Ah, the joys in branding large health systems.
First, consensus building. Multiple hospitals, administrators, board members, physicians and service line directors with different interests and points of view. And, if you’re branding a newly formed system of formerly competing hospitals, you have even more opportunities to show off your stellar diplomacy skills.
Then there’s the positioning. Stand-alone hospitals often elect to brand via service lines. Being known as the destination for heart and vascular services helps all service lines via “halo effect.” When audiences think your health system excels at a complicated service line, they assume you must be strong at the less-complicate stuff. Or, if your hospital is known as the “place to have a baby,” you can leverage baked in goodwill and positive attitudes in cultivating a strong brand.
But what about branding large health systems? You know where you want to end up: with a campaign that speaks to the hearts and minds of prospective patients and causes your physician community to break into a wild standing ovation every time you walk into the room.
But where do you begin?
In our experience, many health systems who want to develop a core brand positioning are reacting to internal forces and don’t take into account the market drivers that make for a meaningful position to grow insured patient volume.
So, what are the benefits to branding as a system?
- Strength in numbers – health audiences understand the power of a “system of integrated care.”
- Service line development – health audiences understand that doing a procedure (like heart surgery) more often makes for better outcomes and higher quality of care, which can be achieved with a system focus.
- Consistency of message/presence in fragmented media market – health audiences understand and respond to consistency of message and singular presence.
When we talk about branding, we’re talking about positioning. Logos, colors and ad templates are part of the branding process, but it begins with positioning.
- What is your brand’s position, the space no other system or provider can own?
- How does this positioning benefit your audiences and provide your system competitive edge?
Ultimately, the task of brand positioning a health system comes down to understanding your health audience and meeting them where they are in their lives – knowing what matters to them, what doesn’t, and why your brand positively impacts their lives – long before you have the opportunity to care for them and the ones they love.
In this way, branding health systems means discovering the common connecting point of the individual hospitals. In mergers and acquisitions, this connecting point is often tied to the strategic vision of the new organization – an ability to deliver a more comprehensive, connected level of care, or the chance to deliver advanced technology and services not possible through older, stand-alone hospital models.
Whatever your starting point in branding health systems – unifying a family of once stand-alone facilities, or bringing together multiple entities through mergers and acquisition – identify the connector that unifies and brings to life the vision of the organization. Translate that into tangible benefits to your audiences and you’ll have a meaningful brand on your hands.
Sounds easy, but it’s hard to pull off. Though not impossible. And definitely worth the effort.
- “Branding” isn’t an ad campaign, though an ad campaign may communicate a health system’s brand.
- Branding is ultimately the core positioning of the health system – what it means in the marketplace, its value to the audience and uniqueness, incorporating both tangible and intangible qualities.
- Effective branding gives audiences a promise with proof points, or reasons to believe the brand positioning. If your brand is expertise, then be prepared to deliver on that promise.
- “Bridge brands” are helpful for organizations that want to radically transform their value in the marketplace. Bridge brands are smaller, more manageable plateaus in a long-term repositioning and rebranding Hyundai is a great example of using bridge branding over multiple years to reach premium car status.
- Mergers and acquisitions are great opportunities to create a new brand. The temptation, though, is to think you’re beginning with a clean slate. You’re not. Audiences have long memories, and if your new brand doesn’t deliver meaningful value and pay off its positioning promise, expect apathy (or worse) from audiences.
- Branding is a journey; allow your organization the vision and patience to grow into a long-term brand repositioning. One ad campaign alone won’t transform a brand, but a series of small, focused changes done with intensity over time will reshape an organization’s brand.
The TV spots in this blog post are examples of a health system branding campaign Franklin Street recently launched for HCA Virginia.
What are your branding and positioning challenges? Are you coordinating branding for a system that doesn’t seem to want to behave as a system? We’d love to hear what keeps you up at night.