Healthcare Branding

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.

Hospital Marketing: Politics Teaches Valuable Lessons about Social Media

 A “like”, “follow” or “re-tweet” is not necessarily a brand endorsement.  

As healthcare marketers begin to experiment and utilize social media, questions arise about how to measure its effectiveness.   Some would argue that a “likes” and  “followers” are an indication of brand endorsement.   Well politics may be teaching us that’s not necessarily true.

Micah Sifry reporting for CNN,  examines the impact of social media on the current GOP presidential campaign.  What he discovered is there really is no valid correlation between twitter buzz and Facebook followers to a candidate’s success at the polls.

There is a lot of monitoring of each of the candidate’s social media activity.  It is natural to assume a growth in the number of followers and a high occurrence of re-tweets are both indicative of support and success.  But actually, the actual votes at the polls show that social media activity appears to be more an indication of notoriety and celebrity.

Herman Cain had a great following on Facebook and created a tremendous amount of social network activity (although admittedly some of it was negative) but he is no longer in the race.  Newt Gingrich’s 1.4 million followers on Twitter would indicate strong grassroots popularity and support. But a closer view shows half of those accounts are outside the US and half the accounts are inactive.  His number of accounts is a function of longevity and notoriety.  Rick Santorun’s early success came from social activity but not the online kind.  His support came from social activity even more local and personal than online social networks.  It was the work of the evangelical church.  And his surprise showing overloaded his website and he was not ready to fully take advantage of his success.

Clay Johnson seems to be prophetic by stating in his book The Information Diet, there are empty information calories and to eat them is to do so at your own risk, for they can make you really dumb. In other words a link, or a follow, or a retweet is about as meaningful as a glance or a nod and certainly not an endorsement.

As healthcare marketers we are tempted to believe the notion that social media activity or likes or links are indications of brand endorsement and loyalty.  We often tout our social media success by citing such numbers. But if the current political campaigns teach us any thing, it’s that these conclusions are not necessarily true.

We shouldn’t ignore social media.  We should embrace it as a legitimate marketing tool.  But the numbers for number sake shouldn’t fool us. The effectiveness of social media is difficult to measure.  We are still learning how to interpret the data and how viable the data actually is.

“Likes”, “followers” and “re-tweets” may just simply indicate a fairly low level of interest.  The real challenge is converting those glances or nods into something useful.

Healthcare Marketing: Online is NOT for Branding

Online advertising has proven to be effective as a direct response medium but not so much for brand building. 

More eyeballs are turning to the web.  No one can argue that.  And they are spending more time looking at the web.  So does it make sense to follow those numbers and try to build a brand with internet advertising?  Probably not.  Online advertising is great at direct response.  We all look at the web to find where to buy something or where a business is located or how to contact a business.   That’s why the yellow pages are now on the web and is replacing the printed book.   But is it effective building a brand?

Alan Pearlstein, president of Cross Pixel Media wrote in Ad Age that the “internet sucks as a branding medium.”  And he makes some compelling arguments.  He argues that brand building is an emotional endeavor.  The desire for every brand is to build an emotional connection with the consumer.  Television does that very effectively.  Print can do it.  But not internet advertising.   Because online advertising is limited in size and format, it’s not effective at brand building.   He argues that no advertising medium has proven to be effective at both direct response and branding.  And online is no exception.

It’s important as healthcare marketers, to understand that each advertising medium has their own strengths.   TV creates an emotional impact, magazines provide the environment for stunning images and print provide the opportunity for long copy and storytelling.   Direct mail is great at direct response.

So what are the strengths of online advertising?  It is great at building name recognition.  It has a low cost for exposure.  It reaches a very wide audience.   It’s great for supplementing a campaign with reach and frequency within a target audience.  But branding is not one of its strengths.  Online advertising, limited in size, not very engaging and usually within a cluttered environment is not strong for brand building.  It is complimentary to more emotional and engaging mediums.


Healthcare Marketing: 5 Ways to Improve Your Hospital’s Brand

Your hospital will live or die by its brand.  What can help make your brand stronger?  Here are five tips to improve your hospital’s brand.

Here are excerpts from an article from Becker’s Hospital Review by Lindsey Dunn after interviewing Steve Rivkin, founder, Rivkin & Associates, a healthcare branding and communications consultancy, and co-author of Repositioning: Marketing in an Era of Competition, Change and Crisis (McGraw-Hill, 2010).

1. Think of your brand as a promise. A hospital’s brand is a promise of what the consumer should expect and how the hospital will perform.  Think about a brand in the same way as a person’s reputation. You earn a good reputation by doing the right thing, doing it well, and doing it consistently. And just like a reputation, a brand is a living entity — it evolves, and it is enriched or undermined by your actions.

2. Understand your strengths, weaknesses. Any hospital’s branding efforts should begin with an understanding of its market share, strengths, weaknesses and consumers’ perception and beliefs about its services. Consumer research should ask community members what they think is important when choosing a hospital, how the hospital is perceived and how it compares to competing facilities.  This research will reveal if the hospital is preferred, and if it isn’t preferred, will give some indication of why it’s not preferred.

Mr. Rivkin notes that consumer perceptions don’t always match reality, but it’s perceptions that influence volume.
It’s action first, communications second.  Eighty-five percent of changing a perception is what you actually do, and only 15 percent is what you say about it.

3. Differentiate. After identifying areas of strength and improvement, hospitals should determine what differentiates it from competitors and whether that point of differentiation is important to consumers. Potential differentiators include:

•    The patient experience— for instance, best customer service/patient satisfaction scores in the market;
•    Centers of excellence for specific service lines;
•    Heritage/history in a community;
•    Highest rated physicians;
•    Industry awards received (top hospital lists, Magnet status, etc.);
•    Newest technology/cutting-edge procedures; and
•    Widest range of services in market area.

4. “Sell” the brand to employees first. After determining how a hospital will position itself, hospital leaders should sell that identity or brand first to its employees. “Your workforce is a critical part of a branding program. Everything starts with your own people. Don’t expect to persuade the folks outside about much of anything, unless the people inside believe it first.”

5. Market the brand and connect it to the bottom line. After gaining buy-in from employees, hospitals should take their branding messages to the public through public relations efforts, advertising, direct marketing and other methods. Hospital marketers should be careful to quantify the results of all efforts.  Measuring return on investment will direct hospitals toward the most effective marketing tactics.

Your brand is one of your hospital’s most valuable assets.  Great attention should be given to its care. The stronger the brand the more successful your hospital will be.




Healthcare Marketing: The Emergence of Cross Cultural Marketing

A current trend for brands is to communicate a singular message across several demographic and cultural audiences instead of communicating different messages to different social cultures and demographics.    

For years, marketers have watched as America has become more and more culturally diverse.  In response to this diversity, brands have looked at different demos and cultures and developed somewhat different marketing strategies for each.  But as a result of the 2010 census, a new trend is being discussed and is emerging.  It is being called cross-cultural marketing, aimed at a general market that is more of a mosaic than a melting pot.

Stuart Elliot, writing for the New York Times states that “cross cultural marketing is aimed at appealing across demographic groups to appeal to consumer similarities rather than differences.  By contrast, traditional multicultural marketing is directed at specific demographic groups like Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, women, etc.”

For quite some time now marketers have grouped audiences into segments, which emphasized their differences.    But now researchers and marketers are looking more to being cross-cultural and emphasizing those things the groups have in common.   Advertisers no longer want different messages segmented and targeted to different audiences but fewer messages or maybe even one primary message that seek to appeal to the common traits among differing groups.   It’s more of a mashup of cultures.

This has probably been the primary approach most healthcare marketers have always taken.  Because there is a universal need for the products and services we provide, it’s easier for us to take a cross-cultural approach to marketing.  But we have sometimes segmented markets and tailored our message specifically to these separate markets.  It makes sense to seek those commonalities and similarities across various cultures and communicate a singular message.   It certainly will make our brand stronger.