11 top health system brands share their marketing secret sauce

Whether it's open communication, listening to patients to improve their experiences or making the care journey as easy as possible, these top-ranking health organization brands have clear strategies when it comes to marketing and communication.

Recently, 20 healthcare organizations were honored with a top spot on branding agency Monigle's most humanized health system brands list, for demonstrating both consumer trust and knowledge. Becker's spoke to several of these top hospital brands to find out what makes their marketing strategies so special.

Here are the responses: 

Paul Matsen, chief marketing and communications officer, Cleveland Clinic

We are honored to be considered a recognizable brand in healthcare. In alignment with our mission, Cleveland Clinic's marketing strategy is focused on patients. The goal is to provide trusted content from physicians and other experts on a wide variety of health topics — from common issues to complex surgeries. To accomplish that, we share authentic patient stories to inform, educate and provide hope for future patients and the community at large. We will continue that work as we innovate in the digital and content marketing space.

Skip Hidlay, chief communications and marketing officer, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center (Columbus) (as told to Monigle)

We produced a half-dozen new TV spots with our internal video team during the pandemic. All of them featured our physicians, nurses and other staff promoting vaccine safety, telehealth, safe in-person care, the need to get timely screenings for cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. We played these new spots on the highest-profile TV events — the Super Bowl, the Olympics, March Madness, and of course, Ohio State football. I think this showed the community we were there for them no matter what the pandemic threw at us.

Shelley Spencer, chief people and marketing officer, the Christ Hospital (Cincinnati)

The Christ Hospital Health Network brand remains such a recognizable brand due to two key factors: one, a talented team of marketers who are exceptionally creative and innovative, and two, a broader team of people, throughout the organization, who consistently deliver on our  brand promise of clinical excellence and an exceptional patient experience.

Steven Telliano, assistant vice chancellor of strategic communications, UC Davis Health (Sacramento, Calif.)

Our overall approach is a highly visual and emotionally connected integrated approach to content marketing. One thing that makes it easy is we’re promoting truly great care. Our teams do great work, which makes great storytelling easy. We’re delivering interesting content that our target audiences find valuable enough to spend time consuming — even with all of the competition for their attention. We’re using messages we can prove, highlighting key differentiators, delivered by messengers the audience finds credible, in ways audiences want to consume the content. In short, it’s earned, search-focused, and social-by-design. Beyond that, we’ve really just worked across the team to simply deliver the brilliant basics of PR and marketing as flawlessly (and creatively) as possible during the pandemic.

Frank Lococo, vice president of marketing and communications, Nebraska Medicine (Omaha)

We are thrilled to be once again recognized by our patients, their families and our community members as one of the premier and strongest healthcare brands in the country. This is really a result of our physician and colleague teams providing "Serious Medicine. Extraordinary Care" to every individual — from near and far — who turns to us for care. We, in marketing and communications, are privileged to be able to amplify our care team voices in Omaha and beyond. Our guiding principles continue to be transparency, timeliness and education, consistent with our role as the major academic health network in the region and in the state.

Rose Glenn, chief communications and marketing officer, Michigan Medicine (Ann Arbor)

The brand is so recognizable because of the strength of our clinical teams, researchers and educators. We deliver an outstanding experience to those we serve, and then our team tells the wonderful stories. We work hard to elevate our brand with these stories across all of our channels, and each year, we have millions of people gravitating to our content.

Megan Fraser, vice president of marketing and communications, Valley Health System (dually located in New Jersey and New York)

We believe that Valley’s brand — "Everything Medicine Can Do; A Few Things Medicine Can't" — resonates well with our community because it holds true. Their experience with us embodies our brand and demonstrates our commitment to providing not only the best clinical care, but also the most compassionate service.

Adrienne Steading, assistant vice president of marketing, UAB Medicine (Birmingham, Ala.)

An organization’s brand represents many different things, but conveying experience is one of the most important aspects of a successful brand. UAB Medicine being recognized as one of the nation’s top hospital brands is an exciting honor for our organization, and it stems from the hard work and dedication of our employees in delivering personalized care to each patient and family we serve. As a marketing and communications team, our role is to ensure that our promotion strategies reflect the cutting-edge, patient-centric healthcare we provide. Marketing must emphasize our high-quality care, and our clinical teams must deliver on the promises we advertise.

Christine Kotler, chief marketing and communications officer, Baptist Health South Florida (Coral Gables)

Our marketing strategy mirrors our overarching mission as an organization — being welcoming, listening to and doing what is right for our patients, while providing high-quality care and the most up-to-date and reliable health and wellness information. We believe that by delivering on these efforts and forging meaningful connections with our community, we are able to attract and maintain an unmatched level of trust that ultimately defines our brand.

April Anderson, associate vice president of marketing, Providence (Renton, Wash.)

The foundation of a strong healthcare brand starts with the patient experience, and Kadlec (Regional Medical Center) delivers. We have consistently focused on excellent clinical care delivered by compassionate caregivers. In addition, the organization works to improve the health of our community, through our own programs, partnerships with other community organizations and our charity care programs. Because we do that well, our marketing strategy is threefold.

First, tell the stories of our patients — they are the reason we do what we do. A good story evokes emotion and is highly memorable. Second, be the community’s partner for trusted health information. During the pandemic, our leaders and providers have had to prioritize time to provide clear guidance, reassurance and information about coronavirus to the community. Lastly, our marketing strategy eases the way to care, with the goal of providing the right information at the right time — both online and offline. For example, informing a new resident about primary care options in their neighborhood, or helping a patient newly eligible for Medicare Advantage navigate their options. This strategy focuses our resources where we can have the biggest impact and aligns with our promise to "know me, care for me, ease my way."

Lisa Schiller, chief communications and marketing officer, UNC Health and UNC School of Medicine (Chapel Hill)

Listen: The first step to building trust is to listen. UNC Health's Consumer Insights team has been a secret weapon throughout the pandemic — conducting surveys, holding focus groups and monitoring online conversations to better understand what information patients and the public were looking for. The insights gathered from this work served as the foundation for a wide-ranging communications strategy. This effort is also ongoing and constantly being updated so that organizational decisions are always guided by the most up-to-date research.

Communicate: Communication with patients and the community occurs in a range of spaces and through a range of messengers from among our UNC Health teammates, known internally as "One Great Team." Trust is earned one interaction at a time. These interactions happen in many different venues, including conversations with a provider, a call to a scheduler, a message through the patient portal or a direct message to the organization on social media. Part of building trust is making sure everyone is working from the same playbook. This is where internal and external communications efforts overlap.

Be a reliable source of truth: Throughout the pandemic, there has been no shortage of information available. In communications with patients and the public, UNC Health has attempted to remain above the fray and to serve as a source for information that is backed by science and research — and easily understood. During the early months of the pandemic, weekly media briefings featuring UNC Health experts were key to sharing information and putting a human face to the physicians and researchers leading the organization’s response to COVID-19. These sessions were open to local and national media and organized each week around a timely topic, such as vaccines, mental health challenges or the risks of COVID-19 in children.

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