hospital branding

Managing Your Hospital’s Reputation

Why Reputation Management Is Key for Hospital Marketing

At the doctor's office, a female doctor is performing a checkup on a young girl.

Reputation is everything in business. It’s even more important for hospital marketing because a hospital’s reputation is its most important asset.

Without a strong reputation, your hospital’s patient intake will suffer. After all, people don’t want to entrust their health to a hospital that has a poor reputation.

Your hospital’s reputation should be protected through reputation management. It takes an active and ongoing effort to manage brand perceptions and communicate positively with patients.


The Basics of Reputation Management

Reputation management involves two activities that are always ongoing:

  • Proactively creating favorable brand impressions
  • Handling the hospital’s reputation in the public eye

Traditional advertising can help do the former; an active presence online can help do the latter.

For example, although a brand’s reputation is what others think of it – not what you think of it yourself – you can influence that perception through carefully-crafted ad campaigns.

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You can also use social media to respond to comments and online reviews from patients, whether they’re negative or positive.

In fact, it’s even more important to use reputation management if there are negative comments online, such as on Facebook or a review website. You never want to let a negative impression go unaddressed.


Tips for Responding to Negativity Online

The main rule of effective PR is to be honest and transparent, without violating confidentiality or other laws and regulations.

Don’t delete negative comments unless they’re vulgar or inappropriate. Instead, respond positively and calmly. Show the commentor or reviewer that you’re listening to them and you hear their complaints. Then choose a response that addresses the concerns and makes amends if necessary.

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A lot of hospitals are afraid to admit fault in any way. This is understandable, giving the litigious society in which we live. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ever admit that something wasn’t handled the right way, or that your patients have valid complaints.

Work with your legal department to craft responses, but don’t be afraid to address negative comments or reviews head-on.

Be authentic, too. Avoid slogans or jargon that sounds too much like PR spin. You should be sincere and genuine, not fake or contrived.

Reputation management also involves monitoring what’s being said. You can set up Google alerts, and you can also subscribe to a social media monitoring service that lets you know what people are saying, as soon as they say it.

Reputation management is crucial. A hospital has to protect its reputation, and that means viewing reputation management as a priority.

TotalCom is a full-service hospital marketing and advertising agency that believes in getting great results from telling great stories. Contact us for more information or view our previous work and see what stories we can tell for you.

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: 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.

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.

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Healthcare Branding: An Experience by More than the Patient

Your hospital’s brand is  defined by the patient’s experience as well as others. And it’s being determined all day, every day.

Branding has finally hit the radar for hospitals and healthcare organizations.  The industry’s marketing efforts are maturing to the point that marketers and senior management are beginning to realize how important their brand is.  And rightfully so.  The battle for the consumers’ minds and future market share will be determined by our brand perception.

But for many marketers, branding is about logos and typefaces, corporate identity standards and taglines.  Good branding encompasses these things but it’s so much more.  It ‘s really more about the consumer’s experience. What does your brand communicate each day to those who come in contact with it?

And it’s not just the patient’s experience that determines the brand.  It’s also the patient’s family and friends and what their experiences are like.  And employees and how they experience the brand.  And suppliers and vendors.  The community at large.  It’s the totality of all the touch points.  By everyone.

We are seeing many hospitals updating logos and altering the visual look of their communications.  We see them changing positioning lines.  And giving facelifts to their facilities.   All of which is good.  Very good in fact.  But if that is all that’s changing, it’s only cosmetic and only skin deep.

These changes help position a brand but the most important thing is the experience it delivers.  What is the experience like?   It has to do with parking, cleanliness, friendliness courtesy, wait times, competence, customer service, caring, attitudes and everything else that affects a person’s experience.

It’s great that hospital marketers and senior management are turning their attention to their brand.  But hopefully it’s more than just aesthetics.  Hopefully the emphasis is on the total experience delivered by the hospital.  That’s what will really determine your brand in the minds and hearts of consumers.

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Healthcare Marketing: It’s the Real Relationships that Really Matter

It’s not so much about building relationships with brands; it’s about using brands to build relationships.

All the talk these days is about relationships.  Relationships are king. It’s the coin of the realm.  Everything is all about building relationships.  But the interesting thing is that relationships are often discussed in the context of technology, social media, Web 2.0, apps, metrics, analytics, demo-psycho-socio-geographics, social networking, blogs and a thousand other buzz words.  But when I step back it’s all so odd.  All of those terms are so very impersonal.

We talk about building a relationship with a brand, a product, a service.  Yes I do it too.  Everyday.  But have we forgotten that real relationships are human? Can I truly have a relationship with my toothpaste, my jeans, my iPod, my microwaveable food, my gym, my computer, my car ?  Well yes I can have a relationship with all of those things, in a sense.  But not a real relationship.

Real relationships are human. It’s the touch of someone you love.  It’s holding a child or grandchild close and squeezing hard. It’s enjoying a family trip.  It’s working together with coworkers to achieve a common goal.  It’s striving together with others for something noble and right. It’s being with friends talking and laughing and just hanging out.  It’s crying with someone you care about who’s hurting.  It’s shedding tears when someone dear is no longer here.  It’s sharing life with someone.  It’s always a uniquely human experience.

This is not to discount all the wonderful new technologies, techniques, methods and knowledge that help us communicate.  But none of these can be a substitute for real relationships.  And we must not forget it.  We are so busy talking about and “building“ relationship in so many artificial ways but sometimes we forget that relationships are human. They involve the body, mind and soul.  They include the heart and emotions, which cannot be explained or adequately described.

Doesn’t it make more sense to instead of trying to build relationships using a brand or product, or service, or institution; we talk about how those things can help build true relationships…with other humans?  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Relationships are indeed king.  But real relationships are about human relationships.  We don’t need to get lost in faux relationships but rather use technology and communication tools to communicate how our brand or service or product can help create and build and sustain and improve real relationships.  The kind that is human.  The kind that can’t be reduced to analytics and research.  The kind that really matter. The kind that makes life truly worth living.


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Healthcare Marketing: Is Saving Money Actually Costing You?

Cost should not be the primary factor in making decisions about resources to employ for your brand.  Quality, ability and experience are much more important.

We are in a recession. There are pressures on budgets. The edict from the C-Suites is to cut costs and save money. The pressure is to get more with less. That has forced many marketers to look for bargains. The criteria for making decisions has become cost. And the result could be a weaker brand and loss of brand equity.

Too often decisions are being made based on cost. Bid services out to get the best price. Decide to go with lesser talent because it’s cheaper. Take shortcuts. Go with lower quality. All of these are shortsighted.  They consider only the short-term.

Great advertising requires great talent.  Great creative minds create great brands. Creativity, talent and experience are the keys to successful work.  And those qualities do not come cheaply. Sure you can buy talent for less. Sure you can save money, but is it going to take your brand where it needs to go?  Will it maintain the brand perception and brand quality at necessary levels?

Creativity is not a commodity.  It is not something to be bought based on price.  All creativity is not equal and cannot be judged on cost alone. 

As a marketer, your brand is your most precious possession. It deserves the best.  It deserves outstanding creative, top-level talent and quality experience.  If you purchase inferior talent as a way to save money but it weakens and tarnishes the brand, what is the real cost?

In these tough times many are putting their brand in peril by basing decisions on price without regard to how it will affect the brand.  It can certainly save you money but it could also cause you to weaken or worse – lose your brand position.


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Hospital Marketing: Lessons Learned from Zappos

Hospital Sign buttonThe value of a company is not just in revenues and bottom line numbers, but in the status of the brand.

The online retail giant, Amazon, agreed to purchase Zappos for just under a billion dollars. Why would the giant pay so much for a shoe retailer? Pete Blackshaw, Executive VP of Neilson Online Digital Strategic Services, pointed out in an article in Advertising Age that the value of Zappos was driven by customer service and employee advocacy. Amazon, who knows quite a bit about customer service, was willing to pay quite a price for a company that excelled in the details of customer service and who empowered their employees to always put the customer first.

True, hospitals are not often positioning themselves to fetch a huge sales price in the open market. But the value of a hospital is determined by its brand equity. Everyday consumers are making a decision whether a hospital is worth his/her time and resources. And they are making that decision on what kind of service they receive. They are determining if your brand is worth it or not.           

Blackshaw says Zappos is obsessed over a different set of numbers. They are consumed with providing outstanding customer service. They seek feedback at every level. They want to know what the consumer experience is and fix anything that prevents the customer from having a perfect customer service experience.

How many hospitals are tenacious about customer service? How many hospitals explore, examine and experiment with the details of their interactions with the consumer? Too many hospitals, I’m afraid, really don’t want to know the truth in the details. Too many hospitals are satisfied to provide adequate, but not outstanding, service. Yes, it is painstaking – it’s hard work. But it certainly paid off handsomely for Zappos. And it will pay off for those hospitals that get dirty in the details and are committed to providing outstanding patient experiences.

“Zappos, Powered By Service.” What hospital could dare use a branding line like that? 


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Healthcare Marketing: The Age of Celebrity Endorsements Over?

Red CarpetThe brand is more important than the endorser. 

In recent months, we’ve seen the passing of several high profile celebrity endorsers. With it, perhaps an era of celebrity endorsement is passing too. Within just a few days prolific and long time product endorser, Ed McMahon, the beautiful and sexy starlet, Farrah Fawcett and the king of pop, Michael Jackson passed away. Even Karl Malden left home without it. And even though more of a pitchman than an endorser, Billy Mays also died. Instead of pitching products because he was famous, Mays became famous because of his product pitching.

Each of these leave behind memories of on camera time endorsing and pitching an array of products. Who benefited the most? The celebrity or the product? It’s hard to say. The research is conflicted.

Some studies indicate the right match between celebrity and product can be effective. Other research indicates the celebrity is remembered but not the brand. Several studies have indicated that a strong majority of consumers state that celebrities do not influence their purchasing decisions. But we know consumers don’t always tell or even know the truth when responding to surveys.

Hospitals have sometimes used celebrities to promote their brand. Pat Summerall, former NFL payer and broadcaster, has a separate business that aggressively seeks hospitals to pay a rather large sum of money for him to endorse a hospital.

Whether you think celebrity endorsements are effective or not, one thing is true – it all goes back to how strong the brand is. A celebrity can endorse a hospital or healthcare service but if the brand does not deliver satisfactorily to the customer, then money and effort is wasted.  A celebrity cannot make a bad brand good. Neither can a celebrity make consumers like an inferior brand.   

Maybe in some cases a celebrity can bring attention to a product, but most importantly the brand experience must be positive and deliver. There is no substitute for a brand that delivers. If your brand doesn’t deliver, a celebrity can’t overcome the weakness.

 We have lost some very famous and memorable product endorsers recently. But there are other celebrities busy pitching all manner of products, including hospitals. What matters is whether your brand delivers a positive patient experience that will build credibility and loyalty.  If it does, then the brand becomes the true celebrity.

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Healthcare Branding: Can You Control Yours?

Woman Smiling,Lying In Hospital BedYour hospital’s brand is being created everyday. It’s being determined most of all by patient experiences.

 Tom Peters, the management guru, recently spoke to the American Hospital Association’s Annual Leadership Forum and basically called the industry out. He recently had an experience in the Emergency Department of a well-known hospital, after his wife injured her ankle. The experience was not a good one. Unfortunately, it was probably much like the experiences of other patients at hospitals everyday across the country.

It’s interesting Peters’ comments were not focused on whether his wife’s ankle was given the proper diagnosis and treatment. Rather his comments were focused on their experience and how the service was so poor. Hospitals often think the thing that matters most is the treatment and medical outcome. It’s easy to assume that, since it’s involves one’s health.

But more and more it’s about the patient experience.

A hospital can be exactly “on” with the correct diagnosis and treatment and deliver great outcome. But if the experience of how the patient is treated and the environment in which the treatment is received is not positive – the hospital’s brand suffers. It’s no longer only about the medical aspects, it’s about the total experience.

Yes, hospitals have paid lip service to quality service, but not that many hospitals deliver it. And if the hospital doesn’t deliver on service, no amount of advertising or marketing can build a great brand.

For a long time, hospitals have made all kinds of excuses about what hinders or prohibits great service, but Peters pointed out some examples of hospitals, although only a few, who’s service outcomes are known to be outstanding. And of course his point is that all hospitals have the same requirements, restrictions and constraints, so if one hospital can deliver great service than all of them can.  Peter also emphasized that quality service and positive patient experience are mostly within the discretion of the hospital. And that will be true regardless of what “Obamacare” turns out to be.

It is indeed a consumer-driven economy and hospital brands are being enhanced or terribly downgraded everyday based not necessarily on medical outcomes but more on the quality of service provided.

The day his wife hurt her ankle, Peters was in “search of excellence.”  But he didn’t find it. Unfortunately, that’s a much too common occurrence in many hospitals

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