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.