Thursday, December 2, 2010

"All Together Now" - Unified Branding Taking the Stage

In both the spirit of the holiday's and the celebration of the Beatles now available on iTunes, the title of this post seems right. It also seems to fit what we're hearing and seeing more of these days from hospital systems - the "Unified" approach to brand strategy and architecture.

There are two models that have been most prominent over the last decade; the endorsed model and the unified model. The endorsed model keeps the equity of each individual entity and provides a "seal of approval" in the form of a master brand that serves to connect all the pieces. BJC in St. Louis is a good example of this approach - and illustrates the pivotal decision point when evaluating both strategies - when you have the power of individual brands such as Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Missouri Baptist Medical Center, or St. Louis Children's Hospital, chances are you're not going to lose them in favor of a master brand. The "BJC" seal shows the connectivity and integration of facilities. Other organizations such as Clarian in Indianapolis have gone back and forth on whether the unified or endorsed strategy makes the most sense and recently announced it was changing its name altogether to emphasize the equity in its teaching institution.

For most health systems, where a marquee name might not exist, the unified approach is making a comeback. Across the country, we're reading about health systems that are creating master brands and making them more prominent than their individual entities. Lehigh Valley Health Network (Allentown, PA), Advocate (Chicago, IL), Franciscan (a brand new brand in Indiana) have all taken stock of their individual brands and determined that a unified approach is a more effective and cost-efficient marketing strategy.

From a brand management perspective, both approaches have unique implications. With a unified approach, you're creating a standard promise that should prevail among all entities associated with the brand. McDonald's made a pretty good name for itself in this regard. This, of course, is not easy and makes it quite a challenge from a brand management standpoint. We refer to this as "horizontal" brand management (cuts across the enterprise) and typically is focused more on operational and promotional components than a cultural (service-oriented) element. McDonald's promises fast, quality food products and that's how we judge the brand. Not necessarily on the way we're treated or their level of customer service. In contrast, the endorsed approach is more of a "vertical" brand management model that tends to focus more on the cultural, or customer-service experience. This is made possible due to the limited size and cohesiveness of a single enterprise versus several coming together under one brand.

From a cost efficiency standpoint, the unified approach offers the most economies of scale and is the model of choice for most healthcare providers. Rather than support many individual brands with promotional messages under the endorsed model, followers of the unified approach can put their dollars behind one message strategy.

How to determine if a unified or endorsed model is best for your organization:

. Research to determine the equity of your brand(s) - The best (and only) way to determine the strength and equity of your brand(s) is to conduct market research. This will help you best decide whether a unified or endorsed model is most appropriate for your organization and marketplace.
. Research to determine receptivity to a unified approach - If you're going to employ a unified approach to your brand strategy, test this with key audiences to make sure the name and approach make sense and is not confusing to the consumer marketplace.
. Competition - Don't be a "me too" brand. Take a look at what your competition is doing and if it makes sense to go the other way, do it. Just because the guys down the street have a new, unified name doesn't mean you should as well.
. Capabilities in brand management - Assess your capabilities in both "vertical" and "horizontal" brand management. A "vertical" approach aligns better with an endorsed model and a "horizontal" brand management approach tends to fit with a unified model.

These are just a few of the determinants of deciding which approach to branding best suits your organization. More than likely, the unified model is the best fit and brings everyone and everything in your system together. Just like the music of the Beatles.

"All Together Now." Best wishes for peace and joy this holiday season.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hospital Branding On Your Watch

Hospitals have become very complex these days. Not the cause of reform, or receivables. Not the technology, nor the patient records. The branding. Yes, the branding process has become so complicated that hospital marketers and their organizations are oftentimes overlooking the "DNA" that differentiates their brand from the competition. Instead of focusing on real points of difference, and interest to customers, branders are obsessed with trying to be something they are not or trying to cram 20 pounds of brand promise into the proverbial 10 pound bag. There's the case of the smaller, rural hospital that wants to be world-class. Um, no. The cancer center with a great and relevant donor name that wants to be known for its "care." Don't think so, and please read this blog post on the seven deadly words in hospital advertising. The world-class medical center that wants to be transparent. Okay, I see you, now what? And what does that mean to me?

So complicated! Really it's not, and it's time to share a lesson I learned from attending a brand session a couple years ago. It's time, pun intended.

The speaker, representing several industries outside of healthcare, was raising the flag on similar concerns that marketers are over-thinking their brand promise. Here was his suggested solution. Think of your brand as a watch. Start there to determine your Frame of Reference first, before you move on to determining your key Point of Difference.

There are three broad-categories in the watch space to consider when it comes to determining your hospital brand's context, or frame of reference: The Rolex, The Timex, The Swatch.

The Rolex Hospital

Name brand. Destination brand. This is the hospital that stands for quality and luxury. Your community survey will reveal that you're perceived as very high quality and expensive. But worth it. You might not be the best at delivering options or great customer service, but the prestige factor alone will make up for that. You probably do transplants, have residents running around, valet parking, and lovely waterfalls and piano's. Your doctors are the best, probably not the friendliest, and your hallways are long and most likely difficult to navigate. But, there's ten percent of the population who will go nowhere else and you won't let them down in customer service, patient care, the latest electronic records, and - to the best of your ability - outcomes.

The Timex Hospital

Solid brand. Functional brand. More approachable and friendly than the Rolex Hospital, and probably equal in terms of physician expertise, technology, and overall outcomes. Probably excel at heart care, the basic modalities of cancer treatment, and very solid in orthopedics, OB, and other mainstay products and service-lines. You've been in your community for many years and have worked hard to stay with the times. New facility additions, the latest in surgical techniques and equipment, and a proud workforce. This group represents the majority of hospitals in the U.S.

If you're in the same market as a Rolex Hospital, don't try to out-luxury it. Be who you are and embrace the hard-working, functional, and effective DNA that you bring to the marketplace.

The Swatch Hospital

Lifestyle friendly. Focused on specific user groups. Smaller, easier to navigate, and intuitive when it comes to anticipating and meeting patient needs. Specialty hospitals and institutes would fall into this category. Like the Swatch brand itself, it comes in many styles and price points, but always seems to focus on lifestyle and ease of use. We worked with an Orthopedic Institute in Arizona that fit perfectly the Swatch model. From the moment a patient arrived to the moment they were escorted to their homebound vehicle, everything was geared toward their experience by a staff that knew questions and issues before they were raised. Since orthopedics is all the hospital does, they can be more intuitive and concentrate on the perfect customer experience.

As you read this and think about your own brand, give thought to this analogy and where your hospital might fall. Like anything, these are not absolute and there are always exceptions and middle ground. The examples are used to help hospital marketers make branding a little less complicated and a lot more relevant to your organization.

Sometimes the answer is right in front of you. And there are examples to follow right at arm's length.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Million Dollar Question - What to do about donor brands?

In today's economy and with looming reform implications, hospitals are not shy about accepting generous donations from trust funds and those who want to leave behind a legacy presumably from years of wonderful care and service. Development departments are busier than ever raising much needed funds to further develop or build new hospitals, research programs, and update existing facilities. And for those very large gifts, there's an expectation and agreement that the donor's name will appear on the facility so - for generations to come - they will always be remembered for their generosity. Corporations are even getting into the game by donating millions to a hospital for naming rights. I guess when all the ballparks are sold out, it's time to turn to local healthcare providers. Here in Chicago, we've seen countless examples of this, from the new Willis Tower (formerly Sears) to U.S. Cellular Field (formerly Comiskey Park). At least Wrigley Field is still holding out, save for the big Toyota sign in center field! I guess that's better than Toyota Regional Health System, "Where Quality Sticks."

The million dollar question for healthcare marketers is what to do about donor brands when the development officer runs down the hall and exclaims, "we got a check for ten million dollars for the new Ashdkrebirignsi Cancer Center!!"

This opportunity is especially challenging when the cancer service line already has established a great brand reputation in the market and fits neatly into the organization's brand architecture, accruing the service line back to the enterprise brand and not trying to create a new identity in the market.

Some suggestions:

  • Be honored! A generous donation to your hospital means that the care and service over the years has been tremendous and someone wants to thank you. It also helps you build or improve your physical plant and invest in new technology making your brand even stronger.

  • Don't fight naming rights. If the Ashdkrebirignsi's want to put a sign on the building for ten million, the answer is "yes." Naming rights are different than brand names. Consumers in your market will still come to the "cancer center" at xyz Health System or Hospital if your brand strategy has differentiated and included the cancer service line. Especially if you continue to promote the cancer center as part of the overall brand and not as a stand-alone facility!

  • Stick to the architecture. If the Ashdkrebirignsi's want you to put the family crest next to the name and use their great uncle's favorite type, you probably need to (gently) push back. The simple answer, "we don't want to confuse the public by making them think they are in a different place or part of another health system." It's about way-finding and navigating.

  • Use the name of the center in promotional and directional collateral. Not as part of the identity system. If you want to mention the name of the cancer (or heart or spine, etc.) center in the body of your ads or informational brochure, go ahead. You should. It should also be included in way-finding materials. If the name is on the building, the name should be found in directional and information materials. Consumers are buying the enterprise brand of cancer care, not the name that's on the building.

  • If your overarching brand has very little equity in a given service line and the donor name brings with it a perception of innovation and quality, you might want to play it up more in the architecture. The answer lies in market research to test the current levels of equity and knowledge of the donor and enterprise brands.

In spite of the economic crunch we're in, seems like the million dollar question of what to do with donor brands is becoming more prevalent in marketing circles. There is much to take into account (other than the funds) when it comes to deciding how to treat these in marketing communications. If you stick to the basic principals of brand strategy, your story, and architecture, you'll be able to handle the donor name in the most effective and respectful manner. Otherwise, you'll be watching the Cubs play at Toyota Field while enjoying a view of the Chicago skyline from Willis Tower.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Word-of-Mouth Rises Again, Louder Than Ever

A recent conversation with another long-time advertising professional made me think. Actually, made me talk about the "old days" when word-of-mouth advertising was often cited as a top selection factor for various products and services. For ad professionals, this always made us cringe. We would develop unique strategies, create breakthrough work, and place it with innovative media ideas. Yet, when research was conducted, many consumers would often cite "yellow pages" and "word-of-mouth" as reasons for having awareness of a company, service, or product. Yikes! Cringe!

Fast forward a few decades and "word-of-mouth" and "yellow pages" are still major factors - but now in their digital avatars of "social media" and "internet." And now, instead of a cringe factor, it's a "cool factor." And, it's a fact of life in brand-building and advertising strategy.

Mass media is still being used to create broad-based awareness and positioning of new products and services. But word-of-mouth has gone from neighbors talking to neighbors to people all over the globe weighing in on their feelings, likes, dislikes, and other thoughts pertaining to your products and services. Remember the old formula, if one person likes your brand, they'll (maybe) tell someone else. But if they don't like it, they'll tell five people who will tell five other people who will tell five other people. And so on, and so on, and so on. Multiply that by a thousand times and that's the world we live in today and the pressure it places on product performance, brand standards, and integrated communications.

As marketers, we can no longer blow off the value and importance of "word-of-mouth" and talk about how it's all driven anyway by our brilliant mass media tactics. Yes, television, radio, print, and outdoor campaigns do build market awareness and serve to position products and build emotional bonds with consumers. But there's a whole new undertow to customer perception in this current climate that works independent of these broader strategies.

What's a marketer to do? First, be proactive on social media - start the "word-of-mouth" conversations and deliver it in a way that supports your brand promise and personality. Second, integrate your broad-based brand media with your social media strategies - many companies are already using their Facebook and Twitter pages as calls-to-action in their advertising. Third, measure your "word-of-mouth" efforts with more than a grain of salt - it is meaningful and, at the rate it's growing, will soon take over the salt shaker!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Use Strategy to Breakthrough Advertising Clutter

(As recently published in Healthcare Marketing Advisor, February 2010, by Rob Rosenberg - President, Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, Ltd.)

Ironically, the most effective way for marketers to break the mold and breakthrough with consumers is to start with a well-defined strategy and creative brief. The tighter the strategy, the more liberating the opportunity to create outstanding advertising campaigns. The irony is that advertisers (and many creative people) feel that tight strategies actually stifle the creative process and limit the number of "big ideas" that can be generated for an ad campaign.

The opposite is true. A clear strategy actually opens the world of big ideas and you won't waste time by thinking execution before strategy. The idea is to execute the strategy, not strategize the execution.

Consumers are bombarded with over 3,000 messages a day in some manner, so you have to break the mold to be noticed. But that doesn't mean you have to break the bank or push the creative envelope right off the edge (to the point it makes no sense). A big idea flows from a well conceived strategy and the execution follows.

In healthcare advertising - as George Carlin might have said - avoid the "seven dully words or phrases" - safe, multidisciplinary, "we care", integrated, accredited, comprehensive, and patient-centered.

Know the impact and shelf life of different kids of executions. For example, humor wears out fast but tends to be noticed. Testimonials will last longer but you'll want several to keep the campaign believable and memorable. The "mold" that needs to be broken is the campaign that features healthcare professionals, buildings, scientific language, and the very popular (but forced) classical music - all rolled into a tidy 30-second commercial.

Remember, if you can cover your logo at the end of the commercial or print ad and realize that it could have been created for any hospital, it's not good! And it probably means that the idea started with an execution in mind, and not a strategy.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Ah-ha" versus "Uh-huh." You might be surprised at the moment of truth.

We've heard it before. "I was presenting the strategy to my leadership team and suddenly they had the "ah-ha" moment and got what I was saying." Or, "finally had that "ah-ha" moment and came up with a big creative idea!"

Call it what you will - "ah-ha" moments, "connecting the dots," or "putting the pieces together," they all imply a breakthrough in thinking or understanding. They can be the best of times and strike when you least expect them (and that's why we keep pens and paper on the nightstand). Or they can be the worst of times, and those are the ones you need to watch out for.

For example, you're presenting a brand strategy or ad campaign to your hospital's CEO. A good portion of your discussion is based on the market situation, competitive insights, brand landscape, communications objectives, and other great information. Then, the moment of truth. You transition from the comfort of facts to the translation of brand strategy or creative executions.

You think you want the "ah-ha" moment, but in truth, you might actually be better served with an "uh-huh" moment.

When the boss nods his head and exclaims, "ah-ha!" what he's probably saying is "you know, I was wondering where you were going this entire time and now I finally get it." Whereas the "uh-huh" response usually means "that makes sense based on the facts and data you've presented and the recommendations support these findings. I get it, and I agree."

(I hope those of you reading this are saying "uh-huh, yep, that makes sense.)

In typical advertising presentations, "ah-ha" moments typically follow the creative show. And, unfortunately, it's not because somebody has just presented a whopper of a big idea (so few and far between...). Rather, it's most likely because the strategy has been lost in translation either from the market insights or to the creative execution. So when the creative idea is flashed, it gets a big "ah-ha!" Because now the whole presentation sort of makes sense!

Your goal, however, as branders, marketers, and advertisers, should be the "uh-huh" moment when making a strategic or creative presentation. When you get that response, it means you've done the job of setting up the strategy, clearly describing it, and executing it in a way that tracks and reinforces the direction. Now, please don't take this as meaning the ideas - both strategic and creative - have to be boring and that equates with an "uh-huh" reply. In fact, you have a better chance of selling the big idea if you've made your case and the creative pays off the strategy, and the strategy pays off the marketing insights. When you achieve this, "uh-huh" can be the best reaction you can get!

In the branding and communications business, we're often taught that "ah-ha" moments are when the light bulbs flash. And that's true, but when you're creating and selling an entire branding campaign, you don't want the bulbs to flash too bright when you unveil the big idea. A confident glow of "uh-huh" means you've done an effective job setting up the situation, translating a strategy, and executing an idea.

Make sense? Uh-huh!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Time To Think Even Smaller About Your Brand

In the early 80's, a big idea was often expressed in the confines of a folded cocktail napkin (that had the luxury of expanding when you were really on a roll). Creative people going back and forth with black marker on white paper, often shredding or smearing before making it back to the office. With the death of the "three martini lunch", so came the end of the cocktail napkin era of thinking big about your brand idea and message.

Next came the "matchbook" generation. We were all challenged with coming up with an idea that could be expressed on the inside of a matchbook cover. A smaller landscape than the napkin, but not limiting in terms of the "bigness" of a good branding, advertising, or PR idea. We were told, "if it's really big, you can write it on a small space." But, with the death of cigarettes in the workplace (a good thing), came the end of the matchbook era.

So, no cocktail napkins, no matchbooks. How did we next express big brand ideas? That's where the "elevator pitch" opened new doors. The strategy must be clear, concise, and unique enough that when asked what we stand for, we can spew it out between floors. But, that's when being social meant actually visiting with people in person. With the onset of social media and the ability to interact on-line, the elevator pitch also has plummeted.

Where does that leave us in 2010? Forced to say more with less! Less media money, less big productions, and less time. But that doesn't mean the big idea or the brand strategy is less important. In fact, just the opposite. Our strategy and identity have to be unique and strong enough that people recognize it in its smallest state (for example, as a Facebook icon or Twitter handle) and opt in to be our friend, fan, or follower!

As hospital branders, now is the time to review your identity to make sure that the smaller it gets, the larger it resonates with your customer base. Both strategically and tactically. Many hospital identities are old enough to have been created on a cocktail napkin. They contain words, images, and all sorts of meaning that could be explained on letterhead, business cards, and advertising messages. But as those vehicles become less relevant in a social, on-line media world of less time and fewer personal interactions, your brand identity must speak louder than ever in terms of meaning, clarity, and differentiation.

Look at your identity as it appears on your Facebook homepage. Does it stand out? Does it represent your brand? Is it recognizable? Is it unique? Is it powerful?

Hospital marketers...we're experiencing brand shrinkage. And we don't have the old cocktail napkin to help figure it out. We don't even have the back of a business card or inside flap of a matchbook. And we certainly don't have precious few seconds of a stranger's time while trapped in an elevator. What we do have is a postage stamp landscape to tell a very big story. The better the brand strategy, the more likely it is to stick.