How Stanford's marketing chief helped refresh its brand

Even a brand as strong as Stanford can use a refresh.

Last year, the health system and its affiliated medical school became Stanford Medicine to better represent its healthcare delivery, educational and research capabilities, said Michiko Tanabe, chief marketing officer of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Stanford Health Care.

Ms. Tanabe talked to Becker's about that project and other successes — and challenges — of the job leading marketing for one of the nation's most well-known academic health systems.

Question: What recent marketing projects at Stanford Health Care are you most proud of?

Michiko Tanabe: Over the past year, our marketing team has used their immense talents to elevate Stanford Medicine and remain engaged with key communities. They are a mission-driven team and my greatest source of pride.

Their expertise, dedication and energy have made our recent brand refresh astonishingly successful. To formalize Stanford Medicine as our primary brand encompassing our Stanford School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care, Stanford Medicine Children's Health, Stanford Health Care Tri-Valley, and Stanford Medicine Partners, we completed a comprehensive rollout to all of our community members within Stanford Medicine. We followed this milestone with a multimedia advertising campaign and have our sights on continuing it with a national media campaign.

This project alone demonstrates our marketing team's immense strengths and only scratches the surface of their contributions to Stanford Medicine.

Q: What are the most effective digital methods and strategies for marketing Stanford Health Care?

MT: We have found that investing in a targeted SEO [search engine optimization] strategy continuously improves our ability to reach our target audiences with curated, relevant content at precisely the right times.

We also continuously optimize our website to not only be mobile-friendly and responsive but to create an immersive experience. I'm excited for work currently underway to ensure our users have a more customized experience, which we believe will better enable patients and our communities regionally and globally to find the care and information they need at Stanford Health Care.

Q: What are the biggest challenges that hospital and health system chief marketing officers face today?

MT: A major challenge that my team and I navigate daily, and I'm sure many of my colleagues feel similarly, is keeping pace with rapidly evolving market conditions and emerging technologies and platforms.

As marketing leaders, we overcome these headwinds by encouraging our teams to be forward-thinking, instilling a culture of agility and adaptability, and providing the freedom to experiment and potentially fall short of expectations.

Another challenge pertains to health equity. As it has rightfully emerged as a strategic imperative for health systems, marketing teams have had to respond. Yet, we cannot make significant change with one-off campaigns. We, as health system leaders, have a responsibility to work with others to identify how we can embed inclusion, diversity, and health equity into our organization's DNA. Only then will we have intentional and authentic practices within our health systems and impactful outcomes in our marketing.

Q: What is the biggest misconception about hospital and health system marketing?

MT: I see two areas where there is a lack of clarity around our roles as marketers. There seems to be a widespread misconception around the differences between marketing and corporate communications (public affairs) and the interconnectedness of earned, owned and paid media.

As marketers, we recognize that content does not work in isolation. It only thrives in a complimentary ecosystem that informs and then boosts and amplifies. Yet many of those outside of marketing are familiar only with individual tactics and not around the comprehensive strategies we deploy.

At Stanford Medicine, I'm fortunate to have colleagues actively invested in learning more about what our marketing team does and when to defer to our expertise. Maintaining this mutual understanding is critical.

Q: Where do you see hospital and health system marketing going next?

MT: Given the rapid rate of change and the proliferation of media channels, marketing must shift from a linear process to a more fluid system that leverages internal talent and outside resources. More and more, customers expect greater speeds and personalization. Matching our marketing outputs with these expectations requires new ways of thinking and greater coordination. An interconnected marketing ecosystem must constantly strive to become more agile, scalable, and deliver a more consistent and immersive customer experience.

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