Henry Ford's new marketing chief on building trust, surprise and delight in healthcare

Heather Geisler, Henry Ford Health System's new senior vice president and chief marketing, communications and experience officer, will bring global brand builder experience to the position she begins Sept. 1.

Most recently, she was senior vice president of global brands for Hyatt Hotels Corp. Before that, she was vice president of brand marketing at MSNBC, overseeing development of the TV cable channel's brand positioning and growth strategy. 

She's also served nonprofit and corporate clients at New York City ad agency SS+K, including leading its efforts in support of initiatives by former first lady Michelle Obama.

Ms. Geisler told Becker's Hospital Review that she's excited about bringing her experience to Detroit-based Henry Ford, a six-hospital health system with more than 30,000 employees. She shared her top priorities, discussed the COVID-19 pandemic, and told how she expects to use her background in her new role.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What has you most excited about your new role?

Heather Geisler: I have always had a strong passion for purpose-driven work and mission-oriented brands. Healthcare has long been mission-driven by nature, but there has never been a more pivotal time for healthcare organizations, especially those that are deeply rooted in their communities, to lean in even closer to make a lasting impact. Henry Ford has been serving the people of Michigan and beyond for more than 100 years. It's an organization that truly understands the sacred honor it has to make a profound connection with customers to meet their unique health and wellness needs. Being part of that mission is a tremendous opportunity.

Q: What are a few of your top priorities for your first year at Henry Ford?

HG: As leaders, no matter where we find ourselves, listening and learning are such critical parts of our journey, and I plan to do a lot of that in my first year. We have an incredible opportunity to reconsider and reimagine what healthcare looks like in the future, and patient or customer experience is right at the center of that. We have to ask ourselves, how can we build the best healthcare ecosystem for our customer? As an integrated health system, Henry Ford has the capacity to surround the customer across the entire spectrum of care — from wellness and prevention, to acute care and chronic disease management, to eyecare and retail options, and a health plan that works in tandem with all of those aspects. This can only be successful if we build an experience that honors the person behind each patient.

Q: How has the pandemic changed marketing and communications practices for hospitals?

HG: One of the things we've seen during this pandemic is the power of strong brands. The brands I think that will not only survive this challenging time but also leap forward are those that have earned lasting credibility in the communities they serve and those who have gone the distance to reimagine how they connect with their customers. The rules have changed and brands who can adapt and evolve with them are the ones who will emerge the strongest. Henry Ford could not be better positioned to do that. The organization was a trusted partner before the pandemic, so it's no surprise the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and beyond, looked to the organization as a voice in the storm. Right now, as we learn this "new normal," what patients need most is a name they can trust, a place where they feel safe to get care and feel safe bringing their families to get care. There is no doubt Henry Ford is fully committed to providing that kind of environment that is so crucial right now for all of us. 

Q: How will you use your background at Henry Ford? 

HG: I think most immediately coming from the hospitality industry, it's all about experiences — how you think about service in a critical and sometimes unconventional way and then create a journey from start to finish that leaves your customers not only relaxed, reassured and happy about the care and service they received, but, inspired to share the stories of their experience with family and friends. In hospitality, we call that "surprise and delight" — moments that drive reconsideration and connection in more meaningful and intuitive ways. There is room for more of that in healthcare. It's when you know you’ve made an impact on someone's life. 

Q: What is your key focus as a marketing and communications professional? 

HG: I think the most important thing we have to do is stay curious. Watch what others are doing, not just in your own industry but outside your industry — borrowing great ideas and harnessing them to innovate. That's one of the best ways we can deepen our emotional connections and impact with our customers, move them to act, and ultimately grow our brand.


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