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.