As many healthcare systems expand their reach through mergers and acquisitions, and tackle new payment methodologies such as mandatory bundled payments and ACO arrangements, they are investing resources in rebranding their organization and integrating the new brand promise in everything they do.
Medical supplies may seem like an unlikely avenue to build brand awareness. However, when you think of the touch points—every nurse/ patient interaction, staff interaction and even families—and compare that to costs invested in advertising, media and PR, what better way to reach your patients through every aspect of their care than through branding. With branding, whether it’s a physician office, surgery center, home health, or anywhere else throughout the healthcare system, your hospital system can be everywhere.
Marketing to the Trends
Across the country we are seeing an expansion of integrated networks. Healthcare systems are venturing into post-acute spaces, rapidly expanding their owned physician practices and positioning themselves to capture the consumer by building loyalty, awareness and ultimately consumer preference.
With the advent of healthcare reform and increased cost pressures, the “rise of consumerism” is a reality new to healthcare providers. Consumerism is not an area of expertise for them. But the new trend is consumers making value-based decisions on where they want care, who they want it from, how much they want to spend and what they expect to get for their money.
Because of this, healthcare systems are making big investments in patient experience and marketing both internally and externally.
As systems expand their networks and merge with other providers, names change, logos change, signage changes and in many cases, the entire hospital brand may change to better connect with a patient or family. Large sums of money are invested in ad campaigns including billboards, TV commercials and radio spots. And healthcare systems are contracting with big name ad and branding agencies to win the appeal of the consumer and compete in their changing markets.
What helps make these campaigns successful? The most powerful branding campaigns occur when the organization is “all in” from the CEO down. Sounds simple, but unless the CEO is driving this initiative, relaying the message of the system’s mission and vision, explaining who they are and will be, and supporting the marketing team 100 percent, the branding campaign will be nothing more than new art. However, if there is real commitment driven by leadership and supported by everyone in the system, that branding campaign can be the most important single investment the health system has ever seen.
Design the Patient Experience while Expanding the Health System Brand
Achieving meaningful innovation and brand awareness requires a deep understanding of the people at the heart of your design. So while you focus on your patients in the context of their environment, also direct observations to the larger realm of your culture: its clinicians, care partners and external stimuli that actively influence a patient’s lifestyle. It is through these insights—coupled with industry knowledge and healthcare expertise—that you can hope to discover opportunities for innovation that will impact change. The brand can be powerful through design of course. But more importantly, your brand represents and emotes what your healthcare organization stands for.
In today’s market you are seeing a shift from branding that looks highly medical to branding that is personal, resonating, promotes wellness and healthy lifestyles, and is collaborative and clever. Part of this shift is change promoted by the Affordable Care Act; the other part is consumer choice and competition.
If current trends are any indication, the expectations of the consumer will continue to change. They will be more involved in and responsible for their healthcare. And, they will expect healthcare that is meaningful, inspiring, caring and kind.
People buy with emotion. If, in fact, we in healthcare are becoming a consumer-driven market, then we need to connect to our customers as consumers. We need to do deep dives into their needs and develop our brand to support and represent the people at the heart of the design and the outside influences that are ever changing.
Brand New to Brand Power?
Talk to other hospitals systems that have recently gone through branding changes, not to copy them but to learn from them. Read about consumer branding and marketing. Use other people outside of marketing as judges to your ideas. Have patient councils. Include nursing and clinical staff as influences/advisors, but also have some really good forward thinkers, strategists and dreamers as part of the project.
Don’t be afraid of the money it will cost to change your brand. Get references of branding agencies and think big. Healthcare is changing, and our patients are changing with it. I have been lucky to be intimately involved with branding many systems, and have seen big differences. If your system is serious, it is a big job. But the ROI is incredible and worth every part of the investment.
This article originally appeared in Threads magazine. Click here to subscribe.