graphic of pills and chart

Today’s hospitals are investing billions of dollars in purchasing, acquiring, merging, integrating and upgrading, all with the goal of building better business models and improving patient care. But to get the most out of these investments—to connect meaningfully with patients, healthcare professionals and the communities they serve—hospitals must also invest in that essential business asset: the brand.

Healthcare’s Current Dose of Disruption

American hospitals are undergoing transformational change. Facing the need to provide quality care to more people at lower cost, hospitals are changing their business strategies. They’re striving to stay competitive, of course. But even remaining solvent is a challenge as they navigate rapidly-evolving regulations and invest in essential new infrastructure and technologies.

Hospitals’ investments are taking many forms. Many are building centers of excellence: focused facilities that leverage research and best practices. These and other enhancements help them earn or maintain their accreditation from the Joint Commission, a non-profit bureau whose mission is to “continuously improve health care for the public.” (Approximately 80% of American hospitals are accredited.)

Government regulations are also driving plenty of spending. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 required the use of electronic health records (EHRs). Tens of billions of dollars have been invested in EHRs in the decades since, and regular upgrades are now considered part of the cost of doing business.

The need for such ongoing investments continues to be a key factor driving hospitals toward consolidation. There doesn’t appear to be any end in sight; hospitals will need to continue to make big moves to adapt to each new requirement and competitive market pressure.

Our Recommended Remedy: Engaging the Power of Brand

We believe that as hospitals’ business models change (to include investments in new systems, technology, mergers, physician groups and other improvements), their investments in branding must evolve as well.

Why? Simply making investments does not ensure an acceptable return on them. Investments must be communicated along with the rationales behind them.

This is when brand shines as a motivating relationship-builder and enduring revenue growth driver. Branding can help a hospital attract new patients as well as skilled healthcare professionals, positioning the institution as the provider of choice within their region. It can accomplish this by communicating how each of the hospital’s investments improves people’s experience of healthcare.

With each investment or business move, a hospital’s brand can convey the most meaningful benefits of the change to each of its constituent groups:

  • For patients and the community, a hospital’s infrastructure investment might result in wider availability of quality and convenient care
  • For healthcare professionals, an investment in new technology might create opportunities to provide more efficient, effective care

One System’s Story (Or, Just Because You Build It Doesn’t Mean They Will Come)

In recent years, DeSantis Breindel was brought on to rebrand an integrated healthcare system in New Jersey. Three regional hospitals had merged. The new entity aimed to provide patients with coordinated care across a broad network with abundant specialized care.

Striving to build an entire integrated system from the ground up, the hospital group:

  • Invested in new technology
  • Created an impressive physician group by acquiring leading practices
  • Launched an insurance subsidiary
  • Created a network of centers of excellence

In spite of all this progress, the group still faced a challenge. It needed to translate its business strategy into a compelling value proposition for all key stakeholders. People needed to understand precisely how these investments would benefit them and increase the quality of regional healthcare.

The system was coming together just as planned. But to play off the famous line from Field of Dreams: just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come.

The Power of Brand Diagnostics

We were proud to help this hospital system convey their promise through brand.

Their investment (and our partnership) began with a deep discovery phase to unearth stakeholder priorities. Communities vary, and the needs and expectations of patients—even within a single county—can differ vastly. So our research helped get to the heart of what local patients really cared about.

In-depth conversations and quantitative surveys revealed that one population segment was driven mainly by convenience and cost. Another segment was focused on the importance of the doctor-patient relationship. To be successful, of course, the new brand had to appeal to both.

Research also revealed the types of questions people were asking about the merger:

  • How would the consolidation of three independent hospitals into one integrated system benefit patients?
  • Why should a physician group sell its practice to the new system?
  • Would accessing healthcare in the new system become more bureaucratic and less personal?

These insights led to a compelling brand idea: “360 Degrees of Coordinated Healthcare.”

We recommended that the new brand focus on the patient experience. The new system was designed to pull all facets of their care together: from the hospital environment to the experience of visiting their doctor’s office to the communications or services they’d receive at home. But people needed to understand that the new integrated system would be more responsive to patient needs.

This brand strategy positioned the newly-formed hospital system as a positive contributor to quality healthcare, not just a bottom-line-focused business. We activated this strategy with a visual identity that projected the key values and tenets that would communicate aligned values and promises. Colors, imagery and design represented the system as approachable, warm and inclusive.

Bringing the Brand to Life From the Inside Out

Success of the hospital system’s new brand (and its new healthcare delivery model) hinged on the system’s people. After all, as the face of the organization, their behaviors would shape each and every patient experience.

We needed to ensure these essential internal stakeholders would deliver on the new brand promise. So we designed and implemented a series of internal engagement initiatives to rally employees behind the new brand:

  1. Brand-based training materials were developed for the management team to deliver to staff. These helped everyone in the system understand their role in bringing the brand to life.
  2. Leadership teams from the three formerly-separate hospitals came together in a series of working and planning sessions. They created system-wide policies, procedures, cultural norms, employee training and evaluation criteria to make new standards clear.
  3. Using the brand as a springboard, these leadership teams fundamentally redesigned the hospital patient experience, creating a multi-year blueprint for investment and transformation.

Each of these initiatives clarified the specific promises the hospital system makes to patients as well as the (measurable) behavioral expectations for medical staff and employees. Everyone in the organization was challenged to continuously ask what they can do to offer “360 Degrees of Care.”

This new brand, now at the center of the unified hospital system, offers a vision of patient care that all hospital group doctors, medical staff and employees understand and work to make a reality every day. The brand provides employees with a patient-centric lens through which to view every daily decision and action: issues, operations and standards. All staff are constantly encouraged to deliver enhanced experiences and are evaluated in part on their success at doing so.

With internal stakeholders firmly on board, the brand launched externally through a synchronized marketing campaign spanning:

  • Print
  • Online advertising
  • Outdoor advertising
  • Direct mail
  • A new literature system
  • A mobile-optimized, responsive website

From discovery through employee engagement and launch, this investment in brand delivered wonderful results for the new hospital system. Engaged employees delivered a better healthcare experience, patient satisfaction scores rose and leading physician groups joined the network.

Maximizing the Value of Healthcare Investments

Hospitals will continue to make billions in investments. If they expect these expenditures to drive ROI, they must craft and communicate powerful value propositions for patients and qualified healthcare professionals alike—focusing on what these investments enable. That’s their story, the experience and journey they offer: their brand.

Building a strong healthcare brand starts with aligning the brand strategy with the business strategy—supplementing investments in technology, people and infrastructure with an investment in brand. The process will reveal what stakeholders truly yearn for and how the hospital system can help, one meaningful healthcare experience at a time.

There are healthcare goals that inspire everyone, like delivering compassionate, quality care. When hospitals leverage brand, such ambitions become the clearly-understood purpose behind every change they make. Financial or structural investments are transformed into fresh chapters of a compelling brand story—one that stakeholders are eager to join.

To learn more about healthcare branding strategy, contact us.

Originally published January 20, 2020.

About the author

Seth Margolis

Seth Margolis is a Senior Strategy Director who has spearheaded branding efforts for financial services, professional services and technology companies, as well as for not-for-profit organizations.

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