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A Logo is Not a Brand: The Mark of Meaningful Values

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

healthcare success logoWith increasing frequency, we hear from someone who believes that creating a logo is the primary consideration in creating a brand or branding message. In fact, a logo is not a brand, but it represents a brand.

It's a common question. The ongoing reconfiguration of the nation's healthcare delivery system has many medical practices and hospitals rethinking their marketing and branding. Group practices are disbanding in favor of some combination of solo practice, new group structure and/or hospital affiliation.

Even regional health systems and multi-location hospitals are stepping back to the marketing starting line. And all are looking for a fresh branding message and Physicians News Digest, "it has become common place for hospitals, medical groups and even individual doctors to brand their institutions and practices with logos and slogans displayed on everything from billboards and bus signage to television ads in prime time. The goal is to produce a compelling tagline and image that symbolizes the services or philosophy of their health care system."

Dr. Lucas-Fehm's cornerstone question-which she answers in the affirmative-is: Does branding really impact a patient's selection of a health care provider? Although the answer is "yes," the challenge for healthcare marketing professionals quickly becomes: "Since effective branding is targeted at the buyer what we as physicians want to promote may not be what needs to be sold from a marketing/business point of view by the health systems.

"Doctors are likely to think of value in terms of clinical quality (skill level, training, and peer reputation) in affiliation with a health system that provides state of the art equipment and technology. But the public (the buyer) often values service (access, amenities, ease of scheduling)."

Creating a truly effective logo probably will not be an all-encompassing branding message at the level of these lesser and individual components. While they are important elements and design considerations a logo-the device itself-is not the brand.

We like to think of branding as the overarching value or benefits that differentiate who you are and what you do. The logo is a symbolic reminder of those important values.

In our previous article, Creating an Effective Marketing-Based Logo That Works Better Than Swoosh, we covered distinctions between a design-based logo and a marketing-based logo. And for most healthcare marketing requirements, the marketing-based logo is the choice to communicate a meaningful impression and a sense of brand value.

Here's the challenging part.

Typically, the final creative product will consist of a graphic or visual element, a business name and a positioning tagline. But the development of a logo, from the blank page to the final form, requires a design that's simple, visually appealing, and which inspires a lasting and positive mental impression.

A creative solution finds the right formula to bring together these sometimes-competing criteria in a way that works together. The creative process is challenging, and not easily done without professional help. In our experience, the "solution" (which will be unique to the circumstances) will embrace each of the following essentials to be a true contender:

  • DIFFERENTIATION: An expression of what sets you above and beyond the competition in the minds and hearts of the target audience. What is vitally important for them to know and remember about you?
  • DISTINCTIVE: The logo device conveys a lasting, positive impression. Connecting on an emotional level is one pathway to being unique and memorable.
  • DURABILITY: Graphic arts can be remarkable in the moment, but may lose their spark to next week's "latest-and-greatest" fashionable design. The timeliness of design needs to be both current and enduring...neither dated nor short-lived or trendy.
  • UTILITY: Functionally, a logo must communicate-with equal effectiveness-in every application, from business card (small) to billboard (large). And it must be readable and appropriate when expressed in color or in black/white (or single color) only.
  • SIMPLICITY: A quick, easy read cannot be complicated. (This is the classic and fatal flaw of design by committee (or "kitchen sink") approach. Visually arresting is usually a good thing, but it must also be instantly understood. Complexity is a killer.

And then there's the really challenging part.

Your brand-the essential definition of who or what you are in the minds of others-can be distilled and expressed in logo form. And when you get it right, a logo is a versatile and highly effective marketing tool that represents your branding message.

But as an expression of your brand, the core challenge is to clearly define the total experience that a customer has with your product, service or company. Does it come from the physician's perspective of clinical quality or the patient's value system of access and service?

The really challenging part of the logo development process is in finding the answer...one that will be different from others and unique to each situation, and often one where the values of the physician and the values of the patient intersect.

For example, Dr. Lucas-Fehm concludes her insightful article about advertising and health care with this observation. "I still speak with many patients who tell me that what brings them back year after year to the same hospital and doctor is the compassion, trust and genuine caring that they experience. That means a lot more than any logo or slogan."

And we would agree. The logo is not the brand. In this instance, it symbolizes the compassion, trust and caring that are the heart of the brand.

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