At some point, your organization is going to get stuck. Regardless of how successful you are, at some point, growth stalls. It happens to the best of organizations and the best of management teams. Consider Apple, AT&T, The Gap, Kodak, and as of this writing, Facebook. Your organization’s engine just can’t keep running at peak performance forever.
The reasons for the slowdown vary. Externally, it could be a sluggish economy, changing category dynamics (e.g. the recently mandated Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), or the fluid nature of your competitive playing field (e.g. healthcare partners who are also now competitors).
But just as often, stalls emanate from the inside-out, which means that they are actually controllable by management. It might be a case of leadership not being aligned around strategy, the organization losing its focus, the inability to make big decisions or inconsistent brand management and marketing execution.
How can you as a healthcare marketing leader contribute to righting the ship? How can you help to create the energy that keeps your organization, your employees, your brands and your business moving forward?
New energy sparks. Here are eight interrelated brand, buy-in, and marketing tips to help you re-energize your healthcare brand and business.
1. Revisit Your Energizing Brand Core. Every great business is propelled by a great brand idea. It’s the one asset that can align your healthcare organization around common purpose and beliefs, guide your strategy and actions, and distinguish you from competition. Without it, there’s no assurance that you’re aligned on strategy and heading in the same direction.
Consider a company called BodyMedia. They create simple, technology-based products that put actionable information into the hands of users to help them become healthier and happier. But “why they do it” (their energizing brand idea) is to unlock and decipher the body’s secrets and to put that information directly into the hands of individuals… empowering them to improve their lives. It’s a really tight, compelling and distinguishing brand story. Competitors can copy much of the functional things that reside within your hospital or health system, but they can’t copy your organization’s unique brand energy. This is your most sustainable competitive advantage.
2. Create a Mantra. A concise statement that captures your healthcare organization’s purpose and informs your everyday decisions (beyond a marketing slogan), both behind the curtain and in front of the crowd. Given the phrase’s brevity, it’s not the typical indistinguishable and highly forgettable mission statement. Continuing with the Body Media example, their essence is simply and powerfully conveyed through the outward looking phrase Know Your Body. Change Your Life. A couple of other examples include Starbuck’s “Rewarding everyday moments” and Apple’s “Think Different.”
To help you on your way to your mantra, consider those few words that reflect and answer:
• Who are we?
• What do we believe in?
• What drives and unites us?
• What will be our legacy?
3. Brand-Centric Culture. Branding is ultimately about delivering on the promise of your vision in everything you do. This starts with energized and aligned teams who understand and embrace their nurturing role. Tips for creating energy from the inside-out include:
a. Paint a compelling and tangible picture for the future that can energize the organization and inspire high levels of optimism, engagement, and performance. b. Ensure your branding strategy binds the organization together while supporting individual hospital and service line identities, answering the question, “What do we (all of us and each of us) stand for?”
c. Equip Leadership, Directors and Managers to champion to all employees, your future vision and brand positioning. d. Establish on-going, two-way communication processes to check progress, communicate successes, solve implementation problems, and sustain enthusiasm. e. Utilize all available formal communication vehicles to inform, inspire, and engage internal audiences.
At the end of the day, your people – not brand manuals – are the only way to truly maximize your healthcare organization’s brand energy.
4. Change Your View. Look to outside categories and brands for new inspiration. Consider beliefs: how customers understand and relate to the “why” (the meaning and purpose) of brands like Apple and Virgin, beyond what they do. Consider behaviors: how brand beliefs can be powerfully demonstrated beyond words alone (e.g. Mayo). Consider bonding: how consumers want to be part of a brand’s promise and experience (e.g. Ritz-Carlton). Consider benevolence: thinking beyond functional brand benefits to making the world a better place (e.g. Method Cleaning Products). And consider bold: how you might change the rules and create a clear alternative to existing choices and practices (e.g. Innocent).
5. Ask Better Questions. Obvious questions yield expected answers that are more affirming and validating. Better questions peel away the outer layers of an issue to reveal new things about the category, company, customer, connections and communication – to yield inspirational new insights and ideas. They provide answers that lead you to “I never thought about that in this way before”, “never imagined they looked at their world this way before”, “never imagined we could provide value this way before.”
6. Marketing That Matters. How does your healthcare marketing in and of itself add value to customer’s lives? Your communities and prospective patients don’t really care about the narrow view of what you have to offer. They care deeply about their broader view of what you can do for them. Consider:
• their aspirations vs. your functional benefits
• their desire for participation vs. your desire for attention
• their desire to engage by doing vs. your selling
• their desire for community vs. your transaction focus
While “image” alone used to sell, and ads used to be at the center of the marketing universe, today’s playbook is driven by the idea of actions speaking louder than words. The most important question to ask of your brand is what can be its place in people’s lives?
7. Social beyond social media. Social media has forever changed how your audiences interact with, and thus their expectations about the relationship they have with, brands. They expect more transparency, purpose, conversation and connection. But while healthcare marketing has taken more of a wait and see approach relative to other industries, patient and community expectations have not. Because people are people – regardless of whether you characterize them as patients or communities.
Even though you might just be getting into the game, healthcare marketers must now begin to think beyond “social media” as a channel. Integrating the tenets of “social” into all that you do to create value for your patients, communities and organizations. Because regardless of vehicle, they’re expecting to converse, connect and contribute.
Ask yourself, how can you create and propagate genuine and meaningful cross-channel conversations? That let them interact with, and through, your healthcare brands? On their terms, in their (not your marketing) language.
8. Purpose Beyond Profit. The Method Cleaning Products brand competes with many established cleaning brands. But they stand apart based on their “caring beyond cleaning” point-of-view. Case in point, have a look at Method’s “the humanifesto.” As people against dirty, it lays out the company’s sixteen stances that underscore their story, beliefs and promises.
Method is actually a very relevant role model for your healthcare marketing efforts, and to your organization at large. Today’s customers (your patients and communities) expect an organization they do business with to be more intentionally purposeful. To stand for something that inspires and motivates people on the inside and outside of your business. In turn, and the proof of this is reflected in real business returns, customers are willing to reward them with share of mind and wallet.
The future of your business hinges on thinking about the sweet spot between your purpose and profit. What can genuinely put your organization at the heart of your customer’s world? How can your purpose link to progress in the communities in which your organization operates?
In healthcare, which is so local to begin with, you have an inherent advantage to dovetail with your customers’ world and invite employees and customers to take part in the vision. Know that you are defined by what you do, not what you say. It’s the difference between delivering a promise (through message) and delivering on a purpose (through actions).