6 Tips on Rebranding a Community Hospital Under a Health System

McLaren Health CareWhen smaller hospitals are rebranded under a large health system, there may be concerns that the hospitals will lose their personal touch and become more corporate or distant. For Flint, Mich.-based McLaren Health Care and its 10 Michigan hospitals, however, that was not the case. In 2012, it changed the hospitals' names, rebranding the entire organization under the McLaren name and logo. For example, Bay Regional Medical Center in Bay City became McLaren Bay Region, Central Michigan Community Hospital in Mount Pleasant became McLaren Central Michigan and McLaren Regional Medical Center in Flint became McLaren Flint. Although their names changed, their commitment to patients remained.

Here are six tips for ensuring community hospitals retain their connection to the community when undergoing a brand change under a large health system.

Phil Incarnati
Philip Incarnati
1. Do market research. McLaren conducted focus groups and other market research to determine community members' reactions to a possible name change. The result was overwhelmingly positive, which was a major factor in McLaren's decision to move ahead with the rebranding. "The McLaren brand had been growing for some time, so we had good brand equity built into that name," says Kevin Tompkins, vice president of marketing at McLaren. "However, in many cases, people weren't aware their local hospital was part of the McLaren system."

2. Do industry research. In addition to conducting research on the local community's beliefs and feelings about the health system, McLaren also kept up-to-date with trends in the healthcare industry to determine when the right time was to change its brand. "We were able to ascertain through focus groups and other market research how consumers of healthcare looked at healthcare systems. A decade ago, there was a somewhat negative [view of] corporate medicine. That changed dramatically," says Philip Incarnati, president and CEO of McLaren.

In addition, McLaren wanted a unified brand in preparation for new healthcare delivery models like accountable care organizations. The organization also wanted a simple name as consumers began to have more autonomy in their choice of healthcare providers. "We realized we have to make sure we have a single, easy-to-remember brand that when people think about buying healthcare, they just remember the name 'McLaren,'" Mr. Tompkins says.

Mark O'Halla
Mark O'Halla
3. Gain internal buy-in. Before rolling out the name changes, McLaren's senior leaders talked to the boards of each hospital to discuss why a name change was a good idea. As many of the hospitals had been part of McLaren for years, the boards were positive about the change, and had even sought the change earlier, according to Mr. Incarnati.

4. Give hospitals some autonomy. While McLaren has certain reserve powers over its hospitals, the hospitals have independent boards and medical staffs. McLaren chose the structure of the hospitals' new names — beginning with "McLaren" and ending with a local identifier — but they left the choice of the local identifier up to each hospital. For instance, POH Regional Medical Center in Pontiac became McLaren Oakland, as Oakland is the name of the county. McLaren Bay Region chose its identifier after the Great Lakes Bay Region, even though the facility located in Bay City. Giving hospitals a level of control over the name change gave them ownership over the new brand.

5. Create a thoughtful roll-out plan. McLaren launched the new brand internally, explaining the reasoning behind the change, before bringing it out to the community. When it rolled the new names out to the community, it used a variety of media, including print, television and radio, to advertise the new name, explain why it changed and emphasize that the level of care remains the same.

Kevin Tompkins
Kevin Tompkins
6. Change only once. Another way to ensure a hospital maintains its connection to the community as it rebrands is to change only once if possible, according to Mark O'Halla, president and CEO of McLaren Macomb in Mount Clemens, Mich. McLaren Macomb was originally named Mount Clemens General Hospital. Shortly after it was acquired by McLaren in July 2006, it became McLaren Medical Center Macomb, which created some confusion initially, Mr. O'Halla says. "If you're going to rebrand, you need to be very comfortable with what you're doing, because you only want to do it once. You don't want to do it more than once in a short period of time because that just confuses patients, the community and supporters," he says.

Connection to the community
The name changes of McLaren's hospitals were widely accepted be their local communities because of the recognition of the McLaren name and its association with more healthcare resources and stability. No hospital suffered a disconnect with the community, according to Mr. Incarnati. "As I look at it, the community element doesn't have to do with the brand. The community [connection] comes from the physicians, employees and board members who reside in the community and know it very well," he says.

Mr. O'Halla says being associated more clearly with McLaren broadened its reach into the community. "It did not alter the connection or relationships we had in the community at all. But it did create an opportunity for us to be identified with that same community in a whole new way. It improved our ability to recruit physicians, particularly specialists and subspecialists, into the community we served," he says.

More Articles on Health System Branding:

10 Hospitals, Health Systems That Recently Changed Names, Brands
Dignity Health Campaign Aims to Bring Kindness Back to Healthcare
OhioHealth Rebrands With Changes to Hospital Names

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