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Put aside your social media phobias

BY Dave Wendland

In its early days, social media meant "connecting with people." That’s still what it’s mostly about. But obviously, we’ve come a long way from those now prehistoric list-servs where we simply posted messages back-and-forth with people of similar interests and pursuits. It’s still about connecting. But now organizations use it for targeted marketing purposes, where once social media was considered the protected domain of the individual. Consumers seem to accept that it has become just another means by which brands are going to try to earn their loyalty. But these consumers have remained firm about one thing when responding to brand marketers using social media: play by our rules, not yours. Brands, that means you have to carry on a respectful, timely, two-way conversation.

This paradigm shift is hard for a lot of brands to accept. Are you ready?

Companies sometimes shy away from social media because they either believe their customers are not using it or they are afraid of losing control. Tip: your customers and competitors are engaged. Even more of your future customers and competitors will be.

If that thought fills you with fear, take heart. People talking about your brand online is a good thing. What they say benefits you, even in the rare instance when it is negative. You read that right – a negative remark on Twitter or Facebook about your brand presents a golden opportunity to engage in some “new marketing.” If someone complains, you get to respond directly – in front of an audience of thousands if not millions. You get to solve the problem, and you get to re-establish your brand in a positive light, with everyone watching.

If you decide not to engage with your consumers on social media, you may do so at your own peril. If you’re not involved, you may already have lost control. Blogs, Facebook pages, and community sites can be set up by people outside your company. Your best strategy is to set up a robust social media presence that people will want to follow instead of random fan pages that others have set up. Without an official page, your current and potential customers have no choice but to follow a “renegade” page.

Still undecided? Here are four benefits of getting involved in social media and riding the wave of its evolution:


  1. Real customer testimonials gained through social media will outperform anything marketers can develop.
  2. Social media unites and connects like-minded individuals. These people become your (unpaid!) brand ambassadors.
  3. The authenticity of a customer’s voice breaks through the clutter of preplanned (read: canned) marketing messages.
  4. You’ll develop one-to-one relationships with your customers.

So, what are you doing about it today? What are you doing to get into or expand in social media? What successes have you seen? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

 


Dave Wendland is VP and co-owner of Hamacher Resource Group, a retail healthcare consultancy located near Milwaukee, Wis. He directs business development, product innovation and marketing communications activities for the company and has been instrumental in positioning HRG among the industry’s foremost thought leaders. You may contact him at (414) 431-5301 or learn more at Hamacher.com.

MORE ARTICLES FROM DAVE WENDLAND >

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Sears Holdings posts $3.1 billion loss for 2011

BY Alaric DeArment

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — "Integrated retail" was the dominant theme as executives discussed Kmart operator Sears Holdings’ plans to restore confidence in the company after a fourth quarter 2011 that even the company’s chief executive called "unacceptable" during an earnings call Thursday.

"Our fourth-quarter earnings were unacceptable," president and CEO Lou D’Ambrosio told investors and analysts. "We know that and are taking immediate actions to address it." D’Ambrosio said the actions would include cost reductions to improve financial performance, actions to improve productivity and hiring new talent to bolster the company’s merchandising and leadership teams. The cost reductions include plans, also announced Thursday, to sell 11 Sears stores to General Growth Properties for $270 million; the stores will continue operating as Sears stores into next year, with plans to announce final closing dates later this year.

The company also will separate its Sears Hometown and Outlet businesses, as well as some hardware stores, through a proposed rights offering, which it expects to raise $400 million to $500 million. Other plans include the introduction of a new casual clothing line at Kmart directed at men ages 25 years to 35 years, announced by new chief merchant and president for the Kmart and Sears formats Ron Boire. "I joined Sears because I felt the company had enormous, untapped potential," Boire said during the call.

In addition, D’Ambrosio hinted at greater use of technology in stores in order to create a more interactive customer experience as part of the company’s integrated retail plans. "We believe the retailers who best use technology to integrate the customer experience across all channels will be the ones who win," he said.

The call was a rarity for the company, which despite its iconic status in American culture, continued presence as a major retailer and ownership of several still-popular consumer product brands has experienced a steep decline as more successful competitors like Target and Walmart have expanded. "We’re prepared to take whatever steps are necessary, from cost reductions and operational improvements to active portfolio management, to deliver an acceleration of our strategic initiatives to restore our company to greatness and deliver attractive returns to our shareholders," D’Ambrosio said.

Kmart comps declined 2.7% for the quarter and 1.4% for the year, with sales of $4.84 billion for the quarter and $11.8 billion for the year, compared with $4.9 billion for fourth quarter 2010 and $11.75 billion for fiscal 2010. Sears Holdings as a whole reported sales of $12.48 billion in fourth quarter 2011 and $41.56 billion in fiscal 2011, compared with $13 billion in fourth quarter 2010 and $42.6 billion in fiscal 2010. The company recorded a net loss of $2.4 billion for the quarter and $3.1 billion for fiscal 2011, compared with a profit of $374 million for fourth quarter 2010 and $122 million for fiscal 2010. The company operated 1,305 Kmart stores, compared with 1,307 last year.

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Study: Physicians do not consistently follow ADA-recommended prescribing guidelines for newly diagnosed diabetics

BY Antoinette Alexander

WOONSOCKET, R.I. — Physicians in 35% of cases involving more than 250,000 newly diagnosed diabetes patients did not follow the American Diabetes Association/European Association for the Study of Diabetes consensus guidelines for recommended treatment, according to a new CVS Caremark study.

In addition to the quality of care implications, because those guidelines recommend use of generic medications rather than more expensive branded medications, patients, payers and the healthcare system could be paying an additional $420 million annually for the newly initiated treatment, the researchers stated.

The study was conducted by researchers from CVS Caremark, Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and was published this week in the American Journal of Medicine. The review looked at pharmacy claims of 254,000 patients who were newly started on a diabetes medication between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2008. The research found more than one-third of initial treatment regimens for diabetes did not include the ADA’s recommended first-line drug, which is a generic.

"While 65% of the patients we studied received care consistent with the ADA consensus statements, our results highlight remaining gaps between practice recommendations and contemporary pharmacotherapy for diabetes mellitus (Type 2)," researchers wrote in the study.

"We felt it was important to look at how the guidelines were being followed to review the quality of care for patients with diabetes who were newly initiating drug therapy. However, because the guidelines recommend generics as a way to provide cost-effective quality care, the economics of this review were impossible to ignore. That makes this study the first, to our knowledge, to define the fiscal implications of therapeutic choices in a large population of patients with diabetes," stated Niteesh K. Choudhry, associate physician in the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, associate professor at Harvard Medical School and senior author of the study.

Choudhry added, "With approximately 2 million new cases of diabetes each year, if the medication patterns and insurance coverage for our cohort is representative of the U.S. population, an excess expenditure of $1,120 per patient per year would translate to more than $420 million in additional direct medication costs for diabetes therapy outside the established consensus guideline recommendations. Because the prevalence of diabetes is increasing quite dramatically, the potential savings from improved adherence to these recommendations could far exceed these estimates."

"We found significant variability in clinical practice for treating patients with diabetes," added Troyen A. Brenan, CVS Caremark EVP and chief medical officer, and head of the research initiative with Harvard and Brigham and Women’s. "As we look for ways to rein in the cost of health care, we need to look at how physicians apply practices such as the ADA-recommended consensus guidelines because they align clinical effectiveness with cost-effective prescribing."

Type-2 diabetes has emerged as one of the most significant health issues worldwide. In the United States, more than 20 million people have diabetes, and the number of Americans with the disease is expected to increase by 165% by 2050. In the United States, treatment of the disease is estimated to cost $200 billion annually.

The researchers reviewed how doctors are treating newly diagnosed patients through a review of CVS Caremark’s claims data to learn more about the clinical practices for those patients who are prescribed oral medications as part of their treatment. Because there is a substantial price difference between generic and branded medications, the researchers said a look at the economics of treatment was in order. The pharmacy claims they reviewed showed those being treated with generics spent an average of $116.10 over six months, compared with $677.20 for the more expensive therapies. That is a difference of $560 per patient for six months, or $1,120 per patient per year.

CVS Caremark has been working with Harvard and Brigham and Women’s to assist in the research of ways to improve pharmacy care. The collaboration, which has been in place for the past three years, has resulted in more than 20 published peer-reviewed articles about patient medication-taking behavior and issues of adherence.


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