Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Heart of Your Brand

At first, it seemed like another story of "progress meets obstacle." A plan to tear down old buildings to pave the way for a $150 million development project in Baltimore's re-emerging west side hit a roadblock when preservationists came out in force to protect—a former drug store. Really? Then I read further.

In 1955, African-American college students staged a sit-in at that Read's Drug Store lunch counter—five years before Greensboro's more famous event at Woolworth's. The sit-in movement began in Baltimore. This is "not an African-American story, it's a Baltimore story," said David Terry, executive director of Maryland's Reginald F. Lewis Museum.

That sentence caught my eye. A Baltimore story. A seminal event for a movement that changed millions of lives and an entire country. The massive development project slated for the area is certainly important for the city's continued growth. But Baltimore—like a business—grew upon a foundation built over time. Stories of vision, sacrifice, leadership and courage give heart and meaning to the places we choose to live and work.

What Is at the Heart of Your Hospital?
Now consider your hospital's core story. Not just your advertising messages, target audiences, or goals for the future. What is the heart, the reason you exist? And what is the narrative around that story that all employees and patients understand about your organization? Is it being celebrated and nurtured?

The most successful brand managers understand the power and magic of story, which often begins with heritage and tradition. And in healthcare, our core stories can be compelling. Caring for the poor, bringing the highest level of care back to a rural hometown, opening hospital doors to an under-served inner city or, even going further back, beginning as field hospitals that served injured soldiers during the Civil War. These are the building blocks of a common culture that create a rich texture for the messages of today.

Baltimore's leaders and business developers are now seeking ways to embrace the powerful sit-in story as they move into this next phase of the city's evolution. Similarly, brand managers in healthcare must also find, embrace and nurture their organization's story. Too often, we look to the future before understanding the past. We work so hard to identify our goals, that we disregard the foundation that has even allowed us to reach this point.

Passion: Yesterday and Today
At Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN), their founder's passion for better community-based healthcare lives on today in their tagline: A Passion for Better Medicine. Leonard Parker Pool dedicated his considerable energy and resources to bringing advanced medical care to the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania after his wife was diagnosed with cancer. As they drove back and forth to New York City, he pledged to find a better way for his community. Everyone at LVHN has kept Pool's passion alive. Today, the word "passion" truly generates a sense of shared dedication among physicians, employees, even patients, whose stories fill the LVHN website, Facebook page and Employee Forums. At the end of each monthly department head meeting, the COO signs off with energy and stirring music.

And in an interesting combination of "passion" traditions, LVHN has also embraced the historic icon of one of their region's most important companies. The health network recently moved some offices into the former headquarters of Mack Truck, whose brand narrative —The Greatest Name in Trucks—still lives and breathes throughout the building. Given the company's depth of history in the region, LVHN has kept some key Mack Truck symbolism, and employees can point to the Mack bulldog shapes in the marble at the building's entrance; they know that the building is actually shaped like a bulldog; and bulldog tiles greet them in the elevator every day—a reminder of the power of tradition and history.

From Disney to Nike, Apple to Baltimore City, the brand story—the heart—creates powerful connections that open the doors to truly effective culture-building, connection and communication.

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