A Changing Landscape
Consolidation within the health care provider industry into larger hospital systems or integrated delivery networks (IDNs) is nothing new. In spite of the clinical and financial upside to consolidation, it also comes with many challenges. Beyond the undertaking of integrating new entities, cultures, protocols and EMRs, there’s also the elephant in the room: the new name and “brand” of the organization.
A brand goes far beyond names and logos. A brand is the sum of the perceptions and feelings people have of your organization, which forms the backbone for their expectations and actual experiences. Having a solid brand is not a nice-to-have, but a critical success factor. A hospital system is competing to be the provider of choice, and not just for patients. A powerful brand can help attract and retain rock star staff and even impact a system’s negotiations with health plans and employers.
In fact, your brand could be one of the most valuable assets you own.
What’s a Hospital System to Do?
Unlike an acute patient whom we must quickly assess and efficiently discharge, quality management of a brand requires continuous and long-term care. Dozens of organizations have recently taken on rebranding, some with better outcomes than others. Regardless of your size, location or profit status, here are some basic steps to consider if your organization is considering, or in the process of, a hospital system rebranding initiative.
Step 1: Conduct Research
- Gather data to assess how your organization is perceived by patients, employees, physicians, volunteers/auxiliary, the community/communities you serve and any other stakeholders. Include a brand audit to compare against key “competitors.”
- Identify your organization’s greatest assets (e.g., technology, awards, successes/firsts).
Consider your history, and the deep sentiments tied to that history. In working with other health systems, we’ve come to appreciate the deeper emotional aspects associated with brand changes and the importance of appropriately addressing those sentiments. So, when conducting the research, think of this as more than a survey or set of focus groups. Use this as an opportunity to bring “heart” to the process, giving constituents a platform to share with active acknowledgment of their concerns. Done well, this can be a great HR-marketing collaboration opportunity to help inform critical success factors to cascade your brand effectively (see Step 3).
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Step 2: Define Your Optimal Brand
- Workshop a strategic brand platform based on what you’ve learned from Step 1 (see example below). Avoid the cliche forms and expressions used by the majority of other hospitals (e.g., “Our mission is to improve the health and well-being of our community”) – this simply adds to (instead of cuts through) the “noise” and won’t advance your brand. Evaluate your brand platform against key criteria such as distinctiveness, appeal, credibility and how dynamic it is.
- Translate your brand platform from words into the senses. What do your desired brand perceptions look, sound and feel like to your stakeholders? We find that using a set of various visual galleries (such as representing look, texture, brand character) to stimulate the discussion helps transform these keywords into a “sensory model.” Interior decorators and designers sometimes use this method, sharing an “idea book” to help elicit your feedback on colors, furniture and decor you prefer in a way that you otherwise might have difficulty articulating using words alone.
- Create a messaging blueprint (here’s an example) that ensures your messaging is always on target across a multitude of channels.
Step 3: Cascade Your New Brand Internally
- Conduct cascading workshops internally so that everyone in the organization knows what your brand is about and how it’s different. Ask participants for ideas on how they can bring those perceptions to life in their functional areas. Identify key stakeholders within departments, shifts and locations to most quickly and cost-efficiently ensure reach throughout your organization.
- Repeat these cascading sessions as needed and make the brand a key part of internal communications (e.g., newsletters, intranets) by sharing brand-related successes, ideas that have been implemented, positive feedback received, etc.
- Make sure your executive team takes the new brand image seriously and reinforces it among staff. Consider forming a cross-functional Brand Council that is responsible for the growth and quality of the brand image.
Step 4: Launch and Communicate Your Brand Externally
- Develop communications pieces and branded content that reflect the desired brand perceptions. Dignity Health has a particularly notable campaign, taking a page from the classic storytelling playbook that evokes a tear and a warmhearted feeling that’s inspiring.
- Build a team (not just a handful of marketing staff) that engages audiences through social media channels and distributes content through those channels in addition to any PR and advertising efforts.
- Consider using automated marketing/communications to stay top of mind and reinforce your brand image and position with your stakeholders.
Step 5: Assess and Enhance
- Measure how your internal and external efforts are performing through research and other internal informational touch points.
- Adjust your efforts as needed.
A compelling and differentiated brand image that’s properly communicated can have tremendous ROI. Look what branding has done for a commodity like coffee. But this reward doesn’t come easy, particularly for a 24/7 operation like a hospital. It’s like changing the fan belt while the engine is running. Great brand-building requires a high level of commitment, expert planning and ongoing dedication.
For more examples, tips and “watch-outs” on establishing, managing or rebooting your brand, contact us at Six Degrees. We thrive on the brand challenges people throw our way and are more than happy to share our 15-plus years of health care and marketing experience to help move your brand forward.