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The Art and Science of Creating a Master Brand for Advocate Health Care

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer
Kelly Jo Golson

Kelly Jo Golson

[SHSMD13 Podcast Series] In our continuing hospital leadership interviews hosted by Lonnie Hirsch, Advocate Health Care’s Kelly Jo Golson previews her SHSMD Connections 2013 presentation titled Breakthrough Brand Strategy. This case study presents the transition from a fragmented and unrecognized collection of hospital brands to a master brand for Advocate.

The task of creating a unified brand among 12 hospitals, 250 care sites and 35,000 associates is, in the kindest of terms, an extremely daunting proposition.

In our podcast interview, Kelly Jo Golson, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Advocate Health Care talks with Healthcare Success Cofounder Lonnie Hirsch about the challenging process of transitioning to a master brand for all Advocate Health Care, one of the largest health systems in the Midwest.

“Gaining internal support,” Kelly Jo explains, “is a subject that deserves more attention than it sometimes gets when facilities are embarking on significant brand work. Winning internal buy-in was just as important as any of the creative development.

“What we did from an early stage in the process was to develop opportunities [for input and involvement] at several different stages.” The internal involvement included clinicians, corporate and service unit leadership throughout the organization, beginning with the earliest assessment.

“As we were preparing an audit to understand how badly fragmented the brand was, we involved a significant number of leaders and clinicians who were able to bring the story [about the need] to light and what was needed to be done.

And as concepts developed, “we created input sessions including multiple sessions at the various facility sites where leaders and clinicians had the opportunity to comment, give feedback, and to react. For example, when we were testing different positioning with focus groups, we invited leaders to take part throughout the process.”

Early in the process, Kelly Jo explained that they created a brand stewardship committee—composed of clinicians and senior executives from all of our sites—that met once a month. They were presented with options and strategies where we had buy-in, support and ultimately some approvals.

Critical Milestones…

There were many critical milestones throughout the process, Kelly Jo said in our interview, and it is difficult to streamline the list to only a few. But, in reflection, she said that some of the milestones that standout for her include:

  • Executive and board approval for master brand;
  • Getting consensus around what the new brand (tagline, creative, etc) would be;
  • An effective date for the “sunset” (and removal) of the many existing brands;
  • The introduction of the brand internally, and externally with strong media roll-out across a nine-county area;
  • Receiving the first consumer awareness and tracking results (with notable gains).

Busting the myth of being “too expensive to change”

Part of the internal hesitation in starting this project was the need to let go of the long-standing (but fragmented) local brands. But in addition, right at the top of the list was the concern for how expensive it was going to be to create a master brand throughout the organization. “But,” Kelly Jo told us, “that turned out to be a myth.”

The budget throughout the organization was also fragmented, and there was no benefit in economy of scale without a centralized marketing strategy and budget. “Having done an audit across the entire organization, the board was presented with the fact that we could have impact with no additional dollars expended.

We did [budget] restructuring, so that in the first two years, we did not increase the overall dollars spent. It was a significant budget, but although it was a firm budget, we did not spend any more that what we had spent in the previous year. We just spent it more strategically.”

In the following podcast interview with Lonnie Hirsch, Kelly Jo Golson also previewed some of the other points in her upcoming SHSMD13 presentation, including exploding other branding myths, and revealing innovative marketing techniques that emerged from this extensive process.

Listen to our podcast!

SHSMD13 HSS Podcast Kelly Jo Golson Advocate Health Care Case Study Breakthrough Brand Strategy

Individuals who are attending the SHSMD conference in Chicago will want to hear Kelly Jo Golson’s full presentation live on Monday, September 30th. And please visit Lonnie Hirsch at the Healthcare Success Booth #202 on the exhibit floor. FOR MORE in our continuing educational leadership series, previous Healthcare Success interviews are available on this page.

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Kelly Jo Golson has more than 17 years experience in the health care industry and has held numerous key leadership roles at Memorial Hermann Healthcare, Methodist Healthcare and St. Luke's Episcopal Healthcare (Houston, TX). She has an undergraduate degree in journalism from Texas A&M University and a masters in business administration from Our Lady of the Lake University.

The Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development conference of the American Hospital Association will be held September 29 – October 2, in Chicago.

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