Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Hospital Marketing and Healthcare Branding - Ten Lessons from 15 Years

I just had a birthday!  My company did, that is.  Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy recently turned 15 and since only one third of new businesses last past their first decade, I feel pretty good about this accomplishment.  As I reflect over the past decade and a half, there are certain thoughts and ideas that surfaced that I wanted to share.   I hope some will educate, inspire, amuse, or just be a head nod to those who read them.
  1. The power of a big idea still surges. From the “Mad Men” era until today, and I’m certain into the future, the advertising business still thrives on big ideas.  Sure, there are all sorts of new technologies to communicate and ways to “hide” behind production value, but strip it all away and – if there’s not a big idea that touches the heart and soul of your customer – you have nothing.  You know you have one when, years later, people still recall pieces of a campaign.  I’m proud to say there have been a few of those over the years.
  1. Get with the times. I used to cover my ears when the subject of digital/social media came up in conversations.  I thought that if I just focused on traditional branding and advertising practices, others would take care of the new stuff.  Wrong!  (I guess it’s right to say that today?) Anyway, I have come to really embrace “new” media and appreciate its flexibility and ability to be measured, and the fact that it’s not “new” anymore, just part of the game.
  1. There’s no such thing as a “just a.” There have been many times the client has requested “just a re-size,”  “just a simple program ad,” or “just a something.”  You know as well as I do that there’s no such thing.  Every project has a purpose and should have a strategy against it.  Just when you think it’s a “just a,” it expends more time, resources, and thought than projects that are viewed as larger from the beginning.
  1. It’s hard to make predictions. After 15 years at Springboard, and a total of nearly 40 in the advertising and marketing business, I thought I was close to being able to make decent predictions.  Whether it’s a new business win, what creative campaign a client will pick, an award, and the list goes on…the truth is you shouldn’t predict.  Because I’ll predict you’re going to be wrong.
  1. Personal engagement is still the best form of communications. We all get dozens of emails a day, many text messages, and other forms of tech communications.  While they are time efficient, there is still no substitute for meeting with a client, enjoying a meal, or taking in a social event together.  Just like the “old days.”  And imagine their surprise and gratitude when you send something via “snail mail.”
  1. Punctuation and grammar speak volumes. Related to the above, the industry has changed dramatically in not only how we communicate with each other but also our attention to details.  It seems as though every email contains a typo or has some level of bad grammar.  As we take shortcuts with our communications, it doesn’t mean we should do the same with our spelling and grammar.  A bad typo can kill a great letter or even a client relationship.
  1. You’re only as good as your people. One thing that I’ve definitely appreciated over the years is working with really excellent people.  I never wanted a company with my name on the door.  I wanted one that everybody could feel some ownership in, so when my time comes to move on, the company can do the same.  From David Ogilvy’s famous quote, “our inventory goes down the elevator every night,” to other classic business phrases, your brand depends on who’s delivering it.  I’ve been fortunate to have several people who have helped me really deliver.
  1. Hire for your culture, not for a client. Related to the above, I’ve learned (the hard way, too), that one should hire based on need and culture and not to fit a specific client.  Clients come and go in this business every few years.  Great employees are those you want to stay for an extended period of time.  Culture is important and not just lip service, and I’ve come to realize it starts or stops in the corner office.
  1. Perception really is bigger than reality. With social media today, a small company can make a big impression, around the world!  I remember when blogging was first fashionable and, with some time at a hotel one night, created “Hospital Branding Blog.”  Today, it’s read in over 25 countries and serves to keep Springboard on the first page of most organic searches.  I’m always amazed when people ask how “big” the company is – and when I tell them they always say, “wow, I thought you were hundreds of people and in many cities.”  That’s the power of social media and the importance of maintaining an active social marketing strategy.
  1. You have to stay in sound business shape. From airplanes to rental cars, sleepless nights to meals on the run, I’ve learned to appreciate the importance of a wellness regimen since owning a company. The pressures of the day can be tough, but nothing a good workout at night can’t knock out.  A solid breakfast really does rev up the metabolism, and a decent night sleep works wonders.  In fact, if someone asked, “what’s the one thing you’d recommend when starting a business” I would answer, “work hard to stay healthy and keep your head in the game.”
Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts, and to all our clients, collaborators, and partners who have helped me reach this important milestone.  As Confucius said, (I always wanted to say that) “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” 

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.

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