Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Healthcare Branding - More hospital mega-brands on the horizon as mega-mergers rise

This week’s Modern Healthcare magazine, long a leading industry publication for healthcare and hospital executives, recapped the number of “mega-mergers” taking place in the industry during the first quarter of 2017.  The article cites four such mergers between eight $1 billion healthcare organizations. 

According to a managing director of a larger international financial advisory firm in the healthcare industry, this is a trend that is likely to accelerate as hospital companies want “regional, if not national, reach to be more attractive to patients and insurers.”

Additionally, the article cites that many academic medical centers are operating at near capacity and are seeking community hospital partners to take patients requiring less intensive cases.  This is opposite of a few years ago, when these same large academic providers were partnering with community hospitals to generate more referrals for their highly specialized programs that require volume to remain viable.

There were only a handful of “mega-brands” in the marketplace a few years ago - Mayo, Cleveland Clinic, Hopkins, M.D. Anderson, etc. - so the implications of this trend impact hospital branding in a mega-way and bring to mind the importance of key branding indicators such as equity and relevance. 

“Where’s the equity” replaces “what’s in a name.”

These new mergers keep a focus on the equity that exists for brand(s) in the marketplace.  Decisions impacting naming, identities, brand strategies, and communications need to start with a thorough understanding of the recognition, reputation, and value a brand has among its current and desired market.  While seemingly obvious, there are countless examples of health systems that have moved away from existing, and high-equity, brand names in order to keep the peace among partners and/or start from a clean slate.  In many cases, consumers react negatively and still refer to “their” hospital or system by its original name (oftentimes, many years later) to the dismay of marketing brand managers.  The only true discipline to gauge the equity of your brand is market research among key customers.  And as one client recently reminded me, “it’s best to let sleeping equity lie,” if it is strong enough to tell the new brand story.  With all these mega-brands taking shape, the equity might lie in both organizations and a long, but strong, new brand will emerge.
What’s the new relevance of the new mega-brand?

The biggest buzzword in branding today is relevance – or what role and meaning does a brand have in the life of its consumers.  As mega-brands rise, so too must their relevance.   Again, focus group testing among consumers will validate what’s most important to them as you seek to identify your mega-brand strategy.  There’s a reason that two or more organizations have come together and, if it makes sense, that should be the story told to prospective users.  Key here is telling it in terms that they understand and find benefit in, and not buzzwords and cliché terms that only make sense to hospital executives.

It seems every few years, there is a new surge in hospital brand mergers – followed by an almost equal number of breakups.  If you’re considering a merger, how far do you want to walk away from the equity and relevance you’ve established in your marketplace?  If history sheds any insight, you might want to “let sleeping equity lie” and maintain as much of your equity as possible – even in this era of mega-brands.

A personal note:  Modern Healthcare was referenced in this article and it brings to mind the very recent passing of long-time publisher and healthcare leader, Chuck Lauer.  I had the pleasure of knowing Chuck, as he was a close friend of a former business partner of mine and frequent visitor to our office.  In fact, when I was considering leaving a large, general advertising agency, I was invited to meet Chuck and “pick his brain” on whether hospital advertising would remain a viable industry.  His conviction about how consumers would influence choice and that marketing would influence consumers was a key factor in my decision to join a smaller healthcare marketing firm.  As I approach 30 years in this business, I like to think that Chuck, as motivating and convincing as he was, was right again.  RIP Mr. Lauer.

Rob Rosenberg, President, Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy.  Springboard is a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital, association, and life sciences branding and is located in the Chicagoland area. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob Rosenberg at 847.398.4920 or rob@springboardbrand.com.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hospital and Healthcare Branding: If creative executions are not in sync, it's time to rethink (the strategy)

Do you have headlines, copy, banner ads or other tactical elements that seem to be bouncing back and forth between you and your advertising agency?  Are you frustrated that your communication blends into the marketplace and doesn’t allow your organization to stand apart in a meaningful way?  Do internal stakeholders seem nonchalant over your new “branding” campaign or communication initiative?

If you answered “yes” to any or all of the above, it might be time to rethink your strategy versus yet another redo to an existing concept or strategy that is either off course or has run that way. Too often, agencies and clients go round and round on creative executions and can’t quite pinpoint what it is that isn’t working.  Worse, yet, is the old “I’ll know it when I see it” conversation, that agencies seem to be hearing more and more these days.
Keep this in mind:  If at three it’s not in sync, it’s time to rethink.  After a third revision, it’s not the execution that’s bad, it’s the thinking – on both sides of the desk – that isn’t in sync and should be reexamined.
  • Always start with a strategic creative brief. Even if the overarching strategy has been in place for a while, each creative project should have some direction.  There’s no such thing as “it’s just another version of last year’s ad.”  Every requested idea should be accompanied by a creative brief outlining, at minimum, the challenge, goal, target audience, promise, and support of the message.  This should not be a five page document, it should be as succinct as possible.  And even a “brief” brief is better than nothing and will guide creative thinking in the right direction.  Key here:  gain agreement on the brief from both the agency and client.  This becomes the contract for your creative work.
  • Update your competitive intelligence at least twice a year. Even the best ideas can be killed instantly, if they are too similar to that of a competitor.  Most times this happens unintentionally, but when it does, it reflects poorly on all involved.  Every six months, refresh your competitive file (both physical and online) and review what your competition is saying in the marketplace and how they are positioning their organizations.
  • Use research to validate your thinking. As above with competitive intelligence, at least once a year, you should be conducting consumer research to determine whether your thinking is still on target and your strategy is relevant to your key consumers, including internal stakeholders.  Online surveys, focus groups, community studies, and/or other research methodologies should be implemented every year. The goal is not to determine if consumers “like” or “dislike” your messaging but rather to validate that your strategy is still aligned with their wants and needs.  We call this Heartbeat Branding,” as the strategy intersects with the desires and interests of your consumers and is culturally relevant.
  • Assess your results. The best way to determine if your strategy is still engaging is to track your results on a regular basis.  In the digital world, monthly analytics serve this purpose, and in packaged goods, sales reports provide daily measures.  For other products and services, results can be tracked in a variety of ways.  The key here is to determine upfront what your measurable goals are so you can go back to determine effectiveness.
The “hit or miss” of a creative concept or branding program can be avoided if all parties regularly evaluate the strategy and confirm that it is still unique and relevant.  Agencies will still “miss,” and have to go back to the drawing board, but it won’t be over disagreement on what the message should be.  Rather, it will be on how it’s executed.  Clients will be forced to keep in touch with their marketplace and really think hard about how the brand promise is being delivered upon.
When it comes to creative concepts, three times is not a charm.  Remember, “if at three you’re not in sync, it’s time to rethink.”

Friday, December 2, 2016

Hospital Branding: How Healthcare Brands Can Stop Annoying Their Social Media Audience

When you check your newsfeed of your favorite social media site, there is always one – okay, many – of your friends, family, or co-workers whose updates are annoying enough to make you cringe. It may be posting a picture of every meal they eat, or sharing too many cat videos, a bad joke, or (especially this time of year) their political views. As much as you may “like” this person in real life, their actions have probably left you hovering over the unfriend button more than once.
Individuals aren’t the only ones on social media who can be annoying. Brands are right up there. A report from Sprout Social titled, “Turned Off: How Brands Are Annoying Customers on Social,” contains some very interesting insights from a consumer survey centered around this topic. As you may have guessed, there are a number of things brands do to rub their audiences the wrong way, including: posting too many promotions, trying to be funny when they’re not, and not replying to their audience’s messages.
Lack of engagement on the brand’s part is particularly a problem in healthcare. Per Sprout Social, healthcare is ranked number one out of 15 major industries in terms of how engaged consumers are with brands on social media. But, it is ranked number 14 in terms of how responsive the industry as a whole is to consumers. It boils down to this, consumers really want to communicate with healthcare brands and healthcare brands really aren’t responding. There is a huge opportunity for hospitals and other brands in the healthcare industry to separate themselves from the competition through appropriate use of social media.
To more effectively engage with your social media audience, keep these points in mind:
  • Be Timely: When someone asks a question they expect an answer in a timely manner. In fact, over 40% expect a response within one hour.* While this may not always be possible, efforts should be made to at least acknowledge the question as soon as possible while you are formulating the answer.
  • Be Relevant: This one seems obvious but it is worth stating – 41% of consumers have unfollowed a brand because the information posted is not relevant to their lifestyle, health interests, or daily activities. Those who follow your brand expect relevant content and for you to be reflective of who they are. How well do you know your customer profiles?
  • Be Authentic: Your audience has expectations for how your brand should act and communicate. When responding, stay true to your brand values and don’t be something you aren’t because you think it is “cool” or trendy. Your audience will see through it and may decide you are not worth following anymore. Use a voice that reflects your unique brand and is aligned with your customer base.
There is an immense opportunity out there to engage with your audience, an audience that is hungry for interaction. Making this a social media strategic priority will put you far ahead of your competition. Just try not to annoy them.

Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, is a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital branding located in the Chicagoland area. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or rob@springboardbrand.com.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Hospital Branding: Now is the time to give your brand a check-up

Summer is typically that season when, between vacations and short attention spans, your brand pretty much runs on autopilot.  Hello fall and the brisk change in colors and temperatures.  Suddenly, it seems that everything is due at once and demands on the marketing department have gone full throttle.
Before you jump right back into it, now is the perfect time to give your brand a check-up to make sure it’s healthy, vibrant, and able to keep pace with the changing market.  The year-end is fast approaching, budgets are due, and performances will be measured.
A suggested brand check-up is below and I recommend you schedule it on an annual basis.  There is just too much happening in the industry today to risk having your brand be at risk for the ills of “same ol’, same ol’.”
  • Cleanse, clear your head, and breathe: The best prep and start for your brand check-up is to clear your head and breathe.  There are several hospital marketing conferences coming up (SHSMD Connections ’16, Hospital Marketing National, state-wide conferences) that you can attend and bring back new ideas to your team; they’re a terrific way to “cleanse” and begin your check-up with fresh thinking and a clean slate.
  • Know your numbers: Before plotting where your brand should be, diagnose where it is now in the minds of your key stakeholders.  Review and/or refresh your market research to better understand your brand equity in terms of awareness, preference, and usage.  Dig into other methodologies to get a firm grasp of the knowledge and attitudes people have about your brand compared to others in the marketplace.
  • Take your internal temperature: Make sure you know where leadership is in terms of their vision for the brand.  Schedule one-on-one interviews with senior team members to discuss their perceptions and expectations for your marketing efforts.  Additionally, conduct a few internal focus groups with a cross-section of employees to gain their insights on the brand promise and how they support it on a daily basis.
  • Stretch your thinking: The biggest risk that hospital and other marketers face is being invisible or “vanilla” in the marketplace.  You might think you’ve uncovered the perfect strategy but consumer taste tests will probably reveal that there’s nothing memorable or unique about your messaging strategies.  Or, the brand down the road has already beat you to the punch.  Demand that new ideas be brought to the table and really try to engage with your audiences – it’s about them, not you!  It’s a heartbeat, not a chest beat.
  • Exercise your plan: Work it, work it, work it.  That’s it!  You’ve put together a great plan that integrates all media, platforms, messages, and channels.  Stick to it and you’ll begin to see results.
  • Add muscle to the routine: Consumers want to be engaged with their favorite brands and appreciate immersive experiences.  Strengthen your presence in this regard by creating events and community outreach that capture their imagination and make your brand stand up and be noticed.
  • Measure success: Don’t wait for year-end to determine if you’ve been successful.  Digital analytics can be measured daily and there’s nothing wrong with conducting quick turnaround online surveys to help determine if your messaging and other marketing strategies are taking shape.  Of course, hold yourself accountable to the goals you’ve created and the plan you developed.  Evaluate and adjust on an as-needed basis.
This is the time of year when months turn into weeks and, before you know it, you’ll be hearing holiday songs as you browse your favorite stores.  Act now to reinvigorate your brand and give it the pulse it needs to thrive in today’s climate.  I hope this check (-up) list helps and you are ready to move and shake.  If you want a second opinion or if your brand still doesn’t feel right, call me in the morning.

Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, is a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital branding located in the Chicagoland area. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or rob@springboardbrand.com.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Immersive Experiences Take Your Brand Below "See" Level

Branding in healthcare organizations is still predominantly associated with how and where consumers see your brand.  It could be digitally, on traditional media, or your brand architecture displayed on signs and buildings.  But the total brand experience goes well below “see” level and must immerse your stakeholders in order to drive preference and create consumer loyalty.   The emergence of immersive marketing and its impact on brand value has caused marketers to recognize the value of being sensory driven as much as data driven.  The Huffington Post recently surveyed 1,600 companies and learned that 84% believe that experiential marketing activities and events are important, or very important to their organizations.   One of the companies that responded added,  “people are inherently social, and there is nothing that can make a more powerful statement about your brand than the ability to bring people together physically through immersive events and experiences.”

Big brands have responded to this shift and have used abundant layers of creativity to design experiences that engage and stimulate the senses.  Nike is best known for store kiosks allowing consumers to design their own shoes.    Sonos used color and animation to illustrate the mood of a room with music playing through its speakers.  Harrods launched a toy kingdom in in London that engages visitors with “sights, sounds, smells, and physical sensations.”  These are just a few of the examples of how brands are moving below “see level” and developing immersive experiences to drive brand interest and usage.

The combination of physical, digital, and social represents key opportunities to drive experiences.

The immersion of digital media has enabled brands to extend a physical event beyond traditional boundaries.  Through social, online and mobile communications, brands can “re-apply” these hands on experiences and impact more consumers than ever before. Social media is the natural extension of a brands immersive experience.  And here’s the correlation; the better, more “wow” your experience provides, the more it will live on past the actual event.  Through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and a host of other social media channels, your immersive brand experience can stimulate the senses well beyond those who actually attend your event!  Interestingly, as a result of many social posts and brand events, marketers have had to transition from the role of brand storyteller to that of brand editor.  The key to this transition is to base your events and experiences on the overarching brand strategy. 

What’s a health system to do?

Actually, health systems have long been in the business of immersive experiences.  With health fairs, preventive screenings, and other community events, hospitals have sought to engage consumers and win their loyalty.  But like big brands such as Nike, today’s healthcare providers have to step up their game and really think about ways to wow their consumers and stir their senses.
  •       Develop and stay true to your brand.  Your brand position is your differentiation in the marketplace and the core to your brand story.  It is based on comprehensive market research, ideation and testing.  Don’t let immersive experiences “wag the dog.”  Make sure they reinforce your brand positioning and help bring them to life.
  •      You’re in a culturally relevant industry, witness sales of health appliances and wearable devices.  You have the attention of consumers in your market and now you need to come up with bigger and better ways to capture their interests.  What a great opportunity to turn the humdrum health fairs of yesterday into truly memorable events today.  Use your imagination, technology, and your brand position to lead the way.
  •       Use your website as an interactive, immersive experience.  Most research shows that consumers don’t use hospital websites for health information on symptoms and diseases.  Rather, they are visited for community information, events, and access to providers.  Wait time information, real-time surgeries, and physician videos are just the start to what can be amazing experiences for consumers who visit your brand.  Keep thinking outside the box and ask yourself “WWWDD.”  Oh, you want to know – “What would Walt Disney Do.” 
  •       You’re a health partner, not just a hospital or health system.  Borrow from others – next time you’re in Chicago, visit one of the museums and see how they have created immersive experiences around health and human motion.  

You can’t stay at “see level” with your brand and merely show your technology and tout your services.  You must immerse yourself and your brand into deeper waters with ideas that engage and inspire.  What will emerge is an entirely new and different dimension to your marketing mix that will create more than brand experiences.  It will create loyal consumers who appreciate that you get them and have inspired them through entertainment and education.

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital and healthcare branding, located in the Chicagoland area. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or rob@springboardbrand.com

Monday, April 25, 2016

Hospital Branding: Do you click with your audiences?

This question used to be asked differently – “do your audiences click with you?”  Meaning, do they engage with your messages, watch your commercials, open your direct mail, or subscribe to your email. Today, it works differently.  It’s your brand’s job to click with its audiences in a way that encourages them to opt-in and engage with your organization.  These HubSpot statistics are a bit scary and support who’s really in control of message delivery and reception:
  •         95% of consumers say they have skipped TV ads
  •         98% have unsubscribed from an email  
  •        53% cite that there are direct mail pieces that go unopened
  •        66% have requested to be on “do not call” list: Approximately       200 million Americans have registered their phone numbers on     the FTC’s list
As written about in other posts on this blog, branding has become deeply personalized and consumers have more choices than ever to pick the messaging and products that best meet their persona.  The more you understand your consumer; their likes and passions, goals and problems, the better you’ll be able to add value to their lives.  And the more likely they’ll be to seek you out for the content and services that match their lifestyle, and healthcare needs.  According to HubSpot, this new age of inbound marketing is about providing added value and earning customer loyalty instead of simply pounding a message into consumers heads and hoping it will stick.

Inbound marketing offers abundant opportunities.

When consumers seek your brand via online strategies or have an interest in your content, you have a significantly better chance of converting them to customers than if you reach them (if they decide to be reached) with traditional advertising.  According to HubSpot, 54% more leads are generated by inbound tactics than traditional paid marketing channels.  That’s why the average budget spent on company blogs and social media has nearly doubled in the last two years!  And the number of marketers who say Facebook is “critical” to their business has increased 83% during that same timeframe.

Blogs, social media, SEO strategies, optimized emails, and landing pages are all ways you can provide inbound opportunities for those consumers who seek to become engaged with your brand.  Again, it all starts with your understanding of your customers and where their issues and passions lie.  And, when done correctly, it can finish with big returns; customer acquisition, greater cost efficiencies, big ROI, and below average costs per lead (compared to traditional, outbound marketing – source:  HubSpot).

The Perceived Hurdles of Inbound Marketing are Worth Hurdling

While this form of “new marketing” is still, well, new, it is becoming more mainstream in organizations across all industries.  In hospitals and health systems, the adoption curve has been a little longer.  Why?

·       There is still a lack of confidence in full-scale inbound marketing.  This can be attributed to confusion about what it really is and how it impacts the bottom line.  Hospitals are active on social sites such as Facebook, however, are using it too often to promote bake sales versus tying or boosting posts into more lucrative service line offerings.  

·        Revenue is still king in most healthcare institutions and stems from the likes of cardiology, orthopedics, neurology, oncology and other heavy hitting services.  It’s easier to justify spending outbound dollars on visible billboards and newspapers in the community than on content development.  As more experience provides actual returns from these activities, the number of healthcare organizations that participate will rise.

·        Inbound marketing takes a dedicated team, or at least an individual, to manage it within the organization.  Hospital staffing budgets are still very limited so having this capability is a real luxury.  Typically, it’s either a shared responsibility of a few people or a part-time job of an individual.  As the shift continues from outbound to inbound marketing, departments will also shift responsibilities to place more focus on it.

Similar to the core principals of branding, inbound marketing relies on earning people’s trust and interest which then leads to engagement and purchase.  This is different than traditional marketing that relies on selling and people “buying.” Also like sound branding ideas, inbound marketing is a two-way communication pathway, whereby consumers come to you and you provide them with meaningful, relevant information.

Remember, it’s not about your customers clicking with you because of your sales approach.  Today, you need to click with your customers and make your brand a consideration for when they seek out products and services in your field of expertise.

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand strategy and communications firm specializing in hospital and healthcare branding, located in the Chicagoland area. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or rob@springboardbrand.com