5 Tips to Ensure Community Acceptance of a Health System Brand Change

Health systems and hospitals across the country are rebranding to reflect their coordination of care, growth in services and consistent quality. Changing a hospital's or health system's brand is a delicate maneuver, however; choosing a brand that does not align with the community's values can have negative consequences — as seen with Gastonia, N.C.-based CaroMont Health's retracted "Cheat Death" slogan and the subsequent resignation of its CEO.

Leaders need to listen to their stakeholders to ensure the brand will resonate with the organization's internal and external communities. For example, St. John's Lutheran Hospital in Libby, Mont., now called Cabinet Peaks Medical Center, held a contest in which community members could submit a possible new name.

Barb MeyerOne Mercy
Another example of a health system that took a thoughtful approach to a new brand that was embraced by the community is St. Louis, Mo.-based Mercy, formerly Sisters of Mercy Health System. The system began transitioning its more than 30 hospitals and 300 outpatient facilities to a new name and logo in the fall of 2011. Barb Meyer, vice president of marketing and communications at Mercy, shares five tips to ensure a new brand is accepted by physicians, staff and the community.

1. Lead the change from the top. "Your senior leadership has to be front and center as advocates, educators and communicators," says Ms. Meyer. "The brand change [at Mercy] was not just endorsed and supported by executive leadership, it was inspired by them. Our CEO and other executive team members led the change from the very start. The involvement and enthusiastic support of the Sisters of Mercy, who founded our ministry and are still very much a part of it, was also key."

2. Build and reinforce a strong case for "why." Health system leaders need to explain why the brand is changing. For example, Mercy's press releases explained the new brand makes it easier for patients to identify Mercy providers, enhances connectivity among physicians and strengthens the referral network. Mercy continues to make information about its new brand easily accessible on its website.

3. Gain internal buy-in. Mercy leaders began communicating and gaining support for the planned change within their hospitals, physician clinics and other facilities before announcing it externally. "We wanted our board members, physicians and co-workers to be advocates for the new brand in our communities," Ms. Meyer says. Focus groups, face-to-face meetings and other communication tools were essential for gaining feedback and preparing internal stakeholders for the new name and logo.

4. Take your time. Health systems should take their time transitioning to a new brand to ensure everyone understands the change and feels involved. Mercy began discussing a new brand three years before the logo or names were changed, according to Ms. Meyer. "We knew this was a significant change and that we couldn't rush it. We wanted everyone to understand why we were doing it, give them time to process the change and even grieve for what they might consider a loss. We knew changing the name of our hospitals and our physician practices would feel very personal to them and we didn't take that lightly," she says.

5. Celebrate. Leaders should build excitement for the change and allow people to celebrate. In fact, Ms. Meyer says an important factor in the brand's widespread acceptance is that everyone loved the new logo. "Our co-workers responded with enthusiasm to important moments in process, like go-live day when the name change occurred in each community and we all wore Mercy T-shirts with the new logo," she says.

In an environment where consumerism is on the rise and competition for patients is fierce, it is essential that hospitals and health systems ensure their brand will be accepted by the community. Strong leadership, clear, two-way communication among all stakeholders and an appropriately paced rollout plan can help organizations avoid conflict and successfully transition to a new brand.

More Articles on Hospital Brands:

Highmark's Allegheny Health Network Launches New Brand
Cushing Memorial Hospital Changes Name to Reflect Ties to Saint Luke's
Kootenai Health Adopts New Brand

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