Healthcare branding has long been challenging. It’s hard to posit distinctive differentiators in an abundance of markets: how many ways can you evoke quality, innovation, or compassion? Now, branding is complicated by a seismic shift in consumer perspective.
Just as digital access has transformed the retail space, it is rapidly shaping expectations for healthcare services and patient experience. Healthcare consumers overall, and younger generations in particular, are putting more emphasis on convenience and costs in choosing healthcare. New financial realities (relatively stagnant wages, more high-deductible health plans, and college loan debt ) lend urgency to price transparency and in-network providers and services. As a result, healthcare consumer loyalties are more tenuous. Reputation often ranks below convenience and cost, possibly because many viewers may assume quality care as a given.
If there is no same-day appointment, one of five patients will go elsewhere;
if there is no availability the same week, three of five will go elsewhere.
Healthcare organizations need to be thorough in assessing what resonates in their target markets, for their overarching brand, and for effectively positioning service lines and facilities that align with their umbrella.
Yes& advocates a three-fold approach to adopting a prospective new or refined brand: Test It. Own It. Live It.
Some healthcare organizations that built a strong reputation find that previously impactful differentiators no longer resonate with consumers.
One example: A Yes& healthcare client was emphatic that being a non-profit with a faith-based heritage was their key differentiator, driving choice for many families and patients. A series of focus group interviews yielded a different perspective: participants saw no difference in non-profit versus for-profit providers. They also viewed faith orientation as a disadvantage, as they worried providers would push a specific religious doctrine on patients.
Draw on as much national, regional, market-specific, and brand-specific research as possible in developing or refining prospective brand platforms. In particular, test branding concepts with representatives of your target audience as well as organizational stakeholders. It’s well worth the investment to ensure that your chosen platform works for high-value target audiences, the greater community you serve, and your own stakeholders, providers, and staff.
It’s also important to recognize that drivers for a specific service line or facility may not carry over to other areas. While convenience and cost are trending high as overall healthcare decision drivers, there are areas where quality and reputation reigns supreme, such as oncology, cardiology, neurology, or high-risk pregnancy. There’s no need to lose or downplay a sub-brand differentiator, because a solid parent brand provides the umbrella, while allowing for tailoring messaging for specific target markets and audiences.
“Everybody can say that.” “Our competitors do that, too.” We often find healthcare clients hesitant to claim a differentiator.
That hesitancy has two drawbacks. First, it tends to eliminate aspirational branding out of the gate. It also ascribes too much power to the brand focus, and far too little to its execution. The force of a brand typically isn’t in the uniqueness of a brand premise or differentiator... it’s in the strength and reach of the brand execution, and its ability to persuade the audience.
“Be Well” doesn’t sound like an amazing brand, and, fundamentally, “Thrive” is hardly different. The word is more dynamic and nuanced, but the concept itself isn’t the magic. Instead, it’s everything that Kaiser Permanente was able to imbue “Thrive” with by owning (and living) the brand that gave it such an impact.
This is why the chosen brand must resonate internally and externally. To have credibility, the organization has to embrace and embody the brand, “Yes, that’s what we do. It’s who we are.” And that makes it far easier to make essential connections between the brand and current and planned programs and initiatives, for a fully integrated brand platform.
Successful branding projects entail a sustained internal educational and change management component. Particularly when branding is aspirational, it takes continuous evaluation and reinforcement to evolve the underlying culture.
Geisinger had already rolled out its new “Caring” brand and conducted system-wide training and process work to actualize the brand promise when it engaged Yes& to assist in several internal and external communication projects. Long known for quality and innovation, Geisinger was already striving to improve access, convenience, and cost-effectiveness when it adopted “Caring.” Geisinger saw in the concept an umbrella to personalize its programs and services and emphasize the importance of meeting patient needs across every aspect of care.
Following the roll-out, Geisinger undertook a concerted and sustained effort to help providers and employees understand how the organization’s new strategic plan mapped to the organization’s values and brand promise. This emphasis helped employees truly understand their role and importance in exemplifying caring and moved the organization to embrace caring in all patient experiences and touch-points. It’s not that innovation and quality are an iota less at the heart of Geisinger’s work; it’s that quality is framed in the context of delivering better care, and innovation is in the service of providing more personalized, more accessible, more convenient, and more efficacious care.
Among the benefits of investments in brand adoption are employees who not only understand the brand, but begin to funnel up ideas for improvement, or simple ways to live the brand that delivers real value for patients.
 Solv & Urgent Care Association of America, 2018 Consumer Healthcare Report