The Story of John and Omar – How Customer Advocacy Builds Brands

200308966-001I was in Nairobi earlier this month. The occasion was to inaugurate Max Healthcare’s information Center in the city. I was accompanied by our partner based in Dubai and the program consisted of the usual run of the mill stuff. We had a couple of doctors accompanying us for the almost obligatory OPD’s, which were being hosted by a local medical center in the Upper Hill area of Nairobi. In the evening was a small press interaction, where all of us were to make some noises about how we expected to partner with the local medical fraternity in improving healthcare services in Nairobi and other parts of Kenya.

I was quite apprehensive about this. It is a known fact that the local medical community does not much appreciate foreign doctors landing up on their shores under the guise of OPD’s and taking away ‘their’ patients to sundry hospitals abroad. Though, I have never really understood the cause of this antipathy, (after-all only those patients will choose to travel abroad whose medical condition is such that can not be treated locally) I have been told by our Kenyan hosts that this is for real. Thus, I was a little concerned about a media interaction, where I may have to respond to some sensitive questions.

Also, I was worried that we really didn’t have much to share. After all an information centre of an Indian hospital chain is not really the most interesting piece of news even from the point of view of the news starved media of the city. When we reached the venue in the late afternoon, I was relieved to see our guests trickling in, the PR guys were busy settling the media folks down, the atmosphere was convivial and relaxed.

We had lined up the doctors to talk about their specialities (cancer and neuro-surgery), I was to speak briefly about Max Healthcare and our reasons for landing in Nairobi and our partner from Dubai was to talk about their reasons for joining hands with Max in this venture. We also had two patients, who had been treated at our hospitals and had returned home safely with wonderful experiences in Delhi.

We were soon done with our respective spiels and I could feel a sense of disappointment in the room. The journalists had come with hopes of an interesting evening and our stories had hardly set the room on fire. The presentations from the doctors were also a little technical, which too added to the gloom. They had tried hard, however for doctors to speak in front of an audience and not to lapse into medical jargon is an herculean task. The only saving grace seemed to be the booze and the plentiful food.

As the evening wore on, we had John come up to address the media. John is a cancer survivor, full of life and vitality. Earlier in the day, when I had met him he had told me about his struggle with the big C and how he had fought desperately to beat it. He had been treated by Dr. Rudra Acharya, the cancer surgeon who had spoken a while earlier. “I am here to tell you all, that cancer can be beaten, I am a living proof of this” began John. He narrated his ordeal with a great deal of emotions, the hopelessness of a patient diagnosed with cancer, how it hits you and what extra-ordinary courage it takes to fight this uphill battle. John appeared to be a man with a great deal of conviction and perhaps driven by a mission to share his story widely. He spoke eloquently about how he was taken care of by a team of doctors drawn from various cancer sub-specialities, how did they collaborate to ensure he received the most effective treatment and how everything came together in the end to pull him out from a very difficult situation. He was effusive in thanking Dr. Acharya and the team of doctors, who saw him through this very difficult phase of his life and spoke very highly of his experiences in an Indian hospital so far away from Nairobi. Soon he had his wife join him on the podium, and the two held the audience completely enthralled while sharing even small incidents that touched their hearts. ” I am planning to be in Delhi once again in February for my check-ups and this time round my doctors have invited me to stay at their homes. We missed the Taj Mahal the last time round, I sure hope to see it now” said John. He than invited Dr. Acharya to join him and his wife and both of them warmly hugged Dr. Acharya, who seemed a little overwhelmed with all the attention.

The media loved John. They were now firing questions at him and were literally eating out of his hands.

Soon we had our other guest, Omar, on the podium. He wanted to talk about the treatment of his son at Max Hospital in Saket, New Delhi. His 12 year old son had met with a freak accident in school. The child had tried jumping across a barrier, had landed on the edge and ruptured his urinary pipe. Omar had taken his son to at-least half a dozen centres in various parts of Eastern Africa. Nothing had worked till he landed with Prof. Anant Kumar  in Delhi. Dr. Kumar took up the challenge and re-constructed the ruptured pipe. Omar had been delighted to see his son recover and for him his Indian sojourn had truly been one of the most rewarding experiences ever. I had met Omar for the first time in the office of Dr. Anant Kumar in Delhi, about two weeks before this press interaction.I had told him of my plans to travel to Kenya and he had volunteered to come and speak about his experiences with the local media. Omar is of Somali descent, not only did he come over to see us and share his story, he helped arrange many Somali TV stations based in Kenya to come for the press conference. He first narrated his story in English for the benefit of the Kenyan media and than for good measure he repeated everything in the local Somali dialect for the Somali audience both in Kenya and back home in Somalia.

John and Omar both did us a great turn, though all they wanted was to help others overcome similar obstacles in their lives. They volunteered to share their stories of difficult times and their struggles and how they found comfort and happiness with a couple of highly skilled doctors and their dedicated teams in a faraway, strange land.

Thank you John and Omar.

Marketing a Hospital to those Next Doors

Marketing a hospital to those in the neighbourhood is often looked upon as the ‘low hanging fruit’ by many a marketer. The thinking goes something like this. ‘We have just started a great hospital and those in the neighbourhood cannot help but notice the swanky chrome and glass exteriors and the blazing signages on the top of the 10 floor edifice. We have world beating technology and some of the most competent and respected doctors joining us. We are streets ahead of all those who have been in this neighbourhood for years and we really do not consider them as competition. All those who have been living in this community will now flock to us.’

Honestly, this is a recipe for disaster, yet so many of us marketers are so blinded by our spanking new hospital that we do not see anything beyond it.   Continue reading

Off to Ladakh

We are finally off to Ladakh.

I have been wanting to travel to this fabulous land for many years. Somehow or the other circumstances so conspired that we just couldn’t go. This time too this visit seems to be more of a happy accident then anything else. In late July my wife and I were planning to spend at least 10 days in the Kashmir valley. However, for the last fortnight or so the valley has been in turmoil with daily reports of strikes, protest marches and police firing. We subsequently decided to go to Ladakh. The other options that we considered were Andaman Islands, Goa, The Maldives, Malaysia and Egypt.

Leh would easily be the highest place that either of us have ever visited. Ladakh is famous for its breathtaking sights, buddhist monastries, pristine lakes that change colour, barren mountains and a flourishing centre of the fast disappearing Tibetan-Buddhist culture.

We will be flying into Leh in a couple of hours. We are excited about seeing the mighty Indus. It has been the cradle of civilization for more than 5000 years. A river from which even our great country derives its name. We will also be driving on the world’s highest motorable road and will be visiting Khardongla, which at over 18000 ft is the world’s highest motorable place.

Some of the remote areas that we will be visiting during this 7 day trip include the exotic Nubra Valley, Pangong Lake, which is the world’s highest salt water lake (suggesting that millions of years ago when there were no Himalayas, this arid land was perhaps an ocean), the Zanskar River and the ancient and the unchanging Lamayuru monastry.

I look forward to sharing our experiences on this blog.