Healthcare Branding

Healthcare Marketing: What Marketers Can Learn from the Presidential Election

What a brand promises and how a brand acts must be consistent.  Otherwise the brand suffers….. and presidential candidates lose elections.

99925228This blog is a little longer than most but I think it’s worth the read.  Jim Signorelli, CEO of ESW Partners, wrote an article for Adrants that addresses why he thinks Romney lost the presidential election.  His premise is that voters perceived too much of a gap between what Romney said and how he acted.  While Obama’s words and actions were very consistent.  The “story logic”, as Signorelli termed it, was not consistent for Romney.

The reason the article is compelling for healthcare marketers is because it makes the case that perceptions and reality must be consistent with each other.  In marketing terms, a brand promise and brand image (inner layer) must be consistent with what’s actually delivered (outer layer).  If the gap is too wide, the brand loses favor in the minds of the consumer.  It’s a lesson we all know as healthcare marketers and the truth of it can even be confirmed in the world of politics.

How ‘Story Logic’ Influenced Obama, Romney Campaign

From the early beginnings of the race for the White House, the news media seemed deeply concerned about who would have the biggest war chest. Certainly, dollars have historically contributed a great deal to winning Presidential campaigns. But given that Obama scored a 62% Electoral College advantage with only 4% more spending than Romney, the power of money has been seriously called into question.

Money buys audience reach, message frequency and media placement. Money also pays for the creation and production of messages as well as the necessary wherewithal to administer those messages. We cannot discount the importance of these financial realities.

But there is one variable that has recently gained enormous power. Unlike the other variables, it doesn’t depend on spending. It costs nothing more than respect for its existence and adherence to its demands. In part, it is driven by the new order of social media and its ability to make brands more transparent. It’s called story logic.

Story logic runs deep in every brand, including those of Presidential candidates. As consumers, we don’t see it, but we do sense how strong story logic is or isn’t. To apply story logic to any brand, one must first see the brand as lead character in the story that it sets out to tell its audience. Specifically, a brand is very much like a story’s protagonist confronting certain obstacles to achieve certain goals.

Both story protagonists and brands are multi layered. Their surface, or outer layers, contains visible behaviors. In the example of brand Romney vs. brand Obama, each candidate’s outer layer consisted of things said, done, and promised prior to and during their campaigns.

Going deeper, the brand’s inner layer is like the engine under its hood. It consists of beliefs and values that fuel the brand’s outer layer and helps audiences discern what the real beliefs are behind the brand’s behavior. As marketers, we can voice what a brand’s outer layer consists of. But the truth of their inner layers is completely dependent upon the voices inside the heads of their audience.

Story logic is simply the linkage between a brand’s inner and outer layer. When what we see or what we are told about a brand’s promise runs contrary to the value or belief we ascribe to that brand, the logic chain is broken and the story becomes something that doesn’t make sense.

In the contest between Romney and Obama, it was relatively easy to infer that each brand had polar opposite inner layers. One was driven by the belief in strong government; the other put greater stock in the private sector. From a social perspective, one candidate held more liberal beliefs and values and his opponent’s were more conservative. We were able to infer the difference in values and beliefs from each candidate’s outer layer promises and plans to support specific policies.

However, when one looks at the many surveys taken prior to Election Day, a few stand out. They are those that reflect the relative consistency between each candidate’s outer and inner layer.

In a poll taken by Time Magazine, one month prior to the election, readers were asked, “Which candidate is more truthful, Obama or Romney?” Obama outpaced Romney 72% vs. 28%. In a similar poll conducted by Newhouse in October, Obama’s ads were seen as more truthful than Romney’s, 42% vs. 30%. Whether you give credence to these polls or others that asked similar questions, we all know that Romney was often described by pundits as a “flip-flopper.” “Flip-flopping” occurs when a brand’s outer layer is perceived as a moving target. The biggest blow to Romney’s story logic came from his secretly filmed 47% comment that was picked up and repeatedly viewed on YouTube and other media outlets. Despite Romney’s admission that this statement didn’t reflect his true feelings, it created a great deal of dissonance. Dissonance is the enemy of story logic.

Some have argued that Romney’s ever-changing outer layer resulted from efforts to be all things to his highly fractionalized party. But in Presidential elections as with brands, the perceived consistency between beliefs, values, and actions has a great deal to do with winning votes or customers. Lack of layer consistency, perceived or real, can only result in confusion, dislike, and distrust — or all of the above. It is hard to know if Romney would have won had there been a stronger link between what he stood for and what he was promising to deliver. Arguably, stronger story logic would have turned off certain factions at the expense of others.

On the other hand, Obama had the story logic advantage. Whether you agreed or disagreed with his actions and promises, his consistency was rarely called into question. Clearly, he had obstacles to overcome given the worse economy since the Great Depression and social policies that were labeled by many as socialistic. But unlike Romney, the link between his outer and inner layer was unwavering.

I’m often asked what is more important, a brand’s inner layer or its outer layer. Rather than address that question head on, I often defer to brand success stories like Apple, The Ritz Hotel, North Face, Nike, and others that show how important it is to make certain that both layers are well defined and appeal to audiences large enough to foster growth. But what I believe is more important than either layer itself is the logical integrity between the values and beliefs a brand stands for and it’s actual or implied behavior. As with stories, brands depend on audiences concluding for themselves that what is portrayed is believable and authentic

Jim Signorelli is CEO of ESW Partners, a marketing communications agency based in Chicago specializing in branding. He recently published a book, StoryBranding Creating Standout Brands through the Power of Story.

Healthcare Marketing: Should “We Try Harder”, Keep Tagline Longer?

Another tagline bites the dust!

Avis drops it’s branding line “We Try Harder” …after 50 years.

Avis Car Rental has recently announced they are dropping their iconic brand positioning line, “We Try Harder,” and replacing it with “It’s Your Space.”  Whether that’s a smart move will be determined but from an outsider looking in, I might have to question the move.

“We Try Harder” was introduced in 1962 by Avis with the help of DDB and became the brand’s promise about the quality of its service and as a way to position itself against the category leader Hertz. It was a huge success for Avis. In a matter of a single year, that campaign reversed the company’s fortunes, helping it to go from losing $3.2 million to turning a profit of $1.2 million for the first time in 13 years. It worked!  And it identified a brand.

Now it is being replaced with “It’s Your Space.”  One has to ask, what promise does that line really deliver?  The firm is repositioning itself to appeal to business travelers who spend a lot time in rental cars and trying to communicate that time inside a rental car is where business travelers can recharge or be the most productive time while traveling.  Maybe it will work but it seems a stretch to me.

Maybe it was time to abandon the old line since Avis had fallen from the number two car rental company to number three behind Enterprise Holdings (Alamo, Enterprise, National) and Hertz.  Maybe the company had stopped trying harder.  Or maybe they indeed do need to reposition itself for business rather than leisure travelers and this was to way to do it.  But you sure hate to see a classic, effective and company-defining line disappear.

For hospital marketers, branding lines come and go.  And I would be one of the first to say they need to be periodically updated and changed as the brand and the market landscape changes.  But it should be a strategic move based on sound research and not just on a whim.  Internally we may get tired of a branding line but it is often long before it becomes ineffective with the consumer.  And with a line like the one used by Avis to brand, position and define the company and which is firmly implanted in consumers’ minds, marketers need to be very cautious before making a change.

There are some very solid reasons a branding line should be changed from time to time but we must be sure it’s a strategic reason and not just because we are tired of the old one.  If the one we are currently using was strategically developed and implemented and it was effective, about the only reason to change is because the brand, the market or the competitive landscape has changed.  We must be very sure there are strong reasons to give up the brand equity that has been developed with the current line to start over with a new one.

Again, I’m not against changing lines but only after research and deliberate consideration.  And as hospital marketers, we must be sure the new brand positioning line is better and stronger and connects better with our audiences.  For Avis, I’m not sure “It’s Your Space” does that.  I just wished they had tried harder.


Healthcare Marketing: Humanize Your Hospital’s Brand

Humanizing your brand by giving it a personality, making it personable and telling a narrative connects with consumers.

Every healthcare marketer tries to connect their brand with consumers.  It is an ongoing, endless task.  Of course we know that humanizing a brand improves connectivity.  And research supports it.

Emily Eldridge, writing for MarketingProfs cites research that demonstrates how human interaction affects attitudes and transactions.

Iris Bohnet and Bruno Frey conducted an economic research study in 1999 called “Social Distance and Other-Regarding Behavior in Dictator Games.” Two groups of students were recruited to participate in a series of social interactions in which members of the first group had to decide whether to share any portion of a sum of money—approximately $10—with a person in the second group.

When the first group knew nothing at all about those in the second group, participants offered, on average, only 26% of the money. When the moderators asked the second group to stand up—making them less anonymous to the first group—the offer increased to 39%. When the moderators shared personal information about those in the second group with those in the first, the average offer increased to 52%. And when members of the groups were introduced to one another, the average offer was 50%.

In other words, the greater the social distance, the less willing people were to hand over money.

This can teach a valuable lesson to hospital marketers.  If our brand is humanized, it connects better with consumers.  It’s important that our brand not be cold, inanimate, and without important human traits and characteristics.  Our brand should have a personality. It must be personable. It must make a human connection.

Eldridge refers to two examples of retailers who have a strong personal connection with consumers and how it positively impacts their brand reputation and gives it increased brand equity.  The first example is Apple.  Their retail stores are not a row of cashiers. Rather when you enter their stores, in addition to a strong visual connection to the brand, they have easily identifiable employees with mobile cashier platforms ready to interact and help customers.   They are knowledgeable and will explain the benefits of each product, help with your issues and even tell you personal stores about the products.

Apple is known for its sleek innovative products.  But they also carry a premium price.  But despite a higher price, they continue to increase market share.  One reason is because they have humanized the Apple brand.  They connect with the consumer.

Another example is an online brand.  How can you humanize an online brand? places on its product pages videos of employees talking about why he or she likes the product.  The videos are not about product specs but people telling their stories about the product.  When Zappos launched the videos in 2009, their conversion rate increased from 6% to 30%.  They humanized the brand with narratives.

The lesson for healthcare marketers is that we must humanize our brand.  Make them personable.  It doesn’t matter how nice our hospital is or what kind of technology we have, we must connect on a personal level.  Maybe that comes by using patients, physicians, and staff members to tell their stories about the brand.  Making it real, and genuine and personable.  It provides an important and engaging brand narrative.

There are other ways to make that human connection.  We should always strive to find them and use them.  Our brand will become stronger as we close the gap of social distance.  As we humanize our brand.

Healthcare Marketing: 5 Ways to Cultivate Your Hospital’s Brand with Social Media

Your brand must be an integral part of your social media strategy.

More healthcare marketers are adopting social media as a component of their marketing efforts.  But it must reflect our brand.  Social media provides the opportunity to humanize the brand and empower it. 

Heidi Cohen identified five tactics for using social media to cultivate a brand and expand its reach.  Her comments appeared in SmartBlog on Social Media.

1.    Give your brand a human voice (or other sounds) on social media.

A brand can be humanized by how it sounds.  Corporate speak doesn’t resonate with consumers. Instead, consider your brand’s language, accent and other noises.  Sound like a human.

2.    Enhance the visual signals associated wit your brand.

Carefully consider colors, images, icons, type and photographs to make sure they enhance your brand and communicate the brand’s personality.

3.    Tell your brand’s story.

Brands aren’t a collection of facts or products or services.  They’re about stories.  Stories of the company, employees and customers told in a human voice.  Give your brand a personality.  Create with stories.

4.    Develop and incorporate a culture into your brand.

A unique corporate culture is important to community building.  Create a special language, actions and attributes to set your brand apart from the competition.

5.    Brand your employees.

Brands need real people to represent their organization.  It provides a human face.  It builds trust and sincerity. Brand employees and let employees project the brand.

Social media can be very useful to hospital marketers.  And it’s important to let your brand shine through in those social media efforts.  Social media is a unique opportunity to humanize your brand, to create a brand personality and to connect your brand to your consumers.



Healthcare Marketing: Brand Consistency Essential for Success

As the brand evolves and the marketplace changes the brand image must be consistent and strong.

Research is conducted, strategic analysis is developed and a hospital’s brand is introduced and executed.  The brand’s style, tone and message are established.  Everything is good.  And then over time, the market changes, the hospital changes and brand consistency starts to slip.

Every hospital changes.  There’s new facilities, expansion, increased staff, new services, improved technology.  The market changes.  The competition makes marketing adjustments.  So the emphasis for the hospital changes.  And unfortunately brand slippage occurs.

Over time the tone changes.  The primary message gets muttered and style becomes very inconsistent.  Even the corporate standards get compromised as enforcement becomes lax.  There is no brand relationship from one product line to another.  And brand equity is sacrificed.

This is not uncommon in hospital marketing.  So that over time a brand gets sacrificed.  And the consumer is confused at worse or develops brand complacency at best.

But hospitals that maximize their success over time maintain a strong brand consistency.  As growth occurs and change happens the brand is updated and integrated into all new areas of change.  The core message remains strong and consistent.  Tone and style may be updated but do not depart from the essentials of the brand.

Consumers need a clear and consistent brand.  They need a brand that is reliable and true.   Even as changes occur over time, hospitals that understand the importance of a consistent brand image will reap rewards in the marketplace.

Healthcare Marketing: Fight Fragmentation with Integration

With the plethora of media options, marketing channels and consumer touch points, integration is essential for maximizing marketing success.

In the not too distant past, marketers had a rather small number of options for its marketing message.  TV, radio, print and outdoor was about it.  Then traditional advertising mediums began to offer new alternatives.  Cable television, satellite radio and custom direct marketing.

But then the web showed up.  And the choices became seemingly endless:

  • Websites/SEO
  • Search marketing
  • Web advertising
  • Email
  • Social media
  • Tablets
  • Mobile
  • Apps
  • Blogging
  • Gaming

And the list could go on and on.  There is strength in this enormous growth of marketing options.  There are new ways to reach consumers, we can target them more narrowly (demographically, sociographically, geographically and psychographically), we can sometimes measure effectiveness more effectively and we can be much more creative with our media options.

But it creates fragmentation.  Fragmentation of our brand’s message.  And that is not a good thing.  The challenge is to integrate our message over all our marketing and messaging platforms and options.   Yes it includes, but certainly not limited to using a common tagline and a single color pallet and enforcing a strict and consistent corporate identity.

As Steve McKee, president of McKee Wallwork wrote in an article for Bloomberg Businessweek, Integration means communicating a consistent identity from message to message, and medium to medium, and (more importantly) delivering consistently on that identity. It requires not only the identification of a powerful, unifying strategy and compelling voice for your brand, but the discipline to roll it into every aspect of your organization—from advertising to sales, customer service to customer relationship management programs (and beyond). It’s not for the faint of heart”.

McKee is correct and it’s not easy.  In fact it can be an enormous task to integrate the brand message over all messaging channels both externally and internally.  And perhaps it can never be fully accomplished.  But as healthcare marketers our task is to try.  Make it a priority.  It’s difficult enough to build a strong healthy brand, but to not have consistent integration of our brand message, voice and tone, makes it even more difficult and perhaps unlikely.

It requires knowing our brand.  Knowing who we are, our brand personality and brand attributes.  And trying as hard as we can to be consistent over all channels and mediums.  Those healthcare organizations that do it the best will be the most successful in this age of hyper-fragmentation.


Healthcare Marketing: Branding Matters!

Report Explores the Importance of Branding

The landscape has changed.  Just a few years ago, hospitals rarely saw the need to advertise, or market its brand.  The healthcare environment was much simpler and straightforward. But all that has changed over the past 20 years.  Now marketing is almost a necessity.  The marketplace is much more competitive and every healthcare organization is jockeying for an advantage.

How do you create that advantage?  There are many strategies, but a report in Protocol, a healthcare marketing report, titled “Why Branding Still Matters For Hospital Marketers” suggests branding is one of the most important strategies.  The report examines four reasons branding should be a priority for healthcare organizations.

1. Strong healthcare brands control their own destinies 

2. A clear brand position aligns physicians and staff 

3. Brand tools ensure consistent communications 

4. Branding supports multichannel and social media initiatives

While healthcare entities build larger and nicer facilities, negotiate strategic alliances, offer niche services, streamline operations and adopt technologies for greater efficiencies and a host of other strategies for the purpose of creating a marketing advantage, branding must also be an important consideration.  All of the above strategies can help shape a brand but it’s also true that these same strategies can result in failure if there is not a strong brand behind the efforts.

More than ever it’s vital to create a brand that is mission and values driven, that is lived and breathed throughout the organization and that is patient-focused.  Supported with marketing efforts that convey and communicate that brand.  Long-term survival and success will depend on it.  


Healthcare Marketing: 42 Ideas for Building a Better Hospital Brand

Becker’s Hospital Review  published an article providing 42 tips for building and promoting a hospital brand as offered by Dr. Rhoda Weiss, a healthcare consultant, editor of Marketing Health Services Magazine and a professor of healthcare marketing at UCLA.  Her suggestions are methods for creating relationships in order to build a brand.

Many of them your hospital may already be doing.  Some may not apply to your situation.  Some are operational and some are marketing.  But it is a list with basic, very good suggestions.

Peruse the list.  You may get some ideas that will help you build your hospital brand.

  1. Write welcome letters and call new staff
  2. Encourage staff with signage such as, “through these doors walk greatest staff”
  3. Recognize newcomers as “buddies,” and assign them mentors
  4. Develop a robust orientation program for staff and families
  5. Create pride cards based on what makes staff proud
  6. Implement an employee of the day award
  7. Start a rumor or complaint line for patients and staff
  8. Go on “endless management rounds”
  9. Create professional development opportunities for employees
  10. Give out best attendance awards
  11. Create strong family wellness and fitness programs for staff and their families
  12. Develop walking challenges and circulate wellness newsletters
  13. Offer financial incentives to staff members who improve health
  14. Assign staff “brand ambassadors”
  15. Provide GED classes and scholarships for hospital staff members
  16. Put on “glad you’re here” one-year events
  17. Open an employee hardship fund
  18. Offer first time homeowner forgivable loans
  19. Recruit, retain, market aggressively, promote and elevate physicians
  20. Offer endless options for physician retention
  21. Connect physicians and their families with mentors
  22. Research; ask questions; relish data; be totally frank
  23. Reinvigorate, engage leaders — be champions of change
  24. Align strategically: Employ, affiliate, partner and integrate physicians
  25. Host networking events and dinners for physicians
  26. Meld the “personal with professional”
  27. Identify ways to make employees’ lives easier
  28. Collaborate in best-practice medicine
  29. Create “future task forces” in each physician specialty
  30. Showcase the hospital using multiple media
  31. Use benchmark data to persuade, not punish physicians
  32. Rethink hospital’s communication strategy with physicians
  33. Develop a physician navigator program
  34. Establish physician e-communities and women MD networks
  35. Put on “check the pulse” sessions and open forums with physicians and employees
  36. Market to physician office staffers, physician who are significant referral sources
  37. Promote the hospital in physician practice reception areas and exam rooms
  38. Engage referral services; offer same day scheduling
  39. Promote languages, reduce accents and improve speech
  40. Offer free screenings and complimentary physician visits for patients
  41. For physician integration and alignment, consider options beyond employment
  42. Produce quality videos that market hospital’s brand, keeping physicians and patients at the center of the story

Healthcare Marketing: Bring Back the Glory of Advertising

Adverting can be better.  We can create better work.  With all the tools available today we should be more effective.

Think about advertising in the 50s, 60, 70s and 80s.   Before the internet and social media and mobile marketing.  Great brands were built.  Using traditional media, great brands were created. TV, print, radio and outdoor were used to create dominant brands and build brand equity.

Think about some of the successes:

Diamonds Are Forever…DeBeers

Volvo… owned safety

Avis Tried Harder. . because they were number 2

Pop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz… Alka-Seltzer

Just Do it…Nike

Be All You Can Be…Army

It Takes A Licking and Keeps On Ticking…Timex

Where’s the Beef?…Wendy’s

Only a Few Good Men…Marines

The Real Thing…Coke

And we could go on and on.  The point is easily made that advertising was effective and helped build great brands.  But fewer great brands are being created today.  Why?  Maybe it’s because we don’t have great ideas.  We aren’t saying anything worth saying.  We aren’t capturing the minds and hearts of consumers.  We are talking at consumers instead of to consumers.   Maybe it’s because our advertising has no soul.

We take shortcuts, go for the cheapest production, take the easy way out, and don’t spend the time to do what’s necessary to capture the consumer’s minds and hearts.

It’s true that healthcare advertising is quite restrictive.  We are dealing with a very serious subject. We have all kinds of regulations.  We have to be sensitive to our many constituencies.  So many have to approve the work and to gain all the approvals the work gets watered down.  It’s uniquely challenging to do great healthcare work.  But none of this should prohibit us from trying.  Trying to put some soul in our work, make sure it resonates with the consumer in both their mind and heart.  Give our work a voice and a brand distinction that builds brand equity.

To do so means art direction, production and copy writing all matters.  The work should have a voice and be attractive and appealing.  It takes skill and it’s not easy.  We should push each other to do better and to be committed to producing the best work possible and to not just give in.

And we must believe advertising can be both creative and effective.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  The history of advertising should teach us that.  Creativity and effectiveness has always gone hand in hand.  We should strive to create beautiful work that speaks to our audience.  Work that communicates and captivates.

Advertising has been effective for decades.  It has built great brands.  And today we have more tools than ever.  More opportunities than ever.  More options in the toolbox.  More mediums to integrate that should make our work even stronger and more effective.

But we must believe in our industry.  Our craft.  We must respect what we do and the skill and talents required to do the job well.  We can all do better.

We must!


Healthcare Marketing: How to Resurrect a Brand

Companies in the midst of crisis and declining brand value have shown that a brand cannot only be brought back to life but can also thrive again.

Karen Post is the author of Brand Turnaround, a popular book about brands that have gone bad but have made a resurgence and returned to glory.  In the book she provides case studies on such brands as Ford, JetBlue, the Red Cross, Xerox, Dominos, Robert Downey, Jr, Michael Vick and Martha Stewart.

Every brand faces a crisis during its lifetime.  Usually several. Practically every brand has some tough times.  This is certainly true of healthcare brands too.  Sometimes factors totally out of our control cause it. And sometimes it just lack of leadership or vision. But it happens.

Drawing upon lessons learned from the over 75 brands she’s studied, Post offers seven “Game Changers” which she has found to be important to resurrecting a tarnished brand.

1.     Take responsibility

When things go badly for a brand, denial only makes matters worse.  The brand must own up to it.  Admit it and take responsibility.

2.     Never Give Up

Most brands are worth fighting for.  They have flourished for a reason and to give up would be a mistake.  You must fight for the brand and for the brand’s resurgence.  It’s not easy but it’s worth the fight.

3.     Lead Strong

After taking responsibility it’s important to have strong leadership. From those who believe in the brand, those who care for the brand and who want to bring the brand back to life and vitality.  The work is not accomplished by the timid.  It must be done from a strong vision and purpose.

4.     Stay Relevant

As long as you have relevance you have a chance.  That means listening to consumers and hearing what they say.  And making sure the brand is relevant to their desires and needs.

5.     Keep Improving

The road to recovery is never easy or quick.  It requires a long concerted effort.  And it means pushing for improvement.  Improvement from staff and employees, processes, products, services, communications and throughout the organization.

6.     Build Equity

Brand equity is a valuable commodity.  And as you attempt to turn a brand around you must build band equity.  You must make sure the brand has value and customer loyalty again.

7.     Own Your Distinction

Every viable brand has a mark or characteristic of distinction.  A distinction that gives meaning to the brand. Being a commodity or doing it just like everyone one or being only as good as everyone else will not resurrect a brand.  Only by creating a true consumer-oriented distinction can you revive and sustain a brand.

Healthcare brands are vulnerable to crises, mishaps, bad publicity unanticipated negative situations.  Every brand will face them from time to time.  And how we handle them and deal with them will determine the life and vitality of the brand for the future.