How to Change a Hospital Brand Promise Successfully

Many hospitals and health systems have renamed or rebranded themselves this year. In fact, more than 100 hospitals or health systems changed names in 2013, according to Andrea Simon, PhD, president of Simon Associates Management Consultants.

The problem with name changes and rebrandings is they are often not driven by a strategic process, Dr. Simon said in a Dec. 6 webinar titled "Branding and Rebranding Your 'New' Healthcare System for Changing Times."

"I don't want hospitals to be like railroads," she said. Railroads used to be a huge source of human transportation, until cars and planes got in on the game, she explained. Railroads did not redefine themselves as being in the transportation business quickly enough and now are not widely used in the U.S. for transportation.

Hospitals need to brand themselves better as being in the care coordination business so they don't get left behind in the future of healthcare like the railroads got left behind, she said.

While a name change can be one way for a hospital to refocus itself on care coordination, a name on its own does not mean anything. "If the role is changing, how is the new name representing" that change, Dr. Simon asked. The story needs to be told.

Sometimes, a new name is not needed to reposition a hospital or a system — a strengthening of the name through a new brand promise could do the trick.

St. Vincent's Health Services

Dianne Auger, senior vice president of marketing at St. Vincent's Medical Center/St. Vincent's Health Services in Bridgeport, Conn., and president and CEO of St. Vincent's Foundation, joined the webinar to share her organization's experience with branding.

Through extensive internal, external and market research, Ms. Auger and the team at St. Vincent's found consumers were "looking for an experience that St. Vincent's was already offering," she said. So, a name change was not really necessary.

Instead, St. Vincent's launched a new theme or promise throughout the entire organization: gentler hands and sharper minds.

Though the theme was launched publicly through ads, arguably more important for its success is getting staff to embrace the new brand, since they are the main brand ambassadors. "The launch mattered," Ms. Auger said. "We made it a personal opportunity" to talk with employees about what the brand promise means and how to live the brand, she said.

To launch a new promise, Ms. Auger suggested the following best practices:

• Asses the brand with thorough research
• Tell the story before someone else does
• Be intentional in ensuring everyone understands the brand story and communicates it widely

Overall, Dr. Simon emphasized it is important for hospitals and health systems to reposition their brands for the future of healthcare and care coordination. If the brand is changing, it must be done strategically and have a story behind it. That way, employees can be strong brand ambassadors and the public can understand and get behind the new brand promise.

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