Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Hospital Branding - Dig Deep for your DNA, Inspire, and Patience


Just returned from the SHSMD 2009 conference in Orlando and delighted that - even in today's economy - over 700 hospital marketing professionals were in attendance.  Lots of good sessions and energy.

I had the chance to speak on "Operationalizing Your Brand" with Susan Hoffman of Lehigh Valley Health Network.  It's a terrific story to share, but in a nutshell, we discussed the need to dig deep within your organization to uncover its true DNA (Differentiating Native Attributes), inspire employees, and have patience.  It takes at least two years for the brand to resonate in the market.

Sounds simple, yet many hospital marketers aren't digging deep enough to uncover the DNA of their brand. Rather, they are settling for a strategy and  attributes that are either "me too" or "ho hum."  My favorite place to help clients look for their brand essence is in the history books of their organizations.  There's a reason every company, organization, product, and service was created in the first place - and inherently, that's where their DNA lives and breathes.  Apple started in a garage by two young guys looking to change the ease of use and reliability of computers.  While the products and messages have changed dramatically over the past few decades, the brand strategy has stayed the same.  

Another factor is inspiring the workforce.  It's not just acceptable to "educate" employees on the brand strategy - you have to inspire them!  Help them see how they fit within the brand strategy and how they impact it everyday.  That's what makes the difference between a brand strategy and and advertising strategy - the former is organizational and operational.  The latter is promotional.

The final factor to a long-lasting campaign is patience, yes the other kind.  Brand-building takes at least two years to make a mark in your market.  Too many senior executives are still looking to change things after a year - even if the effort has been wildly effective.  The brand strategy should be developed right, from the beginning, and built upon every few months with new employee initiatives, promotional support, operational ideas, and organizational efforts.  The strategy should not be re-built after only a few months or a year.  That's the difference between an image strategy and a brand.

Dig deep.  Inspire your workforce.  Have patience.  Branding is not advertising and image enhancement.  It's the strategy that helps your organization look different, act different, and offer a unique experience to your customers.  If the strategy is solid, folks will be anxious to demonstrate it with new messaging and operational ideas.  If it's fluid, it can be washed away easily.