The intricacies of a successful rebrand, according to Houston Methodist's marketing chief

When Laura Lopez took over the marketing department at Houston Methodist a decade ago, she brought a consumer focus that didn't really exist in healthcare at the time, she told Becker's.

She had spent more than 15 years in the marketing department at the Coca-Cola Co. A New York native, she was surprised to learn how much healthcare innovation was happening in Houston — a point she made sure to emphasize in rebranding the former Methodist Hospital System.

"It enabled us to really build a brand that was centered in the legacy of the city and all the work we've been doing," said Ms. Lopez, Houston Methodist's senior vice president of marketing and communications. "It also positioned us to move from a hospital-based brand to a health system. There's a fundamental difference there.

"People will say, 'Well, I'm not sick. I don't have to go to the hospital.' Why are you marketing me your hospital brand, as opposed to becoming a thought leader in health and wellness and having people turn to you for health-and-wellness tips and preventive care and everyday care?"

She said unsuccessful rebrands in any industry tend to throw away too much of what's been working. 

"There was obviously a lot of equity in the name Methodist. We weren't going to rip that Band-Aid off," she said.

She also brought a strong focus on digital — from search engine optimization to building a mobile app — to attract new patients. She hired user experience and digital technology experts for her marketing team. The health system integrated lead generation with its EHR.

"When someone fills out a form or makes a phone call to us, the systems are connected to understand: Are they already an existing patient, or are they a new prospective patient?" Ms. Lopez explained. "Then it's all about capturing that information, that data, and being able to effectively remarket them over time."

For example, her department might market to people who use the health system's app for virtual urgent care about the importance of having a primary care provider.

She also embraces the mindset — another lesson from the consumer packaged goods industry — that marketing is a revenue driver, not a cost. She said not all healthcare marketers see it that way.

"As a healthcare organization and a nonprofit, I'm not going to spend money if there is no return on investment. We have to drive the margin so we can do all of that important work we do, and give back. We're doing a tremendous amount of charity care. We are very connected to our communities," she said. "Making the business case for marketing and how it drives ROI and revenue and profitability is important."

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