Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Global Warming Of Healthcare

Back in 1999, when I was working for Time-Warner, I did a global study of kids, their aspirations, their heroes and where they saw themselves heading 10 years out.

We interviewed kids in their homes in Bangkok, London, Sal Paulo, Berlin, Beijing, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Paris, Santiago, St. Petersburg, Taipei, Manila, Moscow, New York and Sydney among other cool cities.

The big discovery?

Cell phone technology and the Internet were advancing faster in countries outside of the US…especially countries where conventional wired phone service never really came to be!

Walla… No constraints, no behemoth barriers, no stoppage points that curtailed the technology!

It was like jumping from the first quarter to the third quarter at a UGA football game with the refs sitting there blindfolded!

Now step into the year 2008…

The current May issue of Fast Company Magazine has a featured article in it titled “Medical Leave.”

Here is the lead-in to the article…

“It doesn’t look like a hospital… it feels more like a hotel or an upscale mall. The hospital’s outpatient clinic is more stylish than a bar at my five-star hotel. Instead of waitresses, some two dozen nurses tend to a polyglot mix of patients.”

These hospitals aren’t in the US.

They are in places like Mumbai, Istanbul, Xinjiang, Dubai, Mexico City and Thailand.

It’s the beginning of what is being termed: “Globalization Medicine.”

“Millions of fully-insured patients here in the United States will be connected to hospitals globally. The patients will belong to Blue Cross Blue Shield, UnitedHealth Group and other well-known insurance plans.”

And get this… the services and treatments will be less costly than treatment in the US…and that includes the airline tickets to get them there and back.

Ori Karev, CEO of UnitedHealth International says, “I think you’ll find most of us exploring this. We are a business at the end of the day.”

And the globalization of healthcare delivery is providing a forum of free-thinking…the kind of free-thinking that some folks believe is heresy!

Ruben Toral, the chief marketing director of the a global hospital in Thailand, approaches healthcare as not necessarily a social compact or a universal right, but a quality product to be packaged and sold at a sensible price.

Some compare what is taking place to the same supply-chain advantage that Toyota tapped into with its just-in-time manufacturing model.

“Hospitals are not going to spend any more money or any more time in the movement of that patient through the system than is necessary. They’re going to get the patient in, get them on that global platform, and get them back.”

Are there really better healthcare offerings globally?

Is healthcare advancing elsewhere while we get caught up in the dated system we generated during a time when global healthcare was not as advanced as ours?

Are the cell phones in India and China doing things better and cooler than the cell phones in the US?

Yes. Yes. And YES!

Aetna, with its 37 million members, last year acquired Goodhealth Worldwide, an overseas private insurer.

Atena’s CEO Ronald Williams told investors that the acquisition took place because offshore medicine will be “an important emerging trend.”

Since then Aetna has already set up a pilot project for one customer to begin sending its employers abroad for knee and hip procedures.

BrandVenture works with some super clients in healthcare that do some very cool things like Vanderbilt in its conversion of a mall into a regional healthcare resource center... like DeKalb Medical in its development of a dozen physician practices custom tailored to each local neighborhood... like Walton Regional Medical Center and its construction of a new hospital engineered around the convenience needs of an expanding suburbia... and University of Alabama Birmingham and its conversion of a smaller hospital into one tailored exclusively for Baby Boomers.

The entrepreneurial spirit combined with innovation not only drives change…it redefines the market paradigm.

Sometimes to the point of deciding that the current paradigm simply no longer exists and building the new one from scratch!

Monday, April 21, 2008

How $5 Can Kill A $100 Million Ad Campaign!

The new $5 bill is pretty cool…its got some great graphics and color too.

For so long the US treasury printed its currency in monochromatic versions of green. Sometimes people see things in monochromatic hues.

The $5 dollar bill is quickly replacing our $1 bill.

Think about it.

A Starbucks Venti Cappuccino costs about $5.

A McDonald’s Big Mac combo meal costs about $5.

Dry cleaning a sports blazer costs about $5.

And before summer’s end, a gallon of gas may eat up most of $5.

This past week, BrandVenture experienced an interesting conflict over $5… and it wasn’t with a client, or the media, or a database fielding company.

No… the conflict was with our bank.

You see our bank is one of the BIG BANK BRANDS out there that spends a lot of money on its brand message.

Our bank is Wachoiva. You might have heard or seen their commercials…they claim to be the top bank when it comes to customer service.

Mullen/LHC is their ad agency. They have produced some nice ads with nice music, nice pictures, nice voice-over and nice copy.

The conflict?

Terry Sagedy, a partner with BrandVenture went to cash a check for compensation for focus group participants. And because Terry doesn’t have a personal account with Wachovia, the teller charged $5 to cash the check.

Our company has been with Wachovia now for about three years. We have a very healthy balance in our checking account and also use Wachovia for our corporate charge accounts. We have a credit line with the bank and also some short-term CDs.

Terry has a corporate charge card from Wachovia…but because he doesn’t have a personal account, Wachovia uses it as an excuse to increase its revenue flow from BrandVenture.

I called Wachovia’s customer service for small business 1-800-Number and was informed that “the charge is just part of the bank’s company policy.”

When I asked for justification of the charge, the Wachovia customer service person referred me back to the branch office.

When I called to speak to the brand manager, I was informed that he was in a staff meeting and that he would call back as soon as it was over. I called to speak with him at 10:30am on Wednesday morning. He called me back at 5:00pm while I was moderating one of the groups.

Must have been one heck of a staff meeting.

In his message, he told me that he wanted to “discuss the situation.” No mention made of refunding the $5.

I called him back and left a message on Thursday morning. Still haven’t received any return call.

It’s Sunday night. Figured that if my staff meeting took that long, I might need a couple days of rest as well.

Interesting comparative.

Tonight, I went out to dinner with a couple of my friends. We went to a restaurant where we could sit out on a patio.

Because it was one of those “San Diego days” here in Atlanta, there were lot’s of people sitting out in the sun and enjoying good drinks and good food. Unfortunately, the number of folks there got both the wait staff and the kitchen rather goofed up.

Our dinners were delayed and when they arrived they were cold.

When we voiced our complaint to the waiter, the manager immediately came to the table and gave us our entire meal – drinks and all – compliments of the house.

The meal and drinks probably totaled around $50.

If we went to that restaurant once a week, 52 weeks a year, the total amount would represent a single digit percentage of what we represent as a customer to Wachovia.

Making nice ads that look good and sound good is something that drives ad agency revenue.

It’s too bad that not many ad agencies demand that clients deliver what they claim.

It's too bad that the Wachovia brand office can't simply call back and say, "You are right and your company is a very valuable customer of our bank. We should not have charged $5 for cashing that check. We have returned the $5 back into your account. Here is my name, please call me if you have any questions or concerns in the future."

Notice that I did not include the phrase, "I'm Sorry."

I not only respect the manager of that restaurant, but in doing what he did, he earned my commitment to come back.

As far as Wachovia is concerned, I think we may be shopping for another bank…and I promise that it will not be another BIG BANK BRAND spending a lot of money with its ad agency!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

It Ain't The Economy, Stupid!

And the psychologist then says: “So tell me what do you see in this ink blot?”

Here’s what the press sees…

“The headwinds of a slowing economy have hit a once-vibrant Atlanta radio market, which saw revenues slip 3% in 2007 over 2006.”

The press sees a lot of things through their red toned eyeglasses.

Here is what I see…

The mass media is getting shoved off the stage in favor of alternative, more personal choice driven avenues.

Rodney Ho is the author of the article. Rodney’s employer, the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) is also seeing revenues slip.

One of the Top 10 Trends in the 2008 BrandVenture Trendcast is titled “The Funeral Mass of the Mass Media.” The AJC is an example of the trend at work! Business Week reported a 9.1% drop in the circulation of the AJC in 2007 over 2006…one of the highest drops among US newspapers.

Much of the Mass Media and their Ad Agency co-dependents refuse to accept that fact that change is eminent. Some cling to their past; others channel blame elsewhere.

Rodney makes an attempt to justify his observation with the statement: “There is a general correlation between revenues and ratings.”

How did he arrive at this conclusion?

“R&B/Hip Hop V-103, the area’s top rated station pulled in the most revenue, $42.3 million according to BIA estimates…and News/Talk WSB-AM wasn’t far behind at $40 million.”


V-103 delivers strongest among younger, urban African-Americans…a niche within a niche in a city that has a significant younger, urban African-American population.

V-103 is doing to radio what Adult Swim is doing to cable television.

And talk radio like WSB-AM delivers an alternative news perspective…albeit, sometimes from a very niche perspective (Michael Savage and The Allen Hunt Show).

“Top 40 station Star 94 was the third highest grossing station at $24.4 million, but that was down from $28.7 million in 2005.”

A Top 40 station today is the equivalent to Life magazine in print.

Our company works rather extensively with the academic community. Maybe we can find a professor that will do a paper post-election based on the hypothesis that many of the economic factors of 2007-2008 are rooted in consumer perceptions largely influenced by the press.

Bet there aren’t any takers from the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications (that is still their real name!) at my alma mater the University of Georgia!

The best part of the article that offers a glimpse of what is really taking place is part of Rodney’s last paragraph: “Most general managers, averse to discussing station financials didn’t return calls or declined to comment.”

Maybe its because they see what’s really happening and wondering if its time to jump ship.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Get The Picture?

I’ll bet my BrandVenture team and clients have discussed how they are going to get me into therapy for my compulsive need to visualize and sketch out ideas.

We’ll be in a meeting talking when all of a sudden I rush out to get a poster pad and markers and start drawing cartoon characters and arrows and boxes with labels.

Funny thing about it is that after we get done meeting, all of the folks gathering around the table want a copy of the sketches.

The current April 2008 edition of Fast Company Magazine contains a feature article called “The Napkin Sketch.”

The article contains the following commentary in its first paragraph…

“Graphic expression and visual thinking are a central part of human cognition,” says Neil Cohn, a researcher in cognitive psychology and linguistics at Tufts University.

The second paragraph begins with another quote from the author of the book, The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas With Pictures

“Between information overload, globalization and the sheer complexity of modern business, we’ve got to be more visual and less language dependent in communicating ideas.”

How many people in the business world today are communicating back and forth with text messages or text Emails? At least with telephone conversations there is the dimension level of tonality combined with the dynamics of dialogue.

And then there is the generational shift with Boomer guys and their dependency upon the text articles of Sports Illustrated versus the Millennium guys and their dependency with the picture graphics of ESPN Magazine.

Not trying to be gender biased, but its also kind of like Better Homes & Gardens and Simple Magazine among the gals.

I wish I could post this blog in scribbles, doodles and cartoons.

There was a news story on ABC Nightly News the other night about how some of the Geek 20-something technology venture groups in the Silicon Valley are banning laptops and Crackberries from staff meetings.

The stimulus of the right-side of the brain…you know, the part that is visual and contextual versus verbal and literal…is required for ideas to be remembered and integrated.

My sister’s partner, who is working on a master’s degree in philosophy, has spent the last two years writing a thesis.

I sometimes wonder if academia could even handle a thesis presented totally in pictures or better yet, one that was sketched out on napkins.

Then again, when something ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Maybe it’s better when philosophical perspectives as well as MBA marketing plans exist in their vast volume of text.

And the right side of the brain and long-term memory is stimulated by actual real world happenings that we can touch and feel instead.