How a $2.6B health system selected its new name

Emplify Health, a $2.6 billion health system based in Wisconsin, got its new name after searching the most popular words from staff and community member suggestions, executives told Becker's.

The former Bellin and Gundersen Health System, which has dual headquarters in Green Bay and La Crosse, revealed its new brand April 30, a year and a half after the merger of Bellin Health and Gundersen Health System.

"We came to Emplify as a great brand for us that brings the two words of empathy and amplify together," said Chris Woleske, president of the Bellin region for Emplify Health. "We both were known as empathetic organizations. And we believe that, together, we can amplify that and do even more."

The health system had temporarily gone as Bellin and Gundersen Health System but noticed that it often confused patients who didn't recognize it as one entity. So the organization worked with consulting firm Finch Brands to find a new name.

The company surveyed employees and community members on possible monikers, and then analyzed their answers for common words. "Empathy" came up multiple times, so Finch Brands came up with a few dozen ideas that derived from that word.

"It's 'empathy' and 'amplify' mashed together to form a neologism, and it really speaks to us," said Heather Schimmers, president of the Gundersen region for Emplify Health. "It's at the core of who we are. That's what we do."

The two health system presidents said they've learned a lot about branding and marketing through this process, including the terms "brand architecture" and "brand migration."

"Brand architecture" refers to the structure of brands within an organization. Thus the health system will be known as Emplify Health by Bellin and Emplify Health by Gundersen in their respective regions.

"The loyalty to those brands is very strong, and we need to really respect the heritage and the legacy that those brands represent," Ms. Schimmers said.

This will ease the "brand migration" to where Emplify Health eventually becomes the sole name, a process that could take years.

"Brand isn't a word. Brand is how you act out your values, how you act out what you believe as an organization," Ms. Schimmers said. "So brand, to me, is really more of the people inside your organization than any word and definition of what it means."

The health system is starting with the current "introduction" to the new name before launching a full-scale branding campaign this summer.

It's not always easy to demonstrate a return on investment for marketing, but the leaders say the results will manifest over time. They said they aren't exactly sure of the price tag for the rebrand as it is still evolving.

"It will cost some money to rebrand, but will it impact the way we perform, the way we do business, our ability to negotiate contracts, etc.?" Ms. Schimmers said. "Over the next however many years it's going to make life a little simpler for all of us, our back office functions are going to be more streamlined. So we are looking at this as an investment for the future of our health system."

Ms. Woleske said there's been "positivity and excitement" over the new name but also a sense of sadness and loss among some employees who have only known the previous brands. Both health systems were named after their founders.

"People really identify with those legacy brands that are more than 100 years old," she said. "That's just very normal to feel that way but also at the same time be excited about the potential for the new brand to bring us together as an enterprise and really reflect what we stand for."

Ms. Schimmers said she hopes that five years down the road Emplify Health will be the "brand of choice for people who need our care."

"Because truly, when you look at the performance of these two health systems that have joined, we are truly better together," she said. "We were really good alone, both of us. But we are really strong together."

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