6 Brand Strategy Rules of Great Hospitals

The following is reprinted with permission from strategicplanningMD.

A great hospital brand is hard to find. In the last two weeks, I have been in several major markets, including Atlanta, Jacksonville, New York City, northern New Jersey, and Charlotte. And during that time, I came across many great hospitals, but not many great brands. Building a great hospital brand depends on knowing the right principles. Here are six brand strategy rules that are tried and true.

1. A great brand is in it for the long haul.
I once worked for a hospital that had a great brand. Unfortunately, they thought the brand was impervious to bad short-term decision-making. They sacrificed the long-term brand for financial greed. A year afterward, the brand crumbled under the weight and the hospital lost $50 million. Three years later, this hospital is still trying to recover and their strategic planning is a mess.

2. A great brand can be anything. Any healthcare service is brandable, whether it's an acute-care hospital, outpatient surgery center or alternative medicine clinic. Somewhere in the muddle is a frame of mind that's unique. Despite the narrowness of healthcare services, the brand can still transcend these boundaries. But with healthcare so ubiquitous, it takes effort. How many hospitals are trying to brand themselves around patient satisfaction? Too many, if you ask me. It's an old cliché, the price of entry into the game, and transcends nothing.

3. A great brand knows itself. To build a great brand, the brand first has to evolve. It has to understand what it is, what it isn't and what it stands for. You can't build a brand through senior leadership consensus building, because we don't really create the brand inasmuch as we guide and control it. Experience also shows that whatever your execs think the brand is, is not what your customers think it is. You have to go out and measure the brand in your customers' terms, find out what they like or dislike about the brand and what they associate as the very core of the brand concept.

4. A great brand taps into emotions.
The common ground among hospitals that have built great brands is not just quality performance. Quality is an expectation every time a patient steps foot in your facility. It is a given. To spend too much time directly talking about it is a waste of your brand. Consumers live in an emotional world, and those emotions are escalated whenever healthcare is involved. Emotions drive our decisions. Thus, your brand has to have a powerful connecting experience that transcends the corporate culture of your organization.

5. A great brand is a story that's never completely told. Your brand story is evolving all the time. It's like a child maturing into adulthood, and it connects with something very deep. People have always needed to make sense of things at a higher level. We all want to think that we're a piece of something bigger than ourselves. Hospitals that manifest that sensibility in their employees and consumers invoke something very powerful.

6. A great brand is relevant. A lot of hospital brands are trying to position themselves as "world-class." More often than not, this strategy will fail. It's dangerous if your only goal is to be the best, because being the best is relative, filled with hollow adjectives, and easily one-upped by your competitors. The larger idea is for a brand to be relevant. It meets what people want, and it performs the way people want it to. In the last decade, there's been a lot of hype about hospital brands. A lot of propositions and promises were made and broken about how brands were positioned, how they performed and what the hospital's real value statements are. Consumers are looking for something that has lasting value. They want to trust that their decision to come to you was a good one.

* The principles stated in this blog are condensed and revised from a larger list first articulated by Scott Bedbury in a 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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