Thursday, December 30, 2010

Five Reasons to Measure Your 2011 Wellness Program’s Marketing.

This is not about bottom-line results. Not about the contribution of wellness efforts to company health benefits cost-cutting. It’s about quantifying how your internal wellness marketing is doing – the top five reasons to be measuring.

Reason #1: So management can tell stakeholders the good ROI news about wellness.  Even though you’re thinking, “This one’s a no-brainer,” setting up metrics to deliver hard evidence that your firm’s growing investment in wellness programs is paying off is Marketing 101. Whether you’re a marketer or not.*

Writing in Managed Healthcare Executive last March, Kimberly Bonvissutto reported a survey that found 27% of companies do NOT measure the outcomes of their wellness programs. And 65% have no measurable goals for their wellness initiatives.

Without measuring, how are you going to know how you and your program are doing? Proof of performance is seriously important whether you call what you’re doing wellness promotions, or marketing, or just plain “my job.” Fine. Maybe it is a no-brainer – but you still have to work at it.

Reason #2: So you can learn which incentives worked – and which failed miserably. Incentivizing participation does work wellness wonders. It’s been noted that, across a variety of large and small company programs, incentives run the gamut:

…from lower deductibles and copays, which can move a population toward healthier behaviors in the long run, to cash or gift cards, which might drive short-term, immediate behavior, such as participating in a seminar or challenge.

Prove to management that some incentives performed better than others and you’ll have the opportunity (in theory) to keep fine-tuning…and build better participation.

Reason #3: So you can tell people you told ‘em. Several clients have told me that employees occasionally complained, “…the company didn’t tell me” about this or that element or requirement of a wellness program. These clients keep track of the frequency of employee communications about wellness in great detail. So they were able to quote exactly when the complaining employee got communications. And in what formats, too: online communications, print, audio-visual, seminars, and so on.

Do not underrate the self-satisfaction value of told-you-so!

Reason #4: So you can convince people that change is possible. This is the dream goal. The biggest roadblock to employees’ adopting wellness activities is their unwillingness to change their behavior. Of course, this is connected to a lack of commitment by employers – employees will know this. There’s more to measurement here than numbers. Prism Design principal Susan Reeves says:

It's a long process to effect change of people’s behaviors. We need examples, stories to help us marketers, and employees understand realistic results.

Without quantified results, though, you can’t demonstrate change…and changed behaviors is how you prove [3] to everyone that this marvelous wellness thing can in fact be done. Here the stakeholders are both employees and company managers or owners.

Reason #5: So you’ll have something to show for your own efforts. Certainly, as one of the people responsible for promoting your firm’s wellness programs to employees, it’s your goal.

*It’s possible marketing is not actually in your job description – you could be a Human Resources professional or a Corporate Benefits administrator. But demand for program measurement is growing. Maybe my five reasons will give you grounds to add marketing metrics to your wellness roadmap...and pat yourself on the back.

Graphic: Wiki Commons, with thanks.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Oil closed over $91/bbl today? Bring on 2011!

Oil is such a volatile issue in America and the world. Oil and gas markets are complex, sources are controversial and opinions of how we produce natural gas or petroleum products are never ever moderate.
By mid-summer (June 29), reported: According to Market Strategies’ E2 (Energy + Environment) Index, which measures consumer perceptions of the energy industry’s economic contribution to the US economy, environmental performance and credibility on environmental issues, the oil industry’s image has plummeted from a score of 40 in December 2009 to 30 in June 2010 – a 25 percent decline in six months.

The energy industry itself can be…deprecatory. Remember the ’84-’85 bumper sticker? “Lord, send us another oil boom – we promise not to screw it up next time.”

I have created marketing and advertising programs for the energy industry for quite a while now. I’ve branded in it, direct-mailed about it and built websites for its participating companies and corporations. Why, I’ve even written blog posts about it, like the crisis communications piece here. So I know that the need to market in the energy industry today has never been stronger...even during challenging times.

The amount of information about new opportunities, products and services in “energy” continues to grow overwhelmingly – that calls for marketing programs to focus attention efficiently, to find qualified prospects and long-term customers for everything from seismic interpretation software to the lubes for drill collars and tool joints operating under extreme conditions.

Marketing to the ‘patch means creating compelling arguments in favor of new technologies, or innovative ways to improve old ones, in old fields and new fields, from the wellhead to the refinery and way beyond. It means advocating for drilling permits when the Feds have a serious case of the slows, just like ATP Oil & Gas is doing now.

The energy industry powers the creation of American jobs, upstream and downstream. Whether it’s in recruitment or safety training or healthcare benefits, every one of these people demands and deserves effective communications, with social media leading the list of new-tech methods.

Here at year-end, Signalwriter is cheerleading. Thanks to my energy industry clients for the work this past year. Today oil closed at $91+ a barrel. I’m looking forward to what’s coming next.

PS: If you feel like you need a new bumper sticker, let me know and I’ll see what I can do...RLB.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hoping Christmas ‘10 Is Way Merrier – and Wishing You a Super-Fine 2011.

I read that North Carolina artist Joseph Cudd roughed out the designs of these “Winter Holiday” stamps by hand, then fine-tuned them via computer, just so the United States Postal Service™ could deliver them to the public in October, 2009.

Out came USPS with the 44-cent reindeer, snowman, gingerbread man and toy soldier without really knowing just what kind of business and economic conditions we the “public” were going to see here in that year, and in this one too.

It’s possible to use each of these wonderful winter figures to underscore our challenges:
 “It never reins but it pours, deer!” for example.
 “That’s the way the (gingerbread) cookie crumbles.”

And let’s get real: that’s not a “toy soldier” lower right – that’s a nutcracker. (Know what I mean?)

I’m soliciting more holiday puns from you, based on these stamps – I’ll post them in the COMMENT section if and when you send them in.

Much more important, this display is Signalwriter’s own way of wishing all of you – clients and colleagues, family and friends and utter strangers – a wonderful Christmas season and an outstanding year ahead.

My life’s been filled with pleasure and delight thanks to the part you’ve played in it.  Thanks to you, I’ve had another year’s worth of meetings, adventures, programs, visits, conversations, developments and successes; an entire 12 months of engagement, with laughter (and beer) on the side.

In this fine Houston, TX season where the only snowflakes appear on stamps…the very best of everything to you and yours!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wellness Centers of America Launches – Using Blue Sky (and Wong and Me)…

With its first retail location opening soon, Wellness Centers of America reached out to Blue Sky Marketing for the go-to-market strategy and point-of-sale programs that’d power its initial launch and deliver success.

Blue Sky principal Michelle LeBlanc has focused on independent marketing strategic planning and business development. That’s just what she brought to the new program for Wellness Centers of America (called WCOA for the rest of this post). At the same time, LeBlanc had to meet the retail launch deadline with plenty of marketing communications executions, including TV, point-of-sale and marketing handouts.

For these, LeBlanc tapped Betty Wong Creative (Betty Wong) and Signalwrite Marketing Communications (c’est moi: Richard Laurence Baron) to develop initial graphic design platforms and copy positions.

I’ve been working on wellness projects and programs for the past 20 years. Only very recently have strong figures and trends been available to underscore the value of what some people describe as “the positive health of an individual as exemplified by quality of life.” The last time I covered wellness on this blog, I noted:

…wellness needs to be marketed as effectively as possible, from the aging of the American workforce to our cultural search for the Fountain of Youth.

This is under way with WCOA: effective wellness marketing at retail. I’ve had the opportunity to work under Blue Sky’s direction on WCOA branding and key selling points from the outset. You can see some of the POS expressions created by Wong and me at the top of the post.

There’s more: Dave Henry of iFilmProductions created TV in time for the Grand Opening, using personal-approach video storytelling to convey WCOA’s “Five Pillars of Wellness” offer.

The TV spot’s now running in the Atlanta area. The initial WCOA location is open in Deerfield Place Shopping Center – that’s in Alpharetta, GA, a northside ‘burb. And the entire effective retail marketing effort is supported by bright, fresh creative – including Wong’s sunny new logo mark.

Thanks to LeBlanc, Wong, Henry and WCOA for letting me play a role in this new retail effort. Believe me, promoting wellness is worth it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cream of Wheat Advertising Proves A Couple of Timeless Truths.

That phenomenal Minnesota snowfall? The one that crushed the 580,000-pound, Teflon-coated, inflatable fiberglass Minneapolis Metrodome roof? My first non-sports-guy thought was, “Where are the Timberwolves going to play?” Then I realized that this stadium was where the Vikings hang out.

Still, I could have sworn I’d seen an ad years ago for…what? Wolves? Cereal? Sure enough, I searched my shelves and found the art work in a superb book. The Nabisco Brands Collection of Cream of Wheat Advertising Art started 30 years ago, when archivist David Stivers discovered that Cream of Wheat (which became part of Nabisco in ’62) had kept detailed records of each and every piece of art, illustration, photo and media schedule.

This led to re-discovering the artworks themselves, 1,600 pieces that “included original oil on canvas, oil on board, watercolors, sketches, premiums and proofs.” It is a superb book that dramatizes just how much “art” went into advertising in the so-called old days.

In one sense, it was one of advertising’s golden ages, when a major company could line up and use work from some of the most accomplished painters of the day – which stretched from 1902, when the Cream of Wheat Company dedicated $10,000 to its first ad budget; to 1962. During the first few decades, EV Brewer, Katherine Richardson Wireman, the incomparable Roy Frederic Spreter and Maud Fangel, among many others, contributed to the Cream of Wheat advertising pool.

Oh, you’re thinking: Nowadays it’s all stock photos and royalty-free illustrations, not much chance to commission and use such superb artists and illustrators on contemporary work. But that’s not the complete case. In fact, some features are kind of...timeless.

There are just as many – if not more – fine artists crossing media today. Perhaps more. The illustrator working right now on her computer is just as accomplished as a Brewer or a Rockwell in his studio. And clients can be persuaded (depending on the company and the market) to go with custom work.

Even going through the Cream of Wheat advertising art collection, you can see how the company used the same images repeatedly in different ad formats and media – even if they were commissioned. Copyrights and usage agreements? Hah! Opportunity and appearances in national magazines and newspapers. You betcha.

Because of the weekend’s Minnesota snow, I picked the wolves as the art appeared in Stivers’s book. It’s “The Yukon Freighter” by NC Wyeth, created in 1908. It was the great artist’s third painting for cereal adverts. The 40” x 35” oil-on-canvas earned Wyeth $500. Truth!

Friday, December 10, 2010

After Refreshments, Lucy Moves from Drafty Studio into Good Home.

Howard Sherman scored a residency several months back at Vermont Studio Center, the self-described “…largest international artists’ and writers’ Residency Program in the United States.”

Off he went to the northern Green Mountains (having been awarded a grant by the Dedalus Foundation). When he came back he had a whole new line of works: Blind Contour Lines, Marker on Paper 2010.

Which he showed off in early October at his studio. His invitation pronounced:

My recent residency gave me an opportunity to grow and experiment in unusual ways. My intention was to spend my time there painting. Upon arrival, my plans changed. Using the figure as a point of departure, I ended up investigating drawing in new ways. I'd love for you to stop by my studio to see the results. Refreshments will be served.

We went to see. Consumed refreshments. And enjoyed the work – so much that we purchased one, which apparently is a hard habit to break; it reinforces our status as “multiple Sherman collectors.” (Maybe some day he’ll list The Baron Collection on his Biography page, huh?)

“Lucy,” just arrived via the McMurtrey Gallery frame shop, is now at home. The black-and-white effect is a departure from Sherman’s advancing work which is filled with color explosions. But the line is all the artist’s. Pretty soon, we’ll figure out just where she’ll be hanging. Meantime we’re enjoying the new piece, thank you Howard!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Why Is It We Can Rescue a Minion but Not Save Face?

Whether it’s to the specific credit of the writers or the directors of Despicable Me, I’d like to extend my personal appreciation to all of them for saving the word minion. What Group 243 couldn’t really do for Domino’s Pizza and the Noid, this movie will do, I hope, for the rising generation of youngsters: offer them an excellent epithet.

Let’s review. Here’s a pointed English word (even if it comes from French) that means a servile or fawning dependant, a cringing agent – mainly of evil. It’s quite different than henchman, you know. Any Chicago politician can have henchmen. Being a minion demands somewhat more class.

Not to put too fine a point on it, minion started out meaning, “a beloved object, darling.” This was about 500 years ago. It didn’t take more than a couple of centuries, however, before Jonathan Swift was writing, “I had no Occasion of bribing, flattering, or pimping, to procure the Favour of any great Man, or of his Minion” (1726). You know, once Swift starts stabbing, there’s no turn back to the side of light; minion as “creature” is where we’re at today.

Nevertheless, the word will come back into everyday use – I believe this after seeing a photo of a costumed minion (from the movie, you understand) on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

I bring this whole thing up because a certain well-known social network intends to get a registered trademark on a largely innocent four-letter word soon – unless that WKSN is stopped by public outrage. Which seems to be in rather short supply at the moment. On this particular issue.

Can someone from the movie industry please step forward and assist?

The animated movie trailer notes, “To take over the world, you need an army of ruthless, menacing minions.” To save a great word, it takes a Hollywood studio.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Hanyel Helf, the Hanukkah Visitor, Comes to Every Jewish Boy and Girl.

Listen, Hanukkah begins tonight. And for you that means a…story!

For centuries, children have gathered around their elders hoping to hear about the holy holiday forebear that today is a great big secret while we publicly celebrate our Festival of Lights with the menorah and such like. (“Forebear” is like “ancestor.”)

This Signalwriter post isn’t about the eight-day celebration commemorating the rededication of Jerusalem’s Holy Temple 2,200 years back. It’s not about the strength of the Maccabees whose fight led to that triumph – read all about that in the Talmud – nor the story of the oil that miraculously lasted for those eight days.

No, not even about the menorah and the dredl, though both of these are part of the real story of our celebration.

This is about the Hanukkah Visitor, Hanyel Helf – the angel of Hanukkah who has come to good Jewish boys and girls in the alleys of ancient Judean cities and the 19th Century shtetls of Eastern Europe, in New York’s Riverdale today and, yes, even in Texas. (Although you may not believe this.)

Hundreds of years before some jolly fat man was jammed into a red suit to become a mostly secular Christmas figure, Jews have known Hanyel Helf and kept him secretly in their hearts.

Maybe that’s because he could be an Angel of the Lord. Literally. Hanyel (Hebrew: הניאל‎, “Joy of God” or חַנִּיאֵל‎, “Grace of God”) is frequently identified as one of God’s seven archangels.

Now whether Hanyel Helf is really an archangel or even a man, well, the ancient sources are silent. But still, she or he is with us every day that Hanukkah is celebrated, visiting Jewish homes throughout the world.

He searches out each one of us – particularly the boys and girls – by the light of his menorah. (I told you I’d get back to this.) Then…then he spins the dredl.

Alright. Why does he spin the dredl? To determine just how you will be rewarded, or what you’ll be asked to contribute, in the Hanukkah days ahead. There are four Hebrew letters, right? Nun stands for the Yiddish word nisht or nichts (“nothing”). Hei stands for halb (“half”). Gimel for gantz (“all”) and Shin for shtel (“put”). Think of this as balancing out your life with rewards and contributions. No-Limit Texas Dredl doesn’t count although it’s good practice.

According to the scholars, Hanyel is supposed to be numbered among the Order of Principalities. Batting third in the angelic standings, the principalities are supposed to be caretakers over every nation on earth. So a little sharing doesn’t hurt that mission at all. That’s where the other name comes in – Helf or Helfe, for helping. Yes, that part’s Yiddish, sue me.

Not Santa Claus, see, but Hanyel Helf.

In what form will Hanyel Helf visit this Hanukkah? A literal angel of light and beating wings? An Iraq War veteran? A shaineh maidel? A deeply religious Hasid? It is possible you won’t immediately know Hanyel Helf when he comes. That’s alright, he will know you.

And so…happy Hanukkah!

*NOTE 1: The one-day world-spanning travels of Santa Claus are properly revealed as early High Church one-upmanship – it takes an archangel of God eight days to visit all the Jews and we are far fewer in number.)

NOTE 2: Oh, oh – can’t have Hanyel Helf visiting without a joke. A woman goes to the post office to buy stamps for her Hanukkah cards. She says to the clerk, “Please let me have 50 Hanukkah stamps.”

The clerk says, “What denomination?”

The woman says, “Oh my God, has it come to this? Give me 6 Orthodox, 12 Conservative, and 32 Reform.”

Thanks to Harry’s Black Hole for this, not such a fancy website but really funny jokes. Top photo: Group of Jewish Children with a Teacher, 1911, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. Bottom: Shabbat, © Rob Swanson,