a mass wave of social media demonstrations. If Lady Gaga asked her monsters to protest, all I can say is get out of the way! Brand effect is also measured in repeat sales and I guarantee when her new CD comes out in May, it will break records. Another side effect of a strong brand is measurable in social media. Well, who is sitting among the top spots of all Facebookers with nearly 30 million friends - you guessed it.

The expectation, experience, and effect of the Lady Gaga brand is about as tightly integrated as any. And while you might roll your eyes or look the other way, there are many lessons to be learned from this self-proclaimed fame monster. Lessons healthcare marketers can put into practice so stakeholders and customers go gaga over your brand.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Heart of Your Brand

At first, it seemed like another story of "progress meets obstacle." A plan to tear down old buildings to pave the way for a $150 million development project in Baltimore's re-emerging west side hit a roadblock when preservationists came out in force to protect—a former drug store. Really? Then I read further.

In 1955, African-American college students staged a sit-in at that Read's Drug Store lunch counter—five years before Greensboro's more famous event at Woolworth's. The sit-in movement began in Baltimore. This is "not an African-American story, it's a Baltimore story," said David Terry, executive director of Maryland's Reginald F. Lewis Museum.

That sentence caught my eye. A Baltimore story. A seminal event for a movement that changed millions of lives and an entire country. The massive development project slated for the area is certainly important for the city's continued growth. But Baltimore—like a business—grew upon a foundation built over time. Stories of vision, sacrifice, leadership and courage give heart and meaning to the places we choose to live and work.

What Is at the Heart of Your Hospital?
Now consider your hospital's core story. Not just your advertising messages, target audiences, or goals for the future. What is the heart, the reason you exist? And what is the narrative around that story that all employees and patients understand about your organization? Is it being celebrated and nurtured?

The most successful brand managers understand the power and magic of story, which often begins with heritage and tradition. And in healthcare, our core stories can be compelling. Caring for the poor, bringing the highest level of care back to a rural hometown, opening hospital doors to an under-served inner city or, even going further back, beginning as field hospitals that served injured soldiers during the Civil War. These are the building blocks of a common culture that create a rich texture for the messages of today.

Baltimore's leaders and business developers are now seeking ways to embrace the powerful sit-in story as they move into this next phase of the city's evolution. Similarly, brand managers in healthcare must also find, embrace and nurture their organization's story. Too often, we look to the future before understanding the past. We work so hard to identify our goals, that we disregard the foundation that has even allowed us to reach this point.

Passion: Yesterday and Today
At Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN), their founder's passion for better community-based healthcare lives on today in their tagline: A Passion for Better Medicine. Leonard Parker Pool dedicated his considerable energy and resources to bringing advanced medical care to the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania after his wife was diagnosed with cancer. As they drove back and forth to New York City, he pledged to find a better way for his community. Everyone at LVHN has kept Pool's passion alive. Today, the word "passion" truly generates a sense of shared dedication among physicians, employees, even patients, whose stories fill the LVHN website, Facebook page and Employee Forums. At the end of each monthly department head meeting, the COO signs off with energy and stirring music.

And in an interesting combination of "passion" traditions, LVHN has also embraced the historic icon of one of their region's most important companies. The health network recently moved some offices into the former headquarters of Mack Truck, whose brand narrative —The Greatest Name in Trucks—still lives and breathes throughout the building. Given the company's depth of history in the region, LVHN has kept some key Mack Truck symbolism, and employees can point to the Mack bulldog shapes in the marble at the building's entrance; they know that the building is actually shaped like a bulldog; and bulldog tiles greet them in the elevator every day—a reminder of the power of tradition and history.

From Disney to Nike, Apple to Baltimore City, the brand story—the heart—creates powerful connections that open the doors to truly effective culture-building, connection and communication.