3 Tips to Building a Living Brand that Endures Online

By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer

How does a healthcare brand stay relevant in the digital age? How do you expand your reach and increase engagement on social media? And, how do you remain relevant to new generations of customers — all while staying true to your brand identity?

Spoiler: You don’t do it by compromising who you are. 

The only way to adapt to your audience and desired channels while remaining consistent with your core values and mission is to build a living brand. 

A living brand is dynamic and fluid. It’s able to grow with its target audience and within the evolving digital environment. 

Today, more than ever, healthcare brands must communicate who they are in a way that connects with customers and outshine the competition. 

If your brand is feeling out of touch with the current age, here are three tips to help you build a living brand. But first, let’s define what it is and how it’s different from static or traditional brands. 

What is a living brand?

A living brand is a consistent brand experience for both internal stakeholders and audiences. The customer is in the driver’s seat and determines how, when, and where they experience the brand. 

Healthcare Success Senior Art Director, Brett Maurer explains it this way, “The core brand positioning and intent is the tree trunk. The living application of that brand are the branches and leaves that grow away from it into new spaces – but they’re still a part of that tree.”

On the other hand, a static brand demonstrates a cookie-cutter approach for every channel and context.

“A static brand system has tried to plan and design for any application that ‘may’ be needed in the future / down the road,” says Brett.  “In contrast, a living brand system is designed to anticipate the unknown and the new – with the understanding that the brand itself is free to shift to make the most of that particular application or environment.”

Real-World Examples of Living Brands

GAP and Yeezy Collaboration

Let’s consider the Yeezy collaboration with GAP. GAP is a very well-known and established brand – with a valuable recognizable logo.

A traditional brand anticipating a partnership usually considers mixing logos. 

On the other hand, GAP gives up its logo entirely to the Yeezy brand for the duration of the time that Yeezy apparel is available! That’s a spectacular departure from the traditional partnership approach across brands that were typically afraid of cross-contamination devaluing their brand/logo equity.

The Living Brand in Action

Consider this scenario: Your healthcare brand colors are black and white. Everything is black and white, no matter what, because that’s what your visionary brand system dictates.

The problem? Black doesn’t convert well on social media advertising — even though there’s contrast. And instead of using the colors that do convert well, many brands disregard performance data and remain boxed in with their brand colors. 

“A living brand, on the other hand, would embrace the notion,” says Brett. “They would respond with curiosity and perhaps even embrace that particular color on a certain platform.”

A living brand allows its brand to shift for results –things they didn’t design for. However, they still create a brand system that is less reliant on specific aesthetics and more on clarity and consistency of message and intent. 

“A year from now, when a new designer is applying the brand to a new platform… they will look at the living brand standards – and see that there is already a solution for pink in the brand system – because that was added along the way! The brand changes and grows,” says Brett.

3 Tips to Build a Living Brand

Whether you need some fresh insight or a total brand strategy realignment, here are three tips to help you develop a living brand and connect with your audiences no matter where they are.

1)      Stay relevant.

Successful health systems are often closely connected to their communities. They know the heartbeat of the people. They know what people need, want, and their pain points. 

But, if your brand’s message and visual identity are static, you may lose opportunities to personalize your message in a noisy marketplace. 

To become a living brand, you’ll need to be relevant and engaging. Adapt your message to things that are relatable and address their interests, needs, and concerns. Becoming relatable, you stay relevant and connected.

2)      Adapt appropriately. 

A living brand is much like an individual’s own personality and style. It adapts appropriately depending on the channel and conversation, but it doesn’t change its core personality or identity. 

A brand’s visual identity needs to be fluid and dynamic. 

Branding guidelines and style guides have their place in establishing brand identity, so pick your battles,” says Brett.

“But when marketers work to drive action and emotion, say for an eCommerce site or paid social campaign, a living brand adapts to its audience and the visual language appropriate for the time and place.”

For example, you don’t change your inner self when you dress  in a suit for the boardroom or wearing sweats and sneakers during a 5K.  Your essence always remains the same, but you appropriately adapt to different environments.

The same goes for a brand when it tailors its visual identity and message by how it appears and behaves on a Podcast or Instagram—it’s still the same brand, only appropriately “dressed” for the channel and audience.  

In the world of content marketing, this is the difference between voice and tone. A brand message uses a consistent voice but changes its tone depending on the audience and the specific pain points they are experiencing.

3)      Demonstrate authenticity. 

Creating a living brand does not mean throwing out or replacing a brand’s identity to fit in with the times. It means being who you say you are all the time. It means being honest and authentic. 

How do you demonstrate authenticity as a brand? Authenticity is communicated through your brand voice and visual language. 

Instead of telling people who you are, show them. You have a mission, vision, and a set of values. Demonstrate authenticity by showing how you uphold your brand purpose. Stay transparent and allow people to see behind the scenes. 

Communicate a compelling purpose that is relatable and provides meaningful value to each customer encounter. 

If you’re not sure what your brand identity is, find out. Your brand guidelines are vital to creating a living brand.

Create and Nurture Living Healthcare Brands

Even though the digital era has sped up how people discover, transact, and use products and services, healthcare brands struggle to evolve. 

Just as other services we consume have a digital-first component, from online banking to retail, organizations in the healthcare ecosystem will need to adapt and evolve to nurture living brands.

If you’re short on time and resources, you might need an experienced marketing partner to help lift the load. We’d love to help build your living brand.

Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Success
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Success, one of the nation's leading healthcare and digital marketing agencies. Over the past 20 years, Stewart has marketed and consulted for over 1,000 healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to multi-billion dollar corporations. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. As an author and expert resource, Stewart has also written for many leading industry publications, including the 21,000 subscriber Healthcare Success Insight blog. Stewart also co-authored, "Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow & Perfect Your Cash-Pay Healthcare Business." Stewart began his career with leading advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, where he marketed Fortune 500 clients such as Wells Fargo and Bally's Total Fitness.

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