Healthcare, Innovation – and bikesharing?

Posted by: in Social Media Insights & Trends on May 24, 2011
Healthcare today is almost entirely about the transaction.

I’m sick.  I do the best I can to find a doctor by asking friends and family for advice or searching online using a wildly fragmented toolset that has almost none of the physicians’ fingerprints on it.  I see the doctor (for an average of 7 minutes).  She gives me a prescription.  I go to a random, nearby drug store, where I pay whatever my insurance company decides I’m going to pay.  Hopefully I feel better.
At WCG, we believe that healthcare companies (including, but certainly not limited to, hospitals and physician practices) should be thinking about more than just getting people in the door – and then back out, as quickly as possible.  That’s what my colleague Bob Pearson refers to as “Caveman Marketing” in his book, Pre-Commerce.  What he means by that is that most companies – especially in healthcare – focus their marketing attention on two things: Awareness and Action.  In other words, make sure consumers know who you are, hope that they come in the door, and collect their money.  The problem is that Awareness and Action are only half of the “4A’s” equation that Bob writes about.  They’re leaving out 2 separate phases of assessment: On what basis is your consumer making her choice about you once she’s aware you exist?  Who’s she asking?  Where’s her information coming from?  And then, once she has transacted business with you, how is she assessing her experience?  What are the things about that experience that are most meaningful to her?  What’s missing is my ASSESSMENT of your brand (and my experience with it) both before and after I choose to do business with you … and my AMBASSADORSHIP.  Did I have the kind of experience that is going to make me come back to you for more transactions – and tell other people about you?

We were thinking like that 4 years ago in Humana’s innovation center.  A few visionary leaders at Humana decided that in a transaction-heavy business like Health Insurance, it was really hard to build any kind of lasting emotional commitment from consumers.  So they decided to invest in programs that would be more likely to meet a broader, more holistic set of their consumers’ needs … the needs that focused on creating health, day in and day out, in their lives.  That’s how a health insurance company came to create a bikesharing program for its employees called “Freewheelin.”  Freewheelin caught on with employees, and soon evolved into the largest bikesharing program in U.S. history when it debuted at the 2008 political conventions in Denver and St. Paul.

Then freewheelin evolved again – and became a standalone business called bcycle.  And last week, bcycle was named as one of Fast Company’s 50 most innovative companies.

If a health insurance company can create a successful health-based (not healthcare-based) business, why can’t other companies who’d like to move beyond their current transactional businesses?

I think that they can – and will do so in ever-greater numbers.  What are your favorite examples of traditional healthcare companies who’re going beyond the transaction in terms of interacting with their customers, patients or other stakeholders?

By: Greg Matthews

Greg Matthews is the the creator and Managing Director of the W2O Group's MDigitalLife - Understanding, Engaging and Activating Physicians in the Digital Age

Find me on: Twitter
Pre-Commerce Check out W2O Group President Bob Pearson's new book, Pre-Commerce, in which he shares ideas for leaders to engage directly with customers to shape their brand and marketplace success. Now available for order on! Join the conversation #precommerce.

One Response

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  1. Nice post. Love the bcycle program. There are added benefits to these types of programs that go beyond the people or causes they serve. I think turning health care into a human action vs. a trans-action will be one of the more popular ways health care providers can spread the word about their services – it’s good will promotion.

    Also found this – Health Care Service Corp (HCSC) announced today that it will be starting its healthy children initiative in its key coverage areas by promoting wellness through parks creation, teaching programs and mobile health vans (

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