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Thinking Forward: Taking Your Hospital Brand to the Next Level

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

brand buildingA truly excellent crystal ball—with the ability to accurately foretell the future of hospital branding—is practically nonexistent. While hindsight is 20/20, looking beyond the horizon and trend spotting in marketing are clouded by the near-constant change in healthcare.

But, motivated by intense competition—and the dynamics of change—many of the best minds in hospital leadership are “thinking forward” about taking their brand to the next level. And finding the answer might be one of the biggest challenges for facilities of every size.

When it comes to branding and claiming a unique perception in the mind of the consumer, hospitals have had to contend with some immense hurtles:

The answer precedes the question. Creating awareness with consumers today for solutions they may need tomorrow is challenging, especially with a unpleasant idea of “going to the hospital.”

Nothing good happens in a hospital. Unguided awareness—if the public thought much about it at all—was tightly connected to a sense of dread, discomfort, sickness and/or sadness.

One white coat is the same as the next. Until recently, facilities did little to differentiate, and much of the public mind believes that healthcare providers and organizations are pretty much the same.

The historic perspective…

The relatively recent history of hospitals in America suggests how the image and branding environment has evolved…and hints at the future.

THE CLASSIC HOSPITAL: Physicians and surgeons—not the public or patients—were the primary customers of hospitals. Hospitals were largely concerned about the institution’s reputation among doctors, and far less so about public awareness. The hospital facility was primarily a venue for, and extension of, the doctors’ practices. If consumers thought about it at all, the stereotypical image was unappealing…sterile, clinical, process-oriented and doctor dominated.

THE HOTEL HOSPITAL: As healthcare has reinvented itself to be increasingly patient-centric, hospital branding, promotional activities and service lines have taken a page from its cousin, the hospitality industry. In an effort to distance itself from the antiseptic-aroma of yesterday, branding messages became amenity-driven, with hospital services packaged in a better wrapper. Patient comfort and convenience were strong points, with concierge services, valet parking, women’s’ centers and a health spa atmosphere.

THE WELLNESS HOSPITAL: The Affordable Care Act and other forces require a new emphasis on prevention, wellness activities and an “avoid hospitalization” attitude. This dynamic is consistent with, and often an extension of, the patient-centered hospitality concept.

And pushing ahead to the next tier...

THE COMMUNITY CHAMPION HOSPITAL: Beyond wellness, there’s a branding tier that places the hospital as the leader, champion and primary health resource throughout the community. This is where the facility—including its administration, medical staff and employees—is recognized as a dominant force in the service area.

The next tier is a unique civic leadership opportunity to be recognized as top-of-mind synonymous with health and wellness advocacy. One example can be seen in the Kaiser Thrive effort, a long-running, innovative and patient-positive marketing effort.

As they describe it: “Kaiser Permanente is the nation’s largest not-for-profit integrated health care delivery system. It is about a brand strategy supported by a well-entrenched mission and a commitment to a model of care that is centered on members and patients.

“Our brand is the entire experience that our members, patients, customers and the public have with us, [and] our people work every day to ensure that our brand platform, known as Total Health, is extended beyond advertising to direct marketing, business marketing, internet services, internal communications, public relations, social media and issues management.”

This organization and other industry thought leaders are moving to be life-long influences in the lives of the public they serve. Although Kaiser has strength in its considerable size, it’s important to recognize that all health care delivery is both local and personal.

And while national or international recognition is flattering, the most important patient through the front door is probably a neighbor and a friend.

For more on this topic, read: 5 Key Concepts to Bolster Your Hospital Brand, and Creating a Powerful, Differentiating Brand. Or to continue the conversation about taking your hospital brand to the next level, reach out to us here.

Lonnie Hirsch

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