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FUSE for Thought with Medline’s Christine Mau

Reflecting back on this year’s FUSE Design Conference in Chicago, there were plenty of topics to chew on, including human-centered design, design thinking and the value of design in business growth.

I had the opportunity to sit down with two FUSE keynote speakers to garner some deeper insights into their perspectives on some of these topics.

My first interview was with Christine Mau, Senior Brand Strategy Director at Medline Industries, Inc. and one of Ad Age’s “Women to Watch”. As a brand strategist and global creative director, advocate, and educator, Christine has built a career leveraging the power and purpose of brands with organizations, agencies and institutions all over the world. In her current role as Senior Brand Strategy Director at Medline, she leads the brand strategy and creative team, focused on positioning and integrated marketing for medical and surgical solutions to healthcare providers.

Prior to this, Christine led the global design thinking transformation for Kimberly-Clark’s consumer and B2B brands including Kleenex, Andrex, Huggies, and U by Kotex.

Christine, over the first, two days of this year’s FUSE, we’ve heard a number of references to human-centered design, Design Thinking and how these approaches, methodologies and practices can influence positive culture change within an organization.

What is your definition of Design Thinking and its application within an organization?

It’s a mindset for problem solving.

It starts at the beginning with “what is the human problem we want to solve” and engages a multi-functional team in observation and empathetic discovery to reframe that problem to its highest order. It swiftly moves into rapidly prototyping solutions for feedback before designing a solution that changes the game. That’s a mouthful… so at its core I would stick with “it’s a mindset for problem solving”. It requires the team to have an open mind, to be comfortable along the journey without knowing the destination and a commitment to sticking to the process and not shortcutting or skipping steps. I’m obsessed and rely on design thinking to guide me in everything I do from writing a presentation, planning how I will drive change, and most recently how to solve some of the issues clinicians face every day.

How would you suggest design/marketing leaders take the first steps to integrate Design Thinking in their own organizations? And with which internal audiences should they initially engage?

In order to drive a cultural shift, it’s imperative to have an advocate at the top in order to allocate the money, time and space for the teams below. If you don’t have a champion already at the top, it’s your job to describe the vision and ROE (return on effort) in order to gain their endorsement. It’s smart to start with a small project and include them in the journey so they have a first-hand experience with design thinking. Make the journey public and share the learnings along the way, including the struggles and the wins. Consider how people feel when you say “we have a new process”. The reason change can be so tough is some people translate that to mean “you’ve been doing it wrong” and that’s the intended message. So bringing that same empathy which so important to Design Thinking into how you drive Design Thinking will make all the difference.

Now, let’s talk about your role at Medline. Can you please describe a typical day-in-the-life of Christine Mau, Senior Brand Strategy Director?

We start every day with a team scrum. It’s become a little bit like family breakfast, where everyone comes with a computer in one hand, a coffee or water bottle in the other hand and we share personal stories and observations before we dig into our project work for the day. Medline is a fast paced, dynamic environment where the only constant is change.

So, in the morning scrum I help the team reprioritize the work to accommodate the latest request. The rest of the day is a combination of working with the content strategist, creative directors, designers and writers to develop clear stories and marketing materials around our different areas of expertise.

There’s a good bit of building the organization’s understanding around the role of integrated marketing as well. I consider myself really fortunate to have such a remarkable team, from our CMO, the Sr VP of Strategy and Creative all the way through to our designers, I learn so much from our working together and I’m proud of the work the team produces. It’s this supportive and positive team culture that brings me to work every day, along with a real sense of purpose for the work we do.

What is the most interesting insight you’ve learned about Medline and the medical supply/education sector since you’ve worked in the category?

It was a surprise that there are doctors and nurses working for the healthcare, medical and pharma companies. I guess I just never thought about that before, but it makes so much sense that we have clinicians helping us to build the education, practices and products for our customers. The other really interesting aspect is understanding how to talk to surgeons and clinicians. It was pretty easy for me to step into the mindset of “mom at the grocery store” picking up paper towels. It’s another thing to understand how to motivate a skeptical surgeon to try something new. After all, as patients we rely on them to have a sense of certainty and predictability to what they do.

What work around the Medline brand are you most proud of?

The launch of our Medline Corius brand. There are two reasons why I am so excited about this work. First, because our team had the opportunity to build the brand from the ground up including the naming, positioning and launch materials. Second, because the soon to be launched ART System, that sits in the portfolio, will allow surgeons to perform full-thickness autologous skin grafting in an outpatient setting and without leaving scaring at the harvest site. This is game changing for both the doctors and the patients. Game changing!

What brand/product qualities do you feel most differentiate Medline from its competitors?

Medline has found a way to maintain the agility of an entrepreneurial culture at the scale of a Fortune 500 company. Our team created an a 3-minute video to describe what that means.

As a brand strategist, how do you stay inspired? Where do you go to learn?

Exhibits, books, mentoring, documentaries, travel and conferences like FUSE feed my curiosity. I think looking outside my own categories and disciplines to how other creatives solve problems and learning from their unique approaches is really thought provoking. Sometimes I learn the most from discussions with the students I mentor from SVA’s masters in branding program because though their eyes and experiences I see the world from a whole different perspective.

Any other parting thoughts you would like to share with aspiring brand designers, thinkers and strategists?

I often hear designers wondering if they can become a strategist or strategist who wonders if they have what it takes to be a creative director. I suggest that just like personality traits, we all hold a little of both in our heads, and it’s up to us to decide which is the most rewarding. And that can change over the course of someone’s career. Designers and strategist are both innately curious problem solvers. So yes, I think it is possible if someone is motivated to do the work necessary to make the transition. I know more than one person who has done both, brilliantly.

Sincerest thanks to Christine Mau for her willingness to participate and thoughtful responses in this interview. Part Two of my FUSE for Thought interview sessions features a conversation with Jon Bostock, Co-Founder and CEO of Truman’s.

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