One of our clients reminded us recently that healthcare is a two-sided coin of Life and Death. Unlike any other business category, healthcare marketing and branding requires engaging prospective patients who would rather avoid the conversation altogether. Though we are seeing the trend of audiences becoming increasingly engaged in proactive healthcare lifestyles, at the end of the day, watching The Bachelor season finale or checking TMZ to see what Kim Kardashian is wearing is much more fun than learning about how the Whipple surgery can help treat pancreatic cancer.
Inherent in that two-sided coin of the healthcare conversation lies powerful brand attributes. While Nike can tap into the emotional benefit of strength and Victoria’s Secret can leverage sexy, your healthcare brand can connect with hope and life.
The common outcomes we test in quantitative healthcare brand surveys are awareness, preference and the likelihood of using our healthcare and hospital brands as a whole, and along with key service lines like emergency services, cancer services, orthopedics and cardiac services.
We often ask consumers to rate our healthcare brands with attributes like expertise, technology, compassion/care, and convenience. The downside to this methodology – inherent in most quantitative studies – is the inability for healthcare marketers and communications specialists to evaluate whether our healthcare brands resonate with audiences on an emotional level. And it is on the emotional level where our audiences choose our healthcare services.
Leading research conducted on how and why consumers buy goods and services proves that health audiences are no different than consumers of fast food, laundry detergent and deodorant: 85% of the decision-making on choosing a brand stems from emotional factors.
In the fascinating book “Buyology” the author, Martin Lindstrom, explains, “…emotions are the way in which our brains encode things of value and a brand that engages us emotionally will win every single time.”
What better emotion to cultivate in our health audiences to choose our brand first or again than Trust?
Offering the latest technology alone will not motivate audiences to choose your healthcare brand over another. Healthcare consumers spend their time working, with their families and watching the ball game. They don’t know what the TAVR procedure is, or how revolutionary Novalis TX is in treating cancer. Expertise is a position that most healthcare brands strive to own, but expertise by itself will not guarantee a market share growth. If you’re a large academic located in an densely populated urban location, you know that inconvenient parking and hard-to-navigate hallways undermine growing patient loyalty and brand “love.”
Most brand perception studies ask consumers to rate a healthcare provider on individual attributes, then plot out the healthcare brand on an axis, most often somewhere north of high touch and south of high tech.
But health audiences–like all human beings–want it all: expertise with compassion, technology with convenience, life-saving procedures while being charged reasonable prices.
And what health audiences want is to know they trust you to save their life, make them well again, and to protect their most important possessions in the world: their families.
Trust as a powerful brand position isn’t new to healthcare, but only now are healthcare brands awakening to the shift from lower level attributes like technology, expertise, compassion and convenience to higher engaged emotional brand promises like trust.
Ford Motor Company’s trends report calls Trust “the new black” in branding. According to Ford, integrity is a new form of competitive advantage as consumers–still reeling from a down economy and massive changes–are more skeptical of brands. Building trust is deeply dependent on every facet of the customer experience.
Since 2001, trust in brands has dropped by 50%. The correlation of trust to brand equity increased 35% since the 2008 financial crisis. Because trust is a precious commodity, its limited supply has stimulated consumer demand to seek out brands that represent trust.
Patagonia, the respected and beloved outdoor clothing brand, ran an ad on Cyber Monday promoting one of their new winter jackets and encouraging consumers not to buy it if they didn’t need it. The ad went on to describe their Common Threads Initiative, which helps reduce unneeded clothing costs by repairing worn or ripped clothing, sharing worn clothing with others in need, and to responsibly recycle clothing that cannot be reused.
Thanks to this provocative ad, which attracted incredible media and social attention, along with Patagonia’s “baked in” approach to building trust with customers for decades, trust in Patagonia among highly skeptical 18 to 34-year-olds soared 350%.
McDonald’s announced recently that it would start posting calories for all its food on in-store menu boards. The Business Week article regarding the announcement said that customers will “see in bright lights that a Big Mac and large fries weighs in at 1,050 calories.”
Transparency in business is a friend of trust, and brands that are transparent, even if they aren’t perfect (1,000 calories!) are being rewarded. Timberland shoes, which for years has gone beyond selling functional brand benefits like shoe comfort and fit and emphasized social responsibility, offers “Eco-Labeling” for its shoe boxes. Every box of Timberland shoes features a label detailing the ecological resources required to make the shoes. Like McDonald’s displaying calorie counts for its delicious but high in calorie food, Timberland’s shoes are not all made with a small ecological footprint. Yet because Timberland is leading the way in transparency, its brand is growing the level of “trust love” among consumers.
You can build richer degrees of trust with your healthcare brand by examining the tone of your advertising and consumer-facing communications. Do your messages talk up or down to audiences? Does your advertising use words and phrases that non-healthcare-oriented consumers (most of your audience) will understand? Are your marketing communications resources creating better customer experiences, or simply dispensing information without regard to meaningful use and application to enrich lives?
We would love to see a health system create an ad with the headline, “Would you rather pay $50 for heart-healthy vitamins or $50,000 for open heart surgery?”
Of course, building trust with your healthcare brand is deeper than ad messages. Building trust is hard-wired into the soul of a healthcare organization. It is the summation of mission, vision and values. But if you’re a healthcare marketer reading this and need to start somewhere in building trust with audiences, then start with your organization’s corporate voice, then move inward.
Now that we are in a transformative healthcare environment, prospective patients are looking to healthcare brands to lead the way. Value-based healthcare, an emphasis on prevention versus treatment, and creating medical homes require healthcare brands to communicate beyond service lines. Expertise, technology, compassion and convenience are important attributes, but individually don’t add up to what health audiences want: trust in your brand to care for their lives, and their families.