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.