January 05, 2016

Healthcare, as an industry, is uniquely positioned to create powerful social innovation by virtue of the connections between patients, as well as within the community of doctors. The fact that there are almost no good examples of social healthcare brands cannot be written off purely to FDA regulations (or the lack thereof) in this area. The root of the issue is a lack of understanding of how social and technological innovations really affect culture, and how marketing needs to reflect it. A presence of social platforms is a far cry from an understanding of what it is to be a social brand.

Understanding the sociological impact of innovation

Trying to understand social brands by looking at their Facebook and Twitter presence is like trying to understand American culture by staring at the engine of an automobile. The greatest impact of any technological innovation is on things usually well beyond the area of innovation.

The automobile’s impact on society went far beyond mobility. It led to new urbanization patterns across cities, suburbs, and industrial hubs, and hugely influenced family structure, values, and popular culture. The farthest-reaching sociological impact of the invention of the internal combustion engine is not visible unless we lift our heads up from under the hood of the car and see how it has shaped society.

The 160-character digital automobile

Similarly, when SMS (Short Message Service) was first developed as a 160-character framework for communications (presented to the European standards GSM group in 1985, and first commercialized in the United Kingdom on Vodafone networks in 1993), little did its creators realize that they were laying the technological foundation for a new language that would shape all contemporary social interactions. SMS has reshaped not only how we communicate, but also how we think.

The abbreviated, “to the point” nature of communications has reduced attention spans and made formal modes of addressing people (“dear,” “to whom it may concern,” etc.) and signing off (“sincerely,” “yours truly,” etc.) seem obsolete. Consider also the rise of the emoji, a language unto itself, with puns, humor, and metaphor. I rest my case that texting has reshaped language and, if language is one of the key functions that differentiate cultures, then because of texting, the culture of future generations is distinctly different from that of past ones.

What makes a brand social? Not a Facebook page or a Twitter account

Being social requires more than a social media presence. Above all, it requires you, a social entity with a face, a personality, a human consciousness with opinions, and an ability to inform and respond to other opinions, and to change and reflect. Forget brands; if a human being were to behave like a stagnant, two-dimensional character who repeated three key messages endlessly, very soon people around them would regard them as less human, let alone social. When we see such characters on film, we call them flat characters. When we encounter them in life, we call them bores.

Three critical questions qualify a brand to be a social brand:

1. Is the brand an innovator or innovation led?

2. Is it a brand that informs, not merely sells?

3. Are the brand’s communications informal, or aligned to the language of those it engages?

Brands should inspire instead of convince

Many of the world’s most powerful brands would qualify on all three of these criteria. Brands such as Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, McDonald’s, GE, and IBM (which has a fascinating focus on Watson, the artificial intelligence platform named after its inventor), embrace the power of being a social brand to inspire, instead of convince their customers to purchase. They also mostly happen to be in the technology and consumer packaged goods space.

For those of us working in the healthcare and financial sectors, let’s take it upon ourselves to light some social branding candles in this darkness.    

About the author: Prodeep Bose, EVP, Customer Engagement Strategy, The Bloc
Courtesy of mediapost


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