Monday, September 12, 2011

Hospital Branding: Putting Character In Your Brand

From the Marlboro Man to Mr. Whipple, Tony the Tiger or Charlie Tuna, companies have always had a knack for "putting character" in their brands. These characters rank among the icons in the ad business and brought great success to their respective products. What made these characters successful was more than their memorable names and faces. They had unique traits that brought the product's point-of-difference to life. The Marlboro Man was masculine and cool, just like the men who smoked them (or so they thought). Tony the Tiger was "greeeaaattt," just like the taste of Frosted Flakes, and Mr. Whipple was tough on the outside but an ol' softy on the inside (just like the kind of toilet paper we like). The use of characters today, from reptiles to ducks, is alive and well - just ask the brand managers of Geico and Aflac.

So what does this mean for healthcare brands? Should hospitals, for example, create a credible spokesdoctor or a talking thermometer? Maybe...however, the need to express your unique traits and values - and differentiate your brand is absolutely essential. The character of your brand is what makes it special, it's what your organization stands for in all it does and says. The character of your brand are the ideals that permeate every aspect of your organization, its products and services. The part of your business that you would never compromise!

According to screenwriting experts, the ideal amount of traits a character should have is four. Less than three traits, and the character seems flat. More than five and the character is too inconsistent.

The same thinking applies to a brand. What are those four traits that make your brand character stand out from your competition? Oftentimes the answer lies within the history of your organization and goes back to the very essence of its beginning mission and principles...its "DNA." Once identified, the real trick is to determine that one character that people will remember most about your organizational story and act upon. As you know, it's about what your customer feels, not what they know.

When it comes to putting character in your brand, there's another idea that is gaining popularity, that of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Studies show that brands and organizations that have character in the form of a cause or charity will actually benefit from gains in market share, increased customer loyalty, and improved employee retention. Simply, people want to be associated with brands that have character.

As you evaluate your brand and determine its character:
  • Identify the three or four traits that you stand for in the minds of internal and external stakeholders. These should be unique and relevant. And not generic to the category. For example, "caring," "expertise," and "technology," are merely the costs of market entry in the hospital marketing arena.
  • Build your brand platform around a single-minded characteristic that tested most positive and motivating in your customer research.
  • Demonstrate your character, don't just say it. Bring it to life throughout your entire organization in the manner of your workforce and the matter of your environment.
  • Enhance your character. Find a social cause that epitomizes your brand strategy and demonstrates corporate responsibility.
Brand character comes in many shapes and sizes like the Jolly Green Giant to the little green gekko. But what matters is on the inside - the characteristics, values, and traits that these icons stand for and make your brand distinct. And what counts most is on the outside - the emotions and perceptions that your character creates in the minds and hearts of your customers.

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand development and communications firm with offices in the Chicago and D.C. areas. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or at

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